Priority in Prayer

IMG-20120210-WA0003_Sophia_Cornered

Photo of our sweet son taken by my darling hubby!

I don’t believe in New Years resolutions. Study after study concludes that they are an ineffective way to set achievable goals and they often work against us, giving us a benchmark for the date of our repeated failures. So when the ball dropped on 2013, my husband and I had no goals set above what we already work towards on a daily basis.

A few days after we welcomed (or perhaps slept through) the New Year I was fortunate enough to go on a date with the man I have been blessed to share my life with. If you don’t know me personally, you just have to believe me when I say I have the most incredible husband!

We do not ‘date’ nearly as often as we want to or should. We are fortunate to have willing babysitters in the form of beloved grandparents but we seem to use those opportunities to serve together in ministry or participate together in something church related instead of pouring into each other. Now I am not saying it isn’t important to serve side by side but I think the date we had prior to our January encounter was early September – like I have said before, we are far from perfect.

While we were at dinner, ironically the same table at the same restaurant as our September rendezvous, we had a wonderful discussion about how we could spur each other on spiritually, what things we wanted to change in our home to make it more Christ-centered and how we could pray for each other better. The night before our date my husband was at work late and I sent him a link to an article I had read for husbands on how best to pray for their wives. As we discussed it over dinner I realized in a lightening bolt moment that this list was intended not for my husband, but for me.

Everything on the list was something I needed to be praying for myself. Of course I know these things are something I should be asking of my Lord, and my husband should be praying as well, but I do not often come with such boldness, such arrow-focused intensity.

Here is the list as found on Desiring God:

  1. God, be her God — her all-satisfying treasure and all. Make her jealous for your exclusive supremacy over all her affections (Psalm 73:24–25).
  2. Increase her faith — give her a rock-solid confidence that your incomparable power is only always wielded for her absolute good in Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
  3. Intensify her joy — a joy in you that abandons all to the riches of your grace in Jesus and that says firmly, clearly, gladly: “I’ll go anywhere and do anything if you are there” (Exodus 33:14–15).
  4. Soften her heart — rescue her from cynicism and make her tender to your presence in the most complicated details of dirty diapers and a multitude of other needs you’ve called her to meet (Hebrews 1:3).
  5. Make her cherish your church — build relationships into her life that challenge and encourage her to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, and cause her to love corporate gatherings, the Lord’s Table, and the everyday life of the body (Mark 3:35).
  6. Give her wisdom — make her see dimensions of reality that I would overlook and accompany her vision with a gentle, quiet spirit that feels safe and celebrated (1 Peter 3:4).
  7. Sustain her health — continue to speak your gift of health and keep us from presumption; it is by blood-bought grace (Psalm 139:14).
  8. Multiply her influence — encourage and deepen the impact she has on our children. Give her sweet glimpses of it. Pour her out in love for our neighbors and spark creative ways to engage them for Jesus’ sake (John 12:24).
  9. Make her hear your voice — to read the Bible and accept it as it really is, your word… your very word to her where she lives, full of grace and power and everything she needs pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  10. Overcome her with Jesus — that she is united to him, that she is a new creature in him, that she is your daughter in him. . . No longer in Adam and dead to sin; now in Christ and alive to you, forever (Romans 6:11).

By changing the personal pronoun on this list from which it was originally intended I saw hollowness in my current relationship with Christ that I longed to change. I am not saying this has been resolution. But it is a reminder and one that I have kept in my mind since the year began. In fact it was a tool of conviction that my prayer life had been more mundane and self focused instead of passionately Christ focused.

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Never Good Enough

Sunset in snowy Spruce Forest

Is there someone in your life that always makes you feel like you can never measure up? That no matter what you do or how hard you try you will never be good enough for them? Or is it a perfectionist voice in your own head that will not be satisfied? I know that this is not a syndrome exclusive to those in vocational ministry. Most people I have talked to about this have someone in their lives, even themselves, that they either strive to impress or have given up trying to be accepted by. I have some of those relationships too and I will be honest in saying that I perform a delicate dance between trying to earn acceptance and giving up the fight for it.

Talking to my hubby about this helped me put my frustrations and hurt feelings into a more healthy and biblical perspective. Don’t get me wrong, he let me have a good cry before diving into theology.

