Posted in Christian Living

Leaning on Prayer

candle prayer

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One of my biggest problems is that I seem to be always thinking.  Even when I pray, I often have undercurrents of the day running through my head behind the words I am saying out loud to God. If my mind is never still, will I ever really know that He is God?
That leaves me looking for the empty spaces in my brain.  I know they are in there.  God orders moments of rest for us.  He tells us to be still.  He spoke to the prophets, not in the whirlwind, but in a whisper.  In the quiet places of my mind, I’ll find the message of the Holy Spirit.

But where are my empty spaces?  I know where they are not.  Not in front of a blaring television or a flashing computer screen.  Not gossiping on the telephone or shopping in the mall.  Not fretting about chores that need done or stories to write.

There are times and places for all of these things (though some of them should have none of my time at all).  But there should be a time in each day when I can be still, stop thinking, concentrate on my breathing and wait for God’s whisper.  It will take practice, like all things worthwhile, but in a world full of information and distractions, it is necessary.

I know this to be true because in the last two weeks, I have had so many stressful things going on that I haven’t had time to find any quiet places.  Let me correct that.  I have let my anxiety rule me instead of following the Bible’s advice to thank God and pray to Him unceasingly.

If you get the opportunity to listen to those who have much practice in prayer, do so in gratitude.  Those who pray often have a way of pouring their whole selves into what they have to say to God.  They may use Bible verses or quote famous people.  But what all of them do is speak truthfully from the heart to a holy God whom they love.  The results are eloquent and uplifting.

We have the ability to be uplifting in this way every day, for even our mumblings are understood by God:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. . . . (Romans 8:26).

I hope to do a better job of leaning on prayer in the coming weeks, beginning with asking for God to help me clean out the clutter in my mind and create some empty spaces for His presence.  Have you found your empty spaces lately?

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Faith-Challenged

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Last week, I talked about starting the journey of emptying myself to make room for God in my thoughts, choices, and way of life. I also noted that this is a process of growing that I will have to begin again each day. So, what practical steps can I take to make my mission a reality?

My first step has to be paying more attention to my thoughts. Do you ever really listen to yourself? My brain is going all the time, and most of that time does not involve thoughts one would call “God-worthy.” In fact, many times, my thoughts are busy being critical of myself and others. If I can do a better job of listening to my inner dialogue, I will immediately improve what my tongue actually says as well.

One of my current reads is the book on the Sermon on the Mount, Invitation to a Spiritual Revolution, by Paul Earnhart. This morning, I read his thoughts about Christ’s teachings on faith. Like the emptying of the self, faith is also a daily practice. Earnhart defines faith as “an active, practical force which affects the whole of life,” and little faith as that “which has not been carefully thought out and applied.”

When I allow myself to get worried about anything, I am practicing little faith, or actually no faith at all. But, as Earnhart points out, I am not alone. He uses the example of the episode when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus in the storm and got so nervous. They had seen Jesus perform so many miracles, but they still didn’t fully understand the truth of Christ. If you understood and had faith that the One who had created all things was in the rocking boat with you, would you have any reason to worry about the storm swirling around you?

Like the man who came to Jesus for healing for his son, but at the same time plead with Jesus to “help me with my unbelief,” I spend my days tottering between facing the world with open, peaceful arms and worrying over the smallest of issues. But, what Earnhart had to say this morning was worth applying to my life:

It will help us if we realize that the freedom from fear to which Jesus calls us is a lesson we master over time, by long practice–by reminding ourselves again and again of what the cross says about the unchanging faithfulness of our Father’s love and by prayerfully taking our burdened thoughts to Him (Phil 4.6).

By watching my inner thoughts, I now have an ever better saying than just “Stop!” to turn my negative thoughts toward the positive thoughts that bring us closer to God:

I will not be anxious!
I will have faith that grows!

When my mind is empty of the critical thoughts and anxiety, then I can hear God. I can fill my head with the Bible verses I am working to memorize. I can fill my head with images of the wonders of nature that are often as close to God as we can get. I can go from faith-challenged to faith-warrior.

Posted in Christian Living, Poetry

National Poetry Writing Month #9

To Know Him

Silence is a cool breeze tickling
skin warm from the sunlight,
grass blades licking earlobes lush
in paintbrush and dandelion,
a stream bubbling clear
just beyond reach,
the blue sky high above
and white along the edges.

