prayer

How Prayer Works

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

Sourced from CreationSwap.com, by Joel Joseph.

How much good do my prayers really accomplish?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about ever since our Project X meeting on Monday night. Project X is a youth outreach that I’m a part of, and in addition to running our yearly event, we also meet every week to pray together. In fact, Project X is pretty much built entirely on prayer. Some awesome stuff has happened; stuff I’ve rarely seen anywhere else.

While I was there, someone quoted a verse from the Bible:

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16 NIV

A thought jumped instantly into my mind.

I mustn’t be a righteous person, because my prayers aren’t powerful or effective.

The thought left, but I pondered it. Were my prayers weak and ineffective? When had one of my prayers really, unmistakably, worked? I couldn’t think of a single instance. My ‘prayer resume’ certainly couldn’t compare to Project X’s. Wherever that group goes, awesome stuff seems to happen. But not so with me individually.

I kept trying to think of answered prayers during the week. I still couldn’t come up with anything. But I while I contemplated the issue, I held back on feeling guilty, frustrated or sad. I hit the pause button. Because I’d seen this trick before.

I’ve often blogged about my frustrations that my good works seem ineffective, and sometimes it feels like God doesn’t use me. God’s been changing me in that regard all year. This prayer thing was just a variation of that same old lie.  I didn’t want to get sucked into that trap again.

But still, the question remained in my mind. That is, until I started planning this blog post. This is, word-for-word, what I wrote in my red polka dot  notebook.

notebook skitch

 

“Be on guard. Holy Spirit for all. No favourites. Duh.”

I looked at what I’d written, and the penny dropped. God doesn’t play favourites. 

It’s a simple truth that I know in my head, but my heart looked at other people whose prayers got answered all the time, and wondered, ‘What’s wrong with me?’

The answer? Nothing.

If God has told us that He hears our prayers, and I pray, then my prayer is just as effective as anybody else’s. Sometimes it might not look that way. But what do I trust more? The way things look, or what God says?

That’s part one of God’s answer to my query. Yesterday morning, part two happened.

It was about 5.50am, and I was sitting in bed, yawning, doing my morning devotions. I prayed for various people and my writing and causes like Project X. Well, not so much praying as begging. “Please, please God, help us with this event. Please, please, please touch my reader’s hearts with what I write today. Don’t let it all go to waste. Please don’t let me miss an opportunity.” I was imploring Him to act, like I had to talk Him into it.

Then remembered that the Lord’s Prayer does not start with a shopping list. So I backtracked and figured I’d honor God by thanking him for some stuff.

“Thanks God, that You’re this big, amazing, powerful God who knows everything and sees everything and knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it —” then I stopped. God knows what He wants to happen and has the power to do it. So I don’t have to talk him into it.

This doesn’t take away from that fact that I should obey God by doing good stuff. It doesn’t take away from the fact that God tells me to pray. Obeying and praying aligns my heart with His, which is  a great thing. We should pray with passion, even urgency.

But I’ve been thinking that His work won’t get done unless I badger him into it. I have to convince him. And I can never be confident that I said things the right way and He’s convinced. I feel like Project X has cracked a secret to prayer that I’m yet to discover.

But God is God. He knows what He wants to happen and when He wants to do it. I’ll be obedient in taking action, and obedient in prayer, but I can also be confident in His intentions.

 

 

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NO MINISTRY, NO CAREER, NO MAN. GREAT PLAN? PART III

Image sourced from CreationSwap.com, made by Mark Lauman.

Image sourced from CreationSwap.com, made by Mark Lauman.

A miracle happened today.

After finally starting my new part-time job in retail (in addition to my existing part-time gig at the boarding school) I got a phone call about another job. Another big decision. (That’s not the miracle. Wait for it.)

My last big job decision led to the contentment crisis I wrote about in Part I and Part II. It involved weeks of nail-biting stress and fear of making the wrong decision. It even triggered a hissy fit about cheese.

Today I hung up from the phone call which could lead to another major decision and waited for the sky to fall in. I was about to hit the panic button and ring Mum when I paused and prayed.

Then I waited. And all was calm.

MIRACLE!

What? Calm? After the soap opera-worthy drama that raged in my head last time? Yep. So far it’s been a whole hour, and I’m still doing pretty good.

What changed?

It wasn’t simply the fact that I prayed. I prayed last time. I prayed like I was drowning and using my last breath to squeal at God. I prayed with desperation, begging for guidance and not really expecting to get it. I prayed without faith.

God has since pointed out to me my shocking lack of faith. Really, you’d think I’d get it by now. Not only do I have numerous examples from my own life when God’s been trustworthy, there’s also a bazillion examples in the Bible of faith and faithlessness. Remember what happened to the faithless Israelites? Forty years of wandering! Yikes. But what happened when Peter had faith? He walked on FREAKING WATER!

So I’ve been praying for faith and wisdom this week. God’s also pointed out to me (again) these verses from Philippians 4:

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

So this time, when I prayed, I didn’t whine, groan or gasp. (Although for some prayers, that’s fine.) This time I surprised myself when I realized that I’m confident God will give me the resources I need to be content, whichever path I take, and that He will guide me when it’s the right time.

This confidence totally isn’t from me. Just ask my sister who listened to my complaints about cheese.

I think it’s safe to say that God’s holding up his end of the bargain with this whole ‘prayer=peace’ thing.

In my experience, peace and fear are major factors in contentment and discontentment. Even when I’m not making decisions about my job, I’m often plagued by fear that I’m missing opportunities. When I’m 40, will I regret not going overseas to work for a year like lots of people my age are doing? Even though I don’t want to do that, fear still hounds me that one day I’ll regret staying in Australia. My writing is another thing. Most writers are 50+ years old for a reason. Am I making a poor life decision by pursuing my novels now?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about a new prayer God had given me.

“Thank-you for where I am, because it’s where You want me to be, God. And that’s more important than my own plan.”

It’s my motto for contentment. And it’s still holding true. I don’t need to worry about the ‘what-ifs’ because I’m following God. That’s all that matters.

Now I’m adding my new way of praying to that. Prayer with confidence. A conversation with God that’s still honest about my feelings, but contains faith that God hasn’t deserted me and knows what is best.

Who knows? Maybe next week I’ll walk on a puddle.

 

How about you? What’s the tone of your prayers? Have you experienced a link between faith and contentment in your own life?

Contribute to the conversation below!

 

 

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If occasional updates are more convenient, sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get an exclusive sneak peak at my novel-in-progress, All I Am. 

 

God Went Out of His Way for Me on Monday

Have you ever been surprised when God talked to you though the mouths of three other people in a half-hour time frame?

 

My friends didn't know God was speaking to me through them on Monday.

Photo from flikr by Vinoth Chandar, used under attrition licence. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

That was me on Monday night.

I was at a friend’s house for a weekly prayer/worship meeting. As I bowed my head to pray, I had an overwhelming sense of God has forgotten you.

This was mostly because in the days prior to Monday I realized that I have to get another job. It’s something I’ve been putting off, as I love the way things are at the moment. The whole thought had me worried about the future. Would another job leave me without any time to write? Would I hate it? Am I about to make a giant mistake?

(What about last week’s post about faith? Yeah, yeah, I know. But I was a lot less worried than I usually would be. I’m making progress!)

I knew the feeling was just plain wrong. I knew the job thing had me unsettled, and I planned to find some encouraging verses to chase away my fears when I got home. But God didn’t make me wait that long.

An hour or so into the meeting our leader, Dan, pulled out his Bible and started reading from Haggai. His first words were:

“‘I am with you,” declares the Lord.

Haggai 1:13b NIV

He went on to talk about something else, but those first seven words really grabbed my attention. It was like they were just for me.

Later we raised prayer points and I had one on an unrelated topic. We took turns praying for one another, and when it was my turn a few friends prayed for me. Two in particular were really encouraging, especially one from my friend Cat.

Cat’s prayer barely even touched on the prayer point I’d raised. Instead she started by praying for my writing—one of the main things I’d been worried about. Pretty much every sentence she said spoke directly to a fear I’d had, and then she ended by asking God to let me know that He’s with me.

W O W.

There was no way Cat could’ve known how spot-on her prayer was. There was no way Dan could’ve known which verse I needed to hear. It just happened. It was just God.

Stuff like that blows me away. It wasn’t 100% necessary. God could have let me go home and find some verses (which I did do anyway). But on Monday, He decided to do something extra. He grabbed a megaphone and shouted, “I LOVE YOU! I’M WITH YOU!”

Awesome.

 

How about you? Has God ever surprised you by going the extra mile?

Share your thoughts below. 🙂

 

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Brand New Day!

Welcome to the new and improved site, everybody!

Along with the new-look website, I am making a few changes. I will now post regularly on a Friday, (and occasionally throughout the week), and I will regularly update my ‘recommendations’ page.  Keep an eye out for some great books and websites!

Today I have a guest post up over at Jennifer Slattery’s blog; check it out and join the conversation here.

Jennifer Slattery

Here’s a taster:

“I don’t believe Your timing is right.”

“I don’t believe You can accomplish Your purposes through my life and writing.”

“I don’t think You can reach the hearts that are ready for You.”

“I don’t think You can take care of my financial needs.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying this to God?

Probably not. Few people say these things out loud, or even in their heads. But the other day I realized that I was saying all that to God through my actions….

 

You’ll have to visit Jennifer’s site to see the rest!

I Have Been Missing Out

Do you wait for joy and peace to hit you in the head?

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

Photo sourced from EveryStockPhoto.com by familymwr, used under licence. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/

I did. And I wish I hadn’t wasted years doing so.

I used to wait around for those feelings to magically appear, slogging through life until they did. When they came, I was happy. When they left, I fretted and stewed until they floated my way again. It never clicked that I could skip the stressing stage and chase after them.

Now I know that I have to ask God to help me change. I have to recognize my worries as a lack of trust in God and decide to put my faith in Him. It’s taking time, but it’s working! I wish I’d done it long ago.

