November 18, 2005

Talk With Me!

?Through sincere prayer we are brought into connection with the mind of the Infinite.We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is even so.We may not feel His visible touch, but His hand is upon us in love and pitying tenderness?(Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 97).

capI connect with God best when listening to music. Thank God for Christian songwriters! Songs with lyrics that talk about God bring me close, but those that talk to God bring me closer. Songs such as that by Steve Green, ?He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.? Or the song that Darlene Zschech sings, ?Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing.? Or ?Draw me close to You; never let me go,? by the Katinas. There?s something about the music and the message that draws me into the throne room of heaven, where my chosenness is affirmed without reservation, my joy is increased exponentially, and my priorities are gently set straight.
--Paul Richardson
College Place, Washington

I have to confess that my individual devotional life is not what it should be, if defining it means spending an hour at the start of each day in study and prayer. When those times come they?re great, but what really means a lot to me are the in-between times. The ones when someone watching from the distance might think I?m talking to myself when really I?m just talking to God. For example, on my way to work thanking Him for my family and home, a safe trip to my parking space, a working car/van to get there, and a job to go to (even on the less desirable days). Those moments even before I get up or go to sleep when I can tell Him how much I appreciate all He has done earlier or is about to do later. The two concepts that have helped my prayer life the most, regardless of when, where, or for how long, are (1) the theme of thankfulness and appreciation for all the little things that are so easy to take for granted, and (2) my relationship with Him evolving to best friends.
--Rick Freeman
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Once Again
It seems that Protestants, particularly Seventh-day Adventists, have always shied away from the rote, ?prefab? prayer--?Now I lay me down to sleep . . .?--preferring unique, personal communication between human beings and God. Mirroring the secular society around us, we emphasize the importance of the individual, their relationship with and accountability to God. It is wonderful to ?come boldly before the throne,? imperfect words and all, knowing I am heard just because I?m me, the Father?s child.

But I have found special meaning in praying the prayers of others. There is a comforting strength in the bonds of our commonality expressed through prayer, something powerful and profound in repeating words that were first uttered thousands of years ago by someone who had the same longings and joys as I have today. To a great extent, my identity is defined and validated by the community of Christ. Through our unity I am drawn closer to the heavenly Father, finding intimacy through corporate experience.

On days when I don?t know what to say, when emotions run too deep for coherent thought, I cling to familiar phrases and trust God will listen once more to a prayer voiced countless times through the centuries. During academy I struggled with depression and found myself turning to the book of Lamentations. Somehow, Jeremiah?s brutal honesty brought freedom to my own heart, allowing me to let go of my anger and disappointment and begin to hope. The Psalms, prayers of pleading and praise, exquisitely share my most intense feelings.

Sometimes it?s not enough to be candid; sometimes I have to vocalize truth that may be beyond my comprehension. So I take the prayer of John the revelator as my own: ?Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty--the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come. . . . You are worthy!? (Rev. 4:8-11, NLT). And with that statement comes awe and conviction. Recently I have memorized John Donne?s poem-prayer, ?Batter my heart three-personed God.? Prayers of surrender, such as Saint Francis of Assisi?s ?Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace? and Ellen White?s ?Save me in spite of myself,? articulate the aim and struggle of humanity, a battle over self.

In much the same way, my destiny is interwoven with those around me when we pray together, ?Our Father, which art in heaven. . . .? I cry every time we sing the Lord?s Prayer together at Beit B?nei Shalom, overcome with the beauty of family, knowing that Jesus as my brother prayed the same. Unison. Emmanuel, God with us.
--Joelle Chase
Berrien Springs, Michigan

When I started learning the value of prayer, it was to say a short, bedtime prayer in a language that I didn?t know. But I knew it was about asking God to keep me safe, and it had a comforting sound in my mouth. Some time later I learned to pray in prayer bands in front of others. Then I prayed claiming promises, as in ?Ask, Believe, and Claim.? At some point life became complicated, people were injured and died in spite of prayers to the contrary, and I started letting go, more than directing results. ?Here is my worry, God. I?m handing it over.? ?I?m casting this care on you, God.? ?Whatever happens, God, give me trust and patience.? ?Oh, that is beautiful!?

Few of these prayers happen at a certain time and place. God seems always ?here?--with me as I run through my frustrating or joyful day.
--Penny Shell
Loma Linda, California

The Art of Being Still 
The art of being still is in itself a form of prayer. It is the first call of discipleship for my life. I was taught that a devotional life with God should consist of prayer and reading the Bible. I love reading and oftentimes will read two or three translations of a Scripture passage along with a commentary to understand the context. However, for me there was something missing. As I read through Scriptures, the angst in my spirit led me to a familiar passage, Psalm 46:10: ?Be still, and know that I am God.? It hit me like a ton of bricks. If God is my friend and I want to have a relationship with Him, I need to listen to Him and not be the one doing all the talking.

Ten times in Scripture God commands us to ?be still.? So I am trying to do that more. I may read a passage and then ask Him, ?What are you trying to tell me?? or I may just meditate on the name of Jesus, slowly repeating it again and again. I try to regulate my breathing and do this in a peaceful setting. It has not been easy as the cares of the day often come rushing in. Sometimes I?ve had to do this in my car while on a break from work, but at least I?m away from the noise.

