Susannah Baker

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True Hope

On September 26, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Kathy, With 7 Comments

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.  Hebrews 6:19-20

Hope is Kathy’s word.  It’s been on a chain around her neck the past three years.  It’s travelled with her to chemo appointments, over trash cans and kitchen sinks where she has stood doubled over from nausea and pain, and into weekly doctor visits where she has had to face hard news.  It’s travelled with her on family trips and in backyard gatherings of friends and neighbors eating dinner and swimming in their pool.  It’s carried her when the lights have gone off and she’s chosen to go on thanking and praising the Lord, no matter how she feels or what circumstances dictate.  Kathy’s strong and joyful determination to choose hope from the moment she heard the word “cancer” have stood as a beautiful testimony to the beautiful spirit of woman who has chosen, against all odds, to trust and hope in God.

So that’s why, this week, when the decision was made to call in hospice, all of us who know and love Kathy had a decision to make about hope when it looked like her anchor had been cut and was plummeting to the depths of the sea.

Personally speaking, for several days, I had to wrestle with and remember the definition of hope, not according to what I wanted it to be or thought it would be but according to what it actually is.  Hope defined according to the Gospel of Grace, the good news given to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the authority He brings and instills in His Kingdom here on the this earth and in the world to come.

I went to my shelf and blew the dust off of a cover of a book I read in college: Faith Hope Love by philosopher Josef Pieper.  It is a book I read before I had children when I actually had brain cells and the ability to concentrate longer than ten seconds on any particular task.  I remembered the section on Hope being particularly helpful when I read it twenty years ago, and when I went back to its highlighted pages, I wasn’t disappointed.

“The virtue of hope,” writes Pieper, “is preeminently the virtue of the status viatoris; it is the proper virtue of the ‘not yet.’….To be a ‘viator’ means to be ‘one on the way’.  The status viatoris is, then, the ‘condition or state of being on the way’.  Its proper antonym is status comprehensoris.  One who has comprehended, encompassed, arrived, is no longer a viator, but a comprehensor…The ‘not yet’ of the status viatoris includes both a negative and a positive element: the absence of fulfillment and the orientation toward fulfillment.”

So why in the world was that complicated definition with Latin words helpful to bolstering my understanding of hope?

Because hope, according to Pieper, and according to the Scriptures, is the state of being on the way.  It’s the virtue associated with knowing while you take breath on this earth you haven’t arrived yet.  The moment you live on planet earth and think you have arrived, the moment your hope disappears.  Until we take our last breath here, and stand before King Jesus and see Him face-to-face, we are not Home.  Therefore, when awful things happen here on this earth, when the lights go out, when cancer calls our name, when it looks like hope exits the room and hospice enters, hope remains as long as we understand that we are on the way.

Kathy is on her way to healing.  Even if the Lord chooses to heal her body completely while she is still on this earth and eradicate cancer from her physical frame (something for which we still pray), she will still not have arrived.  She will still be on the way.  A viator.  A traveller.  A pilgrim.  A sojourner.  A sojourner whose tent pegs are driven firmly and beautifully and purposefully in the dirt of this earth, but who knows she has a permanent home to come.

So hope remains.  Even with hospice.  Or, I should probably say, especially with hospice.  Because as much as we want Kathy to be healed on this earth, every step she takes closer to Heaven is a step filled with more and more hope.  Because true, lasting, eternal, physical, emotional, and spiritual healing is about to flood her soul.  Forever.

So what I am learning this week is that hospice isn’t the enemy of hope.  Bad news isn’t the enemy of hope.  War and rumors of war aren’t the enemies of hope.  Cancer, sickness, illness, broken bones, broken bodies and broken souls are not the enemies of hope.  But despair and false hope are.

“Hope says: it will turn out well; or more accurately and characteristically: It will turn out well for mankind; or even more characteristically: It will turn out well for us, for me myself.  To these characteristic degrees of hope there correspond the degrees of despair.  The most characteristic form of despair says: It will turn out badly for us and for me myself” (Pieper).

