Letting God Read My Journal

The following post is adapted from an article I wrote for Pray! Magazine in Nov/Dec of 2008. I am happy to say that since then my prayer journaling has become even more hopeful. Doing life in conversation with God can’t help but change one’s perspective–at least that’s been true for me.

 

I have journaled for more than 30 years, and I have stacks of dusty volumes to prove it. I used to tell my friends that upon my death they should burn my private writings. But my thoughts about that are changing. For one thing, I wonder if anyone would really follow my wishes anyhow. Mother Teresa made a request like that, but it was ignored. I’m no Mother Teresa, mind you, but you see my point.

More importantly, though, I’m realizing that over the years my journaling has changed dramatically–and for the better. In years past, even though many of my entries were expressed as prayers to God, they were often one-sided, angst-ridden, confused, and depressing. I would start out my prayers in a bad place and often spiral down to an even worse place. This is why I didn’t want anyone to read what I wrote. I didn’t want to drag them into the slough of despond with me!

However, a radical shift took place several years ago when I started not just writing my prayers to God, but also listening to Him and recording what He said to me. Now I may start a journaled prayer time in a bad place, but as I wait on the Lord and hear Him share His thoughts, His love, His encouragement, His understanding, I nearly always move into a place of greater freedom and trust. So now, I suppose if people were interested, they might be able to read in my personal writings a journey of faith rather than an exposition of gloom. I’m still quite sure I do not want my journals published like Mother Teresa’s were. But at least if they were, they would give testimony to the goodness of God and His ability to shine light into darkness.

The difference, as I’ve mentioned, was learning to write not just to God from my point of view, but to listen to Him and write His perspective as well. I discovered that journaling was an important tool in learning to hear God’s voice and dialogue with Him.

Have you once been a reluctant journaler and then dropped the practice? If so, I hope you might reconsider and try again. And maybe this time, let God have a peek–and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

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The Art of Sharing Prayer Requests

Okay, that’s a pretty presumptuous title, I admit it. But I’m not sure what else to call this post. I think sharing prayer requests actually is something of an art—one that I am still learning.

Earlier in my life with God, I didn’t think much about crafting my prayer requests. If someone asked, “How can I pray for you?” I’d usually run through a quick mental check list: Is anyone I love sick? Have I had struggles with employment, neighbors, my house, car, or computer? Am I flying or driving any long distances? If yes, then Voila! I had a prayer request. If no, I could say, “No, I guess I’m doing okay.”

But somewhere in my spiritual journeying, I realized that prayer requests for the things I just mentioned—things I would like God to do to make my life go more smoothly and comfortably—weren’t necessarily the ones that had great impact in the Kingdom of God. Sure, God cares about all of my concerns. He tells us to cast all our cares on Him—and surely crashed computers, job stress, conflicts with neighbors, and bouts with the flu are included. But God wants me to ask Him about so much more!

Plus, from the intercessor side, I realized that it’s a whole lot more interesting and engaging to pray for matters of eternal significance than what prayer leader Jonathan Graf likes to call “little answerables.” Again, and I cannot emphasize this enough, I’m not for a second suggesting that we should not pray for any and all burdens we may carry. I freely confess: when I got a bunch of chigger bites last month, I didn’t mind letting my prayer partner know about it!

What I am suggesting is that there’s a whole lot more to pray about. Let me share some ideas to stimulate your thinking.

  • What is God teaching you about Himself that you need His help to really get?
  • How is God stretching and challenging you?
  • What do you sense God wants to do in the big picture of your family?
  • What purpose does God have for your work? (Look beyond the usual meeting of deadlines, management of projects, annual reviews, and production of products and services—how is He working in you and your workplace to build integrity, trust, community, and other Kingdom values?
  • Is there an area of struggle or temptation you need God’s help to overcome?
  • Is there a dream or burden He has given you?
  • Does your do-list show Kingdom priorities?
  • Would you like more opportunities to use your spiritual gift?
  • Is there a Scripture you’d like to “pray into” your life?
  • What kind of person do you want to be 20 years from now? How do you need God’s help to get there?
  • Where would you like to see more spiritual fruit in your life?
  • Do your finances reflect Kingdom values?
  • Are you enjoying intimacy with God?

I hope these ideas give you some ideas. If you were to get one idea of a great prayer request to share with a prayer partner or small group, I’d be very happy for you indeed. Please don’t go crazy trying to think up prayer requests about every bullet point! One meaningful prayer request is plenty to share with the people who pray for you.

