Listening to God and Putting a Leash on Your Thoughts

Well, guys, I was just about to add a new post about the prayer of adherents of other world religions, but it doesn't seem thorough enough to satisfy my slightly perfectionist tendencies, so I'll save it for another day.

Here's the real deal, something I can't emphasize enough: pray. Do you get it yet? Pray. And then pray some more. And then pray a little more after that, and when you're done, pray some more. But don't stop there.

Have you ever had a friend who just wouldn't shut up, that whenever you were with him, he did all the talking, and you wondered if it would even matter if you painted eyeballs on your eyelids and went to sleep because you weren't contributing to the conversation at all? I'll bet that that friendship didn't last very long. It's not much of a relationship if one person does all the yakking while the other one just sits there. Now, God's not a bored pal sitting across the lunchroom table trying to figure out a way to escape -- He's far more patient than you or I could ever be. But it's kind of inconsiderate to have the total attention of the All-Powerful Creator of the whole universe and not let Him get a word in edgewise, don't you think?

So shut up a little bit, just every so often. The God we serve is in the business of revealing Himself to people, and He wants to reveal Himself to you. Let Him.

That said, let me throw in a word of caution. God's Word tells us that we're not to believe every spirit, but that we're to test the spirits to see if they are from God or not (1 John 4:1). In other words, you can't just blindly go with whatever passes through your brain while you're praying. Everyone who is or has ever been a teenager knows that human thoughts and emotions are seriously prone to all kinds of error and contradiction and can lead us in a tragically bad direction if we don't make our thoughts wear a leash. So, what's the leash? The Word of God. Sometimes your mind just needs a little cutesy collar like the ones my friend Lindsey puts on her adorable miniature schnauzer. Other times, that sucker needs a heavy-duty metal choke chain! Every thought that floats into your head has to have the Bible's leash put around it, and accepted or rejected based on what's in God's Word. Does it fit? Do you know God's Word well enough to be able to tell?

Just as a case in point, how about a sample internal monologue, from a sweet little Christian girl who just hasn't been able to find the time to learn the Bible:

Silly Sally: La-dee-da, La-dee-dee, praying to God, dum-dee-dum
Thoughts: Hey, I think God loves everyone.
SS: Yup, that sounds like something I heard in church. Cool.
T: Hey, I think if God loves everyone, then that means he must not want them to go to hell.
SS: Yeah, that sounds pretty good too!
T: Hey, I think that God must be pretty powerful if He made everything
SS: For sure! Keep going!
T: Hey, I think that if God loves everyone, and doesn't want them to go to hell, and He has the ability to keep them from going to hell, then that means everyone is going to heaven whether they believe in Jesus as their savior or not!
SS: All right, I'll buy that! It makes God sound nice, and I like nice people! La-dee-da-dee-da

All of you should be hearing a major red alert in your brains right now. Let's try this again, with a person who is familiar with scripture:

Bible Betty: Thanks, Lord, for the Bible! It's so great that You gave this to me so I could know You better.
Thoughts: Hey, I think God loves everyone.
BB: Obviously, that's true. John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He sent Christ to die for them!
T: Hey, I think if God loves everyone, then that means he must not want them to go to hell.
BB: That's also true! 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is unwilling for anyone to perish and wants everyone to come to repentance!
T: Hey, I think that God must be pretty powerful if He made everything!
BB: Yeah, He definitely is! In fact, Colossians 1:16 says that he even created power itself!
T: Hey, I think that if God loves everyone, and doesn't want them to go to hell, and He has the ability to keep them from going to hell, then that means everyone is going to heaven whether they believe in Jesus as their savior or not!
BB: That's not true! God has a standard that none of us can live up to! Romans 3:23 says that every one of us has sinned which makes us unworthy to be in a relationship with God Who is perfect. And the only way we can have a right relationship with God is through Jesus, who took our sins to the cross! Jesus says in John 14:6 that nobody can get to God except through Him! I'm rejecting that thought, because it opposes what I know is true from Scripture!