The first enemy of hope, despair, is seeing the height to which God has called us to rise, and refusing to rise.  Despair is seeing the beautiful, healing life God makes available to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and choosing to remain sick.  Despair is fearing “more than anything else the demands that are made, as a matter of course, on one who is well” (Pieper).  Despair is a purposeful turning aside from life to sorrow.  From resurrection to death.  From hope in fulfillment in the life, home, and healing to come to focusing on (and even demanding) its fulfillment in the here and now.

The second enemy of hope, false hope, is more commonly known by another name…pride.  We come to God on our own terms, in our own way, fully expecting Him to meet our demands and desires for fulfillment of hope the way we think He needs to answer.  We falsely hope in a God who lives to serve us, rather than us serving Him.

False hope demands answers in the here and now and makes the subtle shift of moving from one who is on the way to one who has arrived.

Every day, Kathy, and those of us who love Kathy, live walking on the razor edge of hope.  A misstep one way causes despair and spiritual sorrow that our petitions for the fulfillment for her healing have not been met in the here and now.  And a misstep the other way causes us to land in the midst of false hope.  Thinking we know the answers and that true healing can only occur while standing firmly with our feet planted on this earth.

The razor edge of hope is a hard place to walk.  Actually, it’s an impossible place to walk, save for the anchor tied to our souls that firmly fixes us to God.  Hebrews tells us that Jesus is a High Priest who can help us in our time of need because He looked hopelessness full in the face.  He faced the temptation to despair and to refuse to believe that it could turn out well for Him or for others’ souls.  He faced the temptation to have false hope that He could bring His kingdom in His way and His time, and the world could be His (see Luke 4:1-13).  But every time despair or false hope reared its ugly head, Jesus placed His true hope in God.  “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

So this week, that is where I am headed.  To the throne of grace.

Last week, I had to search for and remember my definition of hope and the enemies that desire to keep me from it.  So this week, my desire is to stay firmly planted in true hope, real hope, hope that does not despair that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Hope that this earth is not home.  It is place that God loves and even died to save (John 3:16), but it is a place that is broken, old, and dying from the curse of sin but will one day be renewed (Rev 21:1-8).  I will not be tempted to fall off the razor edge of hope into despair of God or pride that I am God.  Well, let’s face it.  I might.  But if I do, I have an anchor that ties me firmly to the throne of grace, to Jesus who is there to look long at me, and at Kathy, her family, and her friends, and to renew our hope when we need it the most.

Hope was Kathy’s word.  And hope is still Kathy’s word.  Because Jesus is Kathy’s God.  And wherever Jesus stands, He stands with hope and healing in His Hands.

For further encouragement on Hope this week, connect with Susannah on Facebook.

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To order your copy of Waiting on the Lord, click here.

He Comes Like the Rain

On September 19, 2016, Posted by , in Waiting on the Lord, With 3 Comments

Last week I went on an early morning jog before my girls were up and before our day of homeschool began.  As soon as I stepped out of our front door, I smelled the heavy, damp scent of rain in the air and thought to myself, “There is a good chance that at some point on this run, it’s going to rain.”  And sure enough, it did.  About fifteen minutes into my route, the rain began to fall and did not stop falling until I stopped running thirty minutes later.  By the time my feet hit my front porch at the end of the run, I was soaking wet and my tennis shoes were soggy.  I’m pretty sure you could have wrung out my shirt and filled a bucket with the water.

