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.
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.
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.
Sometimes we don’t run on our own two feet; sometimes we run on our knees.
That’s how I felt like running last Friday when I woke up and heard the news about the shooting in Dallas…and the shooting before that…and the shooting before that.
There really aren’t any good answers or any good new running techniques we need to adopt into our routine. What we really need to do is shut our mouths, take off our shoes, and hit our knees. Pray. Call out to the God who holds the only answers in His Hands and and the message of the Gospel in His Heart.
I loved this image I saw on Ann Voskamp’s blog, www.aholyexperience.com. It seemed to say it all and say it well.
Would you commit with me each and every day this week…to pray? Pray before you say anything in the heated dialogue. Pray before you enter the race with your running shoes. Pray before the feeling passes and you turn to start working on or thinking about other things.
Consider reaching out to a pastor on your church staff and asking if your church can call a special time of prayer for our nation and the victims and families of the shootings. If praying at your church isn’t a possibility, consider gathering with one or two family members or friends this week and praying. “For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
Monday – Pray for the comfort and healing of the hearts of the families of the victims who were shot. Pray the injustice done to them would not be fuel for the fire for more injustice but would be a radical opportunity to forgive and experience the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ first hand.
Tuesday – Pray that the church would PRAY. Pray that she would respond on her knees and reach out across any dividing lines to gather as one body in cities and towns around our country and pray.
Wednesday – Pray for healing in the hearts of law enforcement officers around our nation. Pray for protection as they work to protect us, pray for conviction to act in wisdom, justice, and compassion in any and every situation, and pray for healing from loss and from any and all racial discrimination or hatred.
Thursday – Pray that the church would RESPOND. Pray that where there has been racial hatred in our own hearts, we would seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Pray that we would reach out to people who look, speak, and live differently than we do and be willing to love and sacrificially serve.
Friday – Pray for wisdom for our government leaders as they make decisions concerning our future welfare. Pray that elections and bi-partisian politics would not control or steer the conversations or decision-making but humility, wisdom, and the fear of the Lord.
Saturday – Pray for healing and revival for our nation, beginning with healing and revival of your very own heart. Pray that you would seek God through His Word and prayer, more than you ever have before, and the spark that is ignited in you would fan into flame an entire nation seeking His glory.
Prayer isn’t one thing we can do; it is the thing we can do.
So put on your running shoes, hit your knees, and pray. The miles we cover in prayer are the only way we will finish the race in front of us.
The week before Thanksgiving, I wanted to eat lean. My goal was to be on a strict diet of protein, vegetables, fruits, and water, forgoing all desserts and small bites of chocolate I steal like a thief from the pantry once the kids have gone to bed. I wanted to eat gluten-free, guilt-free, carb-free Sunday through Thursday morning of that last week of November. Why?
Because I wanted to enjoy The Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday afternoon.
I wanted to savor every morsel of my aunt’s cornbread dressing, marshmellow-melted sweet potatoes, and vinegar-marinated green beans. I wanted to go back for seconds on my mom’s stuffed turkey, Sister Schubert rolls, homemade pumpkin and apple pies, topped with her own whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon. I wanted to eat, and eat, and go back to the buffet line and eat again, without having one ounce of guilt or remorse for stuffing my face with all of the goodness before me.
I “fasted” the week before Thanksgiving because I wanted to thoroughly enjoy the feast of Thanksgiving…and because a sure way to ruin any appetite for any feast is to stuff your face along the way. To eat a whole pbj with potato chips at noon when the feast is set for 4pm. To eat bad, poorly made desserts every night of the week before the feast so you are too guilt-ridden to enjoy the real thing when it is set at the table before you.
Today begins the true countdown until Christmas. Only ten more days until all the cards are mailed, all the presents bought and wrapped, all the parties attended, all of the cookies baked. Only ten more days to prepare our hearts for the Feast of Christmas Day when we peer over the edge of the manger and marvel at the mystery of the one who resides there.
But let me warn you: you and I will not enjoy the Feast of Christmas if we eat whatever we want over these next ten days. If I stuff myself on my to-do lists, my parties, my home, my cards, my gifts, my wrapping, my menus, my own personally mandated lists of perfection and exhaustion…I will miss the Babe in the Manger and will not even have an appetite for Him when it comes to Christmas Day.
A very wise friend of mine says, “In the physical realm, we eat to get full. But in the spiritual realm, we eat to get hungry.”
