Journey Through Prayer

Journey Through Prayer

One of my goals for the year was to spend more dedicated time in prayer. So every morning, I’ve been doing my Bible reading and then taking about half an hour to focus on communing with God. Not just the on-the-fly prayers I send up through the day, but time when I’m really focusing, really listening.

Every other time in my life when I’ve tried this sort of thing, I’ve ended up so distracted, my thoughts flying a million different directions, that it hasn’t lasted long. A couple days, maybe a couple weeks, and then I forget one day, and the next day, and so on.

This time, though, has been different. This time I’ve been feeling anchored. This time, I’m keenly aware of the blessing of time spent with the Lord.

It was during one of these prayer times a few weeks ago when I found myself contemplating the process of prayer itself, and this idea came to me–the sort that brought with it instant excitement.

Prayer journals.

Not just blank or lined notebooks, mind you…and not the sort of journals I saw on Amazon with a couple designed pages for listing prayer requests and Scripture that repeated over and over. No, I wanted to create journals to guide us in contemplative prayer. The sort of prayer where you’re focusing first on Scripture and then diving deep into the questions about it that lead us to deeper understanding, with a new one each day. The sort of prayer that is all about drawing closer to God through new depths of understanding, and working daily to align our will more fully with His.

I was so excited that I took a few minutes to design covers for these journals, to choose sizes, and then to work up a gorgeous interior design. I took two days to work on the guided contemplation and get a file together, and then I sent it to my Patrons & Peers ladies for their feedback.

Their excitement convinced me this really was a good idea. I uploaded the first file to Amazon, ordered a proof, and then went about editing and fine-tuning.

This is the result.

What you see here is a series of journals called The Life of Christ. Let me walk you through it.

First, the concept is that each day we focus on a different part of Christ’s life, from His conception all the way up through His reign in Heaven, glimpsed in Revelation. There is so much to learn by studying and dwelling on some of the momentous events of His life! There are certainly many more that I could have included, and I may do a second series on His life in the future, but for now, these. =)

Each day begins with an announcement of that day’s theme. (Isn’t it pretty? Siiiiigggghhhh.)

When you turn the page, you’ll see a traditional prayer and then a Scripture selection about that theme.

Why a traditional prayer? Well, a few years ago my family decided to start doing a family prayer time, and we bought a common prayer book that aimed at ecumenism between the different branches of the Christian faith–Catholic and Protestant, High church and low, liturgical and free-form. Some of these old, traditional prayers were in there, and I was dumbfounded by their beauty. I’d never attended a High, liturgical church, but I found myself not only loving the structure, but loving the thought and care and profound insights of these prayers that had been written by believers so many centuries ago, and which were still in use because they were so…true. So beautiful. So real.

One of the things I love most about this though isn’t the prayers themselves–it’s the fact that by praying them, we are linked with other Christians, around the world and throughout history, who are praying and have prayed and will pray those same prayers. I believe in a God of eternity, one who is outside of time. I love the fact that we can partake of that eternity here in our linear time, in these small, crucial ways.

So I included a traditional prayer with each day.

The Scripture passage is often abbreviated, but if I’d “edited for space” I indicate that by saying it is from that passage. I also list see also references to where the same story is told in other books.

When you flip the page again, you’ll see the “Things to Consider” page.

Here I begin with a short reflection of my own on the passage. Then I give you four writing prompts. Choose 1 or 2 to write about that day, whichever spark your thoughts or resonate most deeply in your heart. The idea isn’t to cover it all. The idea is to dive deep into whatever the Lord is whispering to your spirit that day.

As you can see, the right-hand page begins your writing pages. Date it, and then start journaling!

I did a bit of trial and error to decide on how many pages of writing space to include, how wide to make the lines, what style of lines to use…all that fun stuff. I’m quite pleased with the style and feel that I came up with–I printed them out and tried them before deciding!–and I hope you’ll find them condusive to your writing too!

In terms of number, I settled on 3 of these lined pages–the one beside the “Things to Consider” page, and a full spread of them too.

One more flip, and you’ll find another lined page, but for prayer requests and your notes on other Scripture passages that either came to mind or which you’ve recently read and want to make note of.

