19 February, 2018

Asking for Others

While I was away canvassing, one of my friends shared some powerful thoughts. She explored the context of Luke 11:9, a familiar verse: “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9) 

From the beginning of the chapter, Jesus is teaching His disciples how to pray. He presents the Lord’s Prayer, and then tells a story to illustrate. There was a man who had a guest arrive at midnight one night. The man was ashamed to find he had no food to feed the traveler, so he went to His neighbour and asked to borrow three loaves of bread. The neighbour wasn’t impressed, and made excuses: It's late! I’m in bed! But, Jesus said, because of the man’s persistence the neighbour got up and gave him the bread, and he was able to feed his visitor. It’s then Jesus says ask, seek, and knock. Because, He concludes, if we’re willing to give each other good gifts, how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.

I’ve always seen that story as a lesson in persistent prayer – which it is – but my friend brought out something else: the man in Jesus’ example wasn’t asking for himself. He was begging for sustenance, but it was so He could give it away. 

I decided to try it out this principle of prayer. When I’m canvassing, I pray for others, but I mostly pray for myself. I pray God will give me opportunities, and that I’ll have wisdom, discernment, courage, and what it takes to represent Him. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I decided to go one day not praying for myself at all. I made it my mission to plead for one of my friends who was also canvassing. Every time I wanted to pray for myself, I sent up a prayer for her instead.

At the end of day, my friend told me it was one of her best days! She had some great experiences, and was able to share with lots of people. It was so exciting, because God answered my prayers, and worked mightily for her.

But what surprised me about the whole ‘experiment’ was how I felt. God gave me everything I would’ve asked Him for, and more, because I was able to share more any other day. The best part, though, was my attitude. I didn’t have time to dwell on my inadequacies, even in prayer, because I was asking for someone else. I was enthusiastic the whole day, because I didn’t have thought space to get discouraged. If a negative feeling came into my mind, my response was to pray about it – but then because I wasn’t praying for myself, it turned into prayer for my friend, and the thought left my mind.

Other places in the Bible counsel us to pray for ourselves (James 1:5), and there are examples of spiritually great people who prayed for themselves in a God-centred way. But there’s something so powerful about pouring your heart out for someone else, and then watching God work. 

I’m thinking it might be the antidote for the self-centredness I’ve been struggling with. Since I’ve gotten more commitments – things I have to remember and get done by certain times – I’ve become primarily focused on myself. My mind is full of things I have to do, and how I feel about doing them. Even when I’m with people, I’m still thinking about my own stuff. But there’s something blessed about self-forgetfulness, and I think I'm going to try making this a habit. Next time I feel overwhelmed with my commitments, I’m going to pick someone and pray for them. Every time a selfish thought, or a lie about who I am, tries to get me discouraged, I’m going to pray for someone else. Maybe it's in asking for others, we find for ourselves.

So, that’s something I’ve been learning! What about you? Have you ever experienced praying for someone else to the point of self-forgetfulness? Am I the only one who hadn’t noticed that aspect of Jesus’ parable?

13 February, 2018

How to Make Prayer a Part of Life

It’s common Christian knowledge that prayer is important, prayer is the lifeblood of the soul, prayer is how we communicate with God. We discuss how to pray, look at Jesus' example, and study thanksgiving, confession, intercession, praise. But the hardest part for me is making prayer a part of my life. I know it’s important, I know how to pray, but I don’t pray a lot; sometimes I don’t pray every day. Sometimes I pray snippets throughout the day, but never pour my heart out to God. So firstly, if this is you too: don’t be ashamed. It’s tempting to hide, thinking what kind of Christian doesn’t pray?! but Jesus doesn't shame us about our choices. He simply offers something better. 

Our world is geared to squeeze prayer out of our lives, but we have the all-powerful God on our side, and with Him everything’s possible. Here are a few things which practically help me make prayer a part of my life:

Going for a walk
I talk to God more easily when I'm in His creation. I talk out loud, and that helps me stay focused and not get distracted by other thoughts. There are so many things in nature to praise God for too, and beginning with gratitude is a great springboard to prayer.

Journaling in nature
I feel God closer when I’m outside, and, if I’m facing a problem or decision, journaling about it while talking to Him makes things much clearer. 

Using a prayer journal
This is something I’ve recently started doing, and it's been helpful to keep focused, especially if I can't go outside. I’m also excited about building tangible proof of answered prayer. Mine is slightly different, but I got the inspiration and layout out from these Coffee and Bible Time videos: My Prayer Journal Walk Through, and How to Make a DIY Prayer Journal.

Writing lists/writing down prayers
This is part of prayer journaling, but I do it in other journals and notebooks too. I like to write lists of things I’m grateful to God for, ways He’s blessed me, aspects of God's character, prayer requests, answered prayers, etc.

Talking to God as I study and read the Bible
This is one of my favourite ways to pray. As I’m reading through a Bible passage, I take a moment to ask God to apply it to me. For example, if I’m reading Psalm 16, verse 1 says, ‘Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust.’ I then pray, ‘God, please help me to trust you more, to trust you will preserve me, whatever happens.' I might apply to a specific situation too: 'Please help me to trust you regarding this decision I have to make.' It makes the Bible personal and relevant. Sometimes I'll also write out a paraphrase of a passage, applying it personally and making it my own prayer.