Thoughts scurry, as fears breathe out
with the fall of the chest,
and oxygen warms the belly. Arms
flung sideways, the legs sink
into the clean, crisp earth,
letting go, holding nothing,
open to everything,
even the gentle whisp of a butterfly’s wing.

Knowing God means quiet places,
finding brooks in our mind’s crannies,
away from unholy treasures,
tucked in the deepest dark
where we are most surely and yet never
alone.

Ramona Levacy
April 9, 2013

Posted in Writers, Writing

Fuzzy Wuzzies

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Writing is like a stab in the dark, the results often more like trying to see the world through a poor camera lens on a cloudy, moonlit night than the crystal-clear image snapped by a fine, digital camera on a sunny day.

We writers are observers, and what we craft is our version of reality, a view colored by our individual experiences, our cultures, and the worlds in which we live. Some of us write for the love of language, for the poetic rhythms that only a fellow lover of words can truly appreciate. Others feel compelled by an inner message they wish to share or a story they just have to tell.

For the longest time, writers truly crafted in a sort of tunnel. Maybe, like the expatriates of Hemingway’s day, they found fellow wordsmiths with which to share fledgling works before finally publishing for a general audience. Many, like Dickens, found a sort of immediacy by publishing stories in installments in newspapers of the day. Today, we can gain responses to our writing in face-to-face groups, chat rooms, and blogs. The rapidity and ease with which we can express ourselves and get feedback sometimes tempts us into sharing a piece before its time.

Every writer needs a reader, else we might as well be standing at the edge of the ocean and scream into the wind, our words floating away and into nothing on the salty breeze. As a writer, it means something to get responses to what you have written. For one, you want to know if readers got the meaning out of your writing that you wanted them to get. For another, you want to know if what you are toiling to do well is actually making a difference. No one is an island. People need people.

Yet, no matter how much we share in this modern-day writing world, the craft of writing is most often a lonely business. Words flow best in the quiet, in the immersion of experience that only a set amount of time with just you and your blank computer screen allows as you delve into the depths of your brain for just the right turn of phrase or action to make your idea a reality.

“Find the right word,” Mark Twain advised, “not its second cousin.” That kind of dedication to creating a well-written work is really a rare quality. We can’t all create the great American novel.

But that doesn’t keep us from trying.

Posted in Christian Living, Living

Enough Already

How much?  This much!
How much? This much!

How do you define ENOUGH?

As a Christian, we accept that we can never do enough to earn the gift of salvation that is given to us through the grace of Christ. That is why we embrace the concept of grace by understanding that salvation is as simple as asking Christ to be our one-and-only Savior. Nothing we can do will earn our salvation for us, which is why it is so important that Christ has given us the gift of His sacrifice for our salvation.

But, even though nothing we do can save our souls, those who accept Christ as their Savior cannot then do nothing. Instead, we are infused with the Holy Spirit in such a way that we should desire to do good and follow the Word to be as Christ-like as we can be.

Being human in the modern world has its own set of unique challenges. Each of us has a wide variety of roles we play in our day-to-day existence. We are Christians, spouses, parents, children, siblings, employees, friends, neighbors, citizens, volunteers, to name a few. We often have twenty-six hours’ worth of tasks for each twenty-four hour day. And in all of that, we are supposed to exhibit the characteristics of the only One who ever managed to live a human life without a flaw.

So, do we give up on being Christ-like? Of course not! We do best when we lean on the support that Christ gives us to offer the qualities of love and peace and patience that are the hallmark of a Godly life. Only with God in our corner can we even hope to accomplish being Christ-like in this life.

With so many roles to fulfill, so many distractions to tempt us, and so many opportunities to love and help others presented to us in any given day, when do we say enough? For those of us who have type “A,” perfectionist personalities, failing to say enough can lead to trying to do too many things and actually getting none of them right, wearing ourselves out in the process.
God saw a need for enough, proclaiming a day of rest even for Himself. The Sabbath is such a wonderful gift if we truly take advantage of it. A day of rest spent worshipping God and His glory and spending time with people who share your own beliefs and faith can be so rejuvenating. Taking time to worship is like stopping yourself in the middle of a bad moment to take a deep breath. The body and soul re-center and are ready to face the next moment’s or week’s challenges.