That is the end of that day, assuming you do one theme a day. The next one then begins with a new announcement.

The journal has 21 entries and 176 pages, which will fill about a month of weekday journaling. But you’ll notice that there are four designs. Why?

Because one of the most beautiful things about contemplative prayer is what happens when you repeat the cycle.

What jumped out at you this time will now be the foundation you’re standing on when you go through the material again. New questions or thoughts or ideas will demand your attention when you read through the same passages next time.

With this in mind, these journals are created to be repeated. You’ll find several different designs in the same series; the interior material is largely the same, only with new prompts for writing and a design to match the cover. The cover and design do change as well, to differentiate them on your shelf or in your drawer. They’re each designed with space to write your own numbering system and date span on the spine and back cover for easy reference. Repeat the series as many times as you desire!

Sections in The Life of Christ series include things like:

  • Jesus Is Coming
  • Magnify the Lord
  • Jesus Is Here
  • In His Father’s House
  • True Communion
  • King of the Curse
  • He Is Risen!
  • Christ Reigns

And of course, many more. =) The journals are available in paperback, eBook, and hardcover as well. All versions are available on Amazon and will soon be on other retailers. And of course, you can order the print versions all here on my website! (I’m happy to sign these if you want me to, but as they’re not really about the words I wrote in them, but rather the words you will write in them, the default for these will be NO SIGNATURE, like a regular product. To request a signature, simply put it in the order notes, and I’ll write you a little note and sign it on the first page, where otherwise you write your name and date.)

If these prove to be a hit, I have quite a few other ideas for more contemplative prayer journal themes for this JOURNEY THROUGH PRAYER series, all with unique designs and focuses, including:

  • The Psalms
  • Be Not Afraid
  • Advent
  • Lent
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Peace

And I’m also very interested in what themes YOU would like to explore, so I do have contact information in there, so you can tell me your ideas!

Please note that as of the posting of this,
I’m still waiting for my stock copies to arrive.
Thanks for your patience!

I Corinthians 11-16

I Corinthians 11-16

I’m not sure where this week went–I knew yesterday was Thursday, because I had prep work to do for our Thursday-before-Resurrection-Day dinner…but that it should have been a blogging day totally escaped me.

It’s been that kind of week. 😉

Anyway! As we’re here in the midst of Holy Week, that means I’m wrapping up the 40 Days of Jesus reading challenge and will be back to normal blogging next week. This week’s readings took us through how we’re to behave in church, communion, spiritual gifts, the famous Love Chapter, speaking in tongues, and the resurrection. All such important things!
This year I’ve been reading from The Message and then pulling out my trusty NKJV just to compare. I used to be wary of The Message–I like literal translations–until I read the intro and realized that the translator’s goal was not to create a new, exclusive version, but for it to be a companion to other, literal translations–that he merely wanted his version to breathe new life into passages that may have grown stale over the years, to show something in a new way.
In passages as familiar as these, that was a real blessing to me, and I found myself quoting bits and pieces of it to the Facebook group on several days. But I was especially grateful for the fresh perspective in chapter 13, which I have read so many times in so many places that sometimes my eyes glaze over when I see it on yet another wedding program, and I mutter something along the lines of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” (When I catch myself doing this with any passage, I try really hard to find something new in it!)

