Love with Knowledge and Discernment

Years ago, shortly after I’d gotten engaged to be married, an old family friend teased me. “You are about to be married,” he said. “So you must know all about love. Tell me: how exactly do you go about loving another person?”

I was all of 22 years old. I stammered out an answer, but don’t remember what I told him. Truth is, whatever I said then, I’m sure my answer has changed many times over the ensuing decades.

Love is more than a feeling, I know that. But it’s also more than an act of the will or a dutifully kept promise. According to Jesus, it involves, heart, soul, mind, and strength—our whole being (Mark 12:30). And, I learned from the Apostle Paul recently, it also involves a spiritual element. To the Philippians, Paul wrote, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”

Since reading Paul’s intriguing prayer a few weeks ago, I’ve pondered the connection between love and discernment. And something is starting to click for me. While I may not know what love is, I know what it’s not: It’s not one-size-fits all.

Are you like me? Have you ever tried to love someone and been disappointed when they didn’t receive your gesture as loving? Or have you ever tried to love someone only to find out that your well-intentioned words or actions actually harmed them in some way? Or maybe you are just plain stymied to come up with anything that would convey love to a certain person.

What seems like love to me may not seem like love to another person. Or what is loving in one set of circumstances may not be loving under different circumstances. For example, sometimes love means lending a helping hand—but other times, helping may stifle a person’s growing independence. Sometimes love is best communicated wordlessly, while other times it may be expressed by offering a hard-to-hear truth. Sometimes love means self-sacrificing; other times it means setting healthy boundaries. Sometimes love means supportive presence; other times it may mean giving space. Sometimes love offers mercy; other times it allows the consequences to take their natural course.

How do I know how to love any given person at any given time? I think that’s what Paul is praying about in Philippians 1:9. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for love. To truly love another person requires insight from the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge and discernment, to use Paul’s words. And how do we tap into these? Through prayer!

Rather than assume that I know how a person can best be loved, I think Paul is saying that I need to ask God to show me. Since I’m Jesus’ body, His arms and hands and lips and feet, it makes sense to ask Him how He would like that person to be loved. Then I try to listen to what He says. And if it seems hard, I ask Him for help to do it. I suppose I should ask for help even if it doesn’t seem hard. But give me some slack here—I’m just learning.

Anyhow, it’s both challenging and comforting to realize that the Holy Spirit will help me know how to love others. Challenging, because I need to remember that I really don’t know how best to love another person—I need to ask God for that discernment. But comforting because He wants to do that. He wants to help me love. In fact, He wants to love through me—and how can I go wrong with that?

His Name Is Written on My Hand

One of the coolest things I’ve learned about God is that He wants a mutual relationship with us. There are tons of examples of this in Scripture. For example, in Matthew 7:7, we knock at the door of heaven, asking Him to answer our prayers. But in Revelation 3:20, we find Jesus knocking on the doors of our hearts—hoping that we will answer. I’m sure you can think of others: He loves us, we love Him back. He gives to us, we give back to Him. He defends us before the Father in heaven, and we defend Him (as it were) before people on earth.

Anyhow, I thought I’d come across most of these examples of reciprocity, so was surprised by the new one I discovered recently. I was telling a friend about a text I love, Isaiah 49:15-16. God is speaking to Israel and says, “I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” The idea of God engraving the names of His people—and I include myself in that number—on the palms of His hands blows me away. When I told my friend about this, she seemed startled.

“Do you know what Isaiah 44 talks about?” she asked?

I had no clue, so she told me. It’s a passage talking about the blessings of the descendants of Israel, those who will be filled with His Spirit: “This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ … and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s.”

She told me how deeply that verse had impressed her, so much so, that she took her pen and wrote “The Lord’s” on her hand.

The next day, I did the same. And every time I looked at His name on my hand, I thought about how my name was also written on His hand. Having that simple reminder of whose I was written on my hand helped me stay connected with God throughout the day. When I felt lonely, I looked at my hand and remembered: “I belong to Him. My name is written on His hand.” When I was tempted to be impatient with someone, I saw His name on my hand and thought about Him watching me, loving me, and wanting to help. Sometimes I would trace my finger across the words, and wonder if He ever did that to my name on His hand. You know, I think He just might!

When I washed my hands and those words started to fade, I felt sad. So I would grab a pen and write them over again. For me, it was a small symbolic gesture that reminded me of a huge truth: My Beloved is mine and I am His. And, as you can probably imagine, it inspired my praying that day—and continues to do so.

The Moment You Began Praying

I love it when God answers my prayers right away. The other day I prayed for a specific, urgent need for a friend. Within half an hour of my prayer she received a phone call and God’s wonderful answer. Total time elapsed from prayer to answer: about 30 minutes.

But, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that most of my prayers aren’t answered that quickly. I can think of one prayer in particular that I have been praying for years—with no sign whatsoever of an answer. That is, until a few days ago.

A few days ago, in a wonderful and unexpected way, I learned that God has been faithfully working behind the scenes in the area of my prayer request for three years! The fact that I had been completely unaware of His working was irrelevant—He had been at work, responding, I’m convinced, to my pleadings.

Why do some prayers take so long for Him to answer while He answers others immediately? I don’t know. But I did gain some insight while reading Daniel recently. In Daniel 9, the prophet prays a humble prayer of repentance for the sins of his people. Before Daniel had even finished praying, he was interrupted by an angel—Gabriel, no less. And what did Gabriel say? “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God” (Daniel 9:22-23, NLT, emphasis mine).

