Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Watching for answers

If you ask your closest friend to do something for you, do you step back and forget about it and are surprised when they do it? Or do you wait expectantly for them to do as you’ve asked? If one of my friends asked me for something within my power to give, I wouldn’t be able to rest until I got it done. But if my friend asked me to do something for her and then she acted as though it weren’t important, I don’t know if I would be as urgent in completing her request.

If she weren’t actively looking for an answer to her request, I might not make it a priority. Because if she doesn’t care enough about what she’s asked for to look for it, is it really something I need to spend my time doing?

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 4:2.

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

When I first read today’s verse, I actually read it in the Message. And this is what it says in the Message:

Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude.

It’s nice too. But I don’t think it’s grasping the specific meaning of this verse, if I’m reading the English translation correctly. On first read, this verse seemed (to me) to be saying two separate things, Pray diligently and Stay alert.

It’s good to pray diligently. It’s good to be stay alert. Both of those are good to do separately, but they’re even better to do at the same time, which is actually what this verse is talking about. For a little more specific focus, check out the Amplified Version:

Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving.

I’m good at praying. I pray a lot. God and I are pretty much on very earnest speaking terms. I tell Him everything. I tell Him things I won’t tell anyone else, including my best friends. There are just some parts of me that are reserved for Him and Him alone.

But I’ll tell you what I’m not good at: expecting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten my hopes up too many times. Maybe it’s because my dreams haven’t come true so many times. And I trust Him completely, because even if He hasn’t answered my requests exactly like I would want, He has always answered. And it’s good that I haven’t gotten what I wanted when I wanted it because He knows what’s better for me anyway. But it’s difficult for me to ask Him for something and then wait expectantly for Him to answer. Why? Because I want Him to answer the way I want, not necessarily the way I need.

But this verse doesn’t say to pray to God and forget about what you’ve asked Him for. No. It says pray (earnestly, unwearied, and steadfastly) and be both alert and intent in your prayers. What does that mean?

That means, ask God for something and watch for Him to answer.

How many of us do that? How many of us remain alert after we ask Go for something. I don’t. Deep down, I’m afraid that He won’t answer. Or that I won’t like His answer. So I ask Him and then to guard my heart, I conveniently step back from it.

But what does that say about how much I want what I’m asking for? To me, backing away from a request after I’ve made it, show disinterest, like I don’t really care. And that’s not the message I want to send. Yes, God knows my heart. Yes, He knows what I’m going to ask for before I ask for it. But in humility, we need to tell Him what we want. And then, with gratitude, we need to watch for His answer — no matter what it is.

The trick is to want His will more than anything else. The goal is to desire His plan above any desire in your heart, to want His dream more than yours. And that’s difficult to do. And, yes, I believe God gives us dreams for a reason. He’s created us to be who we are for a purpose, and he’s put us in specific places in order for us to make a difference. But our dreams won’t make a difference until they sync up with His.

Maybe this is taken out of context. But I don’t think so. Remember how Jesus prayed just before the crucifixion in Matthew 26:39?

“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Jesus wanted something. If possible, He didn’t want to go to the cross. Who can blame Him? He asked God if there were any other way. But before He waited for an answer, He recognized that God’s plan was better than what He felt like.

So the next time you ask God for something, don’t forget to stay alert and watch for His answer with thankfulness. And even as you ask, make sure you really are content with God’s will above your own. His plan is better. But you have to believe that. Because if you don’t, when you don’t get the answer you want, it will throw you.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Staying alert so we know how to pray

Wichita is an interesting city. In the past, thanks to the multitude of aircraft manufacturing facilities here, we have all enjoyed something of an economic bubble. So when the rest of the country is scraping the bottom of the barrel financially speaking, we aren’t usually as bad off. Granted, the terrible economy still affects us but it doesn’t seem to be as bad as the rest of the country.

And we’re centrally located in the heart of the Heartland, where wholesome old-fashioned values are still worth something. Some have called Kansas the buckle of the Bible belt. And cost of living is probably the lowest of most other states. Life is harder here, though, than in other states; you have to be tough to deal with the climate and other aspects of living in a state that’s 90% sky. But overall, Kansas is pretty much bubble. And Wichita, though it has its moments, is the kind of place you can live and shut out the rest of the world pretty easily.

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

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.

Being alert is an exhausting task. It’s difficult to accomplish in simple communities, but if you try to stay alert in our world today? With governments and the threats that are active today? Yeah, not so easy.

But I find it ironic that in the Age of Information, where even toddlers know how to operate an iPhone, we are less informed about life in general than ever. It seems to me that the more we have the ability to know, the less we actually learn. Maybe it’s because we take it for granted that the information will always be available to us at the click of a mouse. I don’t know.

But I do know that if we are lazy and don’t take the initiative to be aware of what is going on around us, we’re going to be in a world of hurt, especially as believers. As followers of Christ, we are called to know what is happening in our life, in our family, in our country, and in the world as a whole. Why? So that we can participate the best way we know how, so that we can help people who need help, and so that we can pray specifically for the needs of others. And if we don’t know what others need, how can we pray?

I’m guilty of the generic “God be with so-and-so” types of prayers, sometimes because I’m too emotional to pray out loud what I’m really feeling. But mostly because I’ve been too indolent to find out what’s really happening in the situation.

And I’ll admit that I don’t pay as close attention to local or world news as I should. I don’t watch television. I don’t read the paper. As a journalist, I can hardly bear to listen or read anything that’s out there, mainly because I know the way it’s supposed to be done. Unbiased and true. Reporting the news instead of manipulating it. But every news organization in the world has become a marketing organization. There’s no truth reported anymore. It’s all spin. But even in all the spin, there is a grain of truth. And it’s my responsibility to know what’s happening.

I need to be alert so I know how to pray. Specific prayer is better than generic prayer for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it demonstrates how much you care about what you’re asking for.

Ephesians 6 is one of those iconic chapters that has been quoted in just about every topic and subject in study, and if you have the chance the read the whole thing, you should. Actually, I recommend reading the whole Book of Ephesians. it’s not long. But Ephesians 6 is where you find the text about the Armor of God, though in the Message version it doesn’t actually reference it as armor.

It’s easy in the types of lives that we all live right now to forget that we’re in a war. Living in the bubble of the Midwest where we still have plenty to eat and cars to drive and clothes to wear and entertainment to distract us, it’s easy to forget that the world is in chaos.

As believers, it’s our responsibility to be aware. Because even if we can’t do anything about it, we can ask God to take care of it. And God has proven that He responds to the prayers of His people.

Ephesians 6:13-18 (The Message)

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Wake up. Open your eyes. And get ready.