Thursday, April 30, 2015

I Want You to Pray

A woman of prayer.  A prayer warrior.  A praying wife.  All words or labels that made me shrink back further into myself believing I was not "spiritual enough" to earn such a statement ever being said about me.  I was not them.  I did not believe I would ever be them.  I prayed, yes, but I didn't pray THAT much.  I didn't pray to the extent that I could be labeled as a woman who was all about prayer.  I was just a normal, every-day Christian who went to church, believed in God and Jesus, had forgiveness from my sins and instilled Biblical principals/truths into my children. I prayed before meals and at bedtime and occasionally throughout the day, but I did not believe I was a "woman of prayer"...until God began to transform me.

I don't have an exact date, but sometime just before the summer of 2012 God spoke to my heart in a gentle whisper.  "I want you to pray" He said.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Just "I want you to pray."  However, with that simple phrase I also knew that what He really meant was that He wanted me to pray more than I had been.  My prayer background in a nutshell went from being a young girl who memorized prayers from my church and prayed for family members before bedtime to a young woman in high school and early college who simply prayed to be heard by someone who cared.  At that point I would tell God about my day, my feelings, what I wanted, what hurt me, and what I thought about everything.  Those prayers consisted mainly of me talking to God and not much of me listening to His response.  After college my prayers really became a place to let it all out without holding anything back.  I would often pray to let all my worries of my career, my marriage and my mothering up to God as a venting session.  I wanted it all off my shoulders and I knew God could handle all of my garbage.  That's kinda what I saw Him as during those years...a Divine Garbage Dump...hoping that if I told Him everything I would feel better.  At that time I also believed I could do things with the gifts God had already given me or with the intuition God had given me so I didn't really need to pray about everything.
I also discovered there was a much deeper-seated issue lacing all of my prayer life.  That issue was I actually didn't fully trust God in the first place.  I did not trust God could actually do what I was asking of Him to do during my prayer time.  Dare I say it, I didn't even trust He wanted to do those things for me.  Because of lies Satan placed in my head and situations of pain and woundedness in my past, I believed God was not as trustworthy as I was.  I knew myself well and knew that I could accomplish things because of the way God created me to be.  Do you see the twisting of the Truth there?  It's such a slight lie...God created me to be good therefore I should be able to be good...without Him.  I didn't have to trust Him, just me.

The situation of being stuck in our adoption process of our youngest daughter at that point in 2012, however, had me finally to a place where I had never really been before.  A place where there was literally nothing I could do to impact, change or make our situation any better.  God used those seemingly dark days to begin opening my eyes and speaking clearly to me, "I want you to pray".  So, I finally obeyed by quitting an amazing group I was attending on Wednesday nights in order to attend the Wednesday night prayer group meeting at our church and spent time most mornings journaling out my prayers in my bedroom.  I found myself excited yet nervous, confident yet humbled.  I remember thinking, "God, I don't know what on earth You are doing here.  Are you really trying to turn me into what I've labeled a 'prayer warrior'?  The woman I said I would never be able to be?  I can't do that!  I can't pray more than I am already...I have a house to take care of, kids to mother, and food to prepare.  I can't even find time to am I supposed to find time to pray more?"
With every fear of the unknown and wrong perception of what I thought I had to be like in order to be called a woman of prayer, I was met by a God who smiled lovingly at me and said "Trust me and just try it."  So, I did and the long story short is that He met me so intimately in prayer that it naturally, OVER TIME, turned me into a different woman.  I can not stress enough that this has been a process.  Remember that three whole years have passed since this nudging to pray first came.  And I am certainly still a work in progress even now!  There are, however, the two major changes I can see in myself because of prayer...1) Instead of believing I am a woman who is quite capable, thanks to God, to handle what comes her way, I know the Truth is I am nothing without relying on Christ in me moment by moment (John 15:5) and 2) Instead of being a woman who trusted herself more than God, I am now a woman who knows deep down to the core of my being that God is the only One who can be trusted (Prov. 3:5-6).
Looking deeper at the first way prayer has changed me, I would say that, yes, God has made me a beautiful woman with a working brain, gifts and talents but they pale in comparison to the abilities of the fresh, alive, and active Holy Spirit.  There is nothing I can do on my own that will equate what the Spirit can do through me.  If I want my prayers to be effective and my actions to have deep, life-changing meaning, I HAVE to rely on the Spirit because He is so much greater than limited me.  Before, my prayers were so focused on what I could do that I left no room for bigger-than-me things to happen.  Now, through experiencing and learning more of God in my times of prayer, I have learned the importance of stepping back and letting Him do what He wants to do.  I have learned to not treat God as a Divine Garbage Dump, my back-up plan, or even my "last resort", but to come humbly before Him immediately and TRUST Him to do more in me and through me then what I could conjure up myself.

