A simple prayer for you…

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But a true friend would also pray that, if it’s the best thing for you — if it makes you holier and brings God more glory in your life — may He also grant you waiting, and sorrow, and maybe a little pain, and some heartbreak. May you know mercy and grace to the fullest extent, if He sees fit, and may it bring you closer to Christ and make you more like Him.

 

Growing your prayer life

I’ve shared before that prayer is really a big deal in my life. I don’t think I’m special because of that, I don’t think I’m spiritually gifted or anything, I say this with honestly but total humility — in my Christian life, prayer has always been significant. I’ve also shared that a huge contributor to this was a prayer class I took at Bible college. I know — what a weird class, right? It completely changed my life though. In the course we discussed why we pray, how to pray, how to motivate others to pray, and other similar topics. We read several prayer-related books, and, most importantly to me, we learned to develop our personal prayer lives.

iwillprayFor the course, our “homework” included a minimum of 30 minutes of prayer a day. Confession: the first week or so, 30 minutes was basically torture. For one thing, I speak quickly, so I ran out of things to say pretty fast. And it was hard to get used to talking to Someone who wasn’t talking back. The professor helped us fill this time by giving us specific things to start off a prayer list. He assigned everyone an obscure country to pray for (see this site/book for guidance), as well as random people from our government (example) and other world leaders. Each week, we had to bring a personal prayer update to class with enough copies to give everyone. So we ended up with 20 or so prayer updates to help us pray personally for our classmates. I think we may have also been assigned professors and college employees. We were also taught the biblical value of praying using scripture. We were encouraged to keep a list, which I used a journal for, of specific things and people we were praying for. Within a few weeks, I can honestly say my prayer time could not be contained to just 30 minutes, and I cherished my prayer request journal, which, by the end of the semester, served as a memorial to dozens of prayer requests the Lord had answered in just 12 weeks of daily prayer.

We were also taught not to just use prayer as a time of asking for things. God is not Santa Claus, after all. When Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to pray (in Luke 11), He covered a lot in just a few verses:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.'”

First of all, He says “When you pray” — this assumes your prayer time is happening. It’s not optional or occasional. If you read the gospels, which tell the story of Christ’s life, you see time and time again that He spends a lot of time in prayer. He expects the same of us. In fact, in the prayer class, we were encouraged to pray in solitude early in the morning, just like Jesus often did.

In the example prayer He gives, Jesus covers important aspects of prayer. He starts with praising God and asking for His will, He petitions the Lord for provision and tells us to confess our sins and ask for protection against future sins. You may have heard the prayer model of “A.C.T.S.” — that is, Adoration (praising God for who He is), Contrition (confessing sins with a repentant heart), Thanksgiving (thanking God for what He’s done and given), and Supplication (asking God to answer requests). I learned this little method, which follows Luke 11, in that class, and I often follow it to this day. I see it as a “protection” against only using prayer to ask for things, and a guide to balance my prayers and stick to Christ’s instructions for how to pray.

By the time I finished the prayer class, my prayer life was completely transformed. I loved spending an unlimited block of time each morning seeking the Lord, I loved adding people’s prayer requests to my list and seeing God answer them, and I felt closer to the Lord than I ever had.

Over the years since, my prayer life hasn’t always stayed so extraordinary, but I can testify that the effects of the class still linger greatly. Unlike before the class, I now cherish the fundamental belief that a personal prayer life is not optional or only for times of need. I can honestly say I really enjoy meeting with God in prayer, and I really need it. If I go too long without a solid time of prayer with Him, I can feel it, and I have to have it. This isn’t because I’m a super-saint — I was not like this before that class. I mean, sure, I liked praying, but anything more than a couple minutes was agony. I don’t naturally have a great attention span, and I had never given myself the chance (or had the guidance) to intentionally practice the discipline of prayer.

And that’s what I really want to get at with this post. A couple semesters after taking that class, I remember a friend asking to have dinner with me to discuss something. At dinner, she started asking my advice on how to build her prayer life, at one point asking if I thought prayer was a spiritual gift. I absolutely do not think that. A prayer life, as we heard and saw from Jesus Himself, if a nonnegotiable necessity to any healthy Christian life. If you, like I once did, think you’re bad at it or don’t really need it, what you really need is an intentional period of growth.

