Prayer is an activity that all of us ought to be familiar with and yet it remains one of those aspects of our spiritual lives that is often gathering dust on the shelf. Not only are our lives speeding by so that we rarely take time to be still, but we also succumb to looking to others to do the praying.
Leveling the Praying Field: Helping Every Person Talk to God and Hear from God by Donna Barrett is unlike most books or articles on the topic of prayer.
Donna opens her introduction as follows:
“Do you feel like prayer is important, but just not your “thing”? If you were totally honest, would you admit that you find prayer boring? Or perhaps you’re not sure it makes a difference or is really the best use of your time. Perhaps you find prayer intimidating because you don’t feel like you’re good at it, don’t know how to pray, how to use the “right words,” or how to have the endurance to stay with it.”
This opens the door to facing ourselves honestly and how we may have fallen into the trap of turning prayer over to those we consider “intercessors” or “prayer warriors”. That becomes our excuse for not even trying to pray and misses the point of prayer being a connecting point God wants between each of us and himself.
Donna’s passion is that everyone no matter what stage of life, what level of Christian maturity, what gender, or what level of education will get in the game, get on the field, and start looking at prayer differently.
Her newly released book invites the reader into her thoughts, heart, and experiences with prayer from childhood through her call to ministry in various places and capacities as a pastor in the Assembly of God. This is not a “how to” or a recipe. She invites the reader to see prayer as the dialogue between a child and a father at the most basic and intimate level.
Her writing style is to invite you into a conversation with her as if you were enjoying a favorite cup of coffee looking at this topic. As you read and “listen,” it will be evident this is not a subject she teaches as much as one that she lives out in every venue she finds herself.
I know exactly what that feels like as a friend who has conversed with her many times about prayer.
Donna reminds the reader:
“He created us to relate with Him, to respond in a give-and-take, to bond emotionally, and to communicate, even in an infantile way initially. But then we shut Him out, stare off as if He isn’t there, and tune Him out.
God has always planned to redeem a family for Himself from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). This love relationship includes and is facilitated by prayer − the incredible privilege of hearing and speaking with our Father God.”
Whatever your experience with prayer is or has been, whatever part of the body of Christ is your home, this book will offer you insight to what gets in the way of a vibrant relational prayer life and inspire you to get on the field, get in the game, and experience the Lord as never before.
Each of us has interactions with a variety of people who are connected with us in various contexts. Some people are those in our neighborhood. Some are a part of the body where we worship. Some are those we meet through work.
Some of these people are newer to us and we share at more of a superficial level. Others know us well over a longer period of time. In both scenarios these individuals gradually get to know our stories little by little as we grow in trust and connection learning when, how, and what is wisdom to share.
What do we share about our testimony in Christ when those opportunities arise and the Lord nudges us to tell someone?
I think it can be easy (and understandable) not to share every detail of the journey and how the Lord met us. That would require a very long conversation for most of us. And it is not always wise or necessary.
If we are tuned into the Lord, I believe He shows us what part of our story will reach the heart, mind, and spirit of the other person.
Even so we have a choice of what we emphasize in the telling. How often do we emphasize only the victories? How often do we share too much about the darker part of our story that perhaps we don’t need to share?
It requires wisdom to allow the Lord to use us to share our testimony, but when He leads we should not hesitate to do so.
As I was reading in Exodus, I took note of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who was a Midianite priest and leader. (You may know that the Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah whom he married after Sarah died.) He first met Moses when he was on the run out of Egypt and hardly sure of what lay ahead of him.
Jethro took him in and gave his daughter Zipporah to him to become his wife, but Jethro was not a believer in Yahweh. Moses was with him until God met him at the burning bush and sent him to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of bondage.
When we next see Jethro, he has come with Zipporah and the sons of her and Moses to meet Moses near Sinai after the Pharaoh’s army was defeated as the sea collapsed over them. Moses goes out to meet him and after greeting each other, they go into the tent of Moses. If we were to listen in on the conversation in the tent, it would be logical for Jethro to want to hear about what has happened since Moses left. Even though he likely heard about the story to some degree, it would make sense that he wanted to hear directly from Moses.
Consider what testimony Moses shares with this Midianite priest:
“Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.”
Exodus 18:8 (NIV)
Moses shared a balanced account with Jethro. He told him about the hardships and difficulties along the way, but he balanced those with the deliverances from dangerous and deadly challenges.
That balance was very wise as he shared with an unbeliever. He didn’t give Jethro the impression that God didn’t allow his people to face many dangers and tests, but that God did provide ultimate deliverance.
“Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
Exodus 18:9 (NIV)
But he doesn’t stop there:
He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”
Exodus 18:10-11 (NIV)
Jethro, an unbeliever, is won over by the testimony that gives a clear picture that accepting Yahweh as God does not mean life will be free of issues or problems, but that God will ultimately bring deliverance. He demonstrates his conversion a verse later when he brings a burnt offering to God that was something that was then understood to atone for past sins and to appeal for forgiveness and acceptance.
What a good model to help point to a balance when we share our testimony of God working in our lives.
If you let your mind think through your friends, you will likely attach some specific thing to each of them − something that sets them apart from everyone else. It’s a wonderful thing to have different friends from different seasons that connect with us through something unique.
If I were doing that exercise, one of my friends would have the words “banana bread” beside her name. She makes it often and it shows! It is unparalleled in consistently being delicious. She knows my husband loves it and she never fails to bless us with some throughout the year. She bakes a great fruitcake also, but anyone who knows her knows about her banana bread.
As I was reading a passage in 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 23:16-17) today, I paused to read the following footnote:
“A true friend does not minimize or make light of the sorrow or difficulty another may be experiencing but, rather, helps the other find strength in God.”
The statement fit perfectly for this “banana bread” friend and my thoughts drifted back to the year 1995. It was one of those years that remain etched in your memory forever.
At the time I was working as a clinical counselor and marriage and family therapist in a Christian private practice a half hour north of our home. My husband was working in the same profession in a practice 45 minutes south of our home. Our two adult children were living hundreds of miles away in Maryland and Tennessee.
My parents lived just two miles away with my younger brother who was developmentally delayed and mentally ill. I was grateful to have them near and to be in good health even though my dad was then 84 and my mother was 79. I couldn’t really handle thinking about the time they would go home to be with the Lord and I would become guardian to my brother with all the challenges that would create.
I could never have imagined that concern would come true in 1995.
My father was very healthy with none of the ailments most folks bump into by the time they are in their 80’s. He was a soft-spoken gentle man who had served the Lord his whole life. He was the anchor for my mother who experienced a variety of chronic health concerns. I expected one of these conditions would likely result in her death prior to my father’s, but I was wrong.
In late February 1995 my dad developed pneumonia and was hospitalized within a week. The disease resisted all medical treatment and five and a half weeks later on a cold starry March night, he passed from this life into the next. My own grief was set aside to deal with my mother who crumbled from this loss of the one she had married 55 years before.
She had started to falter while my dad was hospitalized and needed to be hospitalized twice herself during the same time period. So it was no surprise the hospital called mewhen my father died and looked to me to make all the decisions.
That compounded exponentially when my mother died exactly three months to the day of my father and I became my brother’s guardian.
Again there was little time for grieving. I needed to handle my brother. I also needed to try to manage while working and sorting out what and how their home and belongings would be handled. Our children were able to be present for only a short time before returning home to work and their own families.
It was several months later when I needed to tackle going through the things in my parents’ bedroom. It felt overwhelming to be intruding on such personal belongings and I was weary of making decisions. I chose a day to go to their home, but I had no idea what to do with the things in their bedroom.
Think about your own closet and dresser drawers and then think again. You might remember you sometimes tuck things into those drawers, on a closet shelf, or a night stand drawer you weren’t sure of what to do with or wanted to keep for a little while. You might remember you have clothing with holes in them that you don’t throw away because you wear them when gardening or something else, but you would neverwant someone else to see them.
On the appointed day I received a call from my friend, Shirley, whom I referred to who makes amazing banana bread. She wanted to know what I had planned for the day and when I told her what it was and that I was overwhelmed, she responded in a way that I recall as if it were yesterday.
She offered to drive to my parents’ home (She lived nearly 45 minutes away) and suggested she bring banana bread and tea and would be there to help in any way I needed.
A few hours later I sat on the bed or floor of my parents’ bedroom as she sat near by. Each item I picked up required a decision and I was struggling.
It was then that she suggested a plan of sorting into categories. There would be things I might choose to sell, others I could give away to an organization who would pass them on to those in need, others might be ones to throw away, another pile would be “I don’t know,” and a last category would be to a nursing home she often visited that she knew would be happy for some of the things.
I cannot begin to tell you how her suggestion made the load lighter. As I picked up each item, she sat nearby and listened to me sometimes tell a story about the item if it was one I had given to either of my parents. Sometimes I would just share something about them and she listened.
Banana bread and tea accompanied the hours spent. When the drawers and closet were empty and piles in each category, she then offered to take each pile in large bags to disperse them to the places they were to go.
