Tag Archives: Fanning the Flame

Fanning the Flame #9–Book Review

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One of my assignments for this month’s Fanning the Flame team meeting, was to read and book and write a book report.  Here is my finished product.

PRAY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN

BY Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

 

Richard Pratt, who is a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, examines prayer by dividing it into these three basic components:  God, the Believer and Communication.  Each section of the book addresses one of these categories.

 

Looking at God

  1. View God through the eyes of a servant—recognize our total dependence upon Him
  2. Describe God as you pray—for example when you pray for guidance, you might call Him “good shepherd”; when you pray in grief, think of Him as “comforter”
  3. Use metaphors and comparisons in our prayers—call God “my rock” or “my shield”
  4. Broaden your focus by praying in detail about God’s activity in salvation history, past and present. For example, you could contemplate the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Thinking about the Bible story in prayer will draw you into the sweep of the divine drama that is still unfolding
  5. Being guided by Scripture sense God’s presence by picturing God in His heavenly dwelling.
  6. Remember that God is everywhere, He is with you to protect you. Imagine walking with Him in the garden, and allow Him to take you away from the worries of the world.

Looking at Ourselves

  1. Open your heart honestly to God, praying about all your feelings, positive and negative, without allowing the negative ones to lead you into irreverent grumbling or rebellion
  2. In your mind, paint a vivid picture of yourself and your circumstances: are you feeling lost in the desert, rejoicing on the mountaintop?
  3. Trust in God’s goodness; don’t be motivated by greed or selfishness
  4. Reflect on your personal blessings, and God’s care for the world
  5. Reflect on God’s will with a desire to see the world changed.
  6. Be open to God’s response.

Looking at our Communication

  1. Maintain a proper balance between form and freedom: because God is our father, it is appropriate to speak with Him in an informal, spontaneous way;  because God is our king, it is also appropriate to plan our prayers and speak more formally
  2. Don’t spend so much time taking or writing down requests, that you must hurry through the actual prayer.
  3. Prayer should be urgent and persuasive: focus on God’s people, the world around you, and God Himself.
  4. Take time to tell God the story of what He has done in your life. This gives strength and joy.
  5. Prayer can be more than words: strong feelings may demand weeping or singing, kneeling or raising hands.
  6. Practice prayer—your prayer lives, like any other skill, will only develop if you practice.
  7. Consider taking a prayer retreat, or setting aside an entire day for prayer.

 

Corporate prayers can become lifeless through repetition.  Some suggestions are:

  1. Have a special emphasis for a month, week or quarter
  2. Use prayer to celebrate a special occasion
  3. Plan a group prayer retreat

Throughout the book, Pratt relies heavily on the Psalms as examples and illustrations for his points.

I read this book quickly and that does not do it justice.  Each section includes discussion questions and exercises.  In our vision narrative, Beth Ann mentioned we might have small groups devoted to the study of prayer.  This would be a great book to read and work through with such a group.  If you read it as individually, it would be best to read one chapter a week and taking the time to journal and try some of Pratt’s suggestions.

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Fanning the Flame #8 Continued … How should I pray?

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I once read that we should pray as we can, not as we can’t.  I need to work within my own way of prayer to make it better, not try to force myself into a mold I admire in others.  Satan sometimes whispers in my ear that the way I pray isn’t really valid.  How do you know you’re not just talking to yourself?  Why do you think that idea came from God, it’s just what you want to do anyway.  Why would you think God is using you, you’re not so special!  To counteract this,  I need some reminders that keep me focused on God while I go about my daily life of prayer.

I’ve started a daily routine of taking a walk early in the morning.  I’ve decided to use this time (usually about 15 minutes) to ask God to be with me during the day, to guide my thoughts and actions. When I can’t walk due to the weather, I use an exercise DVD.  On these days, as soon as I’ve finished the DVD, I will take a few minutes to close my eyes, relax and meditate with the same intent.

I do feel bad that my husband and I never pray together, except for table grace. This is largely my fault, since Terry knows I an uncomfortable with verbal prayers. In order to improve our family prayer life we have committed to spending some time every afternoon when he comes home from work reviewing our day together.  What went well?  What fell apart?  What upset us?  How did we experience God’s presence?  His guidance? Then we’ll give thanks for the good things and ask for help to do better tomorrow.