It would be the natural temptation of many of us to read about the requirements for the prayer class and cry legalism. And you’re right in knowing that Christ freed us from the law — so we don’t have to pray special prayers at special times in special ways. 30 minutes is not a magic, holy number. However, there is much said in scripture about discipline and intentional growth — and I would hate for anyone to miss out on that beautiful, life-changing growth because she’s confusing intentionality with legalismpray

If you’re thinking about your prayer life and feel it’s lacking something, or you even kind of cringe at the thought, I challenge you to consider how you can intentionally change this area of your life. There isn’t a special formula, but I can personally recommend the methods I shared about above. I am going to share some book recommendations, but it’s really as easy as (perhaps) setting a time limit, scheduling a daily prayer session (P.S. If you don’t schedule it, you probably won’t do it!), and making a prayer list. Consider raising the time limit every week, and soliciting prayer requests from friends, finding them in the news, or using your church’s prayer list. Get creative. If you don’t have a lot of requests, spend more time thanking and praising God. Or just talk about your life and thoughts, like you would with a friend. I personally prefer to pray out loud (it helps my attention span); one of my best friends has long loved to write out her prayers. Embrace the freedom God has given, and find what works for you!

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback — how have you grown your prayer life in the past? If you take up this challenge, please come back and share how it’s going!

It’s not about the baby

I have long said that this infertility is not about the baby. It’s not about my body or my ticking biological clock (though I hear it). Trying to conceive started out as about the baby — we’ve dreamed of having a big family, and for years we carefully weighed the decision in wisdom. At first I wasn’t ready at all, then we were ready but felt the Lord saying to wait for other reasons. When we finally felt peace about the go-ahead, we were so excited to finally start our big happy dream family. Actually at first I remember thinking I really didn’t care if we got pregnant — it was fun just to start the new chapter and see what God did.

That got harder to say as the months fell away.

But still deep in my heart, the pain that crept in wasn’t the pain of wanting a baby. It’s not that I don’t want a baby — it’s just that the real issue here is between me and the Lord. From Why aren’t You granting this request? to Where are You? and How could you let this happen to us?, as well as every topic you’ve seen in this blog, and a hundred more personal ones. It’s not about the baby.

So I should’ve seen it coming when, a few months ago I was toiling again in the agony of When is this finally going to be over? and I felt this voice in my heart reply, It’s over when you say it’s over. 

And I should’ve known that sooner.

If the trial isn’t about the baby, then it doesn’t end with the baby.

If I really believe this is about my relationship with God (and my husband’s relationship with God), what He’s teaching us, how He’s refining us, then the trial can surely end without a baby.

What a hard thing to acknowledge, but true nonetheless.

Because a baby could come, and the refining continues. I could get what I want, but still be aching inside. Don’t you agree? Haven’t you seen this happen before? It might be a baby, or a husband, or a whatever. If I could just get ________, I would be ok. But the Christian knows that the real issue isn’t in the “_________,” it’s in the heart.

So this is the really hard question to ask yourself… what really needs to be done, in your heart, to end this trial? I don’t even really have an answer — I’m still asking myself the question. I will continue this post in a few days, with the current (wrong) “answer” I keep getting…

The Most Precious Treasures are in the Most Difficult Things (Repost)

By Jon Bloom (DesiringGod.org)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1–2).

Hebrews 11 is in the Bible to remind us that God hides his most precious treasures for his saints in their most difficult and painful experiences.

When we read this chapter we are supposed to stop and reflect more deeply on this strange motif because it’s just a brief summary (“And what more shall I say, for time will fail me to tell of…” (Hebrews 11:32).

logoThink of how Abraham and Sarah agonized with infertility, then waited 25 years for God to fulfill his promise of Isaac. Think of how Isaac and Rebekah agonized over the treacherous and nearly murderous rivalry between their twin sons. Think of how Jacob agonized for years in grief over the belief that wild beasts had killed Joseph. Think of how Moses agonized for 40 years in the Midian wilderness over his lost opportunity to deliver his enslaved people. Think of how David agonized for years as Saul hunted him like an animal.

Now think of what each agony eventually resulted in.

The motif of agony giving birth to the greatest blessings … Click Here to continue this encouraging article. It was written neither by nor for me. I liked it, so I shared it with you. 