That brings me to the second transformation.  Trust.  The more I spend time in His Presence and the more time I read His Word, the more I am convinced that God is always good and trustworthy.  Not just good for me, but good for everyone and everything He has ever created, which is quite honestly beyond what I can comprehend.  I have always had major trust issues with God so I haven't always been able to say that with confidence.  I believe most of those issues came, however, because I alienated myself from Him instead of digging myself into Him even more to learn and stand on the Truth.  Now that I am digging in, I am believing!  I know now more than ever that people will fail me.  Events, situations and circumstances will fail me.  Time will fail me.  This world and all it has to offer will fail me.  I will even fail me.  But not God.  God will always, always, always be there creating good and beauty from ugly ashes and I can trust Him.  I NEED to trust Him.  It truly was only by spending prioritized time with Him through prayer and reading Scriptures that I have come to a place to do that.  Left on my own, I just couldn't.
So now I humbly can say that, yes, I am a woman of prayer.  I was told by a God who loves me more than I love myself that He wanted me to pray, so I have, and I am forever changed because of it.  No, that doesn't mean I pray all day long every day, but it does mean there is a longing in my heart to actually do that now.  It doesn't mean I am somehow "better" than anyone else because I am praying, but it actually means I openly admit I am weak and nothing without Him.  It doesn't mean I never get sad, angry or frustrated with what life has dished out to me, but it does give me an instant, safe place to release all of what I am thinking and going through and replace it with trust and confidence that He is using it and acting on it for good.  The best part for me now is not in the "bringing of the stuff" to Him, but being a recipient of the transformation process.  In essence, it is the perfect way for me to become less of me and more of Him and that is the key!  No matter what we are going through, friends, I believe, we need, need, need to rely less on our faltered selves and more on our perfect, loving, trust-worthy God.  Through prayer, His power can be unleashed.  Through prayer His joy can be unleashed.  Even more, His love is unleashed.  His peace.  His obedience.  His patience.  His direction.  His healing.  His miracles.  His goodness.  His provision.  His discernment.  His kindness.  His revival.  His desires.  His, His, His, not mine, mine, mine.  All this and so much more is unleashed when we put ourselves aside and come trusting Him in prayer.
If I could impart any sort of humble wisdom from my journey onto the next generation or even the current generation, it would be not waste time relying on yourself first and God as your backup.  Do not pray as a last resort.  We truly need less of us thinking He already gave us everything we need so we can do this on our own and more recognizing we still need Him every second of every day in fresh, life-giving, spirit-revealing ways.  Please go to Him first!  He is the only Way to abundant life.  Being a woman or man of prayer or a prayer warrior is meant to be a calling for each and every one of us.  Young and old and all in between.  Prayer is meant for the new believer just as much as those wise in their walks.  We all need more of God and less of ourselves.

All God said to me is "I want you to pray" and my obedience to that has literally changed the very core of my being.  I wonder if He has spoken those very words to more than just me.  I truly hope He has because I am so excited to see what all He could do in our churches, our marriages, our homes or our areas of influence when we decide to pray first and watch Him use us as He wants afterwards.  It would be a sight, I am sure, beyond our comprehension.  Thanks be to God!

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 4:6-7

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Stretching Experience

This morning was rare.  Nora was the last one awake.  It was 8 a.m. and the rest of us were up, had ate breakfast, and low and behold our typical early-riser was just coming out of her bedroom.  As she came out of her door she stretched her arms out as wide as they could go and said "Ahhhh....good mornin' Mama."  The Holy Spirit put a thought in my heart right away..."Take note of her stretching, I'm going to use that today."