He said darling, you are not good enough. For the only thing that matters, you simply do not measure up. You were made in the image of God but you are stained. There is nothing that you can do to earn that away. It is by grace alone. And because you have been given grace you must extend it. Even when people treat you badly or when they hurt your feelings or when they make you feel like you aren’t good enough. Extend the grace that you didn’t deserve but were freely given.

Sound theological advice and counsel, given with love. But sooooo hard to put into practice! Not only do I have to extend grace when I self-righteously feel justified in withholding it but I have to find my peace, contentment and acceptance in Christ alone. Its counter-cultural and a battle of the flesh to achieve.

I didn’t think I could get this through my thick, sin permeated skull even though I knew it to be true. So I took some time to read the word and this is what I discovered:

  • Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.”
  • Psalm 147:11, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”
  • 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
  • Romans 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

The truth is that the Lord delights in me. ME! Sin stained, imperfect and never good enough me. Not because of who I am, what I have done or am capable of doing but because I find my delight in Him. I won’t ever be perfect but because I was adopted into the family of God by what Christ did on the cross I can rejoice. Not rejoicing in myself but in the God who chose me. Who loves me. Who knows I am not good enough but wants to know me anyways. Who loves me even though I constantly fall short of His standards.

And on days that you feel like you don’t measure up or when you are done trying to earn worldly acceptance, rejoice in the Lord. “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” Psalm 70:4

Amish Envy

Admiring Niagara

They wear old-fashioned handmade clothes and they don’t use electricity. Owning cars is considered sinful and they opt for a horse and buggy because it is somehow more biblical. They are devout in their beliefs but do not spread the message of His great love to the world of ‘English’ outsiders around them. They seem secretive and are most certainly separate.

And I am intrigued by them.

The idea of abandoning my smart phone, permanently disconnecting my computer and moving away from the drama of our world seems idyllic. Like the families from the movie The Village, I think many of us long for a simpler time.

But what is most enviable about the Amish lifestyle is their sense of community – they seem to have succeeded in a way that the typical evangelical church has not. When tragedy strikes, the community shores up those afflicted in a way I have never seen or experienced. No questions, no strings and without being asked they come in droves. If someone is gravely ill they band together to cover medical expenses. If a home is consumed in a fire they rebuild it – together. While a family is in mourning, their farm and the funeral preparations are taken care of. They don’t pat themselves on the back for their selflessness. It is so ingrained in their culture that it is considered common place, it’s just what they do.

This is the part of the blog you would think I would complain about areas my church has failed me in my times of affliction or ways that I think the body could/should do a better job or won’t/can’t for this reason or that one. Instead I am going to confess that I need to do a better job of being a disciple in community. I need to do a better job and shoring up the afflicted and caring for those in crisis, regardless of the personal cost. When I stand before my maker I won’t be saying the church should have done this or they should have done that. It comes down to me and me alone.

It would be wonderful if the world simply slow and we could go back to an era of playing outside and porch swings. A slower, simpler life. Less consumption and more community. Fewer things and more people. But alas, I cannot control the world. But I can control me. I do have a role to play in how my kids grow up and how we do community. I won’t be making our clothes any time soon but I can slow our world a bit more. I can find ways to protect their innocence a little longer without isolating my children from society. I can be more mindful of which media enters our home and our children’s minds and hearts without abandoning all forms of technology. I can take a drive and show them God’s creation, celebrating our ability to reach it in safe convenience without doing away with motorized transportation. I can unplug for a while and teach them to appreciate silence, encourage our family to be content with stillness, something I struggle with myself.

And Mike and I can model community. Even at our children’s young age they can see us feed and clothe those in need. They can hear us share the gospel with our words and see us share it with our hands and feet. We can do better. I can do better.

But I don’t have to do it by candle light 😉

Lord, anything but……

 

Some women put together a list of qualities their man must have before they would be willing to date them. For me, it was 3 things I would not, could not accept in a husband and a future life together.

I said Lord, give me a husband and he can be anything but…

He cannot be younger than me.

I am not sure why but at the time I decided this, I think I felt that the guys I was friends with were already so immature that going any younger would be more like babysitting than a relationship. Only I wouldn’t be getting paid! Also, who wants to be the ‘older’ woman?

He can be anything but….

He cannot be a Mennonite.

