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Archive for October, 2015

190-Distracted-While-Praying-1

Are you ever distracted while trying to pray? I am!  One minute I’m deep into intercession for a friend, the next I suddenly think to purchase Christmas cards today (triggered by thoughts of friends, you see).

Why is it my thoughts can drift so easily? How is it possible to lose focus while in the presence of Almighty God? Such a frustration. Guilt-producing, too.

Perhaps strategies such as these will be helpful:

  • Light a candle.

Let it symbolize the presence of Jesus, our Light of the world, with us as we pray.

candle

  • Picture a quiet place with Jesus.

For years my quiet time took place in the early morning hours before anyone else got up. For Bible study, I spread my books and papers across the kitchen table. For prayer time, I spread my arms across the table, visualizing Jesus sitting on the other side from me and holding my hands.

Our current home does not lend itself to this arrangement. My quiet time space is in our guest room/office at my computer armoire. There’s no table to spread my arms across. I need a new visualization.

Perhaps this photo?

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I can imagine Jesus and me sitting lakeside, enjoying the stunning view as I present my requests to him (Philippians 4:6).   We can still “hold hands,” as I rest my arm on the arm of the office (imaginary Adirondack) chair.

  • Keep the to-do list handy.

When a task or errand comes to mind, like purchasing Christmas cards, write it down. Then those pesky thoughts beginning with, “Oh! Don’t forget to…” can be put aside.

  • Pray about the distracting thought, if it’s related to a present concern.

For example:

“Lord, I’m sorry the meeting this afternoon keeps popping into my mind. Help me to rest in the knowledge you’ll be with me, providing the words to say as I rely on you. Thank you for your promise in James 1:5 that assures me of your wisdom, simply for the asking. I’m asking! And I trust you for the results that will most benefit everyone involved.” 

  • Pray out loud.

Even whispering the words may be enough to foster focus. 

  • Pray the scriptures.

The psalms work well for this exercise. Skim-read until a key word catches your eye. (If you’ve underlined meaningful passages, focus on those.) Chances are it will not take long to identify an applicable verse.

For example, a friend is very unhappy in her current job. How can I pray for her? Skimming quickly through the underlined verses of psalms, I come to:

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(“From the Lord comes deliverance.

May your blessing be on your people.”

— Psalm 3:8)

And I pray:

Oh, Father, deliver Emily** from her situation at work by removing her from that office, changing circumstances within the office, or giving Emily a fresh perspective that releases her from the stress. Surround Emily, I pray, with blessing: delightful coworkers who will bring her joy and affirmation, encouragement from her boss, and maybe even a raise!

 As my mind focuses on ways the verse might apply to Emily, I find distractions are held at bay.

Yet, in spite of our best efforts, lapses into distractions will occur. I take great encouragement from the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales. Perhaps you will, too: If all you do is return to God’s presence after distraction, then this is very good prayer.  Your persistence shows how much you want to be with God.

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How do you counter distractions during prayer? Please share your strategies in the Comments section below!

**Name changed.

Art and photo credits:  www.printmytract.com; http://www.refiningtruth.com; http://www.pinterest.com (3).

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(“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” — John 15:1)

With that metaphor, Jesus began teaching his followers about living like branches and abiding in him, the vine.

No doubt the disciples readily pictured a vineyard and the vinedresser tending to his work. They would have been familiar with the tasks he performed to assure a maximum yield.

But today, most of us live far removed from the sources of our food and drink. We have little knowledge of what ranchers, farmers, or vinedressers do to assure a high quality product.

We’re left wondering as we read this verse, How is God like a vinedresser?

Here is what I discovered:

His/her main duties include caring for the vines, pest management, irrigation, pruning, and harvest.

granmonte-vineyard

Caring for the Vines

 Grapevines produce fruit for thirty to fifty years. Therefore the vinedresser comes to know each vine like a shepherd knows each sheep. He understands the special care each one requires and how to provide the best growing conditions, depending on the type of grape, the amount and direction of sunlight, the soil conditions, and more.

