Don’t Stuff Them Down—Lift Them Up!

Typically, I don’t dream much, or if I do, I don’t remember my dreams. But for the past couple of weeks, it seems like I’ve had nonstop dreams every night. Some are disturbing, some are strange, most are pretty ordinary— thank goodness! But they keep me busy all night. Some mornings, even after eight hours of sleep, I wake up wanting a nap.

When I asked God about this a week ago, He reminded me that my brain doesn’t spend much time in idle when I’m awake, either. There seems always to be a lot of noise in my head—if you’ve ever been in a room of adolescent girls, you have the idea. The strange thing about it is, I don’t pay much attention to the clamor. I can have a dozen completely unrelated thoughts going on at once, and I don’t really tune in to any of them. Weird, I know.

“Is that why my dreams have been so wild recently, God? Are all those unattended thoughts sneaking into my dreams?” I asked God to tell me more.

Take every thought captive to obey Christ, He seemed to say.

I’d never thought of applying 2 Corinthians 10:5 as practically as that, but I decided to give it a try. I grabbed my journal and pen, and started writing.

I reviewed the previous five minutes and wrote down every thought I could remember having. I nearly filled an entire page. Some thoughts were obvious and familiar—projects at work, concerns about friends and family, items on my do-list, complications with my schedule. But some of thoughts I captured were complete surprises—people I’ve lost touch with, blessings I don’t take enough time to enjoy, financial issues demanding attention, friends who need care and prayer. Most surprising of all were the feelings I hadn’t been aware of—anger, longing, regret, and worry—emotions I’d stuffed down, but apparently had not forgotten.

Hmmm. No wonder my dreams have been so busy, I realized. There’s a lot going on in my subconscious, but I never take time to listen to it. I asked God what to do with everything I’d just written.

Cynthia, Cynthia, you are worried about many things, I thought I heard Him say, reminiscent of what Jesus once said to Martha (Luke 10:41). You can have the mind of Christ!

“How, Father?”

Don’t stuff them down—instead, lift them up! Then He invited me to go through the list with Him, one thought at a time.

So we did. Many of the thoughts He asked me to simply hand over to Him. They were out of my control, so He wanted to carry them for me. But some of the things He handed right back to me. That tiny niggle about friends I hadn’t thought of in ages? He wanted me to try to reconnect with them. The anger I felt? He wanted me to forgive. The blessings that go largely unnoticed? He wanted me to celebrate them. The person I was worried about? There was specific mercy He wanted me to extend to her.

I grabbed a notepad and made a short list—the takeaways from our conversation. Over the next few days, I tried to follow through on the various action steps He’d directed me to take. I felt peace and a sense of His pleasure each time I obeyed.

God is showing me that all those “random thoughts” in my head may not be so random, after all. They represent thoughts and emotions that deserve my—and His—attention. Sometimes they are thoughts God Himself has planted there. When I ignore them or try to stuff them down, I may be missing out on something important—and they may start sneaking into my dreams at night. How much better, then, to lift them up to God! Capturing my thoughts like this is a new way of sharing life with Him and experiencing Him. And that’s one of the coolest thoughts I’ve had all day!

But We Had Hoped . . .

Sometimes Jesus is right in front of me and I don’t recognize Him. I feel so dumb when this happens. But at least I’m in good company.

Luke describes this phenomenon a couple of times. One time, on the same day that Jerusalem’s crowds welcome Jesus with jubilant shouts of “Hosanna,” we later find Him weeping. Instead of basking in the crowd’s worship, He laments that they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” (19:44).  Jesus had been living, teaching, and ministering right under their noses, but they didn’t really know Him. They didn’t understand what He was doing or who He really was. Why? Because they thought the Messiah should look and act the way they thought He should look and act. The Carpenter from Nazareth didn’t play the part they had written for the Messiah.

Another time Jesus joined two men on a seven-mile stroll from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Scripture says that “although they saw him, they didn’t recognize him” (24:16). Why? Maybe it’s because they, too, had expectations of Him that He hadn’t met. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21). “But,” they explained to incognito Jesus, “Our chief priests and rulers had him condemned to death and crucified.”

