prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

hate

Hate is such a strong word. I find myself correcting others when they use it by asking, ‘Do you hate it? Or do you just not like it?’

It really has to do with a lot of emotion and passion about whatever you are directing the hate towards.

I hate the sun when it burns my skin. Hazards of being a redhead, really.

But what do I gain by directing that hatred towards something I have no control over. I do have control over myself…and putting on sunscreen. (Note: I will be putting an emergency stash in my car for extreme situations that put me on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck now.)

As believers, are we supposed to hate anything?

Could we say Jesus hated anything?

Even when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert…did Jesus slug him? No. But he probably should have. Instead Jesus stays strong, quotes scripture, keeps the focus on his Father and remains calm.

My interactive imagination would like to see a rebellious Jesus punching the air with certain fingers extended to our common foe. But Jesus knew there would be a time for the ultimate win, and it wasn’t time yet.

We also have the point when our Gospel highlights Jesus flipping the tables in the temple in John 2:14-16.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 

I have had conversations with people about righteous anger verse emotional anger in response to Jesus’ anger in John 2, all leading to where your anger and hate is directed. Would anyone argue with what we see from Jesus here? Of course not. He is overflowing with righteous anger…who in their right mind argues that?

Which leads me to my own righteous anger…I hate evil, with a passion. I hate what it does to the Kingdom. I hate what it does to all God’s people, believers and unbelievers. I hate the influence it has over us without us taking time to even realizing it. I hate how it rips communities apart.

But, oh, how I love that it loses in the end.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Ephesians 6:10-13]

I have seen a lot of places in this world. I’ve prayed a lot of prayers at many places in this world. I’ve felt the power of the Holy Spirit and the movement of God to make things right. I know where our struggle is and it ignites my righteous anger.

I was with a group [Fondue Crew shout-out!] this week that is reading ‘Serving with Eyes Wide Open’ by David Livermore. I read it about 6 years ago, and its second edition had caught the eye of a few in our group. Our discussion was phenomenal this week, but it was a question, off this excerpt, directed toward me that has me basking in the memories of those I have joined my prayers with to pray against the evil in this world.

Believing in a dynamic universe with supernatural powers all around compels majority world Christians to pray with a greater sense of urgency and dependency. A member in a majority world church is much more likely to expect immediate and direct provision from God that a ‘typical’ North American believer. You haven’t experienced prayer until you’ve prayed with a group of Christians in the majority world church whose very lives are dependent upon God. [p40]

I’ve prayed with a Chinese believer from a house church in China. I’ve prayed over a Guatemalan pastor who was ministering to families in a Guatemalan slum. I’ve experienced the intense prayer of Haitians who give thanks to God for safety. I’ve felt the elation of Liberians as they give all they have to the Lord.

The common denominator of all those places is that they all know intimately the fight against evil, and even more intimately know the power of the Holy Spirit joined with their belief in God conquering evil. And each one of them has changed my prayer life exponentially.

I may hate evil, but I also know what it means to fight on the winning side. What are you fighting for today? Are you aware of what is going on in your sphere of the world? What is really going on? How are you praying for those that have an everyday struggle against evil in our world? From civil wars to sex-trafficking to believers that are being martyred to children that are dying from preventable diseases to orphans that have no home…how does that stack up to our suburb mentalities? I say that not to make you feel guilty, but to make you feel like there is something real to fight for in our world.

Evil is not right. Hate is not right. And God will conquer both. Love wins.

*This post was written as a part of a blogging community among my friends using the Twitter hashtag #1word5voices inspired by RethinkChurch. It should have been posted in July…but I was a bit busy! Better late than never! Also, I normally put in photos…but it’s hard to settle on a photo for hate. So go meditate on some of the scripture instead.*

cup

Recently in a couple Bible study groups we’ve been looking at the Last Supper and Garden of Gethseme. A question came up Sunday night…from a sixth grader…why does Jesus talk about God taking his ‘cup’? Here is what they were looking at:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” [Matthew 26:39]

Without a tool to geek out (Greek/Hebrew concordance) I am left to my own devices, which saves you from scanning over geek-out paragraphs!