Also realize that some “artful” prayer requests will be more personal or confidential than others. For instance, I share some requests only with close friends who know me well. Other prayer requests I feel free to share in small group settings. Only a few of the prayer requests like the ones from the list above would I feel free to share in an email distribution or a church prayer chain.

But trust me—a more “artful” prayer request like the ones we’re talking about here—is more memorable and exciting to pray about. People will enjoy praying for you. And the answer God brings to that request will resound in eternity.

Bouquets for God

ImageThere’s an ancient prayer practice called “examen” with which I have a love-hate relationship. Examen is attributed to Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), but it’s clear that he took the idea from Scripture.

As the name suggests, the practice involves examining. To do it, you prayerfully reflect on your day (or week, or other period of time) in order to recognize where God was present, and where you may have missed Him. It also involves inviting the Holy Spirit to search your heart, as the Psalmist did when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24). You invite God to reflect on your day with you. As you do so, safe in His presence, He may bring to mind specific parts of the day—things said, done, or felt, things ignored, forgotten, or squelched. He may point out places where He was present with grace and mercy.

The benefits of such a practice can include a deeper sense of God’s presence, a closer dependence on God, and wisdom that comes by learning from mistakes. It’s all good, right? What’s there not to like?

Well, until recently, examen didn’t work well for me. My experience with examen was usually lopsided. In spite of asking the Holy Spirit to reflect with me, I still tended to focus on failures and missed opportunities, while glossing over the places where God’s grace flowed to or through me. Consequently, I would often leave the examen feeling defeated.

Obviously, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. I knew that. But I didn’t know how to move toward something more grace-filled.

Then, a few weeks ago when I was praying over Scripture one morning, God gave me a vivid image of me blessing Him with a bouquet of weeds (see “A Thousand Blessings”). He didn’t see the shortcomings of my gift—He saw my child-like heart. He saw my desire to please Him, my desire to include Him and to share something of myself with Him. And that made Him happy.

As I recalled His delight over my weed bouquet, I remembered that Corrie ten Boom, holocaust survivor and later a popular speaker, talked about a different kind of bouquet she liked to give God. At the end of every day she would reflect on kind things others said to and about her, collect them into a “bouquet,” and lift them up to the Lord in thanksgiving.

God had my attention.

I want receive both kinds of bouquets, He seemed to say. Gather the flowers I have given you through the day—undeserved grace, unasked for blessings, hopes realized, prayers answered, love given, love received—put them all into one bouquet and give them to Me with praise and thanksgiving. I have blessed you—return blessing to Me for these things and give Me joy.

He continued: Then collect your disappointments, mistakes, embarrassments, worries, and wounds. Gather them all into a “weed bouquet” and lift them to Me. Your act of trusting Me with these things also gives Me joy. And when you give them to Me, I can work with them, redeem them, and bring beauty from them.

Then He reminded me of a passage from Hebrews that I’d been pondering for a few weeks: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes … So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God … let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (4:13-14, 16).

I realized what had been going wrong with my examens. I had been ashamed of my “weeds,” thinking He would be offended by them. I thought God only wanted roses. But He wants them all! He sees all my weed anyhow—nothing is hidden from Him. But He’s waiting for me to offer them to Him so He can pour out His mercy, grace, and help. My offering Him each day’s weeds is a sign of my trust and confidence in Him. And it is my invitation to let Him into my garden to work beauty there—one of the things He seems to enjoy doing most.

A Tribute to Dallas Willard

Heaven is rejoicing tonight, but my heart is sad. A great man died this morning—Dallas Willard. I had the honor of learning from him in the Renovare’ Spiritual Formation Institute I was part of from 2010-2012.

I guess it’s a quirk of my personality, but famous people don’t ordinarily impress me much. However Willard, author of The Divine Conspiracy, Hearing God, and Renovation of the Heart (among other titles) and professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California did. It wasn’t his accomplishments so much as his life that impressed me. He was brilliant, probably the smartest person I’ve ever known, but also one of the humblest. A truly good man who loved God, loved people, and walked his talk.  

I’ve learned so much about living like Jesus from Dallas. But since Let’s Talk is a blog about prayer, I will stick to that topic. As a tribute to Dallas, I’d like to share some of my favorite Dallas Willard quotes on prayer. Thought-provoking and challenging, I hope they encourage you as they have me.

