Tag Archives: prayer

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.

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The 4 Wills of God — Book Review

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Most of us at some time or another ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?”  According to author Emerson Eggerichs, the correct question, the one we should be asking, is simply, “What is God’s will?”  He asserts that there are four statements in the Bible which specifically identify a behavior as God’s will:

  1. John 6:40 — Believe in Christ
  2. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 — Abstain from sexual sin
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — Give thanks in everything
  4. 1 Peter 2:13-15 — Submit in doing right

Dr. Eggerichs asserts that as long as we are keeping these four “foundational” commands we can be assured that we are acting within God’s will and are free to make other decisions based on our best judgement.  He also believes that:

“As the apostle John told us in 1 John 3:21-22, when we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight, then whatever we ask–as individuals in specific circumstances– we receive from Him.”

I have several issues with this book.  First, I’m not convinced that Bible verses which include the phrase, “this is the will of God” should be singled out as the only, or even most important instructions concerning God’s will.  Paul, in his letters to the churches, lists many examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior for Christians.  Aren’t these God’s will for us as well?

The 4 Wills of God: The Way He Directs Our Steps and Frees Us to Direct Our Own by [Eggerichs, Emerson]

Second, original sin renders us unable to perfectly or completely follow God’s will, no matter how good our intentions.  If we could do that, we wouldn’t need a Savior.  Our decisions will always be tainted.  Doing our best, or trying, won’t cut it, and doesn’t insure that our motives for decision-making will be pure.

Third, I feel that Dr. Eggerichs comes close to saying we can manipulate God.  If we follow these rules, we’re pleasing to God, and He will give us the things we want, often in surprisingly miraculous and unexpected ways.  Although he is careful to point out:

“Our omniscient God knows what is wisest and may countermand our conclusions”

and

“(we don’t) receive miraculous interventions like this every time (we) pray…”

he gives example after example of God supplying the right amount of money or intervening miraculously to fulfil the need of someone who has prayed and who is “within God’s will.”

The bottom line is, this book may actually damage the faith of some who are disappointed by decisions that don’t work out as they hoped or prayers that seem to be unanswered.  It also promotes a legalistic view that assumes our failures stem from insufficient faith and obedience.

If you would like to learn more about this book and author, follow the link below:

http://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/the-4-wills-of-god

P.S.  In case our readers are wondering why I would post a review of a book I do not recommend, the Lutheran Ladies became reviewers for B&H Publishing some time ago.  We receive free books to review in return for posting the reviews on our blog and on other venues.  This is my first negative review.

 

 

 

Problems or Blessings #2

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I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

Well, I almost blew it again.  Just like Paul in the book of Romans, I know the right way to act, but more often than not, I keep choosing the same old sin.  A little while back, I blogged about how most of our “problems” are really just annoyances or inconveniences, and instead of whining and complaining, we should focus on the actual blessings we’ve received.  Today I had a test of just this sort of situation, and I came close to forgetting all my good intentions.

On Tuesday our church has a regularly scheduled Bible Study at 10:30AM.  I went over an hour early so that I could run off some copies needed for the Wednesday Prayer meeting and the next Fanning the Flame meeting.  I got there only to find a repairman working on the copier!  I got pretty cranky with my husband–after all, he could have called me to let me know what was going on, couldn’t he? I didn’t even bring a book to read (duh, what about my Bible?) and I didn’t have anything to do until class started. What a waste of my precious time.

Then it dawned on me — Joan, this gives you an hour to pray!  No interruptions, no phones, a beautiful sanctuary to sit in — what a blessing!  It calmed me down and I realized that not only did I have my Bible, I had my little Pilgrim’s Guide (a book of prayers of Bible verses from my Via de Cristo weekend) in my purse.  So I spent a peaceful hour thanking God, examining my conscience (something that I evidently sorely need to do), and reading over the chapter we’re studying (which I hadn’t found time for).  And you know what?  After class, I got the copying done, too.  Another first world problem solved!

 

 

A Long Obedience In the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson — Book Review

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Psalms 120-134 are known as “Songs of Ascent.”  They were sung by Hebrew pilgrims as they traveled the road to Jerusalem, the highest city in Palestine, for the great worship festivals.  Eugene Peterson uses each of these songs to describe a portion of what takes place along the walk of faith, as we travel upward toward God.  The chapter titles include:  Repentance, Worship, Service, Security, Joy, Perseverance, Humility, Community and more.  I love Eugene Peterson!  He never fails to engage and enlighten me.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society / Edition 20

In the updated edition, Peterson uses his modern version of the Psalms, from his translation, The Message.  Many will like this, but I preferred to go back and read from the NIV, as I enjoy the familiarity.  His goal is to encourage people to once more pray the Psalms, as an encouragement to pray all their emotions, good, bad and messy.  We can take it all to God, in fact we must if we want to progress in the Christian life.  According to Peterson we won’t change overnight:  it takes “a long obedience in the same direction.”  This is not a popular idea in our “give it to me now” culture.

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

This book was recommended to me in a comment by my friend, Nancy, and I heartily recommend it as well.  It’s not a difficult read, and the chapters could easily be read one per day, as part of a devotional practice.  Has anyone else read this book, or others by Eugene Peterson?  If so, let us know what you think, we’d love to hear.

P.S. Check out the archives for another Peterson book I reviewed, Eat This Book.