Isn’t that cool? Wouldn’t you love to have your prayers answered that quickly every time? But if you’re like me, and your prayers don’t usually get such quick answers, take heart. Not all of Daniel’s prayers were answered immediately, either. In the very next chapter, Daniel has a different sort of experience. This time he has been praying for three weeks. Not just praying, but fasting and on-his-face mourning. He has dropped everything to plead with God, and he was desperate. But for 21 long days, nothing seemed to be happening.

But then, suddenly, a “man” came to Daniel (probably another angel) and addressed him. “Daniel, you are very precious to God,” he said. “Listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer” (Daniel 10:11-12, NLT, emphasis mine). However, the angel went on to explain that he had been delayed. There’d been something of a cosmic battle that he had to fight his way through in order to get to Daniel. He had started out with God’s answer the day Daniel opened his mouth to pray—but had been delayed for 21 days. The delay had nothing to do with Daniel being inadequate in some way. It had nothing to do with God withholding something from Daniel. It had to do with very real circumstances that Daniel couldn’t have begun to understand.

It makes me wonder. Those prayer requests of mine that I’ve been praying for the long haul—what if God has already sent His answer? What if from the moment I began praying, His answer has been on the way—but I just can’t see it yet? Maybe I’m not praying “wrong.” Maybe there are just things going on that need to be worked out before I can see the answer. The answer will come, even if it’s delayed a while.

That thought encourages me to trust Him and persevere. What about you? Can you relate to what I’m sharing? If you can, please comment—your experience might encourage someone else.


Never Too Busy

I need to take a few hours to talk to God this evening, so this post is a re-run from January 2007, when I edited Pray! magazine. It’s on the topic I’ve been writing on the past few weeks–prayer retreats. I hope you find it encouraging.


I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that the previous four months had been the most difficult in my entire life (though even more difficult months would follow). At the time, my husband’s already advanced MS had taken a decided turn for the worse, landing him in the hospital for five weeks and leaving me with a mountain of bills to pay, legal issues to resolve, caregiving arrangements to make, and complex emotions to sort through. I divided my time between work, the hospital, insurance companies, attorneys, social workers, financial planners, and our only son, who was getting ready for his freshman year of college. It didn’t leave much time for anything else–even sleep.

Ironically, during this time the theme on prayer retreats had been scheduled for the magazine I edited. Although for many years it had been my habit to get away with the Lord at regular intervals, during this particular season of my life it seemed an impossibility. But the timing served as a reminder that in times like these, I need to get away more than ever.

I’ve found that the more complicated life becomes, the more essential it is for me to carve out focused time in God’s presence. Prayer retreats are not a luxury for me. They are a necessity, a matter of survival. My life is too stressful to get by with only snatches of prayer throughout the day. I need extended, concentrated time with my heavenly Father. I am desperate for His wise, compassionate, and tender care and guidance to help me navigate these challenges and to keep me sane and spiritually healthy in the process.

For me, that kind of soul-restoring, wisdom-imparting interaction is most likely to occur when I have relaxed time to sit with God, share with Him, and wait on His response. In those times He leads me beside still waters, restores my soul, and guides me in paths of righteousness. That kind of communication doesn’t ordinarily happen in my too-hurried morning quiet times or when I shoot arrow prayers up to Him throughout the day.

So I took a day off from work the next day and made arrangements on the home front so that I could retreat with the Lord for 24 hours of prayer immersion. In a time when a prayer retreat seemed like something I couldn’t fit in, it was actually a necessity I couldn’t do without. I hope that it will become a precious necessity for you as well.

For more about how to plan your own getaway with God, see my book, Come Away with Me.

You Know It’s Time for a Prayer Retreat When . . .

I’ve recently realized a strange irony: I was more likely to schedule full-days of prayer with God my life was the busiest and most out of control (working full-time, caring for my husband who had end-stage multiple sclerosis, and homeschooling our teenaged son). Now that it’s only me and my two cats at home, prayer retreats are less commonplace. What’s up with that?

You’d think that the more discretionary time I had, the more likely I would be to devote some of it to leisurely times with God. But actually, the converse has proven true: the busier I am, the more desperate I am for time to connect with God, and so the more apt I am to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. When I have more time available to me, however, for some reason, I am less likely to schedule a prayer retreat.

God reminded me of this yesterday when I spent a few hours in the morning with Him, looking back and looking ahead (see my blog from last week). When I asked Him what He wanted for me in the new year, He mentioned, among other things, that He missed our extended times of relaxed conversation together. So, with His help, I will set aside regular time to meet with Him like we used to. My goal is once every quarter, at least.

I wonder if God is also longing for some relaxed, leisurely time with you? In my book, Come Away with Me: Pray Magazine’s Guide to Prayer Retreats, I wrote about telltale signs that indicate when it’s time for a prayer retreat (pages 60 and 61). Here they are:

You know it’s time for a prayer retreat when . . .

  • You’re dry and out of touch with the Lord
  • You feel overwhelmed, overworked, stressed, or scattered
  • You feel mechanical in your devotion and service
  • You have an important decision to make
  • You have a sinful habit to overcome
  • You have a person or people you need to forgive
  • You need God’s perspective on a situation
  • You have a strategic ministry event or season ahead
  • You need insight about an unanswered prayer
  • You’re behind in intercession and others are depending on you
  • You haven’t had one in three months or more
  • Your spouse, teenager, roommate, colleague, or dog tells you that you need one.

Not surprisingly, several items on the list apply to me. But I’m happy to say that I’m doing something about it.

How about you? Is it time that you get away alone with God? If you make a regular practice of personal prayer retreats, I’d love to hear from you. What do you do with the time? How does God meet you? Also, if you’re interested in getting a copy of my book, let me know. Discounted prices are available.