A Prayer for My Feet

I sat on a flimsy plastic stool, the same sort I’d propped on to eat street noodles a few days before. My eyes were closed, elbows resting on knees as I sat in a small circle of praying Christians. It was a little oasis during my week, a moment when I could relax my guard and enjoy the presence of other believers. I was enveloped by the prayers spoken into the room. There was peace here.

The middle-aged man beside me was praying, asking for the Lord’s protection, for provision, for wisdom in our work. He stopped suddenly. A pause? A moment for thought? An abruptly ended prayer?

I was confused when I opened my eyes slightly to peek at his face. It was contorted with emotion, his mouth tight, brow furrowed. The corners of his eyes were wet. What had he said that evoked such overwhelming emotion?

He continued, his voice thick. Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.

I’d heard these words oft-repeated in the Lord’s Prayer but never with so much desperation. Never before had I seen this petition for the Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” to bring a grown man to tears. I’d never thought its implications could be so profound. I couldn’t shake it.

I took his prayer with me to the streets of that remote corner of Asia: Father, let your Kingdom come. When I returned home at the end of that summer, I took it to the halls of my small Christian college, where so many of us were plagued with depression and perfectionism: Father, let your Kingdom come. It followed me to Central America, to rooms filled with sleeping foster children: Father, let your Kingdom come. It came with me to New England, and I carried it with me as I walked down our tree spotted street into town: Father, let your Kingdom come in this place.

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Along the way, I’ve found this prayer shaping me, as our prayers so often do. It wasn’t merely a request thrown to the heavens. It became a moment in which I positioned myself for God to mold me. It was a moment in which He met me.

You can only pray that prayer so long until you start asking questions about what the Kingdom of God looks like or how we recognize its coming. When we pray “let your Kingdom come,” it’s only a matter of time until we start asking what role we play in that request.

I grew up in a tradition that largely understood the Kingdom of God as a future other-worldly reality. It was about the salvation of souls, and it was something to be escaped to when the Kingdom’s King returned (or when I went to heaven when I died).

But over the years, as this little prayer burrowed deeper into my soul, I began to meditate on what it meant for heaven to come to earth. The hope of New Creation captured my heart. I began to long for and keep my eyes open not only for the Kingdom that is not yet, but also the Kingdom that is already breaking into our world, the Kingdom I have been welcomed into, the Kingdom I am an ambassador for.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright describes our current actions as signs of the Kingdom that has arrived in Jesus and foretastes of all that is to come. We are to be “new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.”

We long for the day when the Kingdom comes fully and finally to earth. But until then, we embody the nature of the Kingdom and seek to bring its marks to our spheres of influence. We seek justice and reconciliation, truth and peace, freedom and wholeness, the restoration and healing of bodies and of souls. We work and “build for” (Wright’s language) the Kingdom precisely because of our deeply rooted hope that our prayers for the Kingdom to come will one day be answered completely.

I’ve learned that praying for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in heaven is not a prayer that can remain in the seclusion of a prayer closet. We carry it with us when engage in the work of reconciliation or when we care for trafficking victims. It’s there when we care for the homeless and welcome the poor, when we fight to protect the dignity and life of all humankind. It surrounds us as we have spiritual conversations with a non-Christian friend or we disciple a fellow Christian into a deeper understanding of God’s love for them. It leads us as we seek the good and flourishing of our neighborhoods and cities. It’s a prayer we pray on our feet.

Let's Build a Wall...Of Self-Care

Today’s post is a guest post from my dear friend Alison. She’s sharing with us some practical tips about how we can practice good self-care.

Although sometimes self-care can be painted as selfish (and, to be honest, I have seen some people use it as an excuse to be), I find that a healthy self-care practice, like the one Alison helps us think about here, is actually an important part of our discipleship. It helps us remember that we are finite, that we need rest, that we need other people. Good self-care can make us more effective as disciples of Jesus, better able to love God and love others. I hope you’re encouraged and challenged by what she has to share.

Alison is a pastor and a poet - and an integral part of my own “wall” of self-care for the gray New England winters. You can find her sermons on her church website and her occasional thoughts on her blog.

Enjoy!


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I don’t know about where you are, but where I am? It’s the most horrible time of the year. It’s overcast, it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s icy, it’s gross. And gross weather means gross moods, gross feelings about oneself and one’s existence, and even, at times, gross walks with God.

