Precious Fruit

I don’t particularly like persevering in prayer. Honestly, I often wish God didn’t take so long to answer my prayers. But the longer I live, the more I see that He seems most often to work in slow-and-steady mode. And I’m also seeing that He does good work. Very good work.

A wise person once said, “Anything worth having is worth waiting for.” In general, I’m on board with that idea. The things I value most—close relationships, fine-tuned skills, hard-earned accomplishments, a good reputation—these don’t happen overnight. They take time. But they also are built to last—so it makes sense that there would be considerable time required for their development.

Over the past three or four months, the Lord has allowed me to see some very cool ways He has been answering some long-term prayers. Many of these have involved prayers my prayer partners and I have prayed for years. Most of them involve spiritual transformation, character development, or relational or emotional healing—for ourselves and people we care about. And most of the answers we’ve seen are the kinds of things only God could do. These are no flash-in-the pan types of changes. These are the kinds of deep transformation that come from God’s steady work on hearts.

I was thanking God for one of these very encouraging answered prayers the other morning. Then I opened my Bible and read a familiar verse, but from a less familiar translation: “Be patient, therefore … See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient (James 5:7-8, ESV, emphasis mine).

The Holy Spirit made the words “precious fruit” come alive for me. I could almost see the vibrant color, smell the sweet fragrance, and touch the tender ripeness of that precious fruit. My mouth was nearly watering, it looked so delicious. I thought of the man I met in Hawaii a couple of years ago who grew papaya trees from tiny saplings—patiently nurturing them along with the expectant hope that one day he would harvest precious fruit from them.

You don’t plant papaya seeds one day and harvest juicy fruits a couple of days later. But if you know—as the Hawaiian man knew—that those little saplings would eventually produce precious fruit, you would keep watering and fertilizing them. You would know that fruit will come—and so you would be patient as you waited.

Isn’t that like prayer? If I know that I am praying for the things God wants (like character growth, spiritual transformation, and the other things I mentioned above) then I know that He hears and will answer. That’s the way God is. That’s what He promises (1 John 5:14-15). So I can know that precious fruit is coming. How long will it take? I don’t know. Only He does. But it is easier for me to persevere because I know the fruit will come.

Sometimes I get discouraged. I get tempted to stop watering and fertilizing those prayer seeds. But having seen some precious fruit recently, my faith is renewed. With God’s help, I will be patient, knowing that a harvest of precious fruit will come.

 

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A Thousand Blessings

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while I pick out the wrong gift for someone. Of course they don’t actually say that, but I can tell. And that awkward experience leaves me feeling disappointed and inadequate. I want to bring my friends pleasure by my gifts. I want them to feel loved and blessed by my token of friendship. That’s my goal. But sometimes I miss it.

Last week I was reading in James about how we can bless our Lord and Father with our tongues (3:9). Immediately I thought of the familiar refrain from the psalms, “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:1 and elsewhere).

My heart was stirred. I wanted to bless God. But how? How could I possibly bless Him? He blesses me all the time. But me bless Him? How could that even be possible? And I got that awkward, inadequate feeling I get when my well-intended gift misses the mark.

So I asked Him those questions. “How can I possibly bless You, God? You have everything already! And Your standards are so high! What could my little offering possibly mean to you?”

His answer came right away, firm, but so very gentle. It’s not that hard, Child. I’m really not so hard to please! There are 1,000 ways to bless Me!

Immediately I thought of Ann Voskamp’s book, A Thousand Gifts. Inspired by that book, currently I am keeping a journal of God’s gifts to me. I hope sometime my record will reach 1,000. Could God be alluding to something like that?

The thought made me smile. A thousand ways to bless God! Just imagine!

In my mind’s eye, I saw a tiny child offering a bouquet of wildflowers—weeds, actually—to her mother. But her mother didn’t see weeds—she saw beauty, generosity, love, and joy. She was blessed by her little daughter’s gift.

I thought about my attempts to pray, serve, and worship God. My efforts to avoid sin. My desire to be more like Jesus. My struggle to trust God more fully. These? To me, they sometimes look more like weeds than roses. Could these actually be gifts to God? Blessings?

His Spirit reminded me of a passage in Malachi.  “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard.A scrollof remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who fearedthe Lord and honored his name” (3:16).

This time in my mind’s eye, I pictured God holding a leather-bound journal. On the cover was inscribed, A Thousand Blessings. In it, He made daily entries of the things His children do to bring Him joy. He got as much delight from recording the ways we—I—bless Him as I do from recording the gifts He brings to my day.

His words came back to me again: I’m really not so hard to please, Child. That happy truth began to take root in my heart. He delights in me, as a loving Father delights in His little child! He doesn’t look at my offerings critically, noticing all their flaws and shortcomings—He looks at my heart, my intent to make Him smile—and He receives my gifts! He accepts and receives me—with joy!

And suddenly I wanted to go outside and gather a whole bouquet of flowers to give to my Abba. I couldn’t—we’re still getting snow here in Colorado. But there are other gifts I can give to God. And I am finding joy in doing that—knowing that my gifts gave Him joy, too.