Praying as soon as I’m asked to, or a thought comes to mind
When someone asks for prayer, I’ll say a prayer for them right away (or while the thought’s still in my mind if they’re asking in person). I can't remember where I heard this suggestion, but it's been helpful, because I forget easily. I also apply this to my thoughts; if I’m thinking about what I should be doing next week, I try to remember to say a prayer about it right then. It doesn’t have to be long; just making prayer a part of my thought life.

Praying with friends
Praying audibly with a friend or in a small group, and having people pray for you, is so, so powerful. It’s one of the most encouraging things to me; the most beautiful type of community. It also good for accountability.

I hope these suggestions might aid your prayer life too! We’re in a war between good and evil, and the enemy wants us to forget about prayer or think it’s too hard, because it’s one of our greatest weapons against him. Let's use it, friends, and in God’s strength overcome! xx

What do you find helpful in making prayer a part of your life? What could I add to the list? Is prayer something that comes naturally to you?

If prayer seems to you a diversion from productivity, remember God does more in five seconds than we can in five hours. John Piper

05 February, 2018

Why God is Real to Me – My Testimony

I’ve often felt like I don’t have a testimony. I was raised in a loving Christian home, I’ve always known about God, and I can’t isolate a moment to call ‘my conversion.’ It seems boring.

But I was praying about how to share, and I felt God say, “Tell my story.” My previous efforts to share my testimony (this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to write this post) failed because I made it about me. It’s not my story. It’s His. And does God ever do anything less than amazing? 

I don’t remember the beginning. My parents were committed Christians, and they brought my siblings and I up, not only to have a knowledge of the Bible, but to cultivate a personal relationship with God. God was real to me. I remember praying in bed each night for my family members, our animals; the things that were important to me. 

When I was seven, something else became real to me: death. My father died from cancer. I was too young to fully comprehend it, but it sent down anchors of fear in my heart – fear of loss, fear of anything permanent. But God is faithful, and He kept us through that trial. My family have never lacked anything we’ve needed. God was all we had, and although it was hard – it still is sometimes – He proved He was all we needed.

I outgrew my childlike faith, I guess, leading up to and during my early teen years. I didn’t think life was fair, and there were things happening in my circumstances at the time I didn’t like. I fought a lot of internal battles. I was angry at people, and I was angry at God. I was waiting for a big enough excuse to justify turning away from Him. I felt nobody understood me, so I journaled a lot. Reading through my old journals I see God being there for me even though I doubted, and drawing me closer to Himself. It was a process of me finding God for myself. 

There was no moment of conversion when my life changed instantly, but God gradually softened me, and proved Himself to me, until I was ready to give Him everything I was and am and will be. The craziest thing is, I didn’t even recognise it – it’s only by reading my old journals and thinking, wow, I actually wrote that?! I’ve realised what God’s been doing in my life. He’s taken away the anger and replaced it with love and compassion for others. He’s working on the fear and selfishness. I found this quote from a powerful book called Steps to Christ, and it sums up my experience:

A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion; but this does not prove him to be unconverted. Christ said to Nicodemus, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 Like the wind, which is invisible, yet the effects of which are plainly seen and felt, is the Spirit of God in its work upon the human heart. That regenerating power, which no human eye can see, begets a new life in the soul; it creates a new being in the image of God. While the work of the Spirit is silent and imperceptible, its effects are manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God, the life will bear witness to the fact.

The Christian life isn’t like boom! Saved and living in hassle-free holiness. Every day I have to give myself to God, I have to choose to say no to fleshly desires in preference to closer communion with Him. It’s hard, I fall, and there are days and weeks when I feel distant from God or hold onto things that keep me from Him. But every time, God is still there. There’s a promise in Jeremiah 29:13 which I really like because I know it’s true: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” 

It’s because I’ve seen God working I believe – not because I was brought up this way. I’ve seen Him change my own character, I’ve seen Him change other people, and I’ve seen Him answering my prayers, providing direction in life, and being true to what He says in the Bible. I have doubted, but every time He proves Himself to me again.

Knowing God gives me purpose, reason to live, and a way to make sense of life and this world. But more than that – Jesus is not an idea Christians cling to for comfort or perceived hope. Jesus is alive. God is not an idea or philosophy or even belief to me; He’s real. He’s a friend I can talk to and learn from, a father Who can counsel and direct me, and an almighty being who exists to provide what is best for me. I’ve experienced Him, and that’s why I believe.

I want to say so much more –it’s hard to condense the story! – but please know this: God is there. He’s looking to reveal Himself to you in a personal way too. He promises He will be found of us, and, yes, it takes searching for Him with everything we’ve are, but it’s worth every bit of it.

P.s Tell me your stories too! I’m eager to hear how you’ve gotten to the place you are, and what the journey’s been like. And feel free to ask if you have any specific questions about my testimony. Thanks so much for reading, beautiful souls. You are loved! xx