2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Ending and Starting with God

I love taking some extended time with God, especially at the start of a new year. I don’t always make the time to do that, but whenever I do, I am always glad. A new year is a perfect time to reflect on the past and talk with God about the future—to invite God to “teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). It is a time to talk to Him about what He is doing so we can get on board with it. It is a time to lay our desires before Him so He can guide our prayers concerning them. It is a time to thank Him for His blessings. And to give Him an opportunity to do any mid-course adjustments He wants to do in our lives.

There are all sorts of ways to structure such a time—and no right or wrong way to do it. But here’s how I will be doing it this year.  Camilla Seabolt, the Executive Director of Community Bible Study (where I work) has shared a helpful tool to guide a time of relaxed conversation with God about these things. She calls it “My Spiritual Focus for the New Year.” It’s available on the Community Bible Study website (www.communitybiblestudy.org). Scroll to the bottom of the page, find the Director’s Message, and go to the bottom of that column where you will find “2013 Spiritual Focus.” Click on that and you’ll find a PDF you can print and use. 

If you decide to use Camilla’s tool—or whatever tool or means you choose to use—make sure to make the time with God a conversation with Him and not just about Him. For me, at least, it’s too easy to be introspective without necessarily being prayerful. But it’s God’s perspectives I need, not my own. I want to lean on His understanding, not mine. He’s far better at searching my heart than I am!

We still have a few days before the new year begins. If you have done something similar to what I share here, or if you have a different way of engaging with God at the beginning of a new year, I’d love to hear about it. Your story could encourage or inspire others, so please pass it on.

 

God Is Not Stuck

A couple of friends and I were talking recently about some tough situations we’d each been in for a while. We took turns sharing how we’d been praying about these situations and trying to do the things we sensed the Lord telling us to do. God had been working in our hearts, teaching us, reassuring us, growing us—but as far as our prayer requests were concerned, nothing seemed to be changing.

I commented that because I resonated so well with their struggle, it would be easy for me to pray for them. They felt the same about praying for me. So we decided to pray together. I started, praying with genuine empathy and understanding because I have been living with unmet longings very similar to what they have. Then they each prayed, too. One of the two, I’ll call her Vicki, got quiet, mid-prayer. I could tell that she was listening to God. After a considerable pause, she began again.

“God, I know that You are not stuck. No matter how hard these situations seem to us, You are not stuck. You never have been stuck, You never will be. You know the way through this because You are the Way!”

When Vicki stated those simple truths about God, it was as if a cloud lifted off me. Before she made those declarations, I had felt that our prayers were not much more than begging, pining, and pleading. We were praying from the discouragement of how things appeared to be. But after she reminded us all of who God is, my prayers seemed to sprout wings. I felt confident that God really was at work. That the “stuckedness” I had felt now seemed only to be a delay; it’s not God’s time yet. He’s not stuck, so it just must not be the kairos moment.

That was a month ago. I still don’t see many signs of external change, but when I start to get discouraged again, I remember Vicki’s declaration: “God is not stuck!” and my faith renews.

Praying in the Dark

When you pray for someone you know, it’s not hard to see how God answers. But when you pray for complete strangers, how do you get a praise report?

A recent experience left me wondering this. I had awoken in the wee hours with the nagging notion that I should pray for people and circumstances I’d read about in the newspaper that day. So I got out of bed and found a quiet place–which really wasn’t very hard at 3 a.m.

My real challenge was that I didn’t actually know any of the players in the situation for which I was praying. Consequently, my intercession was a little rough-going at first. But because of my strong sense that the Holy Spirit was calling me to this, I asked Him to help me, and He did. Soon I was praying with compassion and surprising urgency for a need about which I had only the sketchiest of information. Before I knew it, nearly an hour had passed.

As I thought about my experience the next day, I started to doubt the effectiveness of my prayers. The issue I had prayed about had the potential for global ramifications–but I was just one little person praying in the dark–literally and figuratively! How would I ever know how God answered?

Lord, do my prayers for strangers actually matter? I asked.

Here’s what I sensed Him speaking to my spirit: My child, I was grieving over this situation. I was awake with it, as it were, and I wanted company. I looked around to find someone else who might care about it with Me–and I found you! So I tapped you on the shoulder, and you willingly joined Me and talked it over with Me. It made my heart glad to have your company. Doesn’t it make your heart glad, too?

His words certainly did make my heart glad! And I realized anew that when we pray, it’s not only (or most importantly) results that we seek. When we pray, we seek God. We seek to know Him, to join our hearts to His, and to align our passions with the things that make Him passionate. In this case, God cared deeply about the people I read about in the newspaper, and He wanted me to care for them with Him. I do believe God used my prayers to accomplish tangible results for the people I prayed about. But even more importantly, I realize that my prayers matter because they brought a smile to my Father’s face.

God loves those we consider strangers and cares about them. “Don’t abuse or take advantage of strangers,” He reminded the Israelites in Exodus 22:21 (MSG, see also Matthew 25:35 and Hebrews 13:2). So we really shouldn’t be surprised if He sometimes calls us to step outside our familiar prayer routines and join Him in caring for someone we don’t know.

The Story Ends Well

“How can You be so content when things are so broken and messy?” I asked the Lord one day last week.

As I was praying that morning, I was picturing myself “seated …with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6). Scripture tells me that I am currently there with Him, in these “heavenly realms,” in these “heavenly places”; it encourages me to set my mind “on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). So, as I prayed, I tried to do that. I tried to be with Him where He is and to see things from His point of view.

His answer was simple: “I know the end from the beginning, Child. You only see what is going on right now, in this moment. But I know how the story turns out. It has a good ending. That is why I can be so content.”

I pondered His words for a few days. Then on Sunday I went to church where we lit the first Advent candle—the candle of Hope.  We sang “O come, O come, Emmanuel , and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.” I thought of the broken situations I am praying about, trying to view them in the context of Emmanuel who will come and make them all right. In the context of God who sees the end from the beginning and tells me it ends well. Hope.

That evening I read in my prayer book (Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year) the advent prayer for the week: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5).

“Okay, Lord, I get it, I think. You are at work. You are redeeming and restoring. That’s what your coming is all about! My part is to wait. And trust. And, instead of letting the darkness take me out, to hope.  So, Jesus, as much as Israel needed  You 2,000 years ago, I need You, we need You! Now!  “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight!”

And somewhere in my spirit, I heard God’s answer: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Child of Mine. That is how I can be so content. Rest in Me, little one. Wait on Me. Hope in Me. I am coming to you.”

And my soul replied, “Come Lord Jesus!”