I also want recognize more intentionally, the part that study and worship play in my prayer life.  Before I start these activities I will invite God to be with me and help me hear His Word for me.

When I am in a situation where I need to pray out loud with others, I will look upon it as an opportunity to grow spiritually and serve others.  I will recognize that my spiritual life isn’t all about me.  I will ask God to use even my awkward prayers to bless me and those around me.

This is my prayer vision for the coming year.  What’s yours?  The first step in becoming a Godly leader is to pray, pray, pray.

Fanning the Flame #8 — Prayer Vision

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“Pray without ceasing.”  1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of our team assignments for Fanning the Flame this month is to write a personal prayer vision.  This means first describing what my prayer life is realistically like today and then forming a goal to work toward by the end of the year.  I admit that I am struggling, mainly because, for me, prayer isn’t a time I carve out.  I’ve tried having a quiet time, using a devotional, making prayer lists or using prayer journals.  It can’t seem to sustain these kinds of disciplines.  My mind is too unruly.  I don’t like to pray out loud with others. I find myself thinking about the person praying and what I am going to say when my “turn” comes. Words distract me from listening to God, which is what I really want to do when I pray.

Years ago I found this Frank Laubach quote (he was a Congregational missionary) that nails prayer for me:

“I really do believe that all thought can be conversations with thee.”

In the midst of my often chaotic and jumbled up brain, God is there.  The Bible tells us to “put on the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16  I don’t claim to have achieved this, but I do believe He’s part of my thought processes;  He sorts things out, He speaks to me, He guides me.  Sometimes a person comes to my mind and I just hold them up to God.  Sometimes an idea pops into my brain — something I wouldn’t have imagined on my own. Sometimes I wake up with an answer to a problem, which tells me God has been with me even during my sleep, as my mind worked unconsciously.   I don’t need words to pray, I just need to pay attention and listen.  This is prayer for me.

Now there are some other things that “feed” my prayer life.  I have found our Wednesday evening prayer sessions at church deeply calming and fulfilling.  We have a prayer list and pray silently for thirty minutes. It is powerful for me and a good discipline to pray with others this way.  I feel the presence of God and the comfort of Christian unity.

Music is prayer for me, and most especially the familiar words and music of the liturgy.  Here’s what Christian author Kathleen Norris says about that:

“The liturgy of the word is prayer.  You pray the scriptures with, and for, the people assembled and the words go out to them, touching them in ways only God can imagine.”

And of course, we Lutherans know how Luther loved music and St. Augustine of Hippo said:

“He who sings well, prays twice.”

God brings the words of hymns and spiritual songs into my mind all the time.

Study is prayer.  God speaks to me through the words of Scripture.  Often something jumps out in a passage I’ve read over and over yet never noticed.  Sometimes the words of a sermon touch my heart, and I know they are a message just for me.  Sometimes God places a book in my hand or a verse in my mind at just the right time.

My life is my prayer.  When I allow someone to interrupt my schedule because they need help or someone to listen, that’s prayer.  When I learn about my gifts and seek to use them in God’s service, that’s my prayer.  When I try to be “unoffendable” and put the needs of another person first, I am praying.

I don’t know how to separate my prayer life from my life.  Does anyone else feel this way?

This has gotten rather long, so I’ll continue later with my thoughts on how I could grow spiritually through prayer.  Right now I’d like to hear from others — what is prayer like for you?  What helps you to pray?  When and why do you pray?

It may sound as if I’ve strayed off our monthly topic (leaders) but the again, isn’t God our ultimate leader?  And isn’t prayer the way we hear from Him?

 

Leading Major Change by Jeff Iorg–Book Review

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The Lutheran ladies received a free copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance.  It is definitely geared toward Pastors and other ministry leaders involved in making major changes in their church or ministry.  However, since I am on the leadership team of our church and we are in the midst of a transforming process (Fanning the Flame), I found myself interested and excited to see what Jeff Iorg had to say about the process of change and how to lead people through it.

He begins by reviewing different definitions of leadership (our topic this month).  It’s not as easy to pin down as you might think.  My favorite was:

“Leadership is a process in which leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation, accomplishment and living.”

