When We Finally Decide to Pray

Today we are honored to have my friend, Julie Shirkey, as our guest blogger. Welcome, Julie!

When We Finally Decide to Pray
About Our Problems

When do you reach the point that you fall to your knees and pray?
Is it when you are desperate and everything else has failed?
When all the wisdom from your family or friends has failed you?
When you have no where else to turn?
Is this when you finally pray?

In the book of Jonah we see a man who was disobedient to God and thought he could run from God’s sight. You see, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of His upcoming judgement against their wickedness and the need for the people of Nineveh to repented. What did Jonah do instead? He ran to a boat that was going in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go.

Did God ignore Jonah?
No, He didn’t.

Jonah faced a great storm on this boat. The crew on the boat asked why such a storm was happening and why Jonah was below deck sleeping! They inquired of Jonah and after casting lots it fell on Jonah to explain. Jonah confessed it was his fault and they should throw him, a prophet of The One True God, into the sea and the storm would end.

Wow! What did the crew do? They tried with all their might to row back to shore, but the storm was too great, the waves too high and the wind too forceful to row against them. They finally relented and threw Jonah overboard. But to everyone’s surprise, especially Jonah’s, a big fish swallowed him whole. Now I believe this not only shocked each person on board but probably Jonah the most! The crew on the boat believed this was the end of Jonah, and the storm ceased.

This might seem the end of the story,
but, alas, it is not.

What I find most fascinating is it took Jonah three days before he prayed while in the belly of this fish. Yuck! But if Jonah wasn’t praying before about where to go, which city, which boat or what direction, I’m sure it never entered his mind to pray about this fish!

How about you?
Do you pray about what you might face today?
Has it entered your mind to pray over any situation you might face?

There are many situations I have faced that I never thought to pray about. Oh, we all say those blanket prayers: for safe travels or like some like to say “for travel mercies.” Or to protect us as we go about our day, “put a hedge around it.” Keep my family safe. These prayers are all good, but when God gives you instructions, it’s best to do those instructions rather than not pray about it and run from God.

Back to Jonah…

can you imagine what might be in the belly of that fish? It’s lunch from that day, digestive fluids, darkness, and the stench? And Jonah waited three days to pray! But that’s what Jonah did. “And he said: ‘I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction. And He answered me.'” (Jonah 2:1-2 NKJV)

Do your circumstances seem like Jonah’s?
Are you in a smelly, messy, dark situation because of your disobedience?

We all have been there, don’t deny it. And some of you are there now, in the stench and mess of disobedience, in a smelly fish belly of your own. But you know what?! God heard Jonah in the belly of that fish! Wow! Isn’t that great!

God heard Jonah,
and that gives us hope that God hears us too.
Even in our mess.

How desperate are you for help? Have you hit the bottom and all you can see is a dark hole?

It doesn’t matter the mistakes you have made,
God will make a way.

What a sight we must be when we emerge from our dark hole. I can see Jonah, vomited up on the beach by this big fish, bleached white from stomach acids, seaweed dripping from his head and shoulders. He must have been quite a sight. “The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.” (Jonah 2:5 NKJV) And yet, God still used Jonah for His purpose. God still sent Jonah to Nineveh. “Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.” (Jonah 2:6 NKJV)

When we pray, we might still be in our mess.
We might look a mess.
We might be a mess,
but when we truly pray and are obedient, we are victorious!
What is keeping you from obedience and praying?
Don’t wait until you are in a great mess to cry out to God.

 

Julie and her husband Steve reside in Jacksonville, IL. They enjoy the outdoors, working on their cars and seeking and sharing Jesus Christ through their ministry. Julie is not only a Christian author, she is also an audio technician, is self taught in the art of stained glass, and enjoys building her own furniture. Steve is an over the road truck driver who he enjoys hunting, fishing, and drag racing. (And helping Julie move her big, heavy, homemade furniture!) Their goal is to reach the world for Christ by sharing their testimonies and God’s Word. Visit julieshirkey.com/ to learn more about Julie’s ministry and to order her book, A Life in Christ: Seeking God’s Will.

What Do You See?

Do you see what is in front of you? Or what you want to see?

Several years ago my daughter-in-law and I went on a trip with Kids Around the World. On our way to our destination, we had a long layover in Paris and took the opportunity to visit the Louvre.

By Victor Grigas [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

After roaming the halls filled with beautiful artwork for several hours, we came to a crowded room. At the end of this room, surrounded by people taking pictures and selfies, was the Mona Lisa. We didn’t even try to get through the crowd for a close look. I remember thinking it is smaller than I expected (a common first impression, apparently) and it isn’t anything special (sorry, art lovers).