 

 

 

 

 

When Prayer Feels Flat

Ordinarily, the fact that prayer is all about relationship with God makes me happy. It astounds me that God Almighty enjoys talking with me. That He likes to hear what is on my mind and how I feel about it. And I love it that He talks to me, too, sharing what is on His mind and heart as well. It’s pretty incredible, actually, and I’m still amazed that He’s really that personal and involved.

But, and this is a big “but”—when I experience a spiritual slump and have trouble connecting with Him, I almost wish I’d never experienced prayer as relationship in the first place. I almost wish I’d stuck with my old style of request-based intercession in which prayer was mostly about me telling God what I thought needed doing in the world, without letting Him get a word in edgewise, let alone share His heart. Because if I never knew how wonderful prayer could be, then I wouldn’t be missing Him so much when that’s not happening.

Connecting with God has been hard for me these past few weeks. It’s not for lack of showing up—I have taken as much time to pray as I usually do, giving Him time in the morning and evening, and throughout the day, too. But I haven’t sensed His presence like I ordinarily do. And I miss that connection with Him—a lot! Sometimes missing Him has been so painful that I’ve been tempted to return to my one-sided monologues in order to spare myself the discomfort.

But I haven’t. And I won’t. I can’t go back. My relationship with Him is too precious to risk giving it up. I know that this spiritual malaise will eventually pass, so I’m not giving in.

And even though I’m not feeling much heart-connection with Him right now, God is still helping me. He’s giving me what I need day-by-day to stick in there until I can feel His embrace once again. Because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who goes through spells like these, I want to share some of things He’s given me to help me stick in there during this dry period.

  • Keep showing up. Your prayer times may feel flat, but don’t avoid them. If anything, give God even more time than you usually would. Your faithfulness expresses love to Him, and you can be sure He delights in that. Even if you don’t feel much connection, your time with God matters.
  • Confide in a spiritual friend. Your friend can pray for you or with you. He or she may have insight or perspectives that will encourage you. You don’t have to journey alone.
  • Ask God to reveal anything you need to know about this period of desolation. In my case, He showed me how weary my soul had become—and some of the reasons for it, most of which were out of my control (my father’s death, work deadlines, other heavy responsibilities). Knowing the roots of my struggle didn’t make the struggle go away—but it did help me not to feel as guilty about it.
  • Recognize that human relationships aren’t always mountaintops of intimacy, either. Even in the best of marriages or friendships there is emotional ebb and flow, so maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising if we also experience it with God.
  • Expose yourself to different means of grace. Play some beautiful music. Read a devotional classic. Listen to sermons by a favorite pastor. Make a gratitude list. Memorize Scripture. Take a walk in nature. Spend some time in silence and solitude. Celebrate the Sabbath. Pray the psalms.

Speaking of psalms, it also helps me to know that I’m in good company. David wrote, “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). David knew what it was to feel disconnected from God. But he stayed steady. He continued to pursue God. And over time, the intimacy of their relationship was restored.

And that will happen for me, too. And for you. So if you’re in a spiritual slump, stick in there and don’t be discouraged. Wait on the Lord with me. He’s worth the wait.

 

 

Prayer + Thanksgiving = Peace

I’ve been trying to practice more gratitude over the last six or eight months or so. I certainly have enough to be thankful for. God’s mercies to me truly are new every morning. He has blessed me far more than I could ever deserve. Nevertheless, the troubles and sorrows of life often have a way of blinding me to those blessings.

Today was one of those days. I woke up tired. I drove to work tired. I drank more than my usual daily coffee allowance—and still was tired. Piles of work seemed to grow rather than diminish.  Aside from a table blessing at lunch time, I don’t recall thinking or praying many thankful thoughts.

On my drive home from work (I didn’t even notice Pikes Peak even though I always notice beautiful Pikes Peak) the Holy Spirit brought to mind a very familiar passage of Scripture: “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).

A phrase stuck out to me as I pondered those familiar words: with thanksgiving. Until today, I’d usually breezed right over that part of the instruction. If you’d ask me God’s method for having peace that passes understanding I probably would have said, “Don’t worry, but pray about everything.” And I would have been half right. Yes, God definitely wants me to give Him my worries and heartaches, my frustrations and fears—but He wants me to mingle those with thanksgiving.

So I tried it. I thought about all those piles at work and the deadlines. I prayed and asked God for wisdom and help to get it done—well and on time. And then I took it the next step and thanked Him for the excellent team I work with who make the work load lighter and a whole lot more fun. Hmmm. I feel more peaceful already.

I thought about a big decision I have to make that feels really hard to me. I used to make big decisions with my husband and even though he’s been gone five years already, I still miss him. So I prayed and asked God for guidance to make the decision. To lead me into His paths. And then I thanked Him for all the ways He has faithfully guided me since my husband’s death. He really has been a Husband to me. He hasn’t failed me yet—I don’t think He will this time, either.

Granted, I haven’t much time to really practice this prayer + thanksgiving = peace idea—but I can see God’s wisdom all over it. When I combine prayer with gratitude, my faith builds. I remember all God has done already, and it helps me to trust Him for what is still to come. I want to live that way.

So God, please remind me to pray when I’m worried and to offer thanks when I pray. May thanksgiving flow from my heart just as easily as petition flows from my lips. And Father, thank You for showing me this. The fact that You wanted to teach me this encourages me because I know that You will be faithful to help me do it. And that’s very cool.