That is certainly what our congregation is trying to do through Fanning the Flame!

Dr. Iorg has led a number of organizations through major change.  His resume includes:  relocating a church, a church plant, major change in a Baptist Convention, and relocating and reorganizing a large seminary.  He uses his own experiences throughout the book to discuss the pitfalls and opportunities that are part of the process of change.  Also interspersed are brief testimonies from others (employees, laypeople, etc.) who have participated in some of these major changes.

I especially appreciated his emphasis on servant leadership, and the necessity of providing pastoral care for followers.  He reminds readers over and over that change is an event, but transition is a process which can continue for some time after the change.  It can be difficult for many, it can require great sacrifice,  and a good leader needs to earn and retain the trust of followers throughout the entire process.  Followers are the people who must buy in and accomplish the change.  Everyone involved must truly believe that the mission matters most.

“Leaders intend real change–and that is often painful.  It causes organizational upheaval and personal angst.  Leaders’ decisions sometime inflict pain on their followers.  Good leaders do not enjoy hurting others, but are responsible to make difficult decisions (in the short run) for the long-term benefit of advancing God’s mission and the particular mission of the organization they lead.”

Verdict:  I enjoyed this book, and will be passing it on to my husband and other leaders of our congregation.  It was readable and full of useful information and insights for those involved in change within a church or ministry.  However, it will appeal to a limited audience.  I give it four stars.  If you are interested in purchasing it, the link is below:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/leading-major-change-in-your-ministry

Fanning the Flame #6–Seeking God’s Will

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“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me, and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Beth Ann finished the vision narrative, in which she compiled all the thoughts and ideas that came to individuals on the team as we prayed and meditated on our future, shaping them into what our church might look like and be doing ten years from now.  All I can say is, every time I read through it, tears come to my eyes.  This is the church I want us to be!  This is the church that we can be with God’s help.

The word picture Beth Ann has painted depicts a praying church;  a church where virtually everyone is involved in the ministry of prayer.  Members are growing spiritually, through small groups and individual mentoring, gospel preaching, and Bible Study.  This church is active in many aspects of the community–welcoming in our neighborhood and assisting other community groups and churches in their ministries. They also encourage and sponsor foreign missions and missionaries..  Everyone is encouraged to serve as the hands and feet of Christ to others.  It is a light in the dark world.

Yes, some of our dreams are “big” ones, ones that will really stretch us.  Yes, some of these plans may change as we grow and develop according to God’s timing and will;  but many are baby steps, things we can start doing and changing now.  I’m humbled by the thought of what He might accomplish through one little congregation.

Great things happen when God mixes with us!

P.S. Beth Ann, I’m waiting for your post on what this process was like for you.

Fanning the Flame #5

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Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.  Mark 1:19-20

This week the Fanning the Flame team of St. Paul’s had our first meeting with Joe Weatherly, our coach.  After weeks of prayer and meditation, we are ready to start forming a vision.  What do we want our church to look like in several years?  Where do we want to go, and how do we start?

One thing we talked about is how, since our congregation is small, we get focused on the task at hand, and don’t take time to consider and plan for the future.  When I look at the passage above, I’m struck by the fact that James and John were busy when Jesus called them.  Mending the nets was important.  They couldn’t earn a living without the proper equipment. Yet when Jesus called, they left that work to follow Him. We too can get absorbed in maintaining our building, holding fundraisers, cooking for fellowship dinners, planning weekly worship, and more.  These things are important, but following Jesus is more than that.  Following Jesus means sometimes dropping everything else to listen to His plans for us.  That’s what we’re trying to do.

As we looked over our ideas, the fruit of our time listening to God, we saw that for us following Jesus means more community involvement.  Our focus must change from taking care of those within our walls, to going out and caring for others.  Like the disciples, we must become fishers of men.  We must trust God to keep our nets mended as we minister to His people;  all of His people.

Beth Ann will be writing a vision narrative, a cohesive whole, based on the thoughts, ideas and inspirations we listed.  Maybe she’ll post soon on what that process is like.  I’m looking forward to see what she and the Holy Spirit come up with.  Maybe our readers are, too.  In the meantime, pray, pray, pray, for St. Paul’s and our plans for the future.  I’m pretty sure whatever happens, we’ll be blessed by this process.