The funny thing is, the rain didn’t spoil my run; it actually encouraged me to keep running, thanks, in great part, to the verses I was thinking about from Hosea 6:

(1) “Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for He has torn us, that He may heal us;
    He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.
(2) After two days He will revive us;
    on the third day He will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
(3) Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    His going out is sure as the dawn;
He will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”  

Hosea 6:1-3

I know that it’s September and the leaves are beginning to fall off the trees (well, in some places they are, even if they’re not in Houston), and the rain I experienced on my run wasn’t a spring rain.  But it was a refreshing rain, like so many spring rains are.  It wasn’t a cold, windy, miserable, wet winter kind of rain that cuts through your clothes and leaves your hands icy and numb.  And it wasn’t the overpowering, drenching, rain-coming-in-sideways summer monsoon kind of rain.  It was the steady, refreshing new life kind of rain that puts courage into you as you run and refreshes you as you go.

Just as in running, in seasons of waiting, we all need that new life, refreshing, restoring, encouraging kind of rain.  It’s always easy to remember and quote that last verse of Hosea – “He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” – but it’s easy to forget about the first verse – “Come, let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.”  It’s always so easy to forget that the rain and refreshment only comes in the context of a God who has torn us to pieces so that He can put us back together again.  It’s so easy to forget that the rain only comes in the context of someone who has been slain yet still gets up and presses on to know the One who wounded her, knowing that the only reason He wounds is so that He can heal.

Many of you may be asking (and honestly, should be asking), “What kind of God is this who tears His people apart so that He can put them back together again?”  The answer is simple, even if it’s not easy.

It is the kind of God who loves His people enough to save them from themselves.  It is the kind of God who hates it as He watches His beloved creation chain their wrists, crush their hearts, and enslave themselves to lesser gods who cannot and do not satisfy.  So He does the only thing any good and loving God would do – He wounds us by taking away our lesser loves so that He can give us Himself, the only true love that can ever actually satisfy.

I’m going to be honest – it’s hard to serve a God like that.  It’s hard to look back over the trajectory of your life and see the death of dreams, knowing that they were God’s hard answers to prayers for good things you really wanted.  It’s hard to watch friends suffer from sickness and pray to a God who you know can heal but has chosen not to.  It’s hard to hear about suffering and Syria and refugees and war-torn hearts and war-torn countries and look at the God you know you could fix it all yet seems to give His people perseverance and hard fought for peace on the inside instead of the peace on the outside for which so many are longing.  It’s.  Hard.

But just when you feel like your heart is about to fail, just when you feel like you can’t do one more day of sickness, one more day of suffering, one more day of hurting, or one more day of weariness, you still get up in the morning, you still put on your running shoes on, you still open your front door, step outside, and start to run, even if, and especially if, it smells like rain.  Because, as Oswald Chambers says, “God doesn’t give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome” (My Utmost for His Highest, August 2nd).

And isn’t that what Hosea 6:3 is saying?  The refreshing rain is promised to fall on those who are running, pressing on, pursuing, persevering, even chasing God down to know Him more and be known, despite the fact that they are running with broken bones.

And that’s what my heart needed to hear last week on my run.  The rain doesn’t fall when you stop running.  The rain falls when you start running and keep on running, straight into the arms of the God who has run down the road to meet you (Luke 15:20).

I want to know and run to and trust and believe and live life with a God like that.  Because when it comes down to it, I don’t want to worship a God I can control with my own two hands on my own terms on my own turf.  I don’t want to worship a God who fulfills my every whim and desire, especially when I know the real condition of my heart and know just how shallow and awful and unsatisfying and small so many of my desires really are.  And I really don’t want to worship a God who only encourages perfect people who have it all together to pursue Him.

I want to worship a God who loves broken people, who sometimes even makes broken people because He knows their dreams and idols of perfection and all lesser things will end up breaking them, and who knows how to put broken people back together better than they ever could on our own.

I want to worship a God who knows how to help us persevere through the brokenness and the pain to find refreshment in healing, restorative relationship with Himself, no matter what the circumstances in life may be.

I don’t know where you are this Monday morning.  Maybe you are running, refreshed and encouraged, out in the rain.  Maybe you are torn, bloodied, bruised and in need of bandaging on the side of the road.  Maybe you are emotionally, spiritually, or even physically close to death and are in need of flat out resurrection.