The tenderness of her heart and the care she demonstrated that day are treasures tucked into my heart even 24 years later. How well she loved me! She listened to my heart and words without minimizing or offering religious platitudes. It was the greatest of gifts.
You see, Shirley is far more than banana bread even though she has blessed me with it often. At another crisis time, she arrived at my door with a roast beef dinner after I had been injured when a car struck me in my office parking lot. But Shirley is more than the food she makes and offers to many so freely.
Shirley is a friend who loves well without demanding, one who responds to a need she senses before even being asked, and one who listens without offering unasked for advice. She knows how to respond to someone in grief or difficult circumstances by being present.
It can be so easy for us to connect with someone and start a relationship with them believing we have come to know who they are, their values and beliefs, and that we can trust them. Many times we are right, but there are also times when we miss it somehow and we get stuck in a relationship that upends us and leaves us doubting not only that person, but also ourselves.
A few years ago I was blessed to read one of those books I used to tell my clients is a “must read” for everyone because of the wisdom and sound information tucked inside. The book? Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.
One of the most insightful chapters of the book is: “The Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil: Identifying Which Kinds of People Deserve Your Trust.”
Recently, I was in a conversation with a friend about the issue of trust and character in a person whether they were a close personal relationship, a business relationship, ministry relationship, or any other relationship you might have. As we talked, I began to review some of the things I had learned in the chapter I just noted and as I did I thought it might be helpful to share in this post for those of you who have not known about this material. This is not truly a “book review”, but I want to hone in on the key elements of what Dr. Cloud shares in this insightful chapter.
How would you define a wise person? Some of you may be wondering if I am talking about the spiritual gift of wisdom, but I am really focusing on what it means to be a person of wisdom versus the gift.
I think we all would like to have at least one or two wise persons in our lives. They are those in whom we can place trust and to have such a person or two in our lives is indeed a gift.
I am going to use Dr. Cloud’s definition of a wise person and let’s see how that fits with your own definition:
“When truth presents itself, the wise person sees the light, takes it in, and makes adjustments.”
Wise doesn’t necessarily mean the smartest, most charismatic, gifted, charming or talented even though some of these things may coexist in a person who is wise.
I love what Dr. Cloud also adds:
“The mature person meets the demands of life, while the immature person demands that life meet her demands.”
What are some of the traits of a wise person based on this chapter?
They listen, take in, and adjust their behavior accordingly
When you give them feedback, they embrace it positively
They own their own stuff (performance, problems, & issues) and take responsibility without excuses or blame
Your relationship grows stronger as a result of the feedback shared and received
They express concern for how their behavior affects others
They show remorse
The feedback they are given propels them into problem-solving mode
They don’t allow identified problems to become patterns
I love that list! It ‘nails the jelly to the wall’ with its specificity and allows me to be clear on what can help me know if I am looking at a wise person.
Let’s now add a bit more to our knowledge of people and look at how Dr. Cloud defines a foolish person.
“The fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it.”
Remember how the wise person took in feedback positively and adjusted. The foolish person rejects, resists, and tries to explain away his or her behavior. This person is never wrong and has an excuse or reason for everything.
What are the traits of a fool according to the chapter I am sharing with you?
Defensiveness is the immediate response to feedback
Any mistake pointed out results in excuses or blaming others
When you try to discuss the issues with a foolish person, rather than the relationship being strengthened, conflict and alienation or a breach in the relationship occurs
Sometimes they blame the messenger who gave the feedback
Minimization is a favorite tactic if outright denial or blame is not the choice
Rationalization and excuses are the norm
Anger rather than remorse is their usual emotional response
Little empathy is shown or expressed about pain they may have caused and often try to frame themselves as the victim (many times of YOU)
They live in a world divided into good guys (those who agree with them) and bad guys (those who disagree with them)
Talking with them doesn’t help
One more category of persons needs to be defined as help for your discernment: evil people. I know we can certainly look at the biblical definition, but l want to share some practical evidences by looking at the chapter definition:
“Evil people are not reasonable. They seek to destroy. So you need to protect yourself.”
What are a few of the traits of an evil person (even though this is more likely someone we spot a bit more easily)?
Likes to take others down
Is intentionally divisive
Delights when someone else fails
Envy is a common emotional response in these people
Patterns of deceptiveness are common
Looking at the differences as Dr. Cloud discusses in this chapter helps us to better discern and determine who is trustworthy and what kinds of boundaries we need in our relationships to be or become relationally healthy.
If I have intrigued you with the descriptions, I want to add that the chapter also looks at strategies for dealing with each type of person.
Proverbs 22: 3 (New Century Version)
“The wise see danger ahead and avoid it, but fools keep going and get into trouble.”