What really blew me away though was what I saw when I turned around. On the opposing wall being virtually ignored by all those Mona Lisa worshipers, was a massive painting (22′ 3″ x 32′). Impressive in size, The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese depicts Jesus’ first miracle where he turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sparkytheneoncat/4208121163

While I won’t get into the historical accuracy of the painting, it is a beautiful work of art. Much more impressive that the Mona Lisa. Yet, people flock to the Louvre to see her and have their picture taken with her. Then, the vast majority of them walk out of that room giving Veronese’s work little or no notice. The whole scene (in the room, not in the painting) just struck me as ludicrous. People were so intent on a tiny painting of an average woman that they couldn’t see (or didn’t care about) the larger painting.

The scene in that room at the Louvre made me wonder how often I do the same thing. Do I only see what I want to see about God? Do I focus on some tiny, unimportant detail in my life? Do I miss the larger picture? Do I miss Jesus in the midst of the big picture or the problem? Do I fail to see what He is doing because I’m hyper-focused on some detail that really isn’t all that big? Or do I take time to sit and look at Jesus and wonder at what He is doing within the larger painting of my life?

Luke tells us of a time when Jesus visited Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). During his visit, Martha was distracted by all the things she had to do for Jesus and his disciples. Mary took time away from those very same preparations to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. Mary was totally focused on Jesus. Martha was more than a little put out because her sister wasn’t helping so she went and complained to Jesus. Jesus recognized that Martha was worried and upset, but he also let her know that Mary’s priorities were right–only one thing in that home was necessary. Jesus.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [the things you need] will be give to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Like Martha, do I get so caught up in the details of my day that I forget Jesus? Or am I like Mary who focused on Jesus and his words? Do I focus on the things of God first?

How about you? Do you only see what you want to see about God? Do you focus on some tiny, unimportant detail in your life? Do you miss the larger picture? Do you miss Jesus in the midst of the big picture or the problem? Do you fail to see what He is doing because you are hyper-focused on some detail that really is not all that big? Or do you take time to sit and look at Jesus and wonder at what He is doing within the larger painting of your life? Do you seek the things of God first?

 

 

 

 

Growing in the Harshest Conditions

Cheyenne Zubler of Cheye Girl Photography

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of God’s creation, especially plants that bloom! My family moved into our current home sixteen years ago. It sets on approximately ¼ of an acre. At the time we moved in, there were lilac bushes bordering two sides of the property, spirea bushes along the front and back of the house, a 16’ length of fence with blackberries, and six fifty year old trees (three pine, three maple). To most people that would be more than enough, but not for me! I have transformed our property to include fourteen flower beds, a 48’ x 24’ fruit and vegetable garden with an arbor wall, a pergola, and a 7’ x 20’ pond (4’ deep). My husband says that’s enough every time I add something new, but he is always amazed by the beauty and enjoyment it brings.

All of the beauty in our yard is always dependent on the weather. As I’m sure you know, the amount of precipitation, sunlight, and nutrients determine the growth of the plant. The environment that the plants are exposed to directly affects the end result. Each plant has its own needs in order to thrive. Some need dry soil, some need swampy, and yet some need a perfect blend. It can be a delicate balancing act that you ultimately have no control over. It is hard (sometimes impossible) to recover the growing season once the plant has been exposed to the harsh elements. A succulent that gets flooded and sits in soggy soil for extended time will just rot. A delicate impatient that is baked in the hot sun with no water for days on end will most likely shrivel and dry up to a crisp twig. Both will be lost forever.

If all the conditions are right in early spring, the Bearded Iris will begin to sprout from the rhizome sitting on top of the soil. The straight, blade-like leaves will grow up to 18″ tall. In a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see a stalk rise above the leaves, and buds will poke through and swell with glorious anticipation. Then one by one, as the air warms each bud’s petals, they will show their glory with a sweet scent. Weeks of growth comes to a beautiful climax that lasts just one day. That’s right, each iris bloom lasts just one day. Then, it begins to shrink and curl up. Thankfully, there are multiple blooms on each stalk giving you many days of beauty. But, sooner than later all of the blooms are gone and the greens wither away.