But wherever you are, I encourage you to put on your running shoes, open your front door, and start running the broken but beautiful route of pressing in to the Lord.  Because as soon as you do, you will be found by Him.  His finding is as certain as the dawn that broke out of blackest night this morning, and it’s as certain as the rain that poured down on me last week.    He comes to us.  And He binds up our wounds.  And He tends to our broken hearts.  And He loves us back to life…all as we run and press in to Him, the only God who tore His Son so that He could tend to our wounds with resurrection life in His Hands.

For more encouragement throughout the week, consider connecting with me on FaceBook.  On Tuesdays, I will be posting Scripture that continues to offer encouragement along the same lines as the weekly blog, and on Thursdays, I will post an article or helpful resource for encouragement in the same area as well.  My hope is to provide food for women’s soul throughout the week through the most powerful tool I know – God’s Word.

To learn more about pursuing God in the midst of running and waiting throughout all different seasons in life, walk through the pages of Waiting on the Lord with a pen in one hand and God’s Word in the other.  My hope and prayer is that you find refreshing rain through the message of healing and hope it brings.  To order your copy, click here.

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Practicing the Presence of the Table

On September 12, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, My Mother's Table, With 12 Comments

Two weeks ago, my good friend Margaret Austin wrote an excellent blog on how to begin to Push Back the Darkness.  And it’s had me thinking…what are other practical ways you and I can push back the encroaching darkness in our culture, our families, our own personal lives, and in our children?  There are many ways to push back the darkness, but I can think of two simple ways right off the bat.  One is prayer, a topic I blogged about last week.  But the other is practicing the presence of the table.

High school was hard for me.  Really hard.  I never felt like I fit in, and I always felt like I was walking uphill or swimming against the tide.  I can still remember the feeling of driving up to campus in my 1986 red and gray suburban, hoisting my ginormous, green, Lands Ends backpack onto my back, and lugging my books, my nagging worries, and all of my insecurities and feelings of failure around with me to class.  My school was on the other side of town from where my family lived, so at the end of the day at 5:00pm, after my sports’ practice was over, I had an hour long drive home in rush hour traffic to look forward to.  By the time I walked in the door at the end of the day, I was weary and spent from battling the hardships of the day.  But I always had one thing to consistently look forward to – my mother’s table.  I can still remember the feeling of opening the side door to our house and stepping into the kitchen.  My mom always had a candle burning in the kitchen window, a signal we knew was there to welcome us home, and her table was always set, complete with placemats, cloth napkins, silverware, and candles burning in the wooden barley twist candlesticks.

When dinner was ready, my brothers and I each had our own place at the table, a place that remained consistently ours from elementary school through college, and it didn’t matter what paper was due the next day, what exam we were studying for, or what math problem had our stomach in knots.  Each one of us stopped what we were doing when it was time for dinner and took our place at the table.

I miss those meals at my mothers’ table.  I miss the consistency of being known, fed, loved, cared for, and heard, no matter what had happened during the day.  I miss the conversations about theology and politics that took place as we grew older, and I miss the laughter that my brothers always provided.  Now that we are older with families of our own, we sometimes get to sit around the table again at my parents’ house, but it’s never been quite the same.

My mother’s table was a refuge for me, a place where my family consistently practiced the healing presence of one another.

Fast forward to the present day.  Over at the Baker household, I really can’t remember the last time I used cloth napkins at my table. I have “paper plates” on my grocery list as a staple item, right up there with laundry detergent and toilet paper, and most of our conversations consist of me trying to convince my girls that I really did think the joke they told was funny (my best fake laugh at the end of the day usually just isn’t all that convincing), telling Caroline to sit on her rear end, not on her knees, reminding Lizzie that if she gets up randomly from the table one more time, she will eat by herself in the next room, telling Lillian for the third time to put her book down and actually look at the rest of us while she is eating, and trying to coax Mia Grace to actually chew her food and not hold each bite in her mouth for thirty minutes.