Take note of her stretching.  A little later on when I was in my quite time for the day, I knew I needed to reflect on the stretching, but to be honest, I really didn't want to.  You see, when the Spirit spoke that into my heart earlier it did not produce warm fuzzies.  It produced anxiety.  My thought went something like this, "Stretching?  Oh, Lord, no, not stretching.  If You are going to teach me something about stretching then that means something is going to happen today to stretch me and that doesn't found fun.  Can't I just get a break?  A day of rest?  A day of something NOT stretching me?"  But, that is thankfully not where God left me.  I could have chosen to leave it there.  Worried, hesitant, and fearful of what He was going to show me if I actually pursued this concept of stretching.  If I would have stayed there, I would have missed a blessing I NEEDED to hear today because I was too afraid to explore the depths of what God wanted to say to me.  I would have stayed wounded and unwilling to see the path towards healing.  It is always our choice to follow what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us.  Why do we fear what He has?  Why don't we trust Him to always have good things for us?  That is the Truth--it will ALWAYS be good.

So, as I sat on my bed, I thought about Nora's stretching arms outside her bedroom door.  Was she scared to stretch her arms?  Was she worried that if she would stretch out her muscles, it would be something hard to do?  No, that just seemed silly.  She stretched her arms out because she wanted to.  Her arms had been by her sides or tight to her body all night long and needed a good release of stretching.  Then I thought about my own times of muscular stretching.  I didn't fear stretching.  I didn't really look at those times as something I wanted to avoid.  Stretching my muscles has always felt good!  So why the difference?  Why was stretching my muscles seen as something good and refreshing but stretching my spiritual, cognitive, or emotional muscles seen as something I really didn't want to participate in?  Interesting indeed.  Was this the breakthrough of the day the Holy Spirit was wanting me to grasp?  That I should not be fearing something that will "stretch" me as much as I was allowing it too?  I couldn't wait to dig in deeper now!

I decided to look up some more info about stretching.  Here is what I found...when done properly, stretching reduces injury, allows better adaptation, relaxes muscles, increases range of motion/flexibility and betters one's performance.  However, stretching "properly" means that the stretching happens gradually, gently and in a controlled manner.  When stretching is done too intensely, called "over-stretching", it can produce pain, which is actually tissue damage happening under the surface.  An inflammatory response happens in our body to try to heal the damage done by over-stretching.  Tissue damage can heal, but there are several things that need to happen to help that healing take place.  First of all, there needs to be time given for proper healing because it just won't heal overnight.  During that time, several things are helpful towards the healing of the inflamed, damaged tissue; exercises to promote strength and flexibility, massages, ice, pain-relieving medication, and rest.

When I viewed my current situation in this new light, I couldn't believe the parallels between the physical and the spiritual/emotion/cognitive.  Events or situations in life that produce stretching of our minds, hearts, beliefs are never meant to harm us, but to produce good fruits such as the ability to be more flexible with what we are faced with, to reduce the chance of injury to our souls, increase our range of ability to do what God calls us to do, and even better our performance when we actually do it.  Stretching our minds, stretching our hearts, and stretching our beliefs is very beneficial to the spiritual body, but only when that stretching is done properly, which if you remember, is when it is done gradually, gently, and in a controlled manner.

The problem comes in, just as it does in the physical, when over-stretching happens in our spiritual/emotional/cognitive body instead of proper stretching.  Instead of having the gradual, gentle, and controlled stretching that is supposed to happen when each change comes our way,we find ourselves in situations where, I believe, we are in pain because of spiritual/emotional/cognitive "tissue damage" and now our bodies are living with an inflammatory response in order to heal the damage.  Our hearts, our minds, our emotions need time to heal.  It's not JUST time, however, that is needed to heal.  It's time well-spent on doing things that promote healing.  If physical tissues are just given time to heal and nothing else is done for them during that time, chances are they will just repeat the cycle of getting hurt with the next stretching experience.  Chances are the same cycle of injury will happen to our spiritual/emotional/cognitive selves if we don't heal properly.

