In the pause between Christmas and New Year’s, when things slow down long enough to think about what the new year could look like, don’t forget to make room to do the good and necessary work of tending to the unseen, hidden places of your heart and soul.
Although it is work that is often not seen by others, it serves as a foundation on which to build all the rest.
Happy New Year!
To help you with the work of maintaining a quiet, steady heart, consider taking the month of January to establish a rhythm of prayer with Secure, my prayer guide and 31 day prayer journal.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
We all wear so many masks. In order to survive and safeguard our hearts, we pretend to be people we are not in order to gain acceptance as the people we think we ought to be.
Prayer is the one place on earth my masks can completely come off. Prayer is the one place on earth I can go, shut the door, leave behind all the masks, roles, and responsibilities and show my real self to a very real and waiting God.
But this un-masking of myself has been a long and painful process. It has taken a long time to learn that I can trust the God who is really there and really listening. My un-masking has come gradually; it has been a slow stripping of my outer layers of self-protection, layers that include performance, fear, anger, unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, and of course, pride.
This is why my favorite quote about prayer comes from C.S. Lewis: “The prayer that precedes all prayers is may the real me meet the real you.”
Otherwise, what’s the point? What’s the point of praying to God as a dressed up version of ourselves? Doesn’t He know the depths of the hurt and wickedness and sadness and hopes and dreams and loneliness of our hearts anyway?
So if prayer isn’t about being honest, then what’s it about? It’s more like hypocrisy than true spirituality. And this world doesn’t need anymore hypocrites. What it needs, perhaps now more than ever, is very real sinners praying in very real humility, need, and grace, before a very real God.
But as strange as it sounds, praying honestly and transparently before God is really hard work. More times than not, I find myself dressing up my words and phrases before God, trying to make myself sound good, right, holy, acceptable, or at least phrase my prayers in something that sounds like “Christianese.” Many times, I have to stop, scratch out the pretense I have been praying, pause, expose my heart, and pray the emotions, feelings, and words that make up real praying. And that’s when the real relationship and heart change with God really begins. He can’t do anything with a heart that’s dressed up, playing pretend. But He can do incredible things with a heart that comes raw, naked, vulnerable, real, hurting, sad, angry, transparent, but ready and waiting to let Him in.
So how do we get there? How do we get to the place where we are consistently praying real words and not just pretend ones?
Like I said, it’s not something I’ve mastered or that’s easy to do. But here are a few things I do to help my real words come out instead of the pretend ones:
- Set a timer and spend the first five minutes of your prayer time putting pen to paper and letting all the words come out. Don’t start your prayer time saying the things you think God wants to hear. Say the things you want Him to hear; say the things you really need to say. I’ve found the best way to do this is I set a timer for five minutes, I pick up my pen and my journal, and I just start writing. I tell Him exactly where I am in those moments. Sometimes I don’t even pick up my pen from the paper. I just write a long stream of thoughts and words and let it all flow out: “LordIamtiredthismorningandwanttogobacktobedIdon’tknowifIcandothisdayornotandIamgoingtoneedYourhelpPleasehelpmeGod.” Or, “I’mreallytickedoffatmychildrenandIdontwantanyonetotouchmetodaypleasehelpmewanttobearoundthemOGod.” If I’m angry, I tell Him I’m angry. If I’m sad, I tell Him I’m sad. If I’m thankful and content and excited to face the day, I tell Him I’m thankful. But I start those first five minutes by telling Him exactly where I am, not where I think I ought to be. If I don’t do this, I find the rest of my prayer time I am distracted, angry, worried, unable to focus on the task at hand. But if I can show up to God and tell Him where I really am, then I am able to fully present to the real Him and His very real Word for the rest of our time together.
- Write a Lament. A lament is simply this: a complaint. And this might sound strange, but many times the best way to put your trust in God is to complain to God. Sixty-seven of the psalms are laments, more than any other type of psalm. God knows that while we are on this earth, we will have trouble. We will experience great heartache. And our complaints and suffering are not off-limits to God; in fact, they are welcomed. Far better to complain and pour out your heart to God than to anyone else about your spouse, child, neighbor, friend, or co-worker, for He is the only one who can actually do anything about it. He alone holds access to all human hearts and has the power not only change them but to change you. So pour out your words to Him, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then once you do, leave them there. I find that when I lament and complain to God, by the end, I have left the whole matter in His good, capable Hands. I am not only reminded of my troubles but of the power and capabilities of the One I am complaining to. But if I do not take the time or effort to put my lament into words, I end up processing it to other people or letting it affect my mood the rest of the day. So when you go to God, lament. Complain. And then leave it in God’s capable hands. And if you need an example of a lament to follow, Psalm 42, 43, or 143 are all great places to start.