Just so I don’t throw in the towel on family dinners all together, I have to consistently remind myself that my mother did not start using cloth napkins at the table until I was in high school, and I don’t remember any deep, theological conversations taking place until I was around the age of 16.  Up to that point, the most theological thing that was said was, “Please stop passing gas at the table.”

With that being said, I have to remind myself at the beginning of each and every school year when schedules ramp up and my patience and energy dwindles that no matter where my family is in its stage of “table life,” profound healing has the potential to occur and lessons in theology are preached each and every evening around the table.  And whatever I have to do to fight for my family to actually sit down and eat together is worth every ounce of time, effort, and creative energy I can muster.

Why?…Because as we practice the presence of being together, we are literally pushing back the darkness.

The table communicates to a child that he has a place, no matter what his day was like at school or who left him out.  The table communicates to a child that she has a voice and people who want to hear what she has to say, no matter how deaf the world around her can be.  The table communicates to each of us that community is important, that practicing the presence of people is necessary, and that true nourishment cannot occur living life on our own as an island.

In an article by Anne Fishel in The Chicago Tribune entitled “The most important thing you can do with your kids?  Eat dinner with them”, she writes, “[A] stack of studies link regular family dinners with lowering a host of high risk teenage behaviors parents fear: smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity. In one study of more than 5,000 Minnesota teens, researchers concluded that regular family dinners were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. In a very recent study, kids who had been victims of cyberbullying bounced back more readily if they had regular family dinners. Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors than church attendance or good grades.”

Now don’t get me wrong here.  What I am not saying is that I do not think regular church attendance is important or even vital or necessary.  But what I am saying is that I think Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 6 are true: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).

Children not only need to hear theology preached from the pulpit, but they also need to hear it when they sit in our homes, around our tables, throughout the regular rhythms of daily life in order to really know and believe that it is true.  The pulpit is often where theology gains entrance into our children’s heads.  But the table is where theology becomes embedded in their hearts.

In her excellent book Table Life, Joanne Thompson says it this way: “Don’t miss the meaning of Jesus stepping down from eternity to eat his oatmeal.  His choosing to come to the table sets the record straight: Mealtime is sacred.  A meal is not a church service, but the table remains an altar. It’s the centerpiece of family life.  Mealtime is set apart as an enduring expression of God’s kingdom provision.  ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’  Time is God’s good creation, and mealtime is God’s metronome designed to bind our body lives to the Father.”

As I think about the commitments of this fall and the effort it takes to put just one good meal on the table, I need encouragement, reminders, and the ability to focus on the importance of the table in my family’s life in order to push back the darkness on a regular basis.

If you need help like me, consider buying a weekly meal planner.

image (It obviously doesn’t have to be a work of art – chicken scratch will do.)

At the beginning of each week, plan your dinner time menu while looking at your calendar.  On the planner, don’t just plan out the meal and the ingredients, but plan out the times you are actually going to sit down together.  To help with that, I number the meals where we can sit down around the table and circle them so I can have a visual as well as mental reminder.

My goal at the beginning of each week is to sit down together four out of seven nights.  Reality hits, and it is usually ends up being three.  But putting pen to paper helps me to make a commitment at the beginning of the week to our family time, something I believe is deeply valuable and important, and it helps me to say “No” when commitments, no matter how good they are, pop up.  The planner provides an easy and valid way to say, “I’m sorry; we already have plans that evening.”

So often I succumb to the temptation of thinking that I need a masters degree in counseling to help people.  Or I need a medical degree to become a healer of the soul.  Or I need fancier dishes or matching placemats or gourmet meals or all the time in the world to offer those around me a place at my table.  But that isn’t what God’s Word shows us.  All that we need is a table, and the presence of mind to say, “Pull up a chair, your place is waiting.  Sit down for a moment so we can talk.”