You asked for this (Or, The Cost of Sanctification)

Recently, I sat up late at night reading (once again) Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. He quoted this hymn by John Newton, and it brought me to tears.

These Inward Trials
By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow,
In faith, in love, in every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

I hoped that on some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed,
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I tremblingly cried,
“Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.”

“These inward trials I employ,”
“From self and pride to set thee free;”
“And break thy schemes of earthly joy,”
“That thou may’st seek thy all in Me.”

I read that and heard this voice reply to all of my frequent inward cries of “Why?” with: You asked for this. Not in the snarky, heartless way those worse are usually uttered. But with peaceful reassurance of the Refiner’s Fire which I’ve asked to be walked through so many times in my Christian life. Even this morning in my prayer time, I caught myself saying, “Lord make me more like You.” I almost laughed. How many times have I prayed that prayer or one like it? Who hasn’t at least prayed, caught up at a conference or camp or after a moving sermon, that God would sanctify her more and make her more like Christ? That is the Christian aim, after all, right?

2cor318I guess in all the years of asking that, I hadn’t really considered how it would be answered. I really did mean it, I just didn’t calculate the cost of sanctification. We make jokes about not praying for patience, because you’ll have to be in a hard situation to learn patience. But now I’m seeing that’s really true about all of the fruit of the Spirit and Christlike characteristics, isn’t it? I mean, what did I think? I would wake up one morning and be like, “Oh good, now I’m wise,” or “Finally, I’m more compassionate,” or the dozens of other things I’m now learning? Surely not.

This revelation has actually increased my patience and lessened my questioning (not eliminated it, but lessened it for sure). I asked for this refining, after all — so I need to be thanking God for His answer to all those prayers, instead of sulking in the delay of a relatively new one.

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10 Things I Wish Someone had Told me about Infertility

This might seem kind of ironic for me to post, because I’m still in the midst of infertility. I guess a better title would be “Things I wish someone had told me from the beginning of my infertility so I didn’t have to learn them the hard way” … but that’s kind of long, so it is what it is. Plus, I know you people (I’m one of you), and if I had a baby you’d spend the whole post thinking, “That’s easy for her to say, she has her baby.” So no excuses now, my friends! 

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1. A lot of people have struggled with infertility.

Once you tell people about your struggle, women left and right begin to tell you about their previous struggles with trying to conceive. This is actually a big reason why you should tell people (see #8) – there is great comfort in knowing you aren’t alone. When we told my in-laws, my husband and I were both surprised to hear that his own mother struggled with infertility for 5 years between her third and fourth child. Besides gaining wisdom from people like this, it refreshes your hope to hear someone say, “I never thought I would finally get pregnant,” while her wild kids run around you.

2. It gets better.

As my months started to add up to a year, I began to sink. Specifically, from months 11-14, I was in a black pit of despair. I cried all the time and didn’t want to do anything. I was depressed and felt hopeless, in anguish at the reality that this fear was really coming true. I never could have imagined that the months ahead would hold light and peace, but they did. I wish so much I could go back, A-Christmas-Carol-style, and tell myself, crawled up and weeping, unable to pray, that it will be better. Of course, I can’t do that, so I’m telling you, dear weeper, instead: it will be better. Hang in there.

3. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and fear are your biggest enemies, and they don’t get you anywhere.

When you enter infertility world (even if you enter kicking and screaming, like I did), you instantly discover that most people in this world are bitter. I hate to say it, but you can’t avoid it. Most people feel entitled to complain and are dead-set on being miserable until this is over. You need to rise above, or it’ll eat you alive and convince you (unbiblically) that you deserve that attitude as well.

4. It’s one step at a time.

You can’t plan from month 12 (or month 1, or month anything) every step you’re going to take in this. It’s one cycle at a time, one test at a time, one treatment at a time, one doctor’s visit at a time, maybe even one adoption application at a time. You will just fall apart if you try to think and plan much past that. Trust me.

5. It’s not a one-girl show.

One thing that really bugs me is when women retreat inward in their trial with barrenness. What about your husband? Yes, I know he probably doesn’t grieve like you, but he’s not a woman. He is human, so unless you were trying to force this baby without his agreement (which I sincerely hope you weren’t), he’s grieving too. This isn’t your trial alone, and you can’t push him out because his side of the trial looks different.

