The Intruders

Prayer and meditation get to be a problem for me. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. Sure, I can pray for a while and enjoy the company of the Lord some days with absolutely no problem. Then there are times when the noise in my brain is like the sound of scanning radio stations:

“Heavenly Father, thank you for being in my life today. You are worthy of my worship and I praise you for your faithfulness and love. Lord, I wish that Josie would stop gossiping about people. She can be so mean. Oh, wait, I do it too. Sorry. And by the way, thank you for forgiving my sin of gossiping. “Squirrel!” Lord, when I sit down to the computer to write today, please help me to write only what is on Your mind so that I can be an encouragement to others and not be a whiner.”

Then I whine.

Instead of guests in the temple of my body as I go to God in prayer, these rabbit trails are more like intruders. Do you see the problem I have? I’d like to be a great example and be one of those people who can pray for extended periods and nothing gets in the way. At this point in my walk with God, however, I’m just not.

As I said, I do have times when I enjoy a lengthy period of prayer. Occasions happen when I actually lose track of time in the morning and nearly make myself late for appointments. But as someone with the attention span of a spider monkey, I want to do this more often. Well, not the ‘late’ part.

Maybe you can relate and would like to do it too.

Reading and studying scripture is no problem for me; I eat it right up. And I’ve noticed that when Paul wrote his epistles, he would even include prayers in them. The man thought of everything. I would never think to write out a prayer for someone in a letter. But how blessed those people must have felt when they read them. They were also the kind of prayers with some meat to them because most of the time he prayed for their spiritual maturity or to know Christ more.

ex cu woman prayingIt’s been said that the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. Well, here I am—God and everyone can know right here. (Okay, God already knew.) I’m thinking the solution must be somewhere in his Word.

Given my own way, I tend to complicate things. However, God’s ideas are usually simple ones. So what, do I ask, does he have to say to me about improving this area of my life? (Even Christ’s disciples implored him, “Teach us to pray.”)

What occurs to me first is what most people refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. The model prayer Jesus gave his disciples would be better called This Particular Disciple’s Prayer.

First, I worship and acknowledge the Lord for who he is. Next, I pray that his will—not mine—is done in all things. (By the way, if I truly want to pray God’s will, acknowledging who he is right off is pretty important. Honest worship takes the focus off me.) Then, I pray for only today’s needs because “tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34) Acknowledging his forgiveness to me and praying for the willingness to forgive others as I’m forgiven is what I take up next with God. Then, because evil is everywhere, I pray to be delivered from temptation.

Some folks might ask, “What about praying for others’ needs and what about this or that or that other thing?” Good call. I agree that we are to stand strong; put on our armor. Pray for others—believers and unbelievers alike. Those we love. Our enemies as well. That’s scriptural too.

I’m just saying that this simple model Christ offers is a great start for someone like me, who sometimes can’t string two coherent thoughts together even when I’m NOT praying. And though I’m admitting my general frustration, I also know that the words don’t matter as much as the fellowship we have with our heavenly Father. (If you’re not the spider monkey type, maybe you don’t relate to this at all. But we all have distractions in our lives and I think “intruders” happen more often than we like to admit.)

So I’m hoping that in this writing effort, I was maybe a little bit encouraging. I hope I said something God might offer as a solution to a problem. If not, I pray to do better next time. And, hey, while I’m at it…

Lord, you know all things. You know me better than I know myself. I am a scatterbrain sometimes. When I sit down to enjoy prayer time with you and meet you to meditate on your word, help me to focus on only our time together. Help me to clear the clutter from my mind and heart as I would clear the clutter from my home. Please also help all those who come to you today to lean in to you and trust you. Allow them to know that you hear their prayers. Remind us that your Spirit speaks for us when we don’t know how to pray and that your Son is always interceding on our behalf. Thank you for your mercy and love. In Christ’s name, amen.

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Time to De-Clutter

In a burst of manic energy, I did some de-cluttering in my office. I’d needed to do it for a long time and it felt really good having some breathing space in there.

While I was cleaning, I managed to shed the equivalent of six banker’s boxes of paper, numerous items for the local charity discount store, the banker’s boxes themselves and even a bowling ball. I’m proud to say that all the items were recycled and didn’t find their way to a landfill. At least not by me.

Months later when I was planning my move from a two bedroom to a one bedroom apartment, I was forced to take a hard look at everything I owned. The Lord had directed me to simplify my life and this move was part of it. I would have to release some of my possessions. I wasn’t being asked to give up everything, but I was being asked to consider what really matters.

As far as material possessions are concerned, Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19,21).

The most important thing, Jesus said, if we want to be his disciples is to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him (Luke 9:23). This is how we find real meaning in our lives. (Mark 8:35, 36)

As I worked through the physical de-cluttering, I thought of some of the things that have cluttered up my heart and kept me from following Jesus according to his invitation. I praise God that he is helping me also release:

specific rules of men having no bearing on my salvation
resentments over hurts caused by others
worry

Without God’s help, de-cluttering my heart would be impossible. I haven’t the strength to let go of such things, because my “self” is so wrapped up in them. I also know that, just as I de-cluttered my home, there’s an ongoing process in which God prompts me to let go of those things that hinder my walk with him.

At times I hear a voice of rationalization: “This just might come in handy sometime.” But if I’m honest with myself, I see that voice for what it is. Hanging on to the old attitudes and behaviors is the equivalent of hanging onto material stuff. (Like a bowling ball I haven’t used in years.) They’re just not working anymore.

Those things drag me down and keep me from living in freedom. That saying about the things you own eventually coming to own you is true. I know because I’ve experienced it.

I know what it is to be ensnared by evil. To live in a cage of fear. To have no hope. Remembering what the darkness was like reminds me to be grateful for what I’ve been given and to freely give what’s been so freely given to me.

“De-cluttering” is part of the work God’s Spirit does for us when we choose to follow Christ. The Lord may not ask us to give up all our earthly goods, but he’ll certainly be there to help clean us up on the inside.

When I open my hand to let go of my “clutter” and let God work in my life, I discover what really matters. With an open hand I’m in a position to receive what he has to give. Then I can pour it out for others.