That’s it.  So this fall, as you plan out your schedule and think about your family’s needs, don’t forget about your table.  Make it preimment.  Make it a priority.  And make sure you become present at the table one meal, one week, one season at a time.  Don’t feel like you need start perfectly.  Just start.  And don’t even be afraid to start badly.  But don’t miss the fact that one of the greatest ways you can push back the darkness in your culture, your family’s life, and in your friends’ lives, is to set them a place at your table.

Let the meal times begin.

 

Dominion in Prayer: Tending the Land God has Given Us

On September 5, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Prayer, Surviving School, With 3 Comments

That first two weeks of school are sort of like an endurance test for moms.  Not only are we required to have our children at the thing (like, say, school for example) in the appropriate uniform, clothes, costume, leotard, jersey, etc, with the appropriate props (like lunches and lunch boxes, bows with a monogrammed initial for those of us who live in the South, binders that are a specific measurement with tabs that color coordinate, cleats, tap shoes, baseball gloves, or swim goggles) but we are required to stay at the thing those first two weeks to makes sure we meet the teachers, know the coaches, learn the drill, and pay for any missing pieces of the props or costumes we have forgotten to assemble.

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Two weeks in to the school year, I always have to remind myself, “It shall not always be this way.  One day, I will again sleep.  One day, I will again have ten minutes to put my feet up without having to go to another meeting.  One day, I will again have the time to make a second cup of coffee.  One day, I will again be able to sleep in until 6am and not feel behind.  One day.”

It’s easy for moms to start to feel more like a deflated balloon than a rested, relaxed, normal human being these first few weeks of school.

So last week, I started to think about the word “dominion” instead of “deflated.”  Strange, I know, because dominion is a word you don’t hear all that often and usually only when someone reads their Bible in the King James Version or comes across a sermon from Jonathon Edwards, the Puritan pastor.  But dominion is an important word because it comes right out of Genesis 1: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV).”

Dominion over creation was a gift from God to the man and the woman He created, and it was a gift He gave to all of their descendants as well.  But sadly, it is a gift those of us on planet earth do not often use very well.  And it is a gift I don’t tend to use very well, especially during the first two weeks of school.  Instead of ruling and reigning, I feel more like a kid running behind a school bus, trying to catch up since I was late to pick up.

In its simplest form, dominion means “to rule or to reign,” but the definition I like the most is “to take possession of honey from a hive” (The Complete WordStudy Old Testament, Spiros Zodhiates).  God gave us the gift of exercising dominion so that we could walk through life more like bee keepers than authoritative dictators.  And as the people of God, when we exercise dominion as we should, we extract all that is sweet and good from the fabric of life and weave it back into the order of the universe, helping all of creation to fulfill the God-glorifying purposes for which it was created.

But rather than extracting the honey and tasting its sweetness, I can sometimes feel like all I’m doing is chasing the bees, trying to shoo them back into their hive and getting stung in the process.  Or, another way to say it, is I feel like I live in the defensive position more than the offensive.  Rather than ordering my days and bringing sweetness and peace to the people and places where God has me, most of the time I’m just trying to play catch up or create a way not to feel quite so behind.

But I don’t want to live in perpetual defensive, catch up mode.  I really don’t.  I want to live in offensive, dominion mode, gathering honey from the hives God has given me and serving its sweetness and inherent goodness into every day living.

A few days ago, when I was listening to a talk on prayer on a cassette tape I found in my mom’s study (talk about old school), one point in particular grabbed my attention.  It was this: “Intercession (praying for others) is not about making endless lists.  It’s about praying the goodness of God’s will into other people’s lives; it’s about praying for people who are in your life.  As you go to the Lord in prayer, ask yourself, ‘Who do I spend the most time with?’, and start there.  Dominion is our gift in creation” (Mario Bergner, Listening Prayer Praxis).