Same with my relationship with God. Sometimes I’d feel really close to Him, but usually I wouldn’t. That didn’t bother me too much; I knew that emotions were fickle and not to be trusted. And it’s not like I paid no attention to God; I’ve always taken Him seriously and had a devotion time pretty much every day. But there would still be times when I coasted along, and times when I really dug in, chasing after God.

I’m lucky to now be part of a group that meets weekly, not for a routine Bible study, but to chase after God. We pray and sing and talk, and while I’ve been doing those things my whole life, there’s something special this time. We’re all meeting together because we want to seek God. We want to drive in closer to Him. We want to chase after Him. And He’s happily letting us catch Him.

Does this mean all things are easy? Most certainly not. We’ve all got stuff going on in our lives. But as I go after God more and more—with my friends and individually—I’m discovering again how I only ever really find myself in Him.

I think often people are afraid they’ll lose their individuality and become another zombie robot Christian, doing only God’s work and none of the things they’re interested in. But in reality, it’s the opposite. I’m only really finding myself, my purpose, my joy, my creativity and my individuality in God. On my own, I’m another zombie robot Millennial, busy with my family and job and hobbies. But the more I get to know God, the more I feel like there’s a whole other dimension out there that I’ve been blind to, and it’s so much more important than the things I’ve been focusing on. Wouldn’t it be sad to get to the end of your life and realise you’ve totally missed the point of it?

I’m starting to think that I need to passionately pursue God, even when I don’t feel passionate about Him. I always thought I was okay because I spent time with Him and obeyed Him. And I was okay—but I wasn’t great. Even though I was chugging along, I wasn’t chasing after more. I never prayed, “God, give me more of you.” But now I see that this Holy Relationship is like a marriage—even the happiest married couples never stop learning about each other. And the further you go, the greater the relationship is.

The leader of the group I attend often starts the meetings off by praying, “God give me more of You. I need more of You.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Huh. I don’t think I’ve said that before.” I was a bit surprised, because I’ve always considered myself quite serious about God.

As I kept coming along to the group (we’re called Project X—check out the website here) I’ve seen this example lived out in the lives of my friends. I’m seeing that I want to chase after God too. I’m not content with what I have of Him; I need more. Even though I already knew my purpose was wrapped up in God, now I’m understanding it. How can we get distracted with the world when, at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter? And yet it happens so easily.

The more I know God, the less willing I am to allow myself to get distracted. I want Him. I need Him. I want to join in His work in the world—I want to be part of the stuff that does matter.

Sometimes a new TV series will come out on DVD or I get good ideas for my book and I’ll be very distracted by the world for a few days… or weeks. But if I pray for God’s help in loving Him, He will come through. He will help me love Him. He’ll help me not get distracted, He’ll remind me to practise discipline, He’ll show me how mind-blowing He is and how meaningless everything else is.

And slowly, inch by inch, I’m transforming.

 

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James 4:8 NIV

…Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6 NIV (emphasis mine)

Origins of the Dance Floor

Image

‘Meet Me on the Dance Floor’ is my latest guest post at Emilie Hendryx’s website.

And if you haven’t had the chance yet, make sure you visit my article on Ada Brownell’s website, ‘I Don’t Want to Succeed’.

And I’m not neglecting my own blog; a post tentatively titled ‘Step Two is the Killer’ will be up in the next week.

 

I Am Here

Do you ever feel forgotten? Alone? Insignificant?

lonely child 5

Sitting in my office each day, typing out stories that no one has read yet, I do. And that adds pressure. I feel pressure to finish and get published as quickly as possible, so that all this effort will mean something. I want people to read my work and hopefully come closer to God. I want to accomplish His work and please Him.

And I’ll admit – though this doesn’t sound spiritual at all – I want to get paid. I love my part-time job and I feel like God is telling me to stay put and keep writing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about the financial implications.

It looks like getting published will solve all these problems. But the other night, God reminded me of the truth.

I AM HERE.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my post, ‘Waiting, Self-Doubt and Heroes’, I talked about people in the Bible who have had to wait – Abraham, Joseph, David and Jesus included. Yet while I recognized that waiting is normal, even an honor, I still felt like I needed to accomplish some ‘success’ before God would be pleased with me. I felt like He wasn’t with me in the waiting.

I should have known better. Actually, I did know better – in my head. Sometimes it takes a while longer to trickle down into my heart.

Almost a week ago, God dropped this one on me: “I am here”. And now I feel so relieved. God is here now. Not when I get published, convert a friend or do some other good deed. He is beside me in the present. In the waiting. And if my heart is in the right place – seeking Him – then He is already pleased.

The implications are enormous. The pressure is off; I don’t need to rush. I can let go of my frantic drive to accomplish something and embrace His peace. And it’s good.

With my previous mindset, I was limiting God. I didn’t think He was working because I couldn’t see it. So I strove to get myself to a place where God would use me. And I ignored the fact that God’s work is often unseen, and that it is always happening. Even in the waiting.

So now I’ll ask for His help to remember His truth: He is always with me and is always working. And I’ll pray that He keeps showing me areas where I need more reminding.