Whatever your sacred space is, know that the most important thing is that God is willing, waiting to talk to you. You?ll be surprised how fast time flies when you?re having fun talking to your friend.
--Lyris Bacchus
Orlando, Florida

My life, right now, gives me no private time. My job is so intense that it demands my total focus all day, no time for lunch or breaks, just push, push, push. My home life begins when I pick my 92-year-old mother up from day care, go home to fix supper, do all the necessary housework and yardwork, and change and dress my mother for bed. The house has been sold in order to pay for day-care expenses, and I must pack everything in readiness to move in three weeks. I sit down to read or meditate and am overcome by sleep--how do I stay connected with God?

First of all, I know my desperate need for Him. I also know that He knows my desperate situation, and He surrounds me with little ways of finding Him in all that goes on. He suggests ways--such as choosing my different computer passwords such as ?thanks,? ?blessings,? ?creator,? words that remind me of Him and trigger a prayer of thanks. And I smile, taking deep breaths of freedom in His care. I tune in to Christian radio when I drive in the car. And I choose to have a regular morning worship with Mother while she takes her medicine. Praying with her, I ask for cleansing of the Holy Spirit; for strength, safety, courage, and the opportunity to be a clear witness to His love; for an awareness of His Presence through the day, prayer for our loved ones, and praise for all that He does and will do this day. I remember that He has given me His life to live this day--and I do not have to rely on my own faulty and overextended self. Sabbath is a special blessing because it represents the reality of our wonderful Creator-God, and it also gives me the privilege of not having to do the extra work that otherwise would steal my rest. These are some of the ways that God keeps me connected to Him each and every day. I am very thankful for His faithfulness.
--Carolynn Lord
Horsham, Pennsylvania

The hillside above my house commands a view across the small community in which I am privileged to live and work. The vantage point also offers a good angle on sunsets, which I catch as often as I can. These occasions in this peaceful spot are opportunities to talk with God or even just to sit silently in the presence of God--sometimes alone, sometimes with my wife.

There is no real structure--sometimes I sit, sometimes I walk--and I would like to be able to use that space more often, but these simple moments are highlights in my busy life. And though sometimes I might feel in various ways that I am poor and needy, it is a source of reassurance and strength to stop and remember that ?the Lord is thinking about me right now? (Ps. 40:17, NLT).
--Nathan Brown
Warburton, Victoria, Australia

Gratitude Attitude 
For many years my prayers were more problem-centered than solution-focused. I didn?t realize I was praying myself right into negative thinking. I asked for help not to do wrong things, not to think bad thoughts, not to eat too many sweets--especially those gooey, yummy chocolate éclairs with the rich cream inside. OK, you get the drift. Unknowingly, I programmed myself to dwell on what I was struggling to avoid rather than on what I longed to achieve. Did God hear me? Absolutely. The impact on my inner self, however, as by His grace I shifted the focus, is nothing short of miraculous. 

Today the power of positive prayer whispers in my soul, despite life?s screaming negatives. I am more likely to thank God for healthy choices than to pray and worry over wrong ones. That simple change sets my mind and heart to follow Him more fully. I thank Him for the power to be victorious, the value of pure, uplifting thoughts, and the angels who are surrounding and protecting those in need, those I love.

As I pray in anguish for the Katrina survivors, those touched by a disaster of astronomical proportions, I envision God holding them, carrying them close to His heart, high above the destructive waters. Just as the rescuers did. And I find within a greater peace, less fear, more strength, and deeper love. An attitude of gratitude lifts me higher than I would have ever dreamed possible. Always? Well, life is real, and it is harsh. There are certainly times when I turn my gaze from where I last saw the sun to the muddy waters below. But when I remember, I am blessed.
--Shirley Kromann
Fairfield, California

I set aside several times of prayer daily, and also try to cultivate an inner attitude of unceasing prayer. This is difficult for me. I have many enthusiasms and goals, accomplish many things, go many places, and talk to many people. I have many possessions and am surrounded by many noises and distractions. When I try to pray, a dozen voices in my head scream for attention: they say I simply must finish this or take care of that--immediately--or at least I must write it down immediately on my list of things to do. To quiet my soul, I look for ways to simplify my life. At work I focus on a small number of priorities, avoid multitasking, and say ?no? to some good opportunities. At home I reduce my possessions to things I actually use. There is no television in my house, and I recently got rid of e-mail at home. Whenever possible, I walk or bicycle instead of driving, and spend significant time in nature and outdoor exercise. Radical simplification of my life helps me slow down and avoid addiction to my work and busyness.
--Shandelle M. Henson
Berrien Springs, Michigan

I have found that besides my personal Bible/prayer time, I feel a closer connection with God through my Thursday night Bible study group. We spend time at the beginning of each session going around the room praising God for His blessings in our lives over the past week and then asking for special prayer for family, for friends, and for our church. We then kneel (where possible) and begin our prayer time, during which we uplift those mentioned above.

As we go around the room, each individual can offer up prayer or remain silent, and the next person will then begin to pray. It is during these prayerful times that I feel a direct connection to God. The trivial events in my life that appeared so large to me earlier are washed away by His presence. We believe his promise of ?where two or three are gathered in His name, He will be in the midst of us.? Sometimes we end our prayer time singing ?Sweet, Sweet Spirit.? Our group has seen many prayers answered over the years, and are there to comfort those going through trying situations.

God is good, and I thank Him for His loving Son, Jesus, as well as for giving me this wonderful study group.
--Brenda Lenhart
Norfolk, Virginia