Proverbs 24: 19 (Good News Translation)
Don’t be envious of evil people, and don’t try to make friends with them. Causing trouble is all they ever think about; every time they open their mouth someone is going to be hurt.
Storms of every variety pummel this planet, Earth, and we watch and listen to news reports, advisories, and updates waiting to learn where and when disaster may strike. It reminds us of the uncertainty of life on a fragile planet over which we have little control.
Whether it is a snowstorm, tornado, hurricane, typhoon, or earthquake, we are blessed if we have time to prepare and make a decision about what course of action we can or should take so we are safe. Each of us approach these opportunities a bit differently.
Some of us are bent or trained through organizations like Boy Scouts to be prepared. If you are with these people, you are likely to discover they have an extra case or two of water in their homes even if there is no impending storm on the horizon. They will likely also have extra batteries for flashlights, extra foodstuffs, and maybe even a generator. Some have a “go bag” with all the necessities in case they need to evacuate.
Others of us do not plan that far in advance and you may find us in long lines trying to buy up supplies in the hours before a storm is slated to hit. We will often be those trying to find gas to fill up our tank because we tend to not pay much attention to how much we have until a warning light says we are driving on fumes.
Then there are those of us who see the warnings, the news reports, and perhaps the warning to evacuate and yet we decide it really won’t be that bad and might even be fun to see what happens. After all, some forecasts never work out as predicted so why go to all that trouble? We stay where we are and may even venture outside to see what we can see even if the police are telling us to not do that.
These responses happen every time and we see the results as well. Some in this last group are those who are trying to get first responders to get them out in the middle of a storm when they recognize it really IS as bad as they said it would be. We NOW know we will not survive by staying where we are.
Those who try to get supplies at the last minute sometimes find the shelves bare and discover no one has gas for a 50-mile radius. We grab up whatever we can find and hurry home to see what things we can put together in case we need to get out of town.
That first group of organized folks who try to always be prepared are already boarding up windows and following their plan for the storm. They know that some times the storm goes another direction and misses them. All those supplies were not really necessary. But these folks know that might not be the case next time so they stay with their action plan to be prepared.
As the world watched in horror as the monster category 5 hurricane foment the waves of the Atlantic Ocean recently, we saw these scenarios play out again with the additional tension of hearing this storm was possibly the most wicked ever to be born in the Atlantic. Day after day it slowly developed and became everything predicted and millions of people rushed to their mode of operation for what would come next.
But then it stalled.
Hour-upon-hour Hurricane Dorian sat on top of the Bahamas destroying nearlyeverything without moving. The expected move toward Florida and the east coast of the United States waited as the storm delayed. The longer the delay, the easier it was to set aside anxiety and start to discount the storm would ever arrive in the United States or even be as potent when it did. Police kept returning to beaches to tell people to leave and get to safer places. Despite the big surf tempting surfers, this storm was unpredictable and everyone was warned not to turn his or her back on it.
Delays like this can be costly. Instead of being alert, we can decide we are going to be fine and might even resume our routines or we simply stop watching. We have storm fatigue and cannot sustain vigilance for that many days, but vigilance is what is called for and the lack of it can extract a price.
The same thing can happen to those of us who believe in Christ.
We are told to be watchmen and to be vigilant because the Lord will return and yet it has been a long time (almost 2,000 years). It can be easy to doubt He will return and to stop watching and waiting in the midst of what appears to be a delay from our vantage point.
The Lord gives us a poignant picture of the risk of fatigue in the midst of delay in Matthew 25:1-13 in what is commonly known as “A Parable about Ten Virgins.” Five of these young women were foolish and ill prepared much like those of us today who never have the supplies needed when a storm is approaching. They apparently thought that since the Lord was delayed there would always be time to buy oil for their lamps. Five of the young women were wise and had a supply at hand. They had oil in their lamps and more besides.
While waiting for the Lord’s return, they all fell asleep and then heard a shout to let them know the Bridegroom had come. The prepared were ready with oil to spare as they waited expectantly for Him to burst through the door even though they didn’t know the exact minute. They did not fear. The lamps of the foolish ones had run out of oil and they needed to go buy more oil after the wise and prepared young women refused to give them some of their oil since they didn’t know the exact moment of the Bridegroom’s appearance at their door.
The foolish unprepared went out looking for oil (much like those who search for water and flashlights) and when they returned, they discovered their delay had cost them everything because the Bridegroom had already come and gone. Even when they pounded on his door, He told them He didn’t know them.
Delays can be costly (perhaps deadly) if we do not remain vigilant and prepare.