If you want to be hungry for Jesus, for Emmanuel, for the Prince of Peace, this Christmas Season, you must eat of Him every day in order to be hungry for Him on the day that counts. And to eat of Him every day over the next ten days, you and I are going to have to refrain from eating everything else. Something – all you moms, aunts, teachers, businesswomen, friends, grandmothers – is going to have to be left untouched and uneaten and undone so we still have an appetite for Jesus.
And let me tell you, I am preaching to myself more than I am preaching to anyone else. I am already knee deep in weariness and exhaustion and can feel my appetite actively waning for the things of the Spirit, for the only thing that really counts, that is really worth eating on the Christmas Table.
So to combat my waning taste for the things that really count, I have been actively praying for the past two weeks, a list of things I found on John Piper’s website, www.desiringgod.org, to help my hunger for Jesus.
How to Pray for the Soul –
1. The first thing my soul needs is an inclination to God and His Word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read His Word and draw near to Him. Where does that “want to” come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to gain.”
2. Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened, so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”
3. Then I need for my heat to be enlightened with those “wonders.” I need to perceive glory in them and not just interesting facts. Who enlightens the heart? God does. So Ephesians 1:18 teaches us to pray “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (i.e. pray that we would be fascinated by God’s Word and His Glory)
4. Then I am concerned that my heart is fragmented and that parts of it might remain in the dark while others parts are enlightened. So I long for my heart to be united for God. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? From God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, “O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your Name.” (See too Mark 4:19 – that the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things would not enter in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.)
5. What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of His Spirit in answer to my prayers is that my heart will be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, “O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
6. But I don’t just want to be happy in my own little private world with God. I want my happiness to be as full as possible for spreading and expanding for others. I want to be strong in joy. This will make me durable in the face of threats or adversity. Where does that strength and durability come from? It comes from God. So Ephesians 3:16-17 teaches us to pray, “That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hears through faith, and that you would be rooted and grounded in love…”
7. Finally, I want my strength in Christ to produce good deeds for others so that the glory of God will be seen in my life. Who produces these good deeds? God does. So Colossians 1:10 teaches us to pray, “That [we] will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
All this I pray “in Jesus’ Name,” because God gives these things to my soul only because Jesus died for me and removed the wrath of God so that the Father might “freely give me all things” (Romans 8:32).
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of things we can ask for from God and not be sure we are going to get a resounding “Yes!” But all seven of the things on the list above are things that if we pray, we can be CONFIDENT God not only wants to answer, but will answer, with a resounding YES. For they are all things that if we ask in Jesus’ Name, He loves to give.
I’m not sure what’s on your to-do list over the next ten days; I know the things on mine are enough to keep me busy for the next ten months, much less ten days. And many of them probably will not get done. But at the top of my list is to walk through the next ten days with a hunger and a heart for Jesus, as I forgo the junk food for the feast that awaits.
Only you know what exactly ruins your appetite for the feast of Jesus when push comes to shove, but I can tell you one thing: if you and I will eat of the bread of His Word and the Water of Presence consistently and thoroughly throughout the next ten days, we will be ready for the One we are readying to welcome into our hearts and homes on Christmas Day. We will be ready to eat at His Table, guilty no more.
So pull up a chair to the table; the Babe is waiting:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.“ Isaiah 55:1-3
Persistence is not usually a word I think about when I think about prayer. Usually, concepts like “holiness,” or “intimacy,” or “down-on-your-knees-with-your-face-stuck-in-the-carpet-while-the-snot-and-tears-flow,” (really theologically appropriate kind of things) are what come to mind.
But lately I have been challenged in the words I use to think about prayer. And it all started with a letter Lillian received the week after her baptism. “Ms. Scotty,” or Scotty Sanders, is a woman in our church who has left a profound legacy of faith and prayer in the lives of many. Scotty directs the Faith Center of First Baptist Church and runs everything from the clothes closet to the food pantry to the job training center to after-school-tutorials and daycare for under-privileged children. While Ms. Scotty has never had any biological children, she has more children than any one person could count. Through her day in and day out actions of surrender, love, and sacrifice, she has parented many children and young adults in crisis situations and who now affectionately call her “mom.” She is affectionately known in our household as “The Mother Theresa of Spring Branch” (a neighborhood here in Houston), and our family had the privilege of getting to know her several years ago when we attended Longpoint Baptist Church where Scotty worked in the nursery every Sunday morning. My girls adore Ms. Scotty, so it was no surprise when Lillian received a letter from her in the mail after her baptism.
