But life isn't like that.
So sometimes I go back and read my own blogs and think... naaahhhhh. Too neat and tidy.
But still I write:)
So I'll try not to make this too essay-ish. But no promises!
The topic de jour is prayer. I need it! And after years of being a Christian, I'm still learning how to do it effectively!
I got a new prayer notebook (the mailman loves me! I'm the reason the postal service hasn't collapsed yet!). It's called The 29:59 Plan (approximately 30 minutes a day) and it recommends the 4/4 approach to prayer. Basically you start off by looking upward (focusing on God). Then you look downward (worshiping/responding to God). Then you look inward (bringing your requests for yourself and others, as God leads you, to Him). And then you look outward - you write down practical ways you can apply what you've learned in your quiet time.
To begin, you take a short passage of Scripture and ask God to show you His characteristics from that passage. Then you read it and write down the answer to these questions:
1. Who is God? (Upward)
2. How shall I respond? (Downward)
3. What should I pray about? (Inward)
4. Where do I go from here? (Outward)
Since I'm basically reading/studying James right now, I took James 1:1-8 for my passage today, figuring that was a big enough passage to meditate on but not too big. I prayed and then glanced at the verses and thought, Okay. Not much about God until you get to verse five or so. Not going to have a lot written down for the first question!
But then I started reading and the first thing I wrote down was that in verse 1 James calls himself a bond-servant of God. Which means that God was his boss. (You can't have a servant without a boss, right?)
Then in verses 2-4, I realized that even though James is talking about trials, the implication is that God uses trials to produce endurance in our lives. And eventually endurance moves us to maturity. So I realized that God uses the bad as well as the good to mature us and that He is not only a master-shaper but also He is goal oriented.
In verse 5, it's pretty clear that God must have all wisdom, otherwise, it would do no good to ask Him for wisdom if He didn't have it. (Or if He didn't have a good deal more wisdom than we ourselves possess!)
Also in verse 5, the writer plainly states that God is a generous giver who bestows wisdom on those who ask for it. And he doesn't reproach the one who asks. I guess that means He doesn't go, "Why are you asking me for wisdom about this situation now instead of two weeks ago when it first cropped up???" Or "Why are you bothering Me with this when you should be able to figure it out on your own!" Or even, "Don't bother Me now!!! I have wars and revolutions to straighten out!!! Your puny concerns are hardly at the top of My list!!!"
But the thing that really struck me was in verse 8. "For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." Bottom line, He doesn't honor requests that are made without faith in His ability to answer; i.e., He really, really values faith!
I thought about how sad it would be to ask God for wisdom and get this for an answer: don't expect anything from Me! Your mind is too unstable, bouncing like a ping-pong ball back and forth between faith and doubt, between My wisdom, your own wisdom and the world's. I can't give you my thoughts on this issue because you are in no shape to receive it!
When I was in college, I had an acquaintance who was turned down over twenty times for the homecoming dance. He carried the seeds of his own (social!) demise in his manner of asking. He would approach the next girl on his rather lengthy list, walk up to her and say something like, "I know you aren't going to want to go to the game with me, are you?"
We laugh about things like that sometimes but I think my prayers are often like that. I invite God to dance with me but I expect Him to decline! As in: God, You are my boss, I work for You. Not only that, I love You. And I know You love me. Plus, You have all the wisdom in the world. And I am in this really difficult situation and I can't know all the ramifications of the different choices that are in front of me because my mind is finite while Yours is infinite. But You aren't going to help me on this one, are You? I didn't think so. But I thought I'd ask for wisdom anyway, just in case.... Thanks for listening!
Okay! Getting back to the 4/4 plan! I found that once I wrote down the characteristics of God, the other three questions were easy to answer.
Question 2: How shall I respond? Well, if God is my boss, then I think I need to present myself to Him every morning for my day's assignment and I think I need to check back frequently during the day to see if anything has changed. And since He is my boss, I need to ask for wisdom during the day and expect to receive it. And I need to thank Him for His generous and loving nature.
Question 3: What should I pray about? Here I just listed specific things that I need wisdom for and I listed some possible activities for this Christmas season, running them past Him to see if these are the projects He wants me to do or not. In due time, He'll show me. And I prayed that He would help specific friends, who are currently going through trials, to see how He is using these trials in their lives and to not let them be overwhelmed.
Question 4: Where do I go from here? I asked God to help me get up every morning for the next seven days and report for duty! Until it becomes a habit... And I listed some things that I can do (send a card, visit, etc) to encourage a couple of my friends who are going through trials right now.
Things I noticed that are a bit different about this plan: first, you start with Scripture and worship, not just a few words of praise and a bit of thanks. (They encourage you to respond with song even as you think about who God is). Second, you allow God to bring people and issues to mind instead of going through a lengthy laundry list of names. (And as He brought people to mind, I wrote their names down on my journal sheet). And fourth, the last part of the prayer time actually has you setting one or more simple goals.
So far I like it. The notebook has divisions for each day and they encourage you to pray for a different thing each weekday and not get overloaded. So Monday might be prayer for people who are especially struggling that week with illness or are terminally ill. Tuesday might be a day to pray for those who need spiritual direction and help. Wednesday, you might pray for those who just weigh heavily on your heart. Thursday you might pray for people in leadership, that they would make wise decisions, etc. And every day you would probably want to pray for family and close friends.
The binder is offered by a ministry (Strategic Renewal, I think) for about 25.00.