6. There are a million things to learn.

This is practical thing. I knew nothing about the world of trying to conceive, infertility, treatments, adoption, etc. I still don’t know a lot. When you get past the “denial” stage of this grief, the first thing you need to do is pray, then research and educate yourself. And following #5, don’t do it all alone – share what you learn with your husband. Make sure he’s at your appointments and consultations. Make decisions together. This isn’t 1952, girl; you aren’t trying to have your baby, you guys are in this together!

7. It’s complicated.

I guess this follows #4 and #6… if you’re at month 12, this isn’t a cut-and-dry, just do such-and-such and bam! you get a baby. If it was, you’d be pregnant already. Some people have success with the first treatment, but I wish from the start I was out of denial enough to accept that it probably wouldn’t be a let’s-just-do-this-and-get-it-other-with kind of thing. And enough of it not being fair because some people have it so easy. Everyone is on their own journey.

8. You should tell people.

It took a long time for my husband and me to start telling friends and family that we were having trouble getting pregnant. It was part denial, part pride, and part just being private people. But after we told some people – wow, what a relief! The Bible is spot on when it says to “bear one another’s burdens.” I can’t believe we tried to do all the praying ourselves! It made such a difference to have people pray, cry, hope, and wait with us. You don’t have to make a personal blog or status every step on Facebook, if that’s not your thing (it’s not ours); we’ve basically kept to sharing details with our closest friends and family, and when others take the time to ask about our situation, we say something simple like, “We haven’t been able to have children yet, but you can pray that we do soon.” Find what works for you, but don’t go it alone.

9. It’s worth it.

I know you don’t want to hear it, but you have to. This is worth it, my friend. Oh dear myself a year ago, this unending nightmare is worth far more than a child. “This light and momentary affliction” – that I know does not feel at all light or momentary – is “producing in us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.” The sanctification that will come from this would never have been obtained in any other way. The glory that God will get from this will far exceed the glory He would’ve gotten in any other scenario. Don’t forget that. Don’t lose sight of that. Tell yourself every day, every period, every miscarriage, every dollar sent to an adoption agency. This is worth it. This is the better plan.

10. There is always hope.

It’s weird for me to be saying this, because I haven’t been pregnant yet. However, I’ve gradually become convinced of this, and I wish I could tell it to every broken, barren woman. There is always hope! You serve The Omnipotent God, Who loves you so much and has a great plan for your life! There is always hope for real peace and joy – and, I have to say it – there is always hope for a baby!  I don’t care what the doctors or tests say, or how long the adoption is taking. If you really believe God made a virgin pregnant, surely He can leap over the fact that you guys accidently got your days messed up and “did it” a day after ovulation. Surely He can work around your “advanced age.” Surely He can use your husband’s low sperm count. If you believe the Bible is true (and it is!), you must believe that what He did for Sarah, and Hannah, and Elizabeth, He is able to do for you. I just want you, in your hopelessness, to join me in repeating as much as you need – There is always hope. There is always hope. There is always hope.

The Valley of Vision (aka: This will make you cry)

A little while back I was chatting with my husband’s family on the question of the best book we ever read besides the Bible. Agreeing it was hard to really choose one, we all shared about a book that highly impacted us. My mother-in-law mentioned The Valley of Vision, and others concurred that it was really excellent. I made a mental note to read it sometime. A couple weeks later I was randomly gifted a copy, so I took that as a sign that “sometime” is now.

This morning I started reading it — it’s a book of old Puritan prayers. My husband and I decided to read one a day together before bed. I’m not typically a fan of recited prayers, as Jesus warns against praying the same words over and over like the Pharisees do (see Matthew 6). But I appreciate the poetic nature and sentiment of these very biblical, deep prayers, and the value they add to my own praying.

All that to say, the very first one in the book is the one the title comes from, and it made me tear up immediately. It is so perfect for this trial. I called my husband in for a second reading, and he too got teary. We both expressed an interest in maybe framing it to be reminded of its deep truths, which we have been learning in our trial of infertility.

Here it is (go get the tissues!)…

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

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I found this beautiful drawing someone did using this prayer. Click to see enlarge and visit the artist’s page.

2014 – The year you read the Bible?