- Confess your sin. Real prayer to a real God is hindered by our very real sin. If you lack the desire to pray or be in God’s presence, perhaps it is because there is sin in your life you need to confess. If you have sin that you know is wrong, but you don’t want to confess it as wrong – unforgiveness, envy, self-pity, discontentment – then start by saying, “Lord, I know it’s wrong to not forgive my friend, but to be honest, I hate him in my heart. He’s really hard to love. Forgive me for not wanting to forgive, and help my unbelief.” Many times with sin that I know is wrong but I have no desire to let go of, I start with the prayer, “Lord, I want to believe, I want to confess; help my unbelief” (see Mark 9:24). And the amazing thing is, He always does. He gets my heart to the place He knows it needs to be. But it starts with me being honest about where I really am, not where I think I should be, and being willing to ask for help.
- Pray your real desires, not the pretend ones. So many times, I have found I hold back from praying my real desires to God because they seem foolish or vain. Or, if I am really honest, instead of praying my desires, I bury my desires. Better to have a desire that is dead, buried underground, than to have it on the surface with God, vulnerable, naked, exposed, at risk to His “No” or “Not right now.” One of the most painful parts of prayer for me has been unearthing the desires of my heart I have kept buried for years and bringing them up and out into the light, holding them before God, asking Him to do something about them. But what I have discovered is that while God rarely answers my requests in the way I was hoping or wanting Him to, He answers in a way that gives me more of Himself – more trust, more faith, more hope, more awe, more wonder, more dependency on my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
- If you don’t know where to start or what to pray, use the Psalms as your template. God knew we would need a template to follow, a song book sung through the ages by His people, including His very own Son, to give us words when we needed them the most. He knew we would need permission to know it is ok to cry, to complain, to grieve, to question, to wonder, to doubt, and to sit in the dark. When life happens and we don’t know what to say or how to pray, turn to the psalms. Let their words shape your own, and use them to not only be encouraged by the stories of the people of God, but learn to insert your own stories into their phrases as well.
Perhaps more than any other time in our lives, we need to be people of prayer. God is not looking for perfect prayers, but He is looking for real people who are willing to be honest about where they really are, what they really need, and the God they are expecting to really show up and move. Let’s commit to learning how to pray to this very real and good God together.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8
To listen to more on the importance of prayer and why we pray, you can listen here on YouTube.
For more encouragement throughout the week, follow me on Instagram @baker.susannah
I’ve always wanted to be secure. Secure in my friendships. Secure in my my abilities. Secure in my place in a room full of strangers or in the living room of my very own home. But security is tough to come by. Learning to be secure, or confident, in who I am and whose I am has been one long, uphill climb.
And while I definitely have not arrived or achieved perfection in this area of security, I have found the one thing that gives my feet secure footing on a day in and day out basis. And that thing is prayer.
Prayer – daily, secure connection to a faithful God – is what has given me confidence in my place with God and my place with others over the past five years. And while prayer certainly hasn’t kept me from falling, it has given me the ability to know how to stand back up, brush myself off, and start moving again much faster than ever before.
This week, thanks to my wise, beautiful friend, Courtney Garret, who has discipled countless women and written a Bible study of her own, I had the privilege of sharing what God has been teaching me about prayer with a ministry called Sacred Story. The founder of the ministry, Laura Wilcox, encourages “women to live their stories in light of God’s grand story, to pass on their stories to others, and to know Jesus as their ‘first love’ in every chapter.” To find out more about Sacred Story and the good work they are doing, click here. And to read what God has been doing these past five years in my heart concerning prayer, click on the link below.
If you are in the Houston area and would like to further explore secure connection through prayer, I will be teaching a three week series on prayer at Houston’s First Baptist church during the month of June. The study is the first three Tuesdays in June – June 5th, 12th, and 19th – and will be in the Reception Room from 6:30-8pm.
My new books, Secure: The Prayer Guide: Connecting to God Through Persistent Prayer, and Secure: The Thirty-One Day Prayer Journal will be available to purchase as resources to guide you through the study.
If you are not in the Houston area or cannot attend the study, the books will be available for pre-sale on Amazon by June 15th, just in time for you to make your own secure connection with the Lord through prayer this summer. Links to audio and video resources to go along with the prayer guide and journal will also be available here at susannahbaker.com.
Lots of exciting things are happening around here this summer, so stay tuned to future blog posts to receive updates. But the most exciting thing of all is the invitation from God Himself to connect securely to Him along every path, in every season, with every step in life, through the gift of prayer.
Let’s take time this summer to open that invitation together.
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.