When branches grow long enough, the vinedresser lifts them up from the ground and gives them support so they can grow upward toward the sun. This practice also helps protect the vine from disease.

Vinedressers remove individual leaves to increase the amount of sunlight on the grapes and air circulation around the clusters, which improves the color and flavor of the crop. The vinedresser must know which leaves to remove, depending on the angle of the sun. Just the right number must be chosen also. If too many leaves are removed, the vine won’t be able to absorb enough sunlight for photosynthesis. If not enough are removed, the crop will fail to achieve optimum quality.

Pest Management

Weeds must be removed by hand or with a hoe. Contemporary vinedressers might be tempted to use a Weed-Eater, but it could easily damage the trunks of the vines. Insects and diseases must also be eradicated.

Irrigation 

Though grapevines can survive dry conditions, parched vines will not produce much fruit. Some experts recommend watering deeply and thoroughly so roots receive plenty of moisture.

 Pruning

Grapevines produce some branches that are barren and worthless. These must be pruned radically. In fact, “vines never produce to full capacity without drastic pruning” (William Barclay).

Harvest

The vinedresser knows the exact moment to harvest.  The grapes are plump, juicy, and rich in color. The skins are slightly transparent; the flavor a balance between sweet and tart.

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 Given even this scant information, we begin to appreciate God’s role of Vinedresser in our lives:

  • He knows each of us just as an attentive vinedresser knows his vines (Psalm 139:1-5).
  • He tends to us with vigilant, individualized care, providing circumstances, relationships and events that will create the best growing conditions for our souls (Titus 2:11-14).
  • He lifts us up, encouraging our development toward the Son (James 4:10).
  • As we submit to our Vinedresser, he eradicates the disease of sin (Psalm 103:3).
  • He provides streams of living water so we need not fear a year of drought. We can continually bear the fruit of the Spirit and good deeds (Jeremiah 17:8).
  • Like any wise vinedresser, he prunes with discipline, cutting away bad habits, erroneous beliefs, harmful influences, poor attitudes, pride, selfishness and more. He helps us become spiritually healthy as well as productive influences in the world (Hebrews 12:5-11).

And when we’ve reached maturity, our transparency allows the sweet, rich nature of Jesus to radiate from within us.

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Thank you, Heavenly Vinedressser, for your careful attention and protection. I marvel that you created me for abundance—abundant pleasure in you, abundant fruitfulness for you. Help me to abide in you, Jesus, the Vine, and respond in obedience and trust, so that I might live for your glory–the glory of my splendorous Vinedresser.

(Photo credits:  www.carolinasnalc.org; http://www.tripadvisor.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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Last weekend I soaked up the cool, crisp atmosphere of autumn in the Pacific Northwest.

The warmth of sunshine compensated for the chill in the air.

Grand trees displayed their fall finery of vermillion, pumpkin orange, and gold.

Birds sang cheery farewells, assuring us they’d be back in the spring.

A chipmunk even scampered close to where I stood, paused for a moment, then leap-hopped to a nearby tree.

And ten other women who love to write, draw, and/or create in other ways gathered at the Grunewald Guild in Plain, Washington, to learn, be inspired and encouraged.

Our very capable facilitators, Jody Lee Collins* and Kimberlee Conway Ireton* pushed our thinking and stretched our creativity. One activity: poetry-writing.

Yes, it was a bit intimidating at first. The likes of John Milton, Charles Wesley, and Christina Rossetti always leave me awestruck by their prowess and power with words.

But Kimberlee challenged us to give it a try, jump-starting us with samples, a quick lesson on alliteration (words within a line that begin with the same sound), and a framework to build upon.

We all began our poems with “Glory to God for…” and ended with “Praise him,” based on “Pied Beauty” by another stellar poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.