Listen, random thoughts happen to the best of us. My brain has definitely come up with some pretty wacko, out-there ideas over the years, but my thoughts have a leash. They are controlled, God willing, by Scripture, through the help of the Holy Spirit.

Don't go at this prayer thing alone. Start digging into the Story that God wrote for you. It's all about Him, and He'll reveal Himself on every page.


Prayer triggers - Tripping your prayer switch

How many times have you gotten ready to climb into bed at night and realized that you never spoke a word to your Heavenly Father during the entire day? You know (or at least I hope so -- you've been reading your Bible, right?) that Scripture tells us to pray "at all times" (Eph 6:18)! But so often we pray at meals and at church, forgetting to incorporate prayer into each part of our lives! So how exactly can we pray all the time? I've found it very helpful to develop little triggers that remind me to pray throughout the day. (Some of these are my mom's!)

Sirens are a great reminder to pray, both for the folks involved in the emergency, and for friends and family who are struggling with medical issues. Don't you think police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and doctors would appreciate your prayers as they deal with the situations they face each day as part of their jobs? Of course! So when you hear a siren go past your house, take a moment to lift up the situation to God, who knows all the details.

When I'm driving in traffic (which stresses me out a LOT), I try to remember to pray for the people driving around me. Do they know Christ? Does God mean anything to them besides a swear word? I pray that God would reveal Himself to them and stir their hearts to want to know Him more. It's then that I remember that my ultimate purpose on Earth is to honor God, not to get from point A to point B more quickly!

I am so blessed to be going to seminary! My professors pray at the start of every class -- this is an amazing way to season my entire school day with prayer! But just because some of you all don't have professors who lead prayer each day, it doesn't mean you too can't pray before each one of your classes, or at the start of a new task at work. Why not pray for God's hand on the lesson as you sit down at your desk? Or why not pray that God will reveal opportunities to share the Gospel with folks you come in contact with at work?

Every time you sit down at your computer, pray that God would give you a desire to keep your thoughts pure by visiting only sites that would honor Him, and that He would motivate you by the Holy Spirit to be focused on the task at hand. Taped to the edge of my computer screen are 3 pieces of paper. One says, "I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. Psalm 101:3." Another says, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:6." The last one simply says, "STEWARDSHIP." I know that God has given me the responsibility to spend the time He has given me on this Earth wisely. That may mean cancelling my cable. That may mean grounding myself from the internet for
a while. But it definitely means that I know that I will answer to God about how I spent every hour of my life.

Quick-draw triggers:
-when you sit down to do your homework (you DO do your homework, right?), thank God for the opportunity and ability to learn. Pray for your teachers and fellow students. Pray for God's guidance in your life. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the diligence to study well.
-as you file away your pictures from this summer, pray for each person in the photos. Pray that they would be drawn closer to God and that they would be encouraged in their faith journeys.
-while you're watching TV, pray for the celebrities you see. They need Jesus too! Or better yet, turn off the TV, pick up your Bible, and spend some time hanging out with your Creator!

-when you're cleaning up your room, pray for those who don't have a place to sleep or a change of clothes. When you're cleaning the kitchen, pray for those who live in such poverty that they can't afford to eat on a regular basis.

There are so many ways for us to incorporate prayer into our lives. Can you imagine how different your day might be if you prayed at every time mentioned above? What are some other ways you can make prayer an automatic part of your day?


Praying for Muslims!

Approximately 1.3 billion Muslims live in every region and most countries of the world. While the Middle East is the birthplace of Islam and an important center of Islamic influence, the largest Muslim populations are found in Central, South and Southeast Asia. There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in the United States. Muslims bear witness that God is one and that Muhammad is His final prophet. They consider Jesus as one of God'’s greatest prophets, but they do not accept Him as divine or as man's Redeemer and Lord. Muslims do not understand or accept God's ultimate expression of His love shown in Christ'’s life, death and resurrection. They focus on God's holiness, justice and power. They strive to earn His favor and entry into heaven through obedience to Islamic law, good deeds and acts of self-sacrificing devotion. Muslims live within a protective wall of laws, traditions and relationships that separates them from God's love. Your prayers take His love beyond the wall.