I watch my favorite flower go through this process year after year, and I am always amazed at God’s intricate attention to beauty. The hard, brown, ginger-like root produces one of the most delicate flowing petals bringing beauty to the garden. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this back to the beginning when I spoke of the conditions needed for blooming and how this is so different from our ability to bloom in God’s glory.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”
∼1 Peter 1:23-24

In God’s garden, we are preserved for eternity. Adverse conditions won’t inhibit us from blooming, and we don’t shrivel up after one bloom. In fact, God often uses those adverse circumstances to bring the most beautiful blooms of His eternal glory. In order to bloom in God’s garden of glory, the first mandatory requirement is that we are born again believers. Once God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, then he can bring beauty to any of our circumstances in His will. He gives us nourishment and everything we need to flourish.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”
∼John 15:16

Second, we must listen and obey. The lasting and meaningful fruit in our lives are not of our own accord. Have you ever tried so hard to make a situation thrive or recover it from despair only to find yourself busted and frustrated? Or, when we start to see it work just the way we want it, we see it wither away to nothing. In order to grow in God’s grace, we actually have to take in His living word and live by it.

God is the only one that can work blessings from hardships—blessings that will grow for eternity. Let me share how God tilled his grace into the garden of my life during some of the harshest conditions. My husband and I have been married for more than twenty years, and it has been a journey of love, joy, and adventures. But, like most marriages, it has had its fair share of trials, sickness, death, and despair. I became a born again Christian five years into our marriage. My husband grew up in the church but chose not to have a relationship with Christ. Our marriage was not created on the foundation of God and, until I became a Christian, neither of us cared.

I must have believed on some level: how could God fix something that he’s not fully a part of? My belief was full of unbelief. My fears continually won over my faith. A couple of years ago, we almost ended our commitment to each other. We had worked so hard through the years to save it by attending seminars and counseling and participating in exercise after exercise. None of our efforts made any lasting changes, until God stepped in when I finally stepped aside.

In my unbelief, I used to secretly ask God to give me an out. “Please, Lord, just make this long suffering end!” I longed for it to be over. I was so weary of trying everything known to man to save a relationship that seemed doomed from the beginning. Then, in the beginning of 2017, I had a complete breakthrough with God. I finally believed without a doubt, leaving no room for fear, that God loved me. This broken, bruised, tarnished, and tattered soul was actually whole, beautiful, blessed, without blemish, and strong. The circumstances in my life could not change it. No matter the outcome of whatever it is I face, I know that God has my best interest at hand. My Heavenly Father would not leave me.

So with this said, the night that my husband forced me to leave our home I had first thought, “Well, this is my out.” But was it? I was not even completely out of the driveway when I felt this sinking feeling in my gut that said this was wrong. I knew I was not to be leaving. I felt it at the core of my being. I knew that I could not just turn around and walk back in, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be forever. The very thing that I had been begging for to end my marriage was going to be the one thing that healed it.

Within the next few months, God brought women into my life who were going through similar struggles. We started meeting weekly as a group to encourage each other, pray for each other, and support each other. We cried a river of tears and laughed so hard we cried again. We began seeing blooms through the ice as pictured in Isaiah 35.

Photography by Trisha L. KnaulThe desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.”
∼Isaiah 35:1-2a

Joy and gladness returned where there was only sorrow and strife. But what changed? Our circumstances were still the same. Our lives were full of the same struggles. Then what made the difference? It was our obedience to God. God used a group of five broken women to bring blossoms of beauty in the most arid of desserts.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
∼Galatians 6:2

I encourage you to join me in God’s garden. If you allow him to give you living water by his word and feed you with his Holy Spirit, I can promise you that you will be blessed. The blessings may not be exactly what we want, but if we look between the thorns, we’ll see the beautiful rose blooming for all to see.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
∼Psalm 31:24

 

 

 

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Renewing the Mind Through Prayer

My friend (and fellow author), Julie K. Shirkey joins us for Project Prayer today to share her thoughts on Renewing the Mind Through Prayer. She would love to hear from you in the comments below. Visit julieshirkey.com/ to learn more about Julie’s ministry and to order her book, A Life in Christ: Seeking God’s Will.

Renewing the Mind Through Prayer

Julie K. Shirkey

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. ∼Romans 12:2 

What happens when you don’t pray? The world seeps in and takes control of your thoughts and life. You no longer think, act, or respond like Jesus. Words you never thought you would say become part of your vocabulary. Reading, watching and listening to those things that are not pleasing to God becomes a part of your new routine. Your life turns back to the sinful ways you were forgiven from. You lead a life walking away from the Savior instead of toward Him.

