What’s the Expiration Date of a Prayer?

IMG_4945Slumped on the ground among my Irises, I wanted to quit.

I’d spent almost three hours trying to fix my drip-line sprinklers while a platoon of blood-thirsty mosquitoes dive-bombed my forearms.

On the brink of surrender, a Praying Mantis landed nearby.

His prayer-like posture and calm repose made me realize how easily I’m defeated in the dirt and sweat of life.

Reminded me that prayer is vital, it’s not a last resort.

“Be earnest and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer [life], being [both] alert and intent in [your praying] with thanksgiving. (Colossians 4: 2)

Earnest, unwearied, steadfast, alert, intent, thankful…hardly describes my prayer life these days.

More like good intentions, and microwave prayers that make me grumble if I don’t see immediate results.

Knowing God’s Word regarding prayer, impacts how I pray.

But knowing ain’t the same as PRAYING……….

I can be a Prayer Warrior or a Prayer Wimp.

A warrior is a brave, experienced fighter.

A wimp is a weak, timid coward.

Why would I choose the latter?

Knowing I can “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 14:6)

 If there’s a problem, maybe it’s because

  • My prayers have an expiration date.

        I’ve been praying for this situation for two months. It’s impossible. Nothing’s going to change. I give up.

  •         I make excuses why I don’t pray.

       I promised that person I’d pray for them, but I forgot. Besides, I don’t know what to pray. God knows their needs better than I do.

  •          I dodge prayers so I don’t have to obey.

        I should pray for _Fill in the blank_ but I’m afraid God will say, “NO!”

       I’d pray but I’m afraid God will tell me to forgive that person.

  •     I neglect specific prayers to avoid disappointment.

        I’d rather pray Thy Will Be Done and accept what comes than ask for specific…test results, needs, healing, loved one’s salvation…because if God doesn’t come through, my faith might flounder.

But God is faithful. Last week, He used a Praying Mantis to get my attention, and answered a prayer through an unlikely person when I least expected it.

That’s how I KNOW that God sees me and loves me.

Just like Hagar who “gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13).

Photo by: Jennifer Wrede

Ears to Hear

My daughter, the bride, had been gone all day shopping for her wedding when I text-ed her from home: “Be sure to Stop and Eat.”

She returned my text: “How did you know?”

I replied, “Because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

IMG_5693Since Thanksgiving, wedding plans in addition to getting ready for Christmas and out-of-town guests, made me feel like Santa who’s “making a list and checking it twice.” Only the list never seemed to end.

I had to make myself STOP and FEAST on God’s Word. With my soul fed, I was able to continue the race for one more day. I admit my running took greater priority as the month wore on, but still, I’d attempt to grab a morsel of scripture, breathe a prayer.

My husband calls me a Jack Russell Terrier. Like those dogs, my personality leans towards hyper when I have an agenda. When I take the time to “Be still” and sit at my Master’s feet, I’m calm, but only momentarily. The doorbell rings, and I’m running and yapping again.

Knowing I would get overwhelmed, hosting a wedding and Christmas dinner within three days of each other, I did not want to be a Jack Russell Terrier. I prayed to have “the mind of Christ,” to be loving, kind, humble, have a servant’s heart.

I even embraced the advice of a Safeway clerk who told me “major on the majors and minor on the minors.”

“People won’t remember what you served for dinner,” she said, as she handed me a two-foot grocery receipt. “They’ll remember being together, and how you welcomed them into your home.”

She was right.

The wedding day was beautiful beyond words even for this author, but by Christmas day, I was running on empty. I could only “major on the majors.”

Whenever my pride pointed out my shortcomings, minor things became major in my head which led to fear of what others thought about me.

Pride and fear are NOT the “mind of Christ.”

So instead of listening to the tape of accusations in my head, I asked God to breathe for me and listened to the …

Laughter in the room as the bride and groom’s two families became one.

Twelve voices singing  carols to celebrate our Lord’s birth.

Spoken prayers and stories shared.

Love and joy fill the air.

By God granting me ears to hear, the Jack Russell Terrier within me remained more calm even in this.

“He keeps in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusts in thee.” Isaiah 26:3

My Space

     The young girl within me giggled when I walked into the hotel room. It was immaculate. And there was a king-size bed just for me.  I plopped down on the pillow-top mattress.

I can watch whatever on television. I can stay up late reading. I can eat crackers in bed…it’s all my space.

Odd those ten hours of space would trigger my emotions.

I remember being a child on family vacations. Long hours driving down the highway in our Ford station wagon. My younger brother stretches out on the back bench seat, his feet crossing the imaginary line we agreed upon.

“Mommm, tell R…to get on his own side!”