A Muslim man stopped by a small Central Asian church a couple of weeks ago. A believer at the church began to share the gospel with the man, but he quickly admitted, "“Honestly, I'm just looking for a job." The believer responded, "We don't have any work, but I can pray for you."” Then with the man's permission, the believer prayed. The man came back to the church on Wednesday after finding a job and asked the believers to pray for a wife! Pray for this man, who has experienced God's power and love at work in His life, to find not just a wife, but a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Like many Central Asians, most Azeris are Muslim, but are not deeply committed to their religion. However, a growing number of young people are seeking spiritual truth. Many believers say that before coming to Jesus, they passed through a time when they sought a relationship with God through Islam. Pray that when Azeri young people who are trying to find God realize that He cannot be found in Islam, they will continue to feel the God-given hunger for salvation. Ask God to reveal Himself to them and show them through His Word and His witnesses that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

She was recently evicted from her home by her own brother-in-law when he sold his dead brother's apartment. Now this poor widow lives in the bottom of a building in what used to be a garage. Believing friends have helped her plant a garden just outside her door to provide her with fresh vegetables. In her new season of life, this widow is very open to spiritual things and has requested a copy of the JESUS video. Pray for her to seek and find the Lord.

For the full article, and for more on praying for Muslims and other groups around the world, check out the Southern Baptist Convention's international missions website at www.imb.org! It's also a great resource for anyone interested in a career in international missions!


The New Job and God's Power

OK, y'all, here is a practical way to be in the habit of prayer: add me to your daily prayer list! I'm starting a new job next week (that is, if I hear from my boss today!), and I'm a little stressed. Toward the end of last semester, I wasn't sleeping much and spent most of my time working on papers and projects while trying desperately to keep my head above water with the readings which remained, and multiplied, inexorably day after day. So I'm wondering how this semester's end is going to work out with the addition of 20 hours a week of extra responsibility!

I realize that God has graciously provided this employment for me, and I'm grateful. Please be in prayer that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, I will manage my time wisely, be a good caregiver for the kids I'll be watching, be blessed and equipped by my seminary studies, and most importantly, glorify God in every area of my life. I can't do it on my own, but Thank God that I have the Holy Spirit to carry me along, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed.

Just one more reason 2 Corinthians 12:9 is one of my favorite Scripture verses!

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.


How to pray when you feel like you can't *

I know, I've been there. There have been times in my life that I felt like I just couldn't pray -- like my prayers weren't making it past the ceiling of my room, or like I just couldn't get the words out of my mouth. So what can we do? We know that prayer is incredibly important to a deep and intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father, so how do we break through the barrier? Here are ten ways that we can press on through a difficult prayer time into a rich, life-changing conversation with God.

1. Keep trying. Don't give up! Your enemy, the Devil, would like nothing better than for you to quit praying. Pray, even if you don't feel like it. God hears you even when you feel like He can't. (Philippians 3:14)

2. Worship. Put in your favorite worship CD and sing along. Listen to the words. Sing them to God. Praise Him for the things around you -- your house, your family, your friends. Praise Him for silly things like a good hair day or bubble gum. God's Word says that every good and perfect gift comes from Him, and that includes chocolate ice cream and big shady trees. (Psalm 9:1-2)

3. Go to the Word. God's Word is full of promises for your life. Worried about your future? God has promised that His future for you is full of hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Unsure of your salvation? God promises that everyone who says that Jesus is Lord and believes He was raised from death is saved (Romans 10:9)! You can find God's assurance for every situation when you read His Word.

4. Write it down. If you're stressed out, sometimes your thoughts can be so jumbled that you can't focus on a train of thought long enough to pray. Writing or typing out your prayer can help you express to God how you're feeling, and can really give God a chance to speak to you to help you know what to say. David the Psalmist wrote down his prayers in song form -- and if it's good enough for someone God's Word calls "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), it's good enough for us!