When I heard that, the overwhelming emotion I felt was relief.  Finally, in the craziness of the first two of school, there was a hint, a clue in the puzzle pieces, as to how to bring order and dominion back into my days.  And I truly believe this – as long as we live here on planet earth, for the people of God, dominion begins and ends with prayer.

As I look ahead into the fall and the rest of the school year, there is so little I have actual control over.  No matter how much I plan and structure and order my days and the days of my children, the bottom line is, I cannot control so much of what happens once my feet hit the floor each morning.  But what I can control is the frequency and fervency of my prayers.  I can daily, weekly, regularly, exercise dominion by lobbing consistent prayer into the very places and lives where God has given presence and influence and sit back and watch in eager anticipation what God does on a day in and day out basis.

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I think most of the time why I don’t exercise dominion in my prayer life is because the sheer enormity of the task overwhelms me.  I don’t pray for anything (or very little) because I feel like I have to pray for everything.  I take my endless feelings of being tired and behind in life and drag them into my life of prayer.  But we are not asked or required to pray for everything; we are asked to pray for the plots of land God has given us to tend.  In other words, we are asked to pray for that which God has given us dominion over.  And many times, prayer is the first and primary way we are able to be good bee-keepers of the areas where God has given us dominion.  Prayer enables us to go into the hives of our schools, our neighborhoods, our churches, the lives of our spouses, children, close friends and family, and extract all of their sweetness and goodness while weaving it back into the fabric of those very same people and places.

So here’s the challenge: this week, I am going to be putting my prayer life in order.  Will you consider doing the same thing?  And here’s how I’m going to begin: I am going to think about the people and places who are most regularly and consistently in my life and start directing my prayers there.  And then I am going to think about my broader sphere of influence and the people and places who God has put in my life or path but I may not see on a regular basis.  Like ministries Jason and I are involved with or specific missionaries.  The pastor whose teaching on prayer I was listening to made the point that one person cannot pray for more than 1-2 missionaries or ministries responsibly.  So don’t add 100 ministries, or even 10 ministries or world problems, to your list.  Just add 2.  And then pray about those two regularly and responsibly.  And guess what?  If every single one of us did that, just those who read this blog, that would add up to over 400 ministries and missionaries being prayed for regularly.  You, individually, are not the answer to the world’s problems or to single-handedly finishing the Great Commission.  But we, collectively, as the Body of Christ, are the answer.  And as we work together in prayer, each of us diligently laboring over the dominion and plot of land God has given us, we will begin to see great change take place in our cities, churches, communities, and world, and God begin to move in powerful ways.

Several years ago, to help organize my prayer life, I put together a prayer guide I titled “Persistent Prayer.”  I have shared the entire document  before in a previous post, but today I just want us to focus on the Intercession or “Ask” section.

Each day of the week has its own separate piece of paper, and on that paper, there is room to decide where God has given you dominion and how you are going to pray effectively in those areas.  There is nothing fancy about this prayer guide; it is just a simple way to organize our prayers so that you and I can make sure we are praying.  (Click here to download the document: Ask)

Every morning, I read a daily devotion in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus.  At the end of every day, Keller includes a short prayer, and the prayer for September 3rd, the day I wrote this blog, was powerful and convicting:

Lord, prayerlessness is a sin against you.  It comes from a self-sufficiency that is wrong and that dishonors you.  Prayerlessness is also a sin against those around me.  I should be engaging my heart and your power in their needs.  Lord, I pray with all my heart that you would give me a heart for prayer.  Amen. 

In I Samuel 12:23, the prophet Samuel says to the people of Israel, the people God had given him specific dominion over and responsibility for, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.”  Amen and amen.  May God deliver us from the sin of prayerlessness and give us all hearts for prayer that seek first to connect with Him and then seek to extract the honey from the hives around us, beautifying God’s good creation with its sweetness and goodness, exercising rightful, beneficial dominion in the land God has given us.

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