The Difference One Pronoun Can Make

In the past few years I’ve been forced to use the first-person singular pronoun “I” more often than I like. When my husband was living, my pronoun of choice was often the first-person plural, “we.” My husband and I made most of our decisions together. When one of us had a problem, we usually worked on it together. I’m sure I referred to “Me, myself, and I” plenty, but when it came to the important stuff, it was usually a “we” conversation.

But since he died and my son left the nest, I find myself using the first-person singular a lot more often. Like the other day when I worried my prayer to God.

“What am I going to do, God? What do you want me to do?”

I thought I was asking for wisdom and guidance. But God offered me something different and far better.

Don’t you mean, ‘What are we going to do?’ He seemed to ask. I’m in this with you, child. I don’t mean for you to do it alone!

What a difference a pronoun can make. I knew right away what God was inviting me to. He was offering me a Matthew 11:29-30 experience—to be yoked with Him, to work alongside Him, in harmony with Him, trusting Him to supply the wisdom, strength, and courage for what lay ahead. And as I do this, to enter His deep soul rest.

Obviously, the situation I was praying about did not simply evaporate. But God showed me that I have a choice. I can be anxious and overwhelmed, fretting about a future I cannot control—clearly that’s one option. Or, I can choose to believe that God has got this. He goes ahead of me, and with me, and behind me. I do not have to figure it all out. I just have to stay close to Him. He has opinions about this situation, and He knows what’s best to do. When I actually need to do something, He will let me know my part.  In the meantime, He invites me to be still and know that He is God because we are going to do this together.

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Put Your Heart into It

This post is adapted from an article I wrote for Pray! magazine, Issue 62, Sep/Oct 2007.

Why are you asking Me for that? I sensed the Lord inquiring recently when I was praying a well-worn request for an area of my life that needed His sanctifying touch. It seemed to be an odd question. I wasn’t sure I’d heard Him right. But I responded, just in case.

Well, Lord, because it’s the right thing to ask. You want me to be free of this unChristlike character trait, don’t You?

As He often does, He answered with another question: But how about you? Do you want to be free of it? Are you asking Me to touch this area of your life because you really want me to, or because you feel obligated to pray that I will?

I realized I was having a real-life experience of Proverbs 20:27: “The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.” As I got painfully honest with myself, I realized I didn’t want what I was asking for all that badly. I was praying out of a sense of duty. So, following David’s example in Psalm 51:6, I asked the Lord to teach me truth and wisdom in my inward being.

The Holy Spirit showed me many things that afternoon—misunderstandings that needed correcting, hurts that needed healing, and His perspective on a situation I’d been viewing in only two dimensions. He showed me how I could pray about the issue I’d brought to Him earlier in a way that would not only be honest but would also reflect my heart’s desire. In fact, by the time we were done interacting on the topic, I realized I had a deep, God-honoring desire I had not recognized previously. As I began praying according to that desire, my prayers gained an amazing new fervency. I was praying about the same issue, but now my heart was fully engaged.

When I had this experience with the Lord, I didn’t realize I was living out what François Fénelon, a 17th-century French theologian had said more than 300 years ago. Fénelon went so far as to say, “He who asks what he does not from the bottom of his heart desire is mistaken in thinking that he prays.”

God wants to give me the desire of my heart (Psalm 37:4). My deepest and truest desires, I believe, come from the Holy Spirit. It’s only as I—by the help of God’s Spirit—recognize what those God-given desires are that I can really put my heart into my praying.

Not the Same Old, Same Old

God doesn’t always do the same thing, the same way, every time. He’s not ruled by habit, like I am. Just look at the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s healings and you’ll see what I mean.

Sometimes Jesus healed with a touch, sometimes with a word. Sometimes He healed up close, sometimes from afar. Sometimes He healed with mud, or fingers in the ears. Sometimes he rebuked demons that caused illness. Sometimes the sick person needed to exercise faith, sometimes his friends did, sometimes Jesus healed out of pure mercy. You never knew how Jesus would heal—He rarely did it the same way twice.

This principle is important for us to remember, too. When my husband’s multiple sclerosis symptoms were actively worsening, people often wanted to pray for him. We needed and welcomed their prayers. But sometimes they would add well-intended instructions with their prayers. If we would only pray a certain way, or according to a certain Bible promise, or be prayed for by a certain person, or combine our prayers with a certain spiritual activity, then God would heal Him. After all, that is how God did it for them when they experienced His healing. But that’s not how God chose to work in my husband’s case.

Why do you suppose God doesn’t give us a formula? I’m not sure, but I have an idea. I think it’s because He wants steady, moment-by-moment relationship with us. Check out this example I ran across again the other day while reading in 2 Samuel 5.*

Kind David caught wind that the Philistines were about to attack Israel. So he asked God what to do. “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” (verse 18). And God said he should go, and yes, He would deliver the Philistines into his hands. So David went and it turned out just as God said.