When God Says Stop

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“Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

As I write this,  I’m sitting here watching it snow for the second day in a row.  There will be no Lenten Service tonight;  I can’t go to the grocery store or the library;  I can’t visit a friend. I’ve finished all my usual household chores.  I’m stuck at home and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes God, through our circumstances, just makes us stop?  It may come in the form of weather, but it may also be an injury or illness.  It may be that, as my friend Rob says, “all the wheels fall off the cart.”  Things happen that are out of our control, and we can’t keep going in our usual direction. We get a big dose of humility.  We have to stop.

Times like this are good opportunities to be still and listen.  Maybe we’re trying too hard.  Maybe God has another plan.  Maybe He just wants us to make time for Him– for prayer, for meditation, to give thanks, to consider our blessings.  It’s a time to remember that we’re not really in control, even when we’re racing around acting like we are.

Sometimes we just need to stop.  I guess I should consider doing that on my own, instead of waiting for God to do it for me.  What about you?  Do you need to stop for a day, an hour or even ten minutes and listen to God?

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.

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

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Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author and teacher.  Offering spiritual direction was a regular part of his life.  In this posthumous book, two of his students use notes from his course in spiritual direction as well as some of his unpublished writing to outline Nouwen’s thoughts on the spiritual life.  At the end of each chapter, you will find questions and exercises for journaling and reflection.

Spiritual Direction by [Nouwen, Henri J. M.]

Spiritual direction is full of questions:

  • Where do I begin?
  • Where have I been and where am I going?
  • What is prayer?
  • Who is God for me?

According to Nouwen, we must develop “ears to hear” God.  This is difficult because it requires leaving empty spaces in our lives so that God can come in.  That can be frightening and unsettling to most of us who are accustomed to filling every moment up with something “useful.”  Nouwen goes on to say:

“But even stronger than our fear of the empty space is our fear of actually hearing the voice of God!  We know that our God is a jealous God who knows there is no other cure for our restlessness and deafness but finding our home in God.  We know that God’s mercy is a severe mercy that does not coddle or spoil but cuts to the heart of where truth resides.  And although we are unsatisfied and unfulfilled, we are not so sure that we want to go in the direction God might call us to go…”

This book is a wonderful introduction to the idea of spiritual direction, and the exercises, suggestions and questions it offers are a good starting point for anyone interested in going deeper.

PS. You can purchase a Kindle edition from Amazon for only 1.99!

Group Spiritual Direction

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Those who participate in a Via de Cristo retreat weekend are encouraged to continue growing in faith by forming “reunion groups.”  You may be more familiar with the term “accountability” group.  I’ve been a member of small groups like this on and off for over 25 years.

The group I am in right now meets once a month, at our church.  We begin with prayer.  Each member takes a turn talking about how they are doing in the areas of piety (prayer, worship, confession and other spiritual disciplines), study and action … in other words, how are things between me and God?  Practical suggestions and help are sometimes offered by members of the group, but the intent is not to solve problems.  Instead it is a safe place to share burdens, request prayer support and be held accountable.  We each leave the session with a plan to help us persevere and deepen our faith until we next meet.

Over the years, groups change or end, but the friendships made there last forever.  My reunion group sisters have encouraged me and given me the confidence to do things I would never have attempted on my own (for example, this blog). They have been the voice of Christ to me many, many times.

If you’re not in such a group, start one!  It’s really not rocket science.  Just find a couple of Christian friends who truly want to grow in their faith and knowledge of God;  commit to meeting on a regular basis;  share with one another;  pray together– then sit back and see what God can do!  You won’t be disappointed.

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.

Blessings

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Michele challenged us a while back to blog about a song that really spoke to our hearts.  I know, I’m just now getting around to this, but I do have many songs that speak to me in so many different ways.  But one song stands out from the rest, “Blessings” by Laura Story.

All of us have times when we wonder if God’s left us.  Life takes a nasty turn and we feel that the Lord has turned his back. When I first heard this song I was struggling to trust the Lord in my situation.  My husband was disabled from a brain tumor and his health was getting worse.  I was still supporting my son and his family, which included two autistic sons.  Sometimes the tension around the house would be thick since my husband and son didn’t always get along and other various things that happen when you mesh two families together.  It was during this time that I first heard the song “Blessings”.  The words struck my heart and found a home there.

After I had heard the song several times I looked up Laura Story and found out that her husband had also had a brain tumor and that was the situation that brought this song about.  That had to be a God thing; her husband had a brain tumor, too?

Here is a quote from Laura Story regarding “Blessings”:

The song shows that we still have more questions than answers. But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make. Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances, or are we going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God?

Our circumstances have magnified the blessing of marriage. As high school sweethearts, we faced the strong chance that our long-awaited marriage bond might last just two years. Once you’ve rallied through a life-threatening illness together, the rest of it is like a surprise; every day is a new gift that might not have been there. It’s not as big a deal now if he leaves his socks on the floor.

The words of James 1:2–“Consider it a great joy … whenever you experience various trials”–ring especially true and duly influence the joyful, wisdom-loving tone throughout “Blessings.”

Don’t get the wrong idea. It hasn’t been easy. Everyone wants to be a mature and equipped follower, but would I have signed up had I known what it would take? God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for Him as a Savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it.

I hope you are as blessed by this song as I continue to be.  Here are the lyrics:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

Chorus:
‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise