Returning Our Minds to God
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
I was always terrible at praying. For years, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it. I’d lock myself in my closet, but instead of savoring God’s goodness, I would end up reorganizing. I tried waking up with the sun. I would jump out of bed and kneel down on my bedroom floor. Thirty minutes later, I would wake up in a puddle of my own drool. I recited the Lord’s Prayer. I memorized the ACTS prayer acrostic. I tried. I really did. None of my prayer strategies worked. I was ready to give up on the idea that I would ever be able to establish anything resembling a consistent prayer life, when all of a sudden, it happened. It was an otherwise ordinary day when I finally learned how to pray.
I was two years out of college at the time, still working as an intern at the church in South Florida, and once more I had risen at dawn only to fall back asleep at the foot of my bed. Shaking myself free from slumber and spittle, I grabbed my Bible in frustration and walked out the door to the field behind the house I was living in. Marching resolutely around the field, I was committed to staying awake. That was really it. I wasn’t trying to commune with God as much I was just trying not to fall back asleep.
I marched and ranted up to the heavens. In my 20-odd years of life, I had prayed aloud in public settings and worship events, but I had never done that in my personal prayer time. Something changed. I was still holding my Bible loosely in one hand, swinging it along beside me as I began to talk about my inability to stay awake. “God! What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stay awake? Am I a fake Christian? Is this whole thing with You pretend or what?”
I’d shout a couple of questions and then read a few verses. All the while, I just kept marching. I felt foolish mumbling to myself. I was self-conscious, wondering if someone was watching. To anyone peering over the gate and into the field, I must have looked like a sweaty-toothed madman running into a spider web, grasping at the air and flailing about. It didn’t matter. I had to find my way. I didn’t care what I looked like if it meant I might actually achieve some sort of communion with the Lord. It was a foolishness I was ready to take on.
Outside, out loud, and moving, I prayed. I didn’t care who was watching or who was misunderstanding. If Jesus was totally fine with being misunderstood, I could be fine with it too. That muggy day in Florida, I found my spiritual footing by simply keeping my feet moving. I was storming around in the grass, muttering aloud, but I managed to pray for more than five minutes. It was exhilarating.
I don’t know what it will take for you, but for me, these three simple steps have helped my easily distracted brain stay on course:
- Go outside.
- Pray out loud.
- Keep moving.
It is essential for each of us to find some method by which we can return our minds to communion with God because perpetual communion is what our God is after.
Seasons of Hope
by Sarah Phillips, crosswalk.com
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
It’s the time of year when nature inspires a sense of awe in us. As leaves die, they give forth one final burst of color brighter than the paint on an artist’s palette. The sky takes on an unusually crisp blueness and the sun’s low, golden rays cast whimsical shadows. We feel energized as autumn breezes stir up the color around us and chase away the dense summer air.
For me, autumn has always been a “second spring.” A playful time, promising us that life, although soon to be hidden in the dead of winter, will only be invisible for a short while. When the days are gray, cold, and hard, I remember that only a few short weeks ago, the world was light and lively and in only a few weeks more, color will return.
As the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, God designed life to run in cycles or seasons. Yet how often do we approach this life with expectations of perpetual summer, only to struggle with anxiety and disappointment when winter inevitably interrupts? I know I am guilty of this.
I spent time with my twin sister over this beautiful Fall weekend, and in the course of conversation, she revealed to me how approaching life as a series of seasons gives her perspective as a young wife and mom. “I’ve seen couples apply much pressure to their family life, expecting every week to live to the standard of the last, just as happy or productive, just as evenly paced. I think it takes a lot of burden off when you accept that this week will not necessarily look like last week, and that some seasons of life will be better than others.”
Knowing there is a natural rhythm, a “time to weep and a time to laugh,” gives us permission to let go of perfectionist expectations of our lives. It lightens our burdens by giving us hope for the future in the midst of trial and prepares us for times of struggle – until the day comes when there will be no more winter and no more tears.
Streams in the Desert – October 17
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
They were living to themselves; self with its hopes, and promises and dreams, still had hold of them; but the Lord began to fulfill their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and had surrendered for it to be given them at any cost, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their hearts; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He placed them in the furnace, sitting by “as a refiner and purifier of silver,” until they should reflect His image; they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He had reached it to them it lacerated their hands.
They had asked they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted them all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow Him so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and fear, as Jacob at Bethel, or Eliphaz in the night visions, or as the apostles when they thought that they had seen a spirit, and knew not that it was Jesus. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They found it easier to obey than to suffer, to do than to give up, to bear the cross than to hang upon it. But they cannot go back, for they have come too near the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).
But now at last their turn has come. Before, they had only heard of the mystery, but now they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, as He did on Mary and Peter, and they can but choose to follow.
Little by little, from time to time, by flitting gleams, the mystery of His cross shines out upon them. They behold Him lifted up, they gaze on the glory which rays from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze they advance, and are changed into His likeness, and His name shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him above, in unspeakable fellowship; willing to lack what others own (and what they might have had), and to be unlike all, so that they are only like Him.
Such, are they in all ages, “who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.”
Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends chosen for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His Kingdom. They would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham’s. If they had halted anywhere–if God had taken off His hand and let them stray back — what would they not have lost? What forfeits in the resurrection? But He stayed them up, even against themselves. Many a time their foot had well nigh slipped; but He in mercy held them up. Now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well. It was good to suffer here, that they might reign hereafter; to bear the cross below, for they shall wear the crown above; and that not their will but His was done on them and in them.
The true Christian’s blessedness
“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Suggested Further Reading: Philemon 4-20
All things work together for the Christian’s eternal and spiritual good. And yet I must say here, that sometimes all things work together for the Christian’s temporal good. You know the story of old Jacob. “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away; all these things are against me,” said the old patriarch. But if he could have read God’s secrets, he might have found that Simeon was not lost, for he was retained as a hostage—that Joseph was not lost, but gone before to smooth the passage of his grey hairs into the grave, and that even Benjamin was to be taken away by Joseph in love to his brother. So that what seemed to be against him, even in temporal matters, was for him. You may have heard also the story of that eminent martyr who was wont always to say, “All things work together for good.” When he was seized by the officers of Queen Mary, to be taken to the stake to be burned, he was treated so roughly on the road that he broke his leg; and they jeeringly said, “All things work together for good, do they? How will your broken leg work for your good?” “I don’t know,” he said, “but for my good I know it will work, and you shall see it so.” Strange to say, it proved true that it was for his good; for being delayed a day or so on the road through his lameness, he just arrived in London in time enough to hear that Elizabeth was proclaimed queen, and so he escaped the stake by his broken leg. He turned round upon the men who carried him, as they thought, to his death, and said to them, “Now will you believe that all things work together for good?”
For meditation: We are called upon to rejoice in our sufferings, not for their own sake, but because of the outcome (Romans 5:3,4; James 1:2-4). If we, like God, knew the end from the beginning, we would laugh in the midst of our trials, as we shall later (Luke 6:21).