Over the last eight winters living in New England I have learned that in order to protect myself against this madness, I need a good defense system. Like a wall. And not a wall where I block my friends out and don’t let them know what’s going on with me. And not a wall of blankets where I bundle myself in bed for the next two months. But a wall of self care. Like a defense system, built out of regular, healthy actions I take, to take care of myself.

But hang on a second, isn’t self care selfish? Isn’t it un-Christian? Isn’t it…wrong? No, it isn’t. Jesus instructed us to "love others" as we "love ourselves", as though loving ourselves was something he expected us to do naturally. And self care doesn’t mean we ignore everyone else or ignore God - taking care of others, and loving God is also part of a good self care system. Because those things, as well as being rewarding to God and to others, also are wonderfully rewarding to ourselves.

So how do you build a wall of self care? You do need to be intentional about this, and keep track of what you do. The best way I’ve found? With those excellent and ancient tools: the pen and the sheet of paper.

  1. Start out with a piece of graph paper, or even some kind of habit tracker like this one Ashley made as a free printable for her Evermore Paper Co blog.

  2. Make a list down the side of different activities that you can do during the day that help you take care of you. I try to make my list out of a variety of different activities that address the different needs I have: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

  3. Keep track of what activity you do every day. Just before you go to bed, check off what you have done.

  4. The goal is not to do ALL the things every day - rather, to be consistently doing a few of them every day. These little bricks on your self-care chart make up the “wall" that you are building for yourself. A day with a solid group of bricks in it, is another notch in the wall built. A day with no bricks in it is where the defenses come down and some of those gross moods, gross thoughts, gross behaviors can creep in.

If it’s hard for you to think of what might constitute self care activities, I thought I would leave you with some suggestions. Don’t start with all of these on your chart, that would be overwhelming! Maybe two that really speak to you from each group?

Physical: go for a walk, go outside (can sometimes be hard in winter!), exercise for X minutes, dance for X minutes, drink X cups of water, eat some vegetables, eat some fruit, eat three meals, take a shower, brush your teeth, brush your hair, go to bed before Xpm, get 8 hours sleep

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Emotional: take a moment to be aware of what you are feeling, write in your journal, make a list of things that are stressing you out, make a list of things you are thankful for, visit a counselor, give yourself X quiet minutes alone, say no to something, say yes to something, take a thought that you keep having that’s really hurting you and tell it to go away, take something you keep beating yourself up about and forgive yourself

Social: call a friend, see a friend, write a card to a friend, pray for a friend, give a gift to somebody, go on a date, have some intentional play time with your kids

Intellectual: read a book, read the paper, look at some art, listen to music, play some music, watch a movie, do a crossword, work on a project

Spiritual: listen to worship music, memorize a bible verse, read the bible, pray

Of course, what constitutes good self care for you might be completely different to what it means for me. If you have any other suggestions for items other people can put on their Wall of Self Care Chart, leave them in a comment below.

Happy building, all!

She's Here: Friday Morning Coffee #81

As you may have intuited from the sudden silence, our sweet girl arrived a couple weeks ago. We are treasuring these early days with her - and the pockets of sleep she gives us. Our hearts are full and thankful.

Things here will be a bit more quiet as we rest, recuperate, and settle into our new schedule. In the meantime, I’ll be soaking up the newborn snuggles and praying life finds you all well.

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Predictability: Friday Morning Coffee #80

I think it is an innate human desire to know the future. I don’t mean the future in a macro sense, though some would like this as well. Not all of us want to know exactly how the events of the world or our lives will end. But in the micro sense, I have yet to meet someone who isn’t guilty of the itching desire to know what’s coming.

As children, we ache to know how the story ends. Some of us became so consumed by our curiosity that we skipped ahead to the last pages prematurely, just to know what would happen. We shook Christmas packages or sought out their hiding places, eager to know what we would receive Christmas morning. We wanted to know how much longer, how much further. Are we there yet?

Adults are more subtle, with our words like “prediction” and “forecast,” but the same desire is there: what is there, what is coming?

This morning, I sit in the crosshairs of two of the worst culprits of this desire to predict: a major snowstorm and the end of pregnancy.

We scan the forecast obsessively. How much snow? When will it start? What if the storm shifts? Under it all, the same basic desire - tell me what will come, speak the future to my present.