As a teenager, if little brother walked into my bedroom uninvited,“Mom, tell R… to get out of my room!”

In my twenties, two spaces became one. Not only did I have to share my personal space, so did the groom. After the honeymoon, I had to ask, “Honey, may I have some closet space for my clothes?”

Then the children arrived and there was no space. They thought nothing of knocking on my bathroom door.

“Mommy!”

“Can’t it wait?”

“Tell J….to leave me alone.”

Now that two of our children are grown, I have more space. But some days I want it all to myself. Don’t ask me why. I only know, for one night I had my space. And it was good.

Then came self-imposed guilt.

I thought of the excellent wife described in Proverbs 31. According to verses 15 and 18, she didn’t have any space. The woman “gets up while it is still dark, and her lamp does not go out at night.”

Then again, perhaps we aren’t so different. Many a day, I rose while it was “still dark” to feed my babies and rock them back to sleep. Plenty of “nights” I stayed awake to stroke my children’s feverish brows.

As on-call wife and mom, I carved my space out of early mornings and midnight hours. Then I learned to share that space with God.

How can a woman be a good steward, serve her family, and minister to the needy without enough space?

The same way Jesus handled the masses and moments of each day.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where he prayed” (Mark 1:35 NIV).

Need space? Rise early while it’s still dark, and pray…

Even in this season of life.

Put on the Oxygen Mask

By Saturday morning, I was tapped out.

All week, I had been with people. Serving some. Listening to others vent. Now I needed to visit jail for one-on-one counseling, but I had nothing left to give.

My head pounded. My body was like a limp rag. How can I share the gospel when I can barely remember my name? I had to reschedule.

Too often, helping humanity seems more exhausting than yard work or housework. My back may ache as I pull weeds or push a mop, but I’m on autopilot. At the end of the task, I feel productive, even energized.

When it comes to people, particularly listening to their problems, I’m drained. That’s because I absorb people’s moods like a sponge. Think I can fix them. Fall back into people pleasing.

“You’re an answer to prayer,” someone told me, after I resolved her problem. Now I have the problem.

Practically speaking, I must:

Set boundaries

Stop rescuing

Say NO…without guilt.

Spiritually speaking, I must:

Meditate on the Word

Ask for Wisdom

Obey God’s Will 

   In Mark 1: 21-38, Jesus spent the day in Capernaum healing many people with various diseases, and casting out demons. Verse 33 says “the whole city had gathered at the door.” So how did Jesus avoid burn out?

 Verse 35:  “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out to a lonely place, and was praying there.” 

Simon hunts for Jesus and says, everyone is looking for you.” But prayer was a priority. Jesus understood His purpose (verse 38) and wasn’t going to be derailed by everyone’s demands.

If Jesus, in his humanity, had to pray and seek the Father’s will, then I must:

  • Have the mind of Christ so I can…
  • Have a sacrificial servant’s heart so I can…
  • Have His love and strength to help others without sabotaging myself. 

Bottom line, I must:

Remember prayer gives me a right perspective so I can respond properly to my relationships and problems. 

In other words, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

And take a deep spiritual breath.

 

 

 

  

   

Still the One

Open Bible. Read His Word. Pray.

I’ve got the routine down. But this morning I’m only going through the motions.

Check my spiritual pulse. It’s as though I’m flat line_____.

No inspiration. No spark.

Need the Holy Spirit to jump start my heart.

Driving to jail for Bible study, I pray, “Lord, restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.” How do I show others Your power when I feel the lack?

Can’t trust my feelings. Hold onto the facts.

Twenty women dressed in red, with faces hard as the concrete walls. Television blares. Inmates engrossed in board games ignore me. Loathe who I am.

I wait until one adventurous soul brings her Bible and joins me at the table. And then another. We are three women gathered in His name. Take turns reading Scripture aloud because God’s word “will not return to Him empty, Without accomplishing what He desires…” (Isaiah 55:11).

One time a paralyzed man came to Jesus for healing, but first Jesus forgave the man’s sins. “Which is easier,” Jesus said, “to say to the paralytic ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘arise and take up your pallet and walk?’ But in order that you may know the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins –He said to the paralytic-– ‘I say to you rise, take up your pallet, and go home’ ” (Mark 2:9-11).

And he did. More important, his sins were forgiven. Just like myself and two inmates.

His Spirit lives within us. But the goal is to let His Spirit reign.

We read, discuss, and pray. Three lit candles shining in the dark. Not knowing someone watches and waits to come to the table, drawn by the light.

“Will you pray for me?” the woman asks when the other two have left.

Like the paralytic, she wants the tangible rather than eternal. Prefers a prayer request instead of a personal relationship. Still I pray, hoping she’ll seek Jesus who rescues sinners and then answers prayers.

I leave the room. Hurry down a long hallway, listening to my heels click on the cement floor. Watch the video cameras watching me.

Metal doors snap unlock so I can open and close. One door after another until at last I’m on the outside.  I soak up the sun’s warmth as a fresh breeze brushes my face.

I feel His pleasure, the joy of His salvation.

Because Jesus is the Living God. Still healing. Still forgiving.

Telling me, “Arise.”

The Next Thing

I didn’t want to do it. Everything within me rebelled at the thought of walking around my three-mile loop.

Emotions whined, “It’s cold outside,it’s getting dark.”

Body resisted, “I’d rather not, thank you.”

Mind reasoned. “Good idea, but I have important things to do.”

Will Power coaxed the other three into compliance. “Let’s just put on our tennis shoes and get some fresh air. The husband is pounding the pavement. Surely you can walk to the end of the driveway.”

Outside, I breathed in the damp air and walked past my driveway…. just to stretch my legs.

“See? This isn’t so bad. Do you think you can take that hill?”

Twilight gathered round me like a cloak, but Will Power challenged me. “Walk one mile and then you can turn around.”

 A week’s worth of rain had left ribbons of still water along the edges of the road. And the deep voices of croaking frogs hidden in the shadows cheered me, “You went this far, keep walking.”

Even when my aching knees protested and darkness enveloped me, Will Power spurred me onward with the words,One more step.” Until at last I was home free.

When faced with challenges or marathon trials, life may boil down to sheer will power and the decision to take one more step.

Elizabeth Elliot wrote, “Have you had the experience of feeling as if you’ve got far too many burdens to bear, far too many people to take care of, far too many things on your list to do? You just can’t possibly do it, and you get in a panic and you just want to sit down and collapse in a pile and feel sorry for yourself.”

She goes on to describe a Saxon legend carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. The legend is “Do the next thing.”

A poem about the legend says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” 

Some days, the next thing is all we can do.

But it’s enough.

Touchdown


I’m snuggled beneath warm sheets when my alarm clock pesters me to rise and shine. I stumble out of bed, sleepy-eyed, and head for the kitchen. Friends are coming to our house after church to watch televised football games.

First order of business: brew myself a hot cup of French-pressed coffee. Within minutes, my full cup sits idle on the kitchen counter while I hurry through my to-do list. If there’s one thing I know about my “men folk,” they want their appetites fed the moment they walk through the door on Sunday afternoons. So I melt Velveeta cheese, make a taco bean dip, and dice lettuce and tomatoes for our Mexican feast. 

Husband and son stroll into the kitchen ready for church as I rush by them to get dressed. But when I re-emerge from the bedroom with Bible and purse in hand, I’m informed there’s a change in plans.

Our company canceled.

Seriously?

Self-centered thoughts surface and swim in my head like blood-thirsty sharks. What about all the food? Do we invite someone else? I wish I’d known an hour ago.  

Instead of lending a voice to my thoughts, I apply scripture. I put a “guard around my mouth” (Psalm 141:3) and “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)    

 


   

   After church, my husband stands in the kitchen scooping tortilla chips into the quesadilla dip. “Tastes good, Karen. I’m sorry our friends couldn’t come, but you’re handling it well.”

  His comment makes me grow two inches taller. “You’re right, especially when I consider how easily I got frustrated last week. Do you know why I didn’t get upset today?”

“Why?”

I point to my Bible laying on the kitchen counter next to my cup of cold coffee. “I’ve been in God’s Word and prayer for the past few days. It makes all the difference in my attitude.”

My husband hugs me and heads for the man cave to watch the kickoff. I stir Chicken Tortilla soup that’s been simmering in my crockpot for hours. Its variety of spices, amplified by heat and time, has created a culinary delight.  

The slow process reminds me of my spiritual sanctification. There’s no such thing as microwave holiness. Sanctification, becoming more like Jesus, is a life-long process.

So today’s change of plans and my response is another opportunity to “be conformed into the image of Christ” and “bring Him praise.”

My husband turns up the television volume as I ladle hot soup into three bowls. There must have been a touchdown because I can hear the fans cheering through my wall. I imagine the football player who scored is raising his arms in victory. 

I love the similarity to my life.

Okay, so I fumbled the ball last week. It’s not the end of the world.

Nothing’s wasted.

Even though some days seem like baby steps, I’m learning how to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10).

Today is Sunday, the beginning of a new week, and when I compare my calm reaction today with last week’s critical spirit, I know by God’s grace……

I scored a touchdown.  And that’s something to cheer!