For the lines in between, Kimberlee spread out on two tables hundreds of words, printed on slips of paper, suggesting we search for those that shimmer with possibilities, and build a poem from the ideas that bubble up. We were given twenty to thirty minutes.

I found several pairs that sparked ideas: garb and garden, mystery and memory, shift and sheen.

But several false starts soon left me discouraged.

Oh-oh.  I’m going to be poem-less! I thought. How embarrassing. Lord, help me find SOMETHING!

He did. Wisdom and woods caught my attention, and I began to write:

Glory be to God for

The wisdom of the woods –

Proclaiming perseverance

Through drought and storm,

Demonstrating ongoing praise

With outstretched limbs,

Growing steadily year by year –

Roots deep, leaves green,

Fruit in abundance.

He enables, provides, attends.

Praise Him.

It’s not Milton, that’s for sure. But I personally love the visual connection between the words that shimmered on the table, wisdom and woods, and the scenic wooded property of the Grunewald Guild – two delightful memories of the weekend entwined by imagery.

Oh.  And one more aspect of the weekend is woven into the lines — the theme for the weekend:  Abide (John 15:1-11).

*Do visit Jody’s and Kimberlee’s blogs; you’ll be glad you did. Meet Jody at Three Way Light (http://threewaylight.blogspot.com) and Kimberlee at Kimberlee Conway Ireton (http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/).

(Photo credit:  Nancy Ruegg)

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(Steve and I are enjoying time with family this week.  I’ll return soon with  new posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll reblog previous ones.  Hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.  The following post was first published June 13, 2013.)

From stage left, she crosses the platform in confident strides.  One hand waves in sweeping arcs to the large audience. The crowd claps and cheers.

In the other hand, with confident ease, she holds the microphone.  And the smile—big and broad, bright white teeth visible even from the balcony.

Able to sing like a nightingale and articulate truth with conviction. Impacting thousands.

Now there is someone God is using in a powerful way, whispers an accusing voice.  Look at her significant contribution in the Kingdom of God. No doubt she’s highly valuable to him.  So what are you doing that’s important?  Your spot in the scheme of things is nothing compared to that shining star on the stage.  You might as well face the truth:  You are unimportant.  The ship of Significance has passed you by.

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Sound the least bit familiar? You’re not alone. Demons use those same lies on a lot of us. Evil spirits aren’t very creative, are they?

But here’s the truth of the matter:

Each of us is the workmanship of God (Ephesians 2:10). The Greek word, workmanship, sometimes has the connotation of “work of art.” You are a work of art—carefully designed and meticulously executed.

The verse goes on to explain we’ve been created to do good works. It does not say the same work. Diversity of personality, talent, and interest are necessary among the children of God in order that all his plans are accomplished.

He made each of us unique, to fulfill a personalized plan. Every now and then we see such a plan unfold so clearly, we know God engineered the circumstances. Sometimes it’s a unique set of talents or gifts that work together sublimely to meet a need.

Take, for example, the naturally talented writer, who happened to grow up in a bilingual home, and studied Christian Education in college. She was especially prepared by God to write Spanish curriculum for a Christian publishing company.

Other times the plan is much less obvious, and we must trust that the task before us–caring for our families, teaching that Sunday School class, working at the homeless shelter–is indeed accomplishing divine purpose.

What we can know for certain:  each of us is valuable to God (Matthew  10:29-31).

Believe that he has prepared in advance good works for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).  Take joy and satisfaction from completing those good works.

It may not be walking across a stage with a microphone. It might mean walking across the kitchen with a rolling pin—to bake cookies for the neighbors.

That’s just a small, insignificant thing, you say?

Think about this: What if God takes particular pleasure in small things?

Personally, I’m fascinated by small things. Miniatures, doll houses, petit-point, babies!

Happy

Happy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scripture gives us indication that God does indeed love small things as well:

Sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Two little mites given by a widow (Mark 12:41-44).

Five small barley loaves and two small fish (John 6:1-13).

Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

Let’s never again allow those little demons of abasement to put us down. God has promised: “I will bless those who fear the Lord—small and great alike” (Psalm 115:13, emphasis added).

You see, in God’s sight, we’re of equal worth.

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(Steve and I are enjoying time with family this week.  I’ll return soon with  new posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll reblog previous ones.  Hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.  The following post was first published November 14, 2013.)

(“The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;  the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”– Numbers 6:25-26)

Lovely, poetic words.  But what do those phrases about God’s  face mean?  Even if God’s face did shine upon me, or turn toward me, how would I know?  I’ve never seen God; no one has (1 John 4:12).

A little research turned up this explanation:   God’s face represents his character.

Read those verses from Numbers again.  But this time replace the word face with the word character.  The meaning becomes clearer.

The Lord make his character shine upon you

And be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his character toward you

And give you peace.

How many of God’s character traits can you name?  David named seven in a psalm of thanksgiving found in 1 Chronicles 16:8-34.  God is:

  • Powerful (v. 9)
  • Strong (v. 11)
  • Trustworthy (v. 15)
  • Majestic (v. 27)
  • Holy (v. 29)
  • Good (v. 34)
  • Loving (v. 34)

This brief list is just the beginning of descriptors we could name about God.  He is infinite; his attributes are infinite!

All of those character traits and more are shining upon our lives, as he cares for us, lives in us,and participates with us every moment of our lives.

  • His power works miracles.
  • His strength carries us through difficult times.
  • He can be trusted to always do what is best.
  • His supreme majesty speaks of his authority over the universe.
  • He is righteous and holy in all he does.
  • Out of his goodness he provides countless blessings.
  • And all of this is graciously given, not out of a sense of duty because he made us, but because he loves us.

God’s face shining upon us represents God’s radiance.

 If we insist on following our own way, as Israel did, he may choose to hide his face from us (Isaiah 1:15).

But.

“When a king’s face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring” (Proverbs 16:15).

When the King of the universe shines his favor upon us, what more could we want?  Life for us is not mere existence.  It is a rich, full life–rich with blessings, and full of satisfaction, peace, and joy!

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Thank you, Almighty God, for manifesting your character in my life.  I have seen you work miracles and give strength to the weak.  I have watched as you engineered circumstances to accomplish your plan. (And it always turned out to be a hundred times better than anything I could dream up!)

 I marvel at your power and majesty on display in creation.  I have recorded hundreds of blessings you’ve provided for our family.  Your radiance shines brilliantly all around me. 

 And now, as a thank you gift back to you, dear Father, may my life reflect your radiance to others—with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

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How has God shone his face upon you?  Please share in the Comments below!

(art credit:  www.christianwordart.com)

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(Steve and I are enjoying time with family this week.  I’ll return soon with  new posts.  Meanwhile, I’ll reblog previous ones.  Hopefully you’ll find them meaningful again, or perhaps for the first time.  The following post was first published September 13, 2013.)

Women's Bible Study

“I know we have to persevere and not give up on what we sense God wants us to do,” Melissa shared at Bible study.  “And from the lives of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and others in the Bible, I know God rarely smooths out  the path perfectly.  But what I want to know is how to proceed.  I’d like steps to follow!”

Heads nodded around the table, mine included.  Wouldn’t it be nice if God laid out for us to see ahead of time step one, step two, and so on toward his perfect plan?

That idea has been circulating in my brain for nearly a week now.  Here are some observations.

1. God values our growth in faith more than our comfort in a revealed plan.   

If it was best for us to know his plan in advance, then that’s what God would provide.  Instead, he allows our faith to be tested, in order to build our character.  That is important to him:

“The Lord detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless” (Proverbs 11:20).

2.  God values the process of spiritual growth, not just the final outcome of a purpose fulfilled.

Times of challenge give us opportunity to develop maturity more readily than times of ease.  What might that development include?

