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!

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Where your strength lies

I’ve been thinking about the idea of where we find our strength. My husband and I were discussing this the other day, when pre-briefing (is that a thing?) our imminent return to the country where we work and live. We may be there for three years or more before we leave or see family again. We actually just did this, and it was blessed, but hard sometimes. We were discussing how we feel about it all, and how we’re planning to go about doing it, and do it well. One thing we both agreed on was that our strength can’t come from anything but the Lord. We get tempted to say, “It’ll be ok, because we’ll try and save to come home next Christmas,” or, “We just have to make it a year, and maybe my mom will be able to come,” or, “We’ll plan now for a vacation next summer, so we have something to look forward to.” It seems innocent enough, but this is a dangerous temptation because it takes our hope and puts it in things other than the Lord.

augustineInfertility holds this same temptation. How easy it is for us to look to other things to give us confidence: statistics, doctors, procedures, other peoples’ experiences or opinions, palm readings, whatever. We have to keep ourselves in check. For me, I tell myself to finish this sentence: I feel strong right now because _______________. Or maybe, I’m not worried anymore because _____________. If my answer is found in anything else but Christ, I need a heart change. I need to pray and change my focus. I need to get offline. I need to talk it out with a godly friend. 

The scriptures speak of this a lot. Continue reading “Where your strength lies”

What’s a special infertility verse for you? (Interactive)

This is another interactive post, so get your pencils ready.

retreatI want to know (so I can mooch it off you, of course), what is one verse or passage that has been very close to your heart during your infertility?

If you’re like me, there have been many, maybe even a new one every week or month, that God has given you for hope and encouragement. Will you share just one (ok, I may allow two, if you really can’t pick) that has stuck especially close to you?

If I had to pick one, I may still go back to the one that started it all (including this blog – Post #1!) for me:

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

-Matthew 7:9-11

…Ok, now you go!

isa

On Patience

Cringe.

Yes, I know, patience is the best virtue to have but the worst to grow. We’ve all heard the old joke, “Don’t pray for patience.” If you ask for it, you’ll have to face a situation that is not easy to be patient in. Enter infertility.

You know you need to be patient, so rather than go on and on about the necessity, desirability, and benefits of patience, I’ll just offer some Bible verses and wise quotes on the subject.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” -Galatians 5:22-23

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” -Romans 8:25

phil 1.6“…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” -Colossians 1:10-12

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” -Colossians 3:12

“Patience can be formed only in the crucible of frustration.” –Gary Thomas

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” -Augustine

“A blessed spirit is a mould ever more and more patient of the bright metal poured into it, a body ever more completely uncovered to the meridian blaze of the spiritual sun.” -C.S. Lewis

“What then are we to do about our problems? We must learn to live with them until such time as God delivers us from them…we must pray for grace to endure them without murmuring. Problems patiently endured will work for our spiritual perfecting. They harm us only when we resist them or endure them unwillingly.” -A. W. Tozer

The point of it all

We’ve talked a lot about what can be gained from this trial and the value, the necessity, of not wasting it. My biggest fear for you is probably that you will just wait it out, grin and bear it, and when it’s over you’ll look back on it as a nearly meaningless time of torture. My friend, I have to tell you, for the Christian, that just cannot be so.

The verse I probably cling to the most in this, deep to my core, is Paul’s words to Christians in trial like 2,000 years ago. They are 100% true today, and they are spoken to you. They are your hope, and the reason you must refuse not to waste these days, months and years of pain, waiting, loss, and fear.

2 Corinthians 4:17

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Oh, thank God! There IS a point to it all: to work in me things of value more important than any troubles, and thank God that this is definitely light and momentary. Oh, thank God! If you don’t memorize any other verse, please memorize that one and repeat it to yourself a hundred times a day if you have to. There is a point to this whole thing, and you better not let yourself miss it!james 1.12

The whole passage is just as awesome and encouraging. Print it out, put it where you’ll see it, and read it as much as you need.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Several weeks ago I posted a song called Though You Slay Me, and the version features a powerful quote by Pastor John Piper on suffering and the temptation to feel that it’s meaningless. It’s based on this passage. Here’s the whole thing…

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.”

Again, I just have to thank God for this truth. This is not meaningless. Paul tells other brethren […] Continue reading “The point of it all”

We rejoice in our sufferings

Ok so this morning this verse popped up like 3 times in a row… once in my inbox, once on pinterest, and someone else statused it on facebook. So I’m taking that as a “sign” (whatever that means) that I need to share it with you.

Clicking the picture will lead to Romans 5, which is one of the best chapters in the Bible and in one of my favorite books of the Bible.
Clicking the picture will lead to Romans 5, which is one of the best chapters in the Bible and in one of my favorite books of the Bible.

Our Homegirl Hannah

I enjoyed reading this post about Hannah. It’s from a website called Childless.me (I love the tagline of that site: An open heart is better than an open womb). Rather than write my own, I’m going to share hers with you. I plan to write a post soon about my personal favorite barren woman of the Bible, Sarah. For now, here’s Hannah…

Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons? 1 Samuel 1:8; Like with Sarah, any Barren Women of the Bible series would be lacking without Hannah’s infertility story.

Before the gun is jumped on the opening verse; no, a husband cannot fill a baby-shaped hole in a woman’s heart. And God understands, He has noted in Proverbs 30:15-16, “…There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.”