I pray and hope and expect things of Jesus, too. I sometimes pray about relationships, and hope that He will intervene according to the way I pray. I sometimes pray about work situations, and expect that things will start to fall into place in more or less the way I’ve prayed. I sometimes ask for relief and rescue from painful circumstances, and count on Jesus to meet me in the way I think I need to be met.

But often He doesn’t respond the way I ask or hope. So I become disappointed and wonder where Jesus is and why He doesn’t seem to show up.

One of those “But I’d hoped . . .” things happened this week. I’d prayed a long time about a specific situation and God seemed to be answering. Things were coming together, and I was relieved and grateful. But then, completely without warning, everything changed.

The wind was knocked out of me. I was disappointed. And frustrated. Like the Emmaus road guys, I sputtered to God, “But I thought . . . I had hoped . . . I was sure that You were . . .”

God let me sputter for a while. And then, quietly, it was as if He whispered, Over here! You’re looking in the wrong place—I’m over here!

Sometimes we need Jesus to open our eyes before we can see Him. That’s what Jesus had to do with the Emmaus road guys. And that’s what God had to do with me this week

While God didn’t show up the way I asked Him to and thought He would, He did show up. He assured my heart that even though I don’t understand what He is doing, He is in the middle of my situation, and He is at work. He’s doing things for me that I wouldn’t have known to ask. He’s addressing needs I didn’t even know I had. He helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before, and put into big-picture perspective details I hadn’t accounted for.

I still have questions, and the situation remains unresolved, but He is in this. I see Him now, and that’s what’s most important. At the end of the day, I’d far rather walk and talk with Jesus like the Emmaus guys did than have Him answer my prayers the way I think He should! 


Too Deep for Words

The sunrise was so beautiful this morning, it made me cry.

ImageWell, as it turns out, it wasn’t actually the sunrise. At first I wasn’t sure what stirred my emotions, especially since I don’t usually tear up easily. No matter how beautiful the sunrise (and this one truly was!), sunrises don’t usually make me cry.

But I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading in prayer recently. Just last night I’d studied Romans 8:26 with my Teen Community Bible Study group. It says that when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” The girls really resonated with that. “It’s like when you go to your parents and go . . .” (here one of the girls demonstrated a loud, heart-wrenching wail). “You don’t even say anything to them, you just cry!”

I thought she was pretty insightful. That may be very much like what the Holy Spirit does with God the Father on our behalf. His heart may sometimes be so heavy for us that a groan, cry, or sob may express things best.

So I asked God what my tears were about. Was that the Holy Spirit praying a wordless prayer for me?

Right away my thoughts went to what sunrises symbolize: a new day. Then I thought about people who are extremely dear to me who are moving soon to another country. It’s a new and wonderful experience for them—a new day. But it feels more like a sunset than a sunrise to me. I will miss them a lot. How will our relationship change with thousands of miles between us?

So I cried some more and released grief I hardly even know I had. I didn’t say much—words didn’t seem necessary. The Holy Spirit and I were communicating with Abba pretty well with just our tears, it seemed.

I wonder how often the Spirit prays for me like that? And how often I have missed out on intimacy with God because I haven’t paid much attention to those stirrings deep inside me?

Earlier this week I woke up with an ache—the kind of pain that I’m too young to have. (Yeah, right, who am I kidding?) Anyway, although I try not to worry about getting older, but sometimes anxious thoughts do come. I work hard not to obsess about them—which means I stuff them down and try to ignore them. So I ignored the pain and my thoughts, and headed out to a cozy spot by the fireplace, coffee in hand, planning to dig into Scripture and spend time with God.

I had just reached for my Bible when He seemed to say, “No, not yet. I want you to tell Me what’s on your heart.”

Will it seem strange to you to hear that I didn’t really know what was on my heart? The Oh, I’m getting old thoughts I’d had when I first got up had moved completely to the back burner. My mind had moved on to someplace between Do I have anything to take for lunch? and What am I doing after work today?