What was a surprise were the words inside:
What a joy to have been able to witness your baptism. I don’t usually go to that service and I am so blessed that God arranged for me to be there. I have prayed for you and Lizzie on the 6th day of every month ever since you first came to the Faith Center and now Caroline too. My prayer this month is that God would develop in you a heart for missions and a desire for everyone to know about Jesus. So whenever you write the date and it’s the 6th, know you have been prayed over.
On the Victory Side,
I read the letter through fast-flowing tears to Lillian, one because of the profound gift of persistent prayer poured over my daughters from one who walks so closely with the Lord, and two because it was cemented: Lillian would now be a missionary on the other side of the world because that was Ms. Scotty’s prayer, and I would never see Lillian again after her 21st birthday (just kidding – I would love for Lillian to be a missionary – it is one of my prayers for my children as well).
But as I pondered over Ms. Scotty’s letter and then turned to Luke 11:1-10 in the pages of my Bible, I was struck by one word: Persistence. When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him to teach them how to pray, He gave them the example of the Lord’s Prayer but then proceeded to tell them a story, a story I have not thought much about until recently.
“And He said to them, ‘Suppose one of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him;’ and from inside he shall answer and say, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are already in bed; I cannot get up and get you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.’ And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.”
Jesus did not say that the door would be opened to the man in need of bread because of friendship or intimacy with the one on the other side of the door, or righteous living or rule following or powerful praying. He said the door would be opened because of one thing: Persistence.
Let me ask you something: how many doors in your life would be opened because of the persistence found in your prayers? One? Two? Ten? None?
If I am honest, maybe one or two doors. But that’s about it. Because, again, if I am honest, my lack of persistence boils down to two things: one, I do not believe the person on the other side of the door has the power or the interest in really opening it, and two, I am so overwhelmed by all the requests that seem to float up before me each and every day, I usually do not pray specifically about any of them. Or if I do, it is just one or two.
I don’t know about you, but I want persistence in my prayers. And persistence takes sheer discipline and determination, along with the belief that the person on the other side has EXACTLY what is needed for the situation as long as I will keep standing there continuing to knock.
Last weekend, the women in our Sunday School class met for a prayer gathering at my sister-in-law’s house, and I put together a prayer guide to help us in our persistence. So I have included it here for you too:
The format is simple. It follows the an-acronym P-R-A-Y.
P – Praise. Open each day with a prayer of praise. I started with Psalm 1 several months ago and have worked my way through the book of Psalms slowly ever since. I read a Psalm a day until I find the verses that “stick” in my heart for that day.
R – Repent. This prayer of repentance was given to me in college by one of my professors, and I have used it ever since. I do not pray through the whole thing every day, but I find the section that gives expression to the sin I need to confess and pray that particular section. I also included a section to daily forgive those who have sinned against us as well as asking for forgiveness ourselves.
A – Ask. Here is the fun part. And the persistent part. Following Ms. Scotty’s model, I have given us the space to persistently pray for specific people and/or situations on each day of the month. Use this section to organize your prayers and petitions before the Lord so that you can knock on the door of heaven in persistent, faithful ways. I have also included a space to pray daily for your marriage and your children. Two great resources I have found to be very helpful in my prayers for my husband and my children are Stormie Omartian’s The Power of a Praying Wife, and Jodie Berdnt’s Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. John Piper’s website, www.desiringgod.org has wonderful resources on prayer you can download for free as well.
Y – Yield. This is actually my favorite part of prayer each day. Yielding. I take all the burdens of my heart, every sin I’ve confessed, every grudge I am releasing, every petition about which I am persistently knocking, and I lay it all at the trustworthy feet of Jesus. And I leave it there. In Someone’s Hands who are far more capable than my own.
And finally, I have included a Personal Statement of Affirmation or Blessing, one that I do not use daily but when necessary. I speak words of life over myself, my situation, choosing to hear the Voice of the Lord about who He has created me to be, as opposed to the lies of the enemy. The one I have included is just a template or an example of what yours could look like. Feel the freedom to create your own.
In all of the attached prayer guide, feel free to use as much or as little of it as you want to, but do me one favor: Pray. Persistently. We only have one chance, one life, here on earth to storm the gates of heaven, to affect people’s lives for all eternity. Will anyone’s life look differently because of your persistence? Because of your knock? In Ms. Scotty’s case, yes. I pray it looks differently because of our persistence too.