Hannah’s barren years MAY have been all or mostly down to the timing of Samuel’s entrance into the world and her being inspired to embrace God’s plans for her firstborn. People often consider if God is saying “Yes“, “Wait“, or “No / I’ve got other plans for you“. It’s clear Hannah got a “wait” response even though she didn’t hear it until just before Samuel was conceived. I hope in my case there’s a “wait” I am not privy to yet. Although, when I see what is going on these last days my heart goes in the direction of “No.” So, while I float between “Please Lord” and “On second thought..” I wait by default. (See the third paragraph in this article:“The Role of Faith”; it can be hard to determine the answer even if it’s coming to you.)

Those comments in the article I linked to, the ones the author mentions in the first paragraph, Hannah likely heard some versions of. Aren’t we tempted to take what people say to heart, especially when we’re already down and extra sensitive? Then we also hear comments like Elkanah’s opening statement here, well meaning, but missing the magnitude of an empty womb. There are some highly sensitive husbands out there (as there are some highly insensitive), Elkanah is probably pretty average in that regard? Some males handle infertility so strangely in our eyes, they seem indifferent. Finally we have Hannah’s sister wife, Peninnah, who was apparently keen to make jabs over Hannah’s infertility. Just imagining all these voices in her life, *I* feel isolated! And to think, we haveour own voice to contend with also!

In 1 Sa 1:15 the long waiting Hannah states what we know well, “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit”. I can only speak from my situation, I am not harassed by a sister wife or a sister for that matter. My husband is not as effected, but he understands more than he knows (he lost a wife and four children to a cult). He copes by doing his best to put them out of mind. I’m sure that is a daily practice. As for others, yes I hear some well meaning but hurtful comments occasionally. It’s not common, thankfully. For the most part, hurtful words aren’t an issue in my life. Other peoples having “it all” is only hard to watch on the rare extremely sensitive, hormonal day. (I did go through a bitter phase that was much worse!) Oh dear Hannah, she had to see her sister wife’s children run around all day. Hannah had it worse than me, I am sure of that.

Continue reading “Our Homegirl Hannah”

He cares for you

If you don’t already, I highly recommend you keep a personal journal through your infertility adventure. One reason I do is to jot down all the encouragements, especially from scripture, that the Lord sends me along the way. It’s really a blessing to look back on these, especially if I find myself in a dry patch when I don’t feel Him speaking or moving.

Several months back in just my normal daily Bible reading, I came across this passage. Have you ever just been innocently reading your Bible and stumbled upon a verse or passage and just felt, “Oh, this is to me!” I mean, yes, I know, it’s all to me, but sometimes you just find something and know it was given for you especially at that moment in your life. Well, this passage was that for me that day. I burst into tears and read it ten more times before writing it in my journal. It fed my soul with encouragement for weeks.

It was 1 Peter 5:6-11

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I was spoken to, not only by the reminder (and that’s actually a command to cast your cares upon Him) that God cares for me, but the encouragement to keep myself strong so that the enemy does not get a foothold in my heart through this trial, because he is waiting for a chance. I know Peter wrote this to brethren being persecuted, but I even appreciated the reminder that “brothers and sisters around the world” are going through this and other sufferings, too. I also rested in the promise that God Himself will surely restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish me — all things I was (and am) really needing. He has the power forever, and there is great confidence in that!

By the way, since I mentioned it today, if you don’t read the Bible every day, you have to. Just a few verses, a section, or a chapter a day is easier than you think, feeds you more than you can imagine, and is the best way I can think of to let God speak to you. After all, you are probably always talking to Him — how are you letting Him respond? If you don’t know where to start, I recommend 1 Peter, mostly just because I talked about it now, and because it deals with suffering a bit. I also love the book of Luke, if you want to start with more stories (it starts with the Christmas story, that’s easy enough!). If you don’t own a Bible or if you own one in old English you hate to read, you can download the English Standard Version of the Bible for free on Kindle, as an App, or read it for free online. If you know of an organization that will mail a free hardcopy of the Bible to you, would you leave a note in the comments for fellow readers who would be interested? 

1pet

You are not forgotten

Though this passage was written about Israel in her struggle, the principle still reigns true for you in your affliction, if you call yourself one of God’s people. It blessed my soul greatly when I stumbled upon it on this blog: Julianna Morlet [Just a heads up: her blog may be painful to read if you’re struggling with jealousy, as God recently gave her a child. Also, just a heads up: if you’re struggling with jealousy, your blog post is coming soon.] If you ache with feeling like God has forgotten you in this seemingly dragging, e.n.d.l.e.s.s. season, this is His answer for you today, my friend:

Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth;

burst into songs you mountains!

For the LORD comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the LORD has forgotten me.”

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?

Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.

-Isaiah 49:13-16

This one’s for you

If you’re like me, there are a lot of passages and verses people share with you that you appreciate, but sometimes don’t cling to as much because you know their original intent wasn’t your context (cough/Jeremiah 29:11/cough). Well if that’s you, hold onto your heart — there is plenty in scripture written directly to you, where you’re at right now.

Luke 18 starts with one of those passages. Right from the start it says that Jesus told His disciples a story “so that they would always pray and not lose heart.” Drop everything you’re doing, this was written for you, my friend.

Luke 18:1-8 

The Parable of the Persistent Widow

18 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said,“Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This is the English Standard Version.