  • Self-discipline–when we tackle difficult tasks.  Granted, the Holy Spirit empowers us (Galatians 5:22-23), but we must give ourselves over to him.  How?  Through frequent prayer, offered throughout the day, consistently asking for his guidance and help.
  • Self-denial–by doing without.  However, the attentive person will soon discover much to celebrate that may have been missed otherwise:  the stunning display of God’s creation, the joy of love and laughter with family and friends, the peace and strength from frequent communion with God.  Suddenly, gratitude flourishes in the heart, and what has been given up doesn’t seem so important anymore.
  • The full meaning of love–when given opportunity to respond in kind ways to difficult people.

None of these valuable traits of discipline, selflessness, and love would fully develop without lessons of experience.

3.  God values the development of our prayer lives–not for his benefit, but for ours.

Jean Nicolas Grou, a Jesuit priest of the 1700s, described healthy prayer as humble, reverent, loving, confident, and persevering.  As we practice those traits in our prayer lives, surely they will overflow into our character, in our actions and reactions.

Patient pursuit, then, is best applied to God’s ways, and then to God’s plan.

(photo credit:  http://www.st-tims-church.org )

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When you say the name, Jesus, do images from his life flash to mind?  Images such as:

 

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  • His healing hand gently touching a hideous leper, the lesions disappearing, fingers and toes miraculously being restored?  Do you see the love and joy on Jesus’ face as he watches the healed one, his eyes darting between arms and legs, elbows and knees, rejoicing that every inch of his skin glows with health (Matthew 11:5)?
  • Jesus standing in the bow of a lurching boat with arms raised, sleeves flapping in the whipping wind of a squall?  Do you hear his authoritative voice above the mayhem shouting, “Be still!”  Do you feel the boat stop pitching and rolling as the fearsome waves settle into calm ripples (Luke 8:22-25)?
  • Do you see Jesus leaning in, listening intently to the Samaritan woman at the well, eyes focused only on her, indicating genuine interest and tender compassion?  Do you sense his pleasure as she becomes a passionate believer (John 4:4-30)?
  • Do you breathe in the aroma of fresh bread and dried fish that permeated the hillside where 5,000 men (plus women and children) ate lunch one day, supplied by one boy’s meager fare–likely two small barley loaves and five sardines (Luke 9:10-17)?
  • Do you see Jesus reclining with his disciples at the Last Supper?  Do you hear the reverent tone of the ceremonial words?  Do you see the astonished expressions on the disciples’ faces, as Jesus changed the well-known ritual to speak of his body, his blood, and a betrayer among them?

Do you recognize the rich symbolism of his sacrifice-to-come in the elements of the meal?  1)  The unleavened matzah bread with its grill marks, reminding us of the stripes he bore on his back (Matthew 27:26).  2) The breaking of that bread, representing Jesus’ body broken for us (Matthew 26:26-28).   3) The lamb, symbolizing Jesus as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for our sakes that we might have eternal life (Romans 3:23-24).  4)  The third cup of wine during the Passover meal, called the cup of redemption, representing Jesus’ blood.**

Without our Jesus of gentleness, power, compassion, and sacrifice, we’d be reduced to lives of futility and fear.  Without our Jesus, we’d have no hope and promise of heaven’s ecstasy.

Every moment of his earthly life proved his perfection, his singular purpose, his love.

He is the sum total of all delights.

His name is:

music with which the bells of heaven sing;

a song in a word;

an ocean for comprehension,

although a drop of brevity;

a matchless oratorio in two syllables,

a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity

in five letters”

— Charles Spurgeon

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Precious Jesus, we praise you that the same attributes you demonstrated in Galilee and Judea so long ago are still at work among us today.  You are our faithful Rock, a Friend who never fails, a Shepherd who always attends.  May your name continually be on our lips!

**Jesus referred to his blood as the seal of a new covenant, a new promise.  By his death, the debt was paid–the one we owed because of our sin (Luke 22:20; Romans 3:23-25a).

(Photo credit:  http://www.youtube.com.)

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