Ok, I know this sounds harsh and judgmental but you have to understand that I grew up outside the church and in a densely populated Mennonite community. Everyone was somehow related and the ongoing game of ‘Mennonite Bingo’ – trying to figure out who you were related through, was nauseating. Names like Peters, Klassen, Doerksen and Funk were so common it was comical. Since I didn’t understand the difference between the Mennonite denomination and the Mennonite heritage, I lumped it all together and said no thank you.

And he can be anything but….

He can not now nor ever be interested in vocational ministry.

The thought of marrying a pastor was so terrifying that this was an iron clad statement. To know why this paralyzed me so, simply visualize your pastor. He is an amazing man, right? He is wise and thoughtful, endlessly patient. His passion and fire is contagious and he speaks with a conviction that takes your breath away while encouraging you to your knees. Now think of his wife. She is soft spoken and demure while managing to raise their six adorable and perfectly behaved children. She is his rock and it’s obvious that they are equally matched in their scholarly aptitudes while she maintains her submissive role. She is an incredible and gracious hostess, able to balance her Sunday school duties while running the women’s ministry events and quilting with the seniors mission circle. She always looks perfect, not a hair out of place and her fundraiser cookies are always the best seller.

Simply put – I knew I could never measure up.

I think you may know where I am heading with this but I will share with you that my husband (drum roll please) is a year and half younger than I am and was born into a Mennonite family. He is also a pastor at a large Mennonite Brethren church.

Those that know me tend to chuckle at how I got here. Everything I said I couldn’t or wouldn’t do is what God gave me. It is a testament of my weak trust in Him and how He has blessed me in spite of myself. I wish I could say I learned my lesson, that my faith is unshakable and my trust immeasurable.

But it’s not.

I have grown but I am still growing. There are times I echo the words of Isaiah and say “Here I am Lord, send me.” And other times I whisper “here I am Lord, send me anywhere but…” It’s a process, one that continually brings me to my knees and makes me wonder how God can be so loving and patient with a grumbling Israelite like myself.

Skor Trifle

In my husband’s roll as a youth Pastor we have the privilege of serving alongside some incredible, dedicated volunteers. These people give of more than just their time – they truly love these kids and go above and beyond to show them that they matter. They teach their lessons, they join in on the activities and some even attend kids school activities to show support. We are blessed to work with them and God is using them in the lives of students more than they will ever know.

A few times a year we come together as leaders and it’s always something I look forward to. Sometimes its appreciation for their service, other times its team training and equipping. A few days ago we had the chance to start off the year with some fellowship, calendar planning as well as equipping these servants to lead well. We utilized the church facility, spruced our cafe up with a few easy and inexpensive decor pieces and ordered in some delicious BBQ.

My husband wasn’t sure what to do for dessert and I offered to make it. This is something I never do because although I can cook I am not a skilled pastry chef or even dessert diva. I was genuinely nervous it wouldn’t turn out. After all, I was making something I have never made before and, until we all sat together, I hadn’t even tasted it! The verdict? IT WAS A HIT! Some of the ladies asked for the recipe so I will try and remember what I did and share it with all of you. It was very easy so if you are looking for something yummy to bring to a ministry kick-off event or want to bless those you serve with, I recommend you take this!

Skor Trifle

1 Package Chocolate cake mix (or scratch if you prefer)

1 Package Vanilla cake mix (or scratch if you prefer)

1 Tub cool whip (soften in fridge)

2 Packages white chocolate instant pudding

3 Cups milk

1 Cup strong coffee

½ Cup chocolate syrup/sauce

6 or more Skor bars (the more you use the more popular you will be!)

Make both cakes as per box instructions. Let cool and then break up into bite-size pieces.

Make pudding as per box instructions but substitute your cup of coffee for 1 of the necessary cups of milk. Refrigerate.

Crush Skor bars in a plastic bag. I gave my son a toy hammer and let him go to town! DO NOT substitute baking ‘toffee pieces.’ Trust me, its worth it to do the work yourself with the Skor bars!

Layer the bottom of a trifle dish with half of your vanilla cake. Layer pudding mixture, then layer cool whip and follow with a dusting of Skor bar. Next layer chocolate cake and pour over chocolate sauce and top with Skor crumbs. Layer cool whip. Next is more vanilla cake and another layer pudding of mixture. Finally a top layer of cool whip aesthetically sprinkled with Skor. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve and don’t expect left over’s unless you double the recipe, as I did!
Hopefully you have a chance to bless someone in your life with this wonderful treat!