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, it’s not too late! Or, if you decided to grow spiritually this year, I have a tool to help!

I should say, I’m definitely a believer that it’s never too late to grow. Even if you’re reading this in November, it’s still a year from next November, so why wait until January? What’s so special about that month? I’m not really a fan of New Year’s Resolutions because I really think we should be making consistent goals, especially spiritually, throughout the year. One for the year is unreasonable, and not really enough. But I think resolving to read through the Bible is one of those exceptionally reasonable goals that can easily be achieved, and that you can benefit from throughout the year. And what else could you resolve to do that could be of such eternal value to you and most likely change your earthly life as you know it?

Many people I know have recommended the YouVersion Bible App, specifically the component for reading the Bible in a year. It gives you a plan for a section from both the Old and New Testament each day, and keeps track of your progress. It will even link you up with a friend for accountability. And it’s free!

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If you don’t have a smart phone, you can easily track down a reading guide online. Here are a few:

If the thought of reading the whole Bible overwhelms you, I recommend starting smaller, instead of not starting at all. Try reading just the New Testament — it’s the size (and probably shorter) than any “normal” book you’d read, and much of it is stories, so it will hold your attention if you’re not accustomed to reading the Bible.

And to be honest, you don’t really need a special plan. Continue reading “2014 – The year you read the Bible?”

The Sweetness of Sorrow

I know I keep mentioning this book, but that’s only because it’s amazing and ya’ll have to read it. I am still in Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering and highlighting like every word.

At the end of each chapter he includes a testimony — a true story, relative to the chapter’s point, as told by someone who walked a certain trial. It’s a touching end to each message. I just finished one about a man who has ALS and his wife, and the awful trial it has been for them. I read the final quote by her and ran over to post about it, it is just so perfect!

ps119Just the other day my husband and I were at lunch with one of his closest friends and his wife. As we shared with them about our long, painful trial with infertility, we started testifying of how sweet this time has been, as strange as that sounds. We praised the Lord before them for how much this has grown our marriage, sanctified us, and brought us closer to Christ every day. We actually ended by wishing for them that they would be so blessed as to have a trial soon as well. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but I’ve learned (and scripture supports it) that there is probably no better way to grow in Christ and closer to the Father. As much as this trial breaks my heart and aches our spirits, I am so grateful for what it has done in our lives.

I was blessed to hear this woman echo my thoughts:

“We have found meaning, purpose, joy, growth, and wholeness in our loss. How much I would have missed if I had opted out of this season. God has had so much to give me in the midst of it. I see how intense sorrow and intense sweetness are mingled together. The depth and richness of life has come in suffering. How much I have learned and how much sweeter Jesus is to me now.”

If you don’t believe me or her, maybe Peter’s inspired words will convince you:

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Click to enlarge.

Waiting Here for You… and waiting, and waiting, and waiting

wait on the lordIt’s only to be expected that you will get tired of waiting for the Lord to act or answer during this time. You know you’re being sanctified, learning patience, but it doesn’t always calm the mystery inside of why God is taking so long “up there.” There are so many biblical reasons for this.

In an article titled Why Won’t God Hurry Up?, Relevant Magazine writer Eric Speir sites at least four reasons he realized while he was waiting four years for the Lord to bless Him with a ministry job. His first reason is that you aren’t ready for the size of what will come. This is an interesting thought. We cringe at it, but it’s fair to consider that maybe God is still preparing you and/or your spouse to be parents. My husband and I have considered this in times of fighting or stress. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow when you see teenagers or other immature people “accidentally” becoming parents, but I encourage you to keep your eyes on Christ and your journey, and not let your eyes wander to assess other peoples’ journeys and what God does in their lives. The second reason Speir provides is that you are unlearning improper worship — in other words, has a baby become an idol to you? It may not be a real “golden calf,” but is it the most important thing in your world? It shouldn’t be. God will probably want to strip you of that before blessing you further. The article also mentions two other reasons we’ve discussed a bit in his blog: learning dependence on God, and being used for other things in this time. Learning dependence of God is probably the sweetest reason for waiting, in my opinion. What a better response from God than to ask for your attention and to grow closer to you before giving you another potential (and likely) distraction? Continue reading “Waiting Here for You… and waiting, and waiting, and waiting”