Fanning the Flame #4

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“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”  Psalm 32:8

Well, the Fanning the Flame team has been formed, and we’ve been given our first task — meditation and prayer about the 10 strategies that will help us become a healthier, more vibrant church.  We’ve been provided with some excellent material on the discipline of meditation from Celebration of Discipline:  The Pathway to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster, to help us get started.

Every member is to spend time each day meditating and asking God to tell us “the way we should go.” We’re to carry notecards with us, and every time an image, idea or Scripture comes into our mind that gives us a picture of how our congregation should look in 3-5 years, we are to write it down. These ideas are to be specific, not vague.  We’re not to go back to “edit” our thoughts and we’re not to speak with one another about them (yet).

At the next meeting with our coach, all the ideas will be examined.  We’ll see the desires that God has given us for our community.  Hopefully there will be duplications, or themes that send us in the right direction.

I’m finding this an exciting exercise.  It’s encouraging me to put my heart, mind and soul into my prayer life.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!  Keep us in your prayers, readers, as we continue this journey in faith.

Let’s Go On An Adventure or Fanning the Flame #3

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“He set out, not knowing where he was going.”  Hebrews 11:8

Before my mom went into a nursing home, my siblings and I were doing our best to care for her in her own home.  Each day one or more of us would stop by to make or take her a meal, straighten the house, give her a shower and sometimes take her out for a ride.  One of my sisters said she would say to mom, “let’s go on an adventure” — mom would smile and her eyes would light up.  She loved to get out and just ride around. She didn’t worry because she trusted her daughter to bring her back safely.  Bev said they would explore the country roads nearby, just getting on one and following it to see where it went.  Sometimes they came back out in a familiar location, other times they’d just have to backtrack in order to get home.

Well, our congregation is about to go on an adventure.  The Fanning the Flame program was approved at our voters’ meeting by an approximately 2-1 majority.  Now the hard work and anxiety really start.  We’re setting out on a journey, and we don’t even have the map!  We know we want to end up as a healthier church body, but we’re not sure what that means or will look like. We don’t know exactly what it will require. We may end up with a totally unexpected result.  We must trust the process and trust God.

P.S. I read from two different devotionals today and the theme in each was going out in trust.  This is probably not a coincidence.  The first scripture is at the beginning of this article.  The second is below:

Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.’ ‘Yes, come,’ Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.  Matthew 14:28-29

Pray with us friends and readers as we step out onto the water!

Fanning the Flame #2

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“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  Philippians 2:1-2

Voting on the fanning the flame project was delayed for a few more weeks in order to insure that the requirements of our church constitution for a special meeting had been met, and proper notification received by all.  However, discussion at the meeting revealed a couple of things.

The good news — enough people volunteered to serve on the planning committee, if the program is approved.  As we are a small congregation, this was a legitimate concern.

The bad news — there is not yet complete agreement.  Some are concerned about the cost;  others don’t really understand what will be achieved.  There is probably even some fear — what will happen, and how will we have to change?  Will I be able to do what is asked of me?  Do I even want to do it?

My prayer for St. Paul’s is for unity in whatever decision we make.  Total unity is, of course, not possible this side of heaven, but if we’re sharply divided, if we’re angry with one another, if we’re intent only on getting our way, no plan will succeed. This is a time for listening — to one another and to God.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;  for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Pray with me friends and readers, as we attempt to discern the will of God in this matter.

Fanning the Flame

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A few days ago our congregation had a meeting with Mr. Joe Weatherly, a representative from Fanning the Flame, a ministry of church revival.  A hard question was asked:  do we want to be light and salt to the world, or do we simply want our church to continue?  To survive and thrive, we must focus on Christ and serving others, not on ourselves.  I realize this is a challenge.  It is a challenge for me.

Hard work will be involved in completing the revitalization process.  There will be workshops and retreats;  people will have to take on jobs and be committed and accountable.  However, in the end, we will understand our gifts and have a number of strategic plans for using them.

I sensed people were interested and I hope inspired (I was).  I was heartened by a good turn out of our members and by the questions they asked.  Are we ready to make this big commitment of time and money?  This week or next we’ll have further discussion and voting.  Please keep St. Paul’s in your prayers.