For some of us, days are often spent hearing a voice in our head that tells us we are not fulfilling our purpose in this life, that we are not worthy or productive. Learning to discriminate between a twinge of conscience guiding us to better living and our own brains nagging us in such a way to actually distract us from the work of God, we will be ready to define enough in our day-to-day living.

I’m still working on this ability, but I am beginning to understand more and more why God told us to “be still and know.” When my mind is racing with thoughts of tomorrow’s problems along with today’s, I have no room to acknowledge the One who assured me that He had it all under control. Only in moments of silence will I really know that He is God.

And that will be enough.

Posted in Christian Living, Living

Do You Really Want It?

20120923-185752.jpg Focus is a powerful word. Whatever we bring our minds to, we empower. The greater our ability to focus, the more we will accomplish.

In yoga class, you learn early on that proper focus is inherent to success. A mind busy thinking about to-do lists or wondering what’s for lunch is not a mind that will refresh and strengthen the body.

The key to meditation is being able to bring all the powers of your mind to the feelings in your hands so that eventually your mind and body are one, the only thought filling your mind being the mind-body experience you have just created.

The ability to block out the rest of our hectic life and essentially live in the moment, feeling only what our bodies and breaths tell us, is a powerful cornerstone for truly understanding what it means to “be still and know that He is God.”

How often do we ask God question after question without being silent long enough for Him to answer?

The skill of focus is not an easy one, especially not in a world in which we are bombarded by worldly messages. Billboards, smartphones with emails, internet access on-the-go, televisions constantly blaring–all of these things add up to potential side-trackers on our way to the narrow road.

When we have good focus, we can choose to let in only those messages that will positively affect our relationships with God, fellow Christians, and ourselves. But, when we let down our guard, as so often occurs, we allow negative messages to slip into our subconscious, convincing us that lies are truth–only women in tight clothes look pretty; how you look is who you are; winners only eat cornflakes for breakfast.

How do we increase our abilities to focus? We find the quiet places. Even if your quiet place and time is only five extra minutes lying still in your bed each morning before you arise to a new day, focusing on nothing except each breath you take in and out, you will soon discover that your mind will begin the day calmer.

If God speaks in whispers amidst the thunder of social media, tv media, gossip, work, and play that makes up most of a regular day, are we ever going to hear Him if we don’t first take the time to hone the one skill that we all possess?

To focus is to listen for God’s whisper. Where the mind goes, your heart will follow.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

He’s Everywhere

20120901-100813.jpg You can learn more about God anywhere you are, even if where you are is a tiny, but fun, zoo in a place like Abilene, TX.

At the Abilene Zoo, you can purchase specially-made crackers that you can feed to some of the animals, including the giraffes. But how do you get access to a giraffe to feed it a cracker? Luckily, the zoo has a wonderful bridge that arches over the giraffe enclosure to allow you easy access to the giraffe at his own level:

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So, how does a chance to feel a giraffe’s tongue on your cracker-filled, outstretched hand teach you something about God? For one, without the bridge that brings you on eye-level with the giraffes, what chance would you really have to pat the silky nose of such a tall, tall animal?

Like the bridge, Christ serves as our source to reach out to the Almighty Creator. As our Intercessor, Christ offers us the bridge to reach out to God. Even though God is so mighty, so beyond our ability to fully understand, because Christ lived as a human, died for our sins, and rose again incarnate, we get to walk with Him beyond the curtain into the innermost sanctum to worship.

Those who, through prayer or through the deep breath of clean air on a perfect day, feel the presence of God, stroke His silky nuzzle (so to speak), know the value of the Bridge that gets us there.

Who knew a trip to the zoo could be so illuminating . . . besides God, that is?

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Illuminations

I was privileged to see some actual illuminated prayer book pages from the 1450s in person recently, the only thing between me and the fragile texts a thin pane of glass. I have seen pictures of these types of things in history books and on television, of course. I’ve read about the meticulous care that went into their production, about the years of toil a scribe put into producing page after painstakingly-created page of the Holy Word, working on fine details only by daylight or dim candlelight.