Our spiritual/emotional/cognitive tissue damage also needs to be put through exercises that will promote strength building and flexibility.  For me, this kind of strength comes from reading Scripture, praying, being in tune with what the Holy Spirit is speaking to me about and then acting on it (just like the willingness to dig into this topic of stretching today).  It also needs massages...the ability to let another person help work on your area of pain.  We were never meant to do life alone and sometimes having another person helping to work in the places of pain in our bodies/life can really help loosen those tissues and promote healing.  Ice and pain-relieving medications are two things I see as ways to help elevate some of the pain in the process of healing.  They are not meant to actually heal the pain, but to simply make that time more bearable in the healing process.  These "medications" during a spiritual/emotional/cognitive pain might be such things as laughter, a good movie, reading a book, chatting with friends, serving others, creating something, singing, journalling, playing, exercising, getting a physical and making sure your body doesn't actually need some medications to make it work correctly, gardening, sleeping, etc.  Just doing something in the midst of pain that helps you bear the healing process is great!  Lastly, rest.  It's a concept not well received in our day and age, but it does wonders for the healing process.  Rest is not necessarily being lazy, but rest is allowing your minds, your hearts, your spiritual wellness to stop striving, stop seeking, stop yearning and trust that as you slow yourself down, God will provide what you need instead of thinking you need to provide it for yourself.  Rest is trust.

As we do these critical activities, IN TIME, we will see our over-stretched wounds healed.  We will either learn from our mistakes of over-stretching and next time will more gradually and gently move into the changes in front of ourselves OR if the changes of life are just thrown at us quickly and we have no choice to come into it gradually, we will recognize our injured selves more quickly. We will be able to move into a mode of healing and restoration immediately after injury instead of trying to continue limping along, never to fully heal (*side note-physical injuries heal faster when recognized and treated for healing immediately.  The longer it takes to begin treatment, the longer it takes to actually heal).  Either way, when we heal fully from the over-stretching experience, we can view the next time of stretching in a more positive light.  We will not have to fear the experience or wish that we could, instead, stay inside our comfy box of everything already known.  We can face changes with the Truth that God always has good for us and that the stretching experience is no exception...stretching produces really good things in our lives.  We can get out of our box knowing that what is next is only going to make us stronger, more flexible, able to do more than we thought, and all around a better individual.

I am so very blessed that as I sat on my bed this morning, I allowed myself to explore what the Holy Spirit was wanting to say to me through the simple stretch of my 3 year old as she walked out of her bedroom.  If I would have ignored it or dismissed it, I would still be fearing anything that would "stretch me".  Instead, I sit here noting that I have been over-stretched and need healing.  I need to actively be pursuing the very things that will promote healing in my life or I will continue to walk around wounded.  The Holy Spirit wills for me to be whole and healthy in all areas of my life and I believe He wanted me to know that in a very real and practical way this morning.  I also sit here ready and willing to be stretched again instead of fearing it because I know now that whatever happens, good can result because good was intended.

So will you join me today with being willing to be stretched?  To be willing to reject the lie that what will stretch us will not be a pleasant experience?  To be willing to trust God with what He is stretching you with?  If you are finding yourself in a place like I am where you recognize you have been over-stretched, will you be willing today to actively pursue a more restful time of healing instead of trying to push through or ignore the pain?  Will you allow yourself to read Scripture, seek counsel, find joy in the midst of pain, and trust God's ability to carry you through when you need help?  I truly hope you will join me today.

To end, I wanted to bring out the last point my little quest about stretching resulted in this morning.  Do you know what physical stretching also does?  It relaxes us.  Can you believe it!?!  Why did I not want to do that???  Who doesn't need a bit more of relaxation today?  If it's physical relaxation you are in need of, do some actual stretches, friend!  (The article I read suggested doing them before bed for a better night of sleep.)  If it's spiritual relaxation you need, do some spiritual stretching.  If it's cognitive relaxation you seek, do some cognitive stretching.  And if it's emotional relaxation you need, stretch those emotions!  Relaxation because of stretching.  Sounds amazing!  Join me, won't you?  I hope we will all benefit from this stretching experience today.