“Many people have found prayer impossible because they thought they should only pray for wonderful but remote needs they actually had little or no interest in or even knowledge of. Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about ‘good things’ that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start by praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.” –The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God

 

“What prayer … presupposes is simply a personal—that is an experientially interactive—relationship between us and God, just as with a request of child to parent or friend to friend. … Accordingly, I believe the most adequate description of prayer is simply, ‘Talking to God about what we are doing together.’ That immediately focuses the activity where we are but at the same time drives the egotism out of it. Requests will naturally be made in the course of this conversational walk. Prayer is a matter of explicitly sharing with God my concerns about what he too is concerned about in my life. And of course he is concerned about my concerns and, in particular, that my concerns should coincide with his. This is our walk together. Out of it I pray. –The Divine Conspiracy

 

“Few people arise in the morning as hungry for God as they are for cornflakes or toast and eggs.” –Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

 

 “The disciple and friend of Jesus who has learned to work shoulder to shoulder with his or her Lord stands in this world as a point of contact between heaven and earth, a kind of Jacob’s ladder by which the angels of God may ascend from and descend into human life. Thus the disciple stands as an envoy or a receiver by which the kingdom of God is conveyed into every quarter of human affairs.” ―Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

 

“Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it.” ―Hearing God

 

“There is no avoiding the fact that we live at the mercy of our ideas. This is never more true than with our ideas about God.” ― Hearing God

 

 “God’s ‘response’ to our prayers is not a charade. He does not pretend that he is answering our prayer when he is only doing what he was going to do anyway. Our requests really do make a difference in what God does or does not do.” –The Divine Conspiracy

 

“There is no ‘silver bullet’ in prayer. Requests may be granted. Or they may not. Either way, it will be for a good reason. That is how relationships between persons are, or should be.” –The Divine Conspiracy

 

“Prayer is, above all, a means of forming character.” –The Divine Conspiracy

 

“Sometimes we must wait for God to do as we ask because the answer involves changes in other people, or even ourselves, and that kind of change always takes time.” –The Divine Conspiracy

And the most favorite of my favorite Dallas prayer quotes is his wonderful paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer.

Dear Father always near us,

May your name be treasured and loved,

May your rule be completed in us—

May your will be done here on earth

In just the way it is done in heaven.

Give us today the things we need today,

And forgive us our sins and impositions on you

As we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.

Please don’t put us through trials,

But deliver us from everything bad.

Because you are the one in charge,

And you have all the power,

And the glory too is all yours—forever—

Which is just the way we want it!

The Divine Conspiracy

He Can Relate!

God has graced me with a few good friends with whom I can share almost anything. I’m not so transparent with everyone, however. I’m not extraordinarily private—it’s just that some people don’t have any experience with the things I’m thinking about and going through. So why try to tell them, when such a conversation probably wouldn’t go anywhere?

But I have learned that I can always share these deeper parts of me with Jesus. Why? Because He can relate.

Hebrews 4:15-16 says that Jesus experienced human life as we do—with all its temptations, hardships, and challenges. And now He acts as our sympathetic high priest, representing us compassionately before God when we come to Him in prayer. So we can talk to God with complete confidence, knowing that He will give us mercy and grace to help us, no matter what state we find ourselves in.

While meditating on this truth one time, I stumbled onto a creative prayer practice that I sometimes use when I want to tap into the Lord’s understanding. It works like this: When I’m experiencing something I know I should share with Him, I start by trying to recall a situation in which Jesus may have experienced something similar.

If I’m lonely, for example, I might think of Jesus alone in the garden of Gethsemane when He wanted His friends’ prayer support, but they fell asleep. Am I feeling misunderstood? I think of Jesus in the upper room with His disciples who, the night before He died, still didn’t understand who He was or what He was about. Impatient? I think of Jesus living thirty years as an obscure carpenter before it was time for Him to move into His public ministry.

Once the Holy Spirit has helped me to identify an incident from Jesus’ life that proves to me that He really can relate, I use my imagination to put myself in the story with Him. I try to sense how He might have felt and what He might have thought or done. I see Him experiencing longings, frustration, sadness, or anger (to name a few examples) and then watch Him handle these very real human emotions—without sin!

This simple practice connects my heart with the Lord’s. I feel compassion for Him, and I know He feels compassion for me. I worship Him in awe over His perfect responses to every trial. And then, knowing how much He loves me, how perfect He is, yet how sympathetic, I talk to Him about whatever is on my heart or mind. And as Hebrews says, I trust that I will find mercy and grace for my need—because He can relate.

 (This post was adapted from an article I wrote for Pray! magazine in Jan/Feb 2008.)