But nothing prepares you for seeing these pages in person. The details are so fine, the colors so vibrant, even after hundreds of years, that you know you are viewing the work of a true artist. Besides the steady, consistent typeface that some unknown scribe was able to achieve, using a quill trimmed by his own hand and ink produced from fruits and other natural elements, the illuminations were equally beautiful.

Coming from an age of technology where many of us have such atrocious penmanship that we often cannot read notes we have written to ourselves, I was especially struck by the dedication and love that went into producing the pages in front of me. Not only would the words bring me closer to God, I thought, the beauty these pages reflect could not help but do the same.

This experience made me wonder at just how much time I take to really soak in and appreciate the pages of my own, mass-produced Bible pages. Being human, and even a human who loves words in and of themselves, I am still moved even beyond words when multiple senses are involved in any experience. Music can make a moment something more; ask any filmmaker. A page illuminated by a loving hand appeals to the eyes in addition to the words penetrating our brains.

How often do I read a passage in the Word while something else is going on in the back of my brain, like what I need to do that day or whatever the latest thing is that I am worrying about? How is it that I don’t appreciate the tender work that happened for centuries by anonymous believers to ensure that the word of God was not lost or forgotten?

So, I am determined to figure out a way to read God’s word as if it is one of those illuminated pages from centuries past, whether that be creating pictures in my own mind that reflect what the words on the page are saying to me or playing inspirational music as I study. I will seek Him in the quiet places as I have been instructed to do. I will do my best to be still and know that He is God.

I’m sure that this last was the place inside where the anonymous scribe dwelled in order to lovingly create the beauty on the illuminated page that so wonderfully reflects the awesomeness of God.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Love

Just Listening

20120608-210710.jpgIt’s funny how things in life seem to happen in bunches. Thomas Pynchon wrote about this phenomenon in The Crying of Lot 49, the way that, once your mind is drawn to the attention of a certain idea or symbol, you suddenly seem to run into that very thing all the time. Pynchon’s point is that the idea or thing was really around you all along. You just didn’t bring it into your perception of reality until you actually acknowledged it.

When I seek to learn about and better understand God, this very same phenomenon seems to happen for me. Truths that were always right in front of me but never really seen by me suddenly become glaringly visible. Some people like to claim God is speaking with them when this type of thing happens, and who am I to disagree? However, since God is there for us all the time, I like to think it is more a factor of my finally listening.

Case in point:

Sunday service this last week focused on the uncomfortable subject of materialism. The pastor used as part of his text the parable from the twelfth chapter of Luke in which a man with abundance makes plans to build larger storehouses for his stuff, not realizing that he would die that very night. Jesus concludes in verse 21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Now, just a few days before that sermon, I had gotten a compulsion to gather up some like-new stuffed animals from around my house and give them to a friend of mine who volunteers with an organization that, among many other things, puts together kits for hospitals to hand out to sexual assault victims, who have to leave all their personal effects with the police as evidence. My stuffed toys were for the growing number of children the hospitals are seeing as victims of assault.

In the class following the sermon, the subject of materialism remained the topic. I was able to share the need for these kits as part of the natural discussion of the class, for which I was glad. Until my friend had told me about this program, I had never thought about that as a need before. And I was pretty sure several of the people in the room hadn’t thought of this need before I mentioned it either.

On Monday, as I sat doing my daily Bible reading, which just happens to have me in the book of Psalms at the moment, I happened upon this verse–

Psalm 49:20–a man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

I sat up straighter in my chair. Luke 12:21 loomed in the back of my brain–“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” The “understanding” of the Psalms surely means the same as being “rich toward God.” My ears were being called upon to listen.

What was I going to do about it?

One of the first things I did was to keep listening and reflecting as I continued in the Psalms. These were the other truths I heard:

Psalm 51:5-6–Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. / Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Psalm 51:10-12–Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Psalm 51:17– The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Living in the most materialistic country in the world, in a world where just having clean water, a roof over my head, and some money in the bank makes me rich compared to the majority of the planet’s population, it is a daily struggle to make sure God comes before everything else. Too many times I fail. But, if I listen, I know that God will provide me with the steadfast spirit and contrite heart that will bring me closer to Him and make it so much easier to give, storing up my true treasures in heaven, the only home we’ll ever have forever.