When you continue to neglect prayer, you become self-centered and selfish. Then, when you do pray and ask God for help, you don’t remember or care about the request of others because in your mind you are such a mess and need all of God’s attention for yourself. You begin to criticize everyone, from your family and friends to the stranger in line in front of you.

When you stop praying everything goes wrong and problems are exaggerated. You feel the weight of your problems on your shoulders and everyone you speak to feels it too. People will start to avoid you because you throw your burdens at them instead of listening or sharing your concerns with them. Instead of a sounding board, people become a dart board where you lash out and throw darts at them, thus running off those who care for you. People begin to keep you at a distance, the phone calls and texts become less and less until slowly, one by one, people are no longer a part of your life and you have no one to communicate with but God.

Does this sound like you? Maybe not right now, but at some point in your life you have been here, lonely with burdens, swimming with problems and no physical person to help you through. You walk around with a scowl instead of a smile on your face. There is no laughter, and happiness is only fleeting. And you wonder, how did you get here? How did your life get turned upside down? Then you realize you stopped praying and spending time with God. You left your first love.

One thing I have learned from my prayer life is God is much better at solving the world’s problems and the concern of others than I am or ever will be. I have to admit there are times my prayer life suffers. I become so burdened by life and others that my focus turns from what God can do, to what I can do. Then I spend all my strength and not God’s to fix everything.

You might think this won’t happen to me, I’m so tight with God, and I’m so in love with Jesus, I love to sit in the Holy Spirit’s presence. Right there is the reason your prayer life will suffer, and it will happen to you sometime. Why? Because of “you”. You get in the way. You start doing everything in your strength, by routine and one day out of nowhere something happens and your whole world changes and “you” don’t know what to do.

“How did this happen”, you ask? It could be anything, but usually it’s a lie from Satan. Maybe a prayer request wasn’t fulfilled the way you expected. Maybe something you should have prayed about and you didn’t pray about fell apart. Maybe you bartered with God and failed. God didn’t fail, but you failed at what you promised God. Mostly it’s anger or guilt. You are angry at God or you have some sort of guilt to work out. So you blame others for taking up your time, and you no longer have time to pray. You become a victim of circumstances. One time, and you don’t drop to your knees and pray, a new pattern for your day begins. Oh, I can pray about that later, then “BOOM”, your day gets away from you, problems and all. Or God prompts you to pray and you push that thought away, you will get to that later, but later you forget and God has moved on. What will be your wake up call to pray again? What does it take for a hardened heart to change? Until you become so overwhelmed by your circumstances and you can’t fix everything so you don’t do anything? Is that the answer? This is when you need God to renew your mind to be like Jesus.

Are you resentful about prayer? Has it become a chore instead of a joy? You are praying, but no one, including God is listening? You are beat down, frustrated, disappointed and don’t know where do you start? You take your mind off of you, and you place it on God.

How can you begin your routine to pray and sit quietly in God’s presence? You renew your mind by praising God, being thankful and grateful to God for all He has done for you. The best place to renew your mind is through praise. Praising God for just being God, praising God for Jesus, praising God for your life and praising God for your struggles which bring you closer to Him. You don’t want to praise God for your struggles? Do it anyway, no matter how hard it is, praise God anyway.

Renew your mind by thanking Him. But you say, “God hasn’t done anything for me lately”. Oh, but He has and He will again. Remember all God has done for you in the past, and start by thanking God for those things. If He healed you from an ailment, if He saved a family member from eternal death, if He unexpectedly provided a meal or finances right when you needed it, thank Him. Or you can start by thanking God for Jesus. Your very salvation is because of His sacrifice. Then renew your mind by being grateful for all God has done for you. Be grateful you live where you can openly praise God; be grateful for His grace and mercy, be grateful for those people He has put in your life to help you.

How else can you renew your mind? Through prayer. You need to get back to the basics in order to move forward. What are those basics? Getting away from those things which replaced your prayer time; TV, radio, social media, and people. Finding a quiet place and time to sit and not talk to God, but listen to Him. Stop taking on the cares and burdens of others, because helping others can cause you to neglect your prayer life. The problem is you cannot fix these things, only God can. But then you try and are disappointed when you fail. Better to pray for God to fix them than try to fix it without Him. Take your mind off of you and focus on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. He has given you an example of prayer to follow.

If you find yourself really desperate and lost on where to start again, pray the Lord’s Prayer. Break it down verse by verse or word by word. Study, mediate on what God’s Word says and you will again have the prayer life you have been missing and a renewed mind.