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

First off, it’s worth noting what word is used for love here. It’s not eros–the romantic, sensual love. It’s not philos–deep friendship that is used many times in the new testament. It’s not ludos–the playful or even flirtatious affection between children or in a new relationship. It’s not even pragma–the longstanding and lasting love associated with established married couples, which involves sacrifice and reason (same root as pragmatic). It’s certainly not philautia–self-love. (There’s a really good article on the types of love here.)
This love is, of course, agape–a radical kind of love to talk about at the time. And still radical today, despite our familiarity with the word. This is selfless, unconditional love. The kind of love God has for us, yes, but the kind we’re also called to have for everyone else.
Now I’m pausing to ask myself–do I have a “me first” attitude? Do I
care for myself more than others? Am I pushy? Do I trust God always? 
If my answers aren’t right, then I’m bankrupt.
And what happens when we relate it back to the spiritual gifts, which is where the conversation comes from? We can seek all those gifts–both the flashy and the quiet. We can speak in the tongues of men and angels. We can prophesy. We can heal. We can do miracles. But those are all subject to this one base command: love. Without reserve. Without judgment. Without you and what you get from it being factored in. 
But we live in a society of me. Right? I read a really intriguing article recently about how society–and especially faith and the church–has changed as mirrors grew better. When Paul wrote this letter, mirrors were made of polished bronze and could give only a hazy reflection–the result being that people didn’t really know what they looked like. What they knew was what everyone else looked like, and so their focus tended to remain on others–what they could see clearly–and on community. Self-identity in the early church was built around community-identity, which is why being excommunicated was the worst thing imaginable. But as mirrors became clearer, as people saw themselves clearly for the first time in history, there was a directly parallel change to where their emphasis turned–on themselves. 
Imagine what Paul would say now, when we not only look in a mirror and see ourselves clearly, we have phones where we can spend half our day taking selfies. Our emphasis has turned fully on ourselves, and with it, agape love has suffered a severe decline in the society as a whole. Community doesn’t matter, in that if we get kicked out of one church, we can just go find another. The Church doesn’t have one body (in Protestantism anyway) it has thousands. And how do we pick the one we belong to? The one that suits us. Where we feel we belong.
It always goes back to us. Me.
But that’s all wrong. I also love how The Message translates verse 13, the last verse of this chapter. It says:

We have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Why? Because that’s who God is. And it’s who He calls us to be–all of us, whether we’re a pastor or a teacher or an evangelist; whether we have wise counsel or can heal or distinguish between spirits. No matter our gift, no matter our function in the church body, this is–or should be–the undergirding.
We should be putting others before ourselves, and loving them with an all-out, selfless, indefatigable love. Because in that love, we find union with each other, and with God. And through that, we build a Church. We claim a resurrection body. And our faith has found completion.
I hope everyone has a blessed Resurrection Day, and that God whispers love into your hearts as you reflect on the ultimate expression of it.
I Corinthians 6-10

I Corinthians 6-10

There were some hard-hitting chapters this week! And, can I just say, some that are rather, er, difficult to read to your kids during homeschool? There were a few sections I just skimmed right over with them, I admit it. Because while I’m all for training a child up right from the get-go, I’m also not for introducing subjects to my little ones when they really don’t need to know about them quite yet. Another couple years…

Anyway. Chapter 7 in particular is one of those that is difficult to tackle in this day and age, isn’t it? Granted, most of it Paul particularly says is his wisdom, not a direct command from God. Except this part:

10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. (NKJV)

This is hard to even talk about in the church today, where the divorce rate is just as high as it is in the world. Why? That, I think, should be our first question. What has gone wrong in the modern understanding of what marriage is, that it’s so easily broken by believers?

Not easily for all, I know. I’m not saying that. But is it the case most of the time that one of the spouses isn’t true in their faith? Maybe. But where does that leave the other, who has been left? Well, according to this scripture it’s pretty clear.

But in practice? Does it remain so clear? I know very, very few people who have gone through a divorce and opted to remain single thereafter, focusing solely on God. I’ve heard, from people I love and trust, that God has told them it’s okay to remarry–that he doesn’t want us to be alone.

What do you think of that? Is this a case of a best and better way? A case where God would love it if He were enough for us, but that He’s willing to grant us human companionship if we require it to stay above sin? Where do you come down on the whole issue? And more to the point, how do you translate ideology into practice? I know what I would do–but how should I treat those who believe differently? Do we shake our heads at people who choose to remain unmarried, telling them they’re not moving on? If we believe remarriage is wrong, do we use it as a means of bludgeoning and scorning those who disagree with us?

I think what it ultimately comes down to is this: if we seek God first, do all we do for Him and not ourselves, His Spirit will make the way clear. But not if we’re trying to twist God and Christ into our own image.

The verse that jumped out at me quite strongly in chapter 10 is verse 9. The Message version states it this way:

We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes.