Not long after that, the same thing happened again. The Philistines rallied and got ready for another attack. It was exactly the same situation as before. But instead of assuming that God would operate exactly as He had the last time, David inquired of Him again.

And it’s a good thing he did because God’s answer was different this time. God gave David a different strategy than he had used the previous time. And of course when David followed that strategy, Israel’s army won the victory.

David eventually wrote more than half of the psalms. They show us that his relationship with God was extraordinarily close. His conversations with God were frequent and soul-felt. His dependence on God was undeniable. No wonder God said David was a man after His own heart. David talked to Him about everything! He didn’t lean on his own understanding. He didn’t expect God to act the same way every time.

Sometimes I think that I would like God to give us recipes for following Him and prescriptions for prayer. I usually prefer things black and white, straightforward, and unambiguous. But if God operated that way, He could just give me the user’s manual and I’d go off on my merry way, with no need to check in with Him, no need to seek His counsel or help. I could Do-it-myself through life, thank you very much.

But ultimately, I realize, that is not the life with God I want. In spite of how independently I act sometimes, I want that moment by moment “what are we doing now, God?” kind of conversation. And I want to experience surprise and wonder at the creative ways He works in my life. As long as He knows where we’re going—and He does—then I can inquire of Him each time, as David did. And then my relationship with Him will be fresh–not just the same old, same old.

*Rusty Rustenbach (http://rustyrustenbach.blogspot.com/) first alerted me to this passage in a Navigators’ Listening and Healing Prayer seminar a number of years ago.

“He Who Forms the Hearts of All”

I sometimes get discouraged praying for people who seem to be moving away from God rather than closer to Him. I am familiar with the heart-hardening process Pharaoh went through in Exodus and Paul described in Romans—and I worry that they may pass a point of no return. And at that point, would there be any use in praying for them?

But whenever I fall into that kind of fatalistic thinking God is good to snap me out of it. Most recently, He used Psalm 33:13-15 to counter my discouragement and refresh my faith.

From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.

I form the hearts of people, He said to me. I form their hearts, so can I not reform or transform them as needed?

I thought of some of the radical testimonies I’ve read and heard about people far from God whom He brought near. People like the former persecutor of Christians we read about in the Bible, Saul. But many, many others, including 21s century people I know personally.

 Yes, Father, You certainly can. You do that all the time. You transformed my heart—You can do it for the folks I’m concerned about.

God then reminded me that the final chapters of the lives of people I’m praying for aren’t written yet. For some of them, their stories are just beginning.

He forms their hearts. And my prayers for them do matter.

Can God Trust You With Hard Stuff?

Samuel had a relationship with God that I envy . . . well, sort of.

The parts I envy are how well Samuel heard from the Lord and how much God confided in him.

But the flip side is that God sometimes confided very unpleasant things with Samuel.

No doubt you know the story about the first time Samuel heard the voice of the Lord. Although Samuel was only a beginner, a mere boy, God gave him a very grown-up message about severe judgement that was coming soon to the priest’s household. To make matters even harder, Samuel then had to deliver this bad news to the priest (see 1 Samuel 3:10-18).

Although that story is probably the more familiar one, it’s not the only time God confided really bad news with Samuel. Years later, when Samuel was an old man, Israel’s first king, Saul, muffed things terribly. He disobeyed the Lord’s clear command, and God was finished with him.

Incredibly, God Almighty told Samuel what He was feeling. He shared the deep pain with the aging prophet: “I regret that I made Saul king,” God confided. “He turned away from me and did not carry out my instructions” (1 Samuel 15:11, GWT).

God does confide in certain people. Psalm 25:14 tells us that “the LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” The New Living Translation says He “is a friend to those who fear him.”

But God’s friendship is the deep, through-thick-and-thin kind of friendship. We can come to Him with whatever we are feeling, knowing that He will listen, care, and stick with us. He’s not a fair-weather friend, and He doesn’t deserve shallow friendship from us, either. If God shares His heart with us, He wants us to share in His joy and grief, hope and disappointment.

So how did Samuel respond to what God shared with him? The Bible says “Samuel was angry, and he prayed to the LORD all night” (1 Samuel 15:11, GWT).

Like the best kind of friend, Samuel shared God’s pain and frustration. He listened to what the Lord said, and then he entered into it with Him emotionally. Samuel didn’t leave the Lord alone in His sorrow—he stayed with God, talking to Him “all night.”

All this makes me introspective. When I long for the Lord to speak to me, am I willing for Him to share hard stuff as well as rainbows and moonbeams? And when God does confide difficult things in me, will I be a good friend to Him and stay with Him in His pain?

Lord, I do want You to speak to me as Friend to friend. But I need Your help to be the kind of friend You deserve. Give me what it takes, Father, to listen to and love You well. Make me trustworthy so I can faithfully receive from You whatever You want to share.