 

Julie and her husband Steve reside in Jacksonville, IL. They enjoy the outdoors, working on their cars and seeking and sharing Jesus Christ through their ministry. Julie is not only a Christian author, she is also an audio technician, is self taught in the art of stained glass, and enjoys building her own furniture. Steve is an over the road truck driver who he enjoys hunting, fishing, and drag racing. (And helping Julie move her big, heavy, homemade furniture!) Their goal is to reach the world for Christ by sharing their testimonies and God’s Word.

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Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International version®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

 

2018 New Year’s Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions because I don’t keep them. That does not mean I don’t need to make changes. I am not perfect. Although I have not set official New Year’s resolutions for several years, I am always setting goals for myself. Maybe this year I should turn those goals into resolutions and invite you to join me. Our goals (a.k.a. New Year’s Resolutions) for 2017 will look something like this:

  • I resolve to thank God often for making me a new creation through Jesus.
    (2 Corinthians 5:17)
    Christ came so that we could become new and improved.
  • I resolve to put off my old ways and to put on my new self—to act like the new creation I am.
    (Ephesians 4:22-24)
    This is not something that is forced upon us. We must resolve to put off our old selves and to put on a new self created in the likeness of God’s righteousness and holiness—the new and improved self. We must choose—resolve—to become new. This is the most important resolution we will ever make. I might want to lose weight, but until I choose to do it the weight won’t come off. I have to resolve to do it.
  • I resolve to embrace the new heart and new spirit God gave me.
    (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
    Our new God-given heart and spirit will help us to desire, recognize, and follow His Spirit. Just as a personal trainer helps me stay focused on my fitness goals, the Spirit of God within us will help us keep our resolution to put on a new self.
  • I resolve to follow God’s new command to love others.
    (John 13:34-35)
    Under this new covenant the commandments are thrown into a hat and stirred around; then, God puts in his hand and draws out a single word to summarize their essence—LOVE. We are commanded to have a deeper level of love in our lives as new creations. A love that will cause people to recognize the influence of Christ.
  • I resolve to keep my eyes focused on the new heaven and new earth where Righteousness Himself dwells.
    (2 Peter 3:13)
    Whenever we become frustrated or feel hope slipping away, we are to turn our eyes to eternity and refocus on what will be—a new heaven and a new earth where Righteousness lives.
  • I resolve to seek daily renewal in knowledge so that my life may reflect my Creator, in strength so that I may soar even during difficult times, and in mind so that I may discern God’s will.
    (2 Corinthians 4:16)
    Just as silver will tarnish if it is not polished every day, our newness can become dulled by life if we do not renew ourselves daily. This daily renewal can take several forms. First, our knowledge of the Creator is being continually renewed as we study and meditate on His word. (Colossians 3:9-10) And this knowledge reflects to others the image of the Creator. We need to daily grow in our knowledge of God in order to accurately reflect His image. Second, when we are waiting on (serving) the Lord, our strength for each day will also be renewed. (Isaiah 40:28-31) Finally, another area where we experience renewal is our minds. (Romans 12:2) As we put off our old selves and put on the new, we are transformed—our minds are renewed. We can think clearly—looking at God’s will with new eyes.
  • I resolve to testify to what God has done by singing the new song He placed in my heart.
    (Psalm 40:2-3)
    When we leave our old selves behind, we have a lot to sing about! You had better believe that if I reach my fitness goals, I will be singing the praises of my trainer. How much more should we sing the praises of Him who helps us become new creations? When we sing praises to God, others will see what He has done—our new song is a witness or testimony to God. God gives us a reason to sing. We need to sing our new song so others can see Him.

These resolutions are great, but they are only attainable because of Jesus. Something new has a price tag attached. The price of our newness was the blood of Christ. We prefer new over used in every other area of our lives. Why settle for anything less than the newness purchased as a gift by Christ? Why not join me in reaching for these 2017 New Year’s Resolutions?

 

Father,
Thank you for making us new creations through Jesus. Help us, Lord, in our resolve to put on our new selves—to act like the new creations you have made us. Thank you for the new heart and spirit you have placed within us. Father, when life wears us down, help us focus our eyes on the promise of a new heaven and a new earth where Your Righteousness lives. Renew us in knowledge as we daily meditate upon your word so that our lives reflect Your image. During difficult times, renew our strength so that we may soar above our circumstances. Renew our minds each day to recognize You and Your will. And, Lord, as we go through our days, may we each love others deeply, and may we each sing our new songs so that others will see You. Lord, thank You for making us new in Christ Jesus.
Amen.