NKJV translates it as “never tempt Christ,” which is no doubt a more literal word-for-word translation, but I think The Message sheds light on what that might mean. Paul is likening it to the Israelites in the wilderness, who were trying to force God to act as they wanted Him to do. I love how he uses this example, since it’s the very one Christ used to explain his purpose–that he’s the salvation that comes in the aftermath of that epidemic of poison.

It’s still true today. We live in a world that’s writhing with poisoning snakes–sin. Too many people today in the church are twisting their ideas of God around until He looks like they want Him to–a nice, loving, forgiving god who doesn’t hold them to too high a standard.

But God’s pretty clear on what happens when we do that. We’ve turned Him into an idol when we do–we’ve made a golden calf. When the truth is that He demands far more of us. He calls us to difficult life. A high standard. It is, and is supposed to be, hard. Because the best things in life are worth the effort.

So what standard are we living by?

I Corinthians 1-5

I Corinthians 1-5

This week’s readings contain what is one of my favorite illustrations from the epistles, in chapter 3. Paul is talking about the foundation of our faith–and what we build upon it. I’m fascinated by the fact that even though this was the early early church and we’re nearly 2,000 years later, we all deal with the same problems.
One of them is division. And once you have division, you have false claims and foolish work and people who no doubt think they’re getting along just fine, but they’re really building their faith-house with rubble rather than the materials that last. But when the fires come–trials, God’s judgment, whatever that might be–anything inferior’s going to be found out. Burned up. We‘ll be saved, but as if through the fire. And all that labor–gone.
What does this look like in life? I think in part it’s when we deliberately cheap out in our faith-walk. Who hasn’t been a spot at one point or another where we know what we should do, but we’re just too busy or tired or [fill in the blank]? And so we do less. We only give a little. We don’t get involved in a project or cause even though we feel that tug on our spirits. Or we do spearhead a project or cause, even though God didn’t tell us to and had something else He wanted us doing instead.
I think it’s also when we cling to a sin. How can that help but put the whole building in danger? The foundation is still steady, but if we use a warped girder, it puts in danger everything around it. This goes along, I think, with chapter 5 as well, where Paul is calling out sexual sin in the church.
How many Christians today ought to be saying ouch to that one? Not with the particular example he gives, but with the heart of the matter: that there’s sexual impurity in the church, being practiced by the believers who claim to be of Him, and no one cares.
How many ought to be saying it . . . and how many really are?
We are a society these days that not only tolerates sex out of marriage, we embrace it. We rejoice in it. We expect it–and that all too often is true within the church, not just in the world. I was recently talking to a friend about this, and about how it’s caused a cynicism in the millennial generation–too many of us aren’t willing to buy the concept of “true love” anymore. Our fairy tales have begun to be more funny and sarcastic and less sweet and romantic. We call it “realistic,” but it’s largely a reflection of what a generation’s view of sex has done to their concept of marriage and love. It’s cheapened it. It’s substituted sub-standard materials for what ought to be strong ones. And we’re left with a shaky faith that doesn’t quite know what to do. On the one hand, it does still have that foundation of Christ, and some solid boards have been used in other places. But then there’s that rotten part. The millennial Christian might have a hard time reconciling what they know deep in their spirit–what His Spirit has breathed into them–with the actions they see all around them, and so which they mirror.
The people will be saved. But barely.
Is that what we want to see happen to our brothers and sisters? Of course not. But do we call them out? That’s Paul’s admonition in chapter 5. Don’t just accept it! Save them from the judgment–that’s our job. Call them out, hold them accountable, and don’t let it spread within the church. That’s what love does. It doesn’t turn a blind eye–love heals.
What parts of I Corinthians 1-5 jump out at you?
John 16-21

John 16-21

This week’s readings in the 40 Days of Jesus devotional were certainly action-packed! As I read these words that I’ve read so many times before, a few things struck me.

First, that though I’ve heard many a Christian say something to the effect of, “Don’t you wish you’d been there? That you’d gotten to sit at His feet and hear Him speak?” I found it so interesting that Jesus indicates we’re the lucky ones–because we have the Spirit to guide us through our faith.