From the perspective of a Christian many thousands of years removed from the cross. It is tempting to say, ‘What? What? Jesus didn’t want to died for our sins!?!?’

Folks, he was human…does it sound fun to YOU? The ultimate sacrifice that still stands for ALL of our sins was…excruciating, at the least. It had to be. If it were anything less it would never have launched beyond a miraculous rabbi who told some stories.

Frankly, I love the honesty in Jesus’ humaness during the Garden passages. I am comforted that Jesus knew what was coming, didn’t want to…and still did it.

The passage right before the garden is the Last Supper where he has just explained to the disciples, drink my ‘blood’ out of this cup to remember him.

There is the thought that his blood pouring out of his cup/body on the cross was the cup that he wanted his Father to take away.

But then there is a earlier reference in Matthew that adds another element. James and John have just asked Jesus to be seated at his right and left hand in his kingdom…

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” [Matthew 20:22]

Which lends to the thought that the cup symbolizes his suffering.

Each of the four Gospel writers all reference Jesus referring to the cup his Father had given him.

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” [John 11:13]

With so many things to sit under in scripture…why am I stuck on this verbiage? Jesus always taught in parables and symbolism. It’s not surprising. Sometimes it was a dizzying logic that we are not ever meant to understand on earth.

Still…that cup. I also think I am stuck on it because I’d never paid attention until a sixth grader asked me. I function on faith, and sometimes I chalk things too easily up to being content not knowing. I tend to put things in salvation issue and not salvation issue boxes.

But maybe…just maybe…there is something to learn here in this Lenten moment of examination and practice of drawing closer to our Abba.

So I turn it over to you…when we are at such a pivotal point in scripture, the defining points of our salvation and belief…what do you think Jesus means when he asked for this ‘cup to pass from me’?

happy

mar 11 - happy Strength

Today I am happy.

An unnatural happiness, actually.

It could be because a week from tomorrow I leave to go see my amazing best friend in Utah. (Photo on right from the last time we got together in Utah…expect greatness in a few weeks!)

Or because our church was so full of vibrant, beautiful life last night at the Bible Series viewing party.

Or I could be still on cloud nine from Duke beating North Carolina last Saturday. (If you missed that game…I’m sad for you. No really.)

Or because my friend just accepted a dinner invitation, and she knows how much I love being in community around tables.

Or because I am looking forward to meeting with the zaniest group of ladies who are on fire for serving others and spreading what I like to call the ‘propoganda’ tonight.

Or it could be because I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Or maybe even because this slice of pizza I am eating right now has extra olives. It is always the small things, after all.

But today those things are just happy contributions to my Monday.

Today happiness comes from the pure, sweet Holy Spirit filling my soul.

Laughter bubbling easily from my lips.

Easy going nature fully restored.

Songs are heard through my office door as I cannot contain my worship. (I’m not sorry if I’m annoying you! Worship with me!)

This Lenten journey started 27 days ago…27 looooonnnng days ago.

Before this journey started I never imagined I could stick with blogging every day. It takes its toll, and at times I want to throw the towel in…ok A LOT of times. Then my stubborn side kicks in and I get my blog posted before I go to sleep for the night, which I count as that ‘day,’ by the way.

But over halfway through this Lenten journey there are so many amazing things happening.

I am in scripture more and I am LOVING being in God’s word again, with passion instead of obligation.

I am listening more. God still speaks…we just never make room to listen.

I am worshipping more, since I gave up ‘secular music’ for Lent. Check out the ‘Jammin’ tab at the top of the blog and you’ll see what I’ve been worshipping to this Lent season. I’ve actually been jammin’ today all by my happy little self. (My boss walked by and said, ‘Well, aren’t you the songbird today!’)

I am uttering prayers more consistently than usual.

I am being more intentional.

I am being more like the person God desires me to be…and that feels pretty damn good.

Endnote: I was going to find the ‘perfect’ scripture for the Rethink Church word today, ‘happy,’ but then I decided God’s people reflecting his joy is the best visual of ‘happy’ scripture out there.