But when God asked me to share my heart with Him, a rush of feelings came, all of them aging-related fears. I was embarrassed at first. I suppose I thought maybe He’d chide me for worrying. But God’s quiet presence was strong and welcoming. Sensing His love and acceptance, I grabbed my prayer journal and wrote down a flood of thoughts and feelings that usually go unexpressed. I allowed myself to feel, and invited God to enter into what I was feeling. To my surprise, God met me in with deep, mostly silent, compassion and understanding. My heart grew still and peaceful.

When, eventually, I opened the devotional book I’ve been reading,* I was blown away by what I read. The author, Leighton Ford, said that “the old spiritual teachers used to say that it is very important to pay attention to our tears.” He said that tears are the way God sometimes breaks our hearts open so that He can plant His word inside. For this reason, Ford says that when tears come, we should ask God, “What makes these tears come?”

I’m still trying to take all this in. I’m such a verbal person that praying with silent tears or even loud groans seems pretty foreign to me. But it seems that God wants me to learn this. Obviously, it’s all new to me. Do any of you readers have experience with praying with the Spirit in ways similar to this?

*The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things, pp. 144-145.

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Do You Have Any Prayer Requests, God?

I don’t usually ask God for His prayer requests. But this morning, as it turns out, I didn’t need to. Here’s what happened.

After reading my Bible this morning, I began to pray, which is my usual routine. I started with one of the Top Three items on my prayer list—one of the things I’ve been praying about for a very long time. To be honest, I was a bit peevish about it. I didn’t actually say this to God, but I was wondering why other people seemed to be getting answers to prayers similar to mine, but I wasn’t. Anyhow, as I in this mood and starting to pray, I was interrupted.

That’s not a high priority for Me right now, God seemed to say in my spirit. His tone of voice was gentle but firm. It wasn’t a rebuke or a criticism, just the stating of a fact.

I was surprised. But before I even had time to ask “What is a high priority for You? images of people around the world whom I’d never met filled my mind’s eye. I recognized that some of them were people being helped by ministries and missionaries I follow. God wanted me to pray for them!

So I did—with joy. I was a little surprised, actually, how much joy I felt at praying for people in India, Peru, Kenya, Guatemala, and Nepal—people I don’t actually know, but whom matter deeply to God. It was a good prayer time. And to my surprise, I felt peace about the things I left unprayed—my Top Three.

As I pondered my experience later in the day, I had a lot of questions. Was God tired of my Top Three? Were my prayer requests too self-focused? Was God trying to teach me something about the way I do intercession? Will the same thing happen tomorrow? Or is it okay for me to go back to my regular prayer routine?

I don’t receive answers to all those questions. But the Holy Spirit brought a familiar verse to mind. You probably know it too. It’s Matthew 6:33: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I’m not sure if this is what God is saying to me or not, but I think maybe it could be: If I make God’s concerns mine, then He will make mine His. Couldn’t that be what Matthew 6:33 is saying? So maybe when I pray tomorrow, I might start by saying, “God, do You have any prayer requests?”


Questions to Talk with God about in the New Year

I spent a good chunk of this morning reflecting with God about the year just past and the new one beginning. I like to start my new year like that. As I ponder the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the dreams and disappointments, the prayers answered and still waiting, I gain perspective, direction, and even some wisdom.

This annual pause for reflection is a tradition for me. It always holds surprises and delights as I see areas of growth, moments of grace, and new possibilities. And it helps to bring closure and peace to the places where things didn’t go the way I’d hoped.

I don’t follow any one pattern or procedure. I’m sure there are many ways a person could undertake a year-end reflection like this. But, in case you’d like to try it, here are the questions I took to God this year.

  • What gifts and graces did You share with me in 2013?
  • What prayers did You answer in this past year?
  • What lessons do You want me to take away from 2013?
  • What did You and I accomplish together in this past year?
  • When were You and I closest in 2013?
  • What dreams and desires do You want me to pursue in 2014?
  • Is there anything You want to say to me about my relationships, finances, health, work, or ministry as we start this new year?
  • Are there any areas you want me to focus on in prayer this year?
  • Is there anything new You want me to go after in 2014?
  • How can I grow closer to You in this new year?

Do you have a way you start the new year with God? Tell me about it! I’d like to hear. 

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.