Ever pause to think about that? That we’re blessed because we haven’t seen Him face to face, yet we believe. And despite never seeing Him with our eyes, we have from the start the indwelling of the Spirit to guide us, to make His teachings clear and understandable–how many times in the Gospels do the disciples not understand a lesson that’s perfectly plain to us, right? That’s why. Which is pretty cool when you think about it.

Then Jesus goes on to pray for us. Us. The believers who come after. The night before His death, when He knows very well what’s coming in the next few hours, the Son of God takes the time to pray for you and me.

But not just some abstract prayer. What He prays for is UNITY in the church.

Ouch, right?

Because how unified are we today? We bicker and we snap at each other and we disagree on everything under the sun. And while differences in style and interpretation are in a way unavoidable–even those early apostles had them!–when it interferes with the message of Jesus going out into the world…when it hinders our witness to that world…then we’re doing it wrong.

There are countless other things to talk about in these rich chapters. If you’ve been reading along–or just love the book of John and want to share your favorite insight or thought before the study moves into I Corinthians next week, do share!

John 5-9

John 5-9

In this week’s readings, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about the things Jesus said. Not so much the philosophical parts, but the nitty gritty, let’s call it.

The fact that in chapter 6 he spent a lot of time demanding cannibalism, though the Christian church has interpreted it metaphorically. Why did he insist to this crowd that, yes, they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, if he really meant bread and wine?

The fact that, in chapter 7, he told his brothers he wouldn’t go to the feast, that it wasn’t his time, but then he went. I find it hard to believe he changed his mind . . . but is the alternative that he lied to his brothers and told them he wasn’t going when he knew all along he would?

And several times (chapter 8 is one example) when he heals or forgives he tells the recipient to “go and sin no more.” But isn’t that impossible?

If I’m operating on the assumption first and foremost that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life–and therefore not deliberately deceiving people–then that leaves me with one thing to do with these passages: assume I’m missing something, LOL. That my “easy” understanding is, apparently, wrong.

The eat his flesh and drink his blood part, for example. Saying he’s talking here about his later institution of communion is easy. But over and again in chapter 6, he quite deliberately makes this hard. So hard that most of the people following him leave, because it’s too difficult for them to accept.

And let’s face it. If some teacher we’d been following started insisting that we had to literally eat him . . . hmm. Would you stick around, or would you declare him a wacko? I can kinda see where the crowds were coming from when they shook their heads and wandered off.

But even if we do assume a metaphorical meaning–it’s honestly even harder then, isn’t it? Because that would (and I believe does) mean that we’re to consume him and his teachings. He’s to be our life, our sustenance, our craving. Everything that we take into ourselves should be him. Not just when we take communion (and let’s not get into transubstantiation right now), but always. He stresses the eternal quality of this Bread and Blood.

This, too, makes people wander away. Because while most of us like a little bit of faith, that all-consuming, every-moment, nothing-but-Him kind, where we spend all day every day at his feet, learning . . . that’s difficult.

Kind of like being perfect and sinning no more. But if we’re again operating on the assumption that Jesus means what he says, how can we dismiss this command as impossible?

think this ties in with Paul’s teachings in the epistles, that once we
have put our faith in Him, and as long as we’re walking in it, the law
and sin no longer have dominion over us. We can and should and are
called to live in perfection.

A friend of mine once
pointed out that Jesus’s forgiveness exists outside of the constraints
of time. If that one action of his could forgive every person who came
after him, then it also applies to every sin in that person’s life, even
the ones that come after the initial acceptance of his forgiveness. So
if I’m walking in my faith, though I may stumble, it’s already forgiven.
Now, it becomes different when people CHOOSE to disobey him. There’s
plenty of talk in the epistles about how bad that is for the person too. But if our hearts remain his, our sins are all forgiven.

I’ve long felt it’s dangerous to give ourselves an excuse right out of the gate–to claim that we can’t cease to sin. Isn’t that just the easy way? I choose to believe here that Jesus means what he says. That he’s telling us not to sin in the same breath that he declares us healed and forgiven. And Jesus doesn’t tell us to do what he doesn’t want us to do.

It’s difficult. But you know . . . I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be.