We wonder when she’ll arrive. Friends, family, even strange women at the grocery store make their predictions. “Do you feel anything?” they ask. What about that twinge, that itch? Are they signs? Google provides me with a litany of other people’s aches and pains, cravings, and strange behaviors, all in answer to a chorus in unison: when will it come, how can I know? Are we there yet?

The reality in both of these situations (and many others) is that we can’t predict what will come. The snow will fall - or it won’t - and it will be what it is, in spite of science’s best predictive powers. Our baby will come when she comes, as has happened for countless years. I cannot know. Cannot predict. I can only wait. I must sit with mystery.

Ironically, it was infertility that prepared me for this lesson of pregnancy and parenthood. I am not in control. Concrete future predictions are an illusion. The future, this world, this child, even my own body, are not fully within my grasp. It will be what it is. We will take it as it comes.

So as the winter sky grays and the snow begins to fall, as the box marked “baby day” draws closer on my calendar, I pray this strange and uncharacteristic calm continues to abide in my heart. I will sit with the mystery. I will wait.

Personal Spiritual Growth Inventory

It’s common as we enter a new year to spend time in reflection. We may set goals or resolutions for the year. We may take stock of our work or our finances. We may reflect on the highlights and struggles of the last year or on our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.

As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, reflection can be an important tool. Structured reflection gives us the space to celebrate how we’ve grown and consider what lies ahead as we continue to grow in Christlikeness.

Why not take time to reflect on your spiritual life as you enter the new year?

A spiritual growth inventory is a great way to set aside time to reflect. This can be done on your own, with a  mentor or pastor, or in a small group setting. You can also ask a trusted friend or spouse for their input on areas in which you most need to grow. 

Remember that as with any exercise like this, the point is not to earn our way into God’s favor or work our way into holiness. It also isn’t about heaping guilt on ourselves for all the ways we fall short of some spiritual ideal.

We are completely dependent on grace and the inner working of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and hearts, and this transformation is a lifelong journey. This reality doesn’t mean we are passive with no part to play in our spiritual growth.

We should be striving to pay attention to the ways sin still holds strong in our lives and seeking ways to put it to death. We should be seeking to develop the habits of godliness and Christ-likeness, nurturing a character that is pleasing to him. A spiritual inventory can help us discern what areas of our life need the most attention. 

The questions that follow are by no means exhaustive. You can work through all of them, or select only a few to consider. Feel free to adapt or add to them in any way that best suits your circumstances. 

Spiritual Inventory Questions

  • How would you describe your walk with God over the last year?

  • How have you grown since first coming to faith? How do you feel you would most like and most need to grow?

  • What is one joy and one struggle in your life and ministry right now?

  • How has your church and faith community helped in your spiritual development? How is it helping you presently?

  • Which fruits of the Spirit are most evident in your day-to-day life (see Gal. 5:22)? Which fruits are least evident in your day-to-day life? Is there something hindering these fruits?

  • What trials have been present in your life over the last year? How did you respond to them? Did they bring you closer to the Lord or further away from him? Do/did you respond with trust or bitterness? What did these trials bring to the fore in your heart? What does this show you about your relationship with the Lord? What does this show you about any idols that may be present in your heart?

  • What are the besetting sins in your life that you are aware of? How are you trying to overcome them? Are you making excuses for any sin in your life? What would it look like for you to take its reality seriously?

  • What role do spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, and others) play in your life? How have they aided your growth in spiritual maturity? What is something you’ve discovered recently in your devotional life? Are there any spiritual disciplines you would like to incorporate? Why?

  • What role does the Bible play in your life? Does it influence your decision making, your priorities, the way you see the world, etc? How has the Lord been speaking to you through His Word?

  • What is your prayer life like?

  • What does the way your spend your time reveal about your priorities? Are there things you spend too much or too little time doing? What adjustments do you need to make?

  • What opportunities do you have to engage in God’s work in the world? Are there opportunities in your life for ministry and service? Consider opportunities in your family life, workplace, neighborhood, community, etc. Are there opportunities to help those in need or to share your faith? Are there opportunities to build relationships with non-Christians or to encourage the faith journey of those who do know the Lord? How are you living into these opportunities?

Next Steps

As this inventory brings sin to light and shows areas in which you can grow, prayerfully turn these things over to the Lord. Repent of the ways you are missing the mark. Ask for His strength and wisdom as you seek to become more like Him. Then prayerfully consider action steps you can take to practically cut out the sin pattern(s) and foster a godly pattern of behavior. Seek out someone you trust who could be an accountability partner with you in this journey.