5. Look up. When was the last time you took a minute to look at the sky? God's word tells us that the sky shows us God's glory and creativity (Psalm 19:1) -- this can help us gain a little perspective. I sometimes forget that the things that are problems to me are not problems for God. He made the whole Earth and everything in it!

6. Get outside the situation. When I'm angry, I have a pretty tough time praying for the person or situation I'm angry about, but God has commanded us to pray for people who have hurt us (Luke 6:28). Remember that God's love isn't just for you, it's for everyone! Remember that the purpose of your life is to glorify God in every situation, and to show Jesus to the people around you. Keeping this kind of perspective can help you to pray -- pray for your own reaction, or for the other people involved.

7. Fast. No kidding. You all know what this means, right? It means giving up something you want, in order to spend time with God. Think outside the box with this one. It's not smart for growing kids to skip meals, but what about the TV, internet, or Playstation? Do you come straight home and turn on the TV? Consider a week-long TV fast where you come home and open your Bible instead. Do you stop by the coffee shop on your way to school or work every day? Try giving up that time and money to God for a week or two. When you show that you're willing to give up things you enjoy because you realize that God is more important than those things, He will reward you with His presence!

8. Let it all out. Sometimes you can't pray because you're so overwhelmed with emotion that you can't even get the words out. It's OK! Paul tells us that, when this happens, the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26). Some human emotions are too deep to express, and God hears our hearts even when we can't tell Him how we feel or what we want.

9. Say thanks. God's word tells us to give thanks in every situation, whether good or bad (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Even when you don't feel like it, you need to do what God says and thank Him. He can change your attitude and your heart when you begin to thank Him.

10. Spread it around. There will be times when you'll feel so overwhelmed that you can't pray at all -- these are the times when you need a close friend around to support you and pray for you. Ask your friends to pray with you and for you, and give them permission to call and ask for your prayer help too. God doesn't intend for us to live out our Christian walk alone -- in fact, Jesus promised to be with us in a unique way when we gather in His name (Matthew 18:20).

*Adapted from "Ways to Pray When We Cannot Pray" by Cindy Hyle Bezek



Well, children...

The countdown has begun.

Today is Thursday, August 11th, and I now officially have 4 and 1/2 days remaining before my first class of the semester! I, for one, am ridiculously excited about this fact, because I am in graduate school, which means I chose to be here and thus love education. Some of you all might not be quite as psyched.

But here is where I lead into a little discussion about prayer, the actual topic of this blog. There are a lot of things in our lives that fall into the category of drudgery. In case that word is unfamiliar to you, substitute "totally boring." We have to get up every morning, brush our teeth, eat the same old cereal, go to school or work, get home, clean up, do homework or housework, and go to bed. Yawn. I often find myself complaining about little things -- a leaky faucet, the traffic on my five-minute commute to school, nothing decent to watch on TV.

How ridiculous!

Shouldn't I instead be rejoicing about the fact that I have running water? Shouldn't I praise God that I have a good car to get me to school -- and for that matter, that I have the opportunity to go to school at all? Shouldn't I thank my heavenly Father that I don't have to work 18-hour days just to make enough money to buy food, and that I have some free time to watch TV in the first place?

The word "Rejoice" occurs in the Bible over 150 times, and the phrase "Give thanks" occurs 75 times! Yet, when we pray, we often rattle off a list of complaints and requests. Now, don't get me wrong. God always wants us to be honest with him about our frustrations -- the psalmist David was nothing if not honest when he complained to God. But David also spent a lot of time thanking and praising God.

Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray "at all times," and the Psalms are chock-full of commands to give thanks to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord all the time! Thank God for electricity, for a warm bed, and for a healthy body when your alarm goes off at 6:15. Praise Him for a brain that works like it should and a country that provides you with a free education during math class. Rejoice in His provision of a home and a loving family when your mom tells you to take out the trash. Again. Be creative.

There's no reason to be a sullen pray-er. Get yourself excited as you count down the days to school by praising God for everything. It just might change your attitude.