The Power of Intercessory Prayer

Intercession 3

Check Your Contacts

Every couple of years, usually when I upgrade my smartphone, I perform a thorough cleaning of my contact list, mostly removing outdated contacts (past year’s teachers, duplicate information, etc.). Between those times of major renovation, I periodically go through the list to make updates to photos and other information.

Recently when making updates, I paused as I realized the unusual number of people no longer an active part of my life. Some moved away, and we simply grew apart as a result. Others, the circumstances that disrupt life just sent us in different directions.

A part of me will always be sad, I think, about faded relationships. While bridges aren’t burned, things will never return to the way they were either. Impossible, really, when the people involved change along with their priorities and focuses. If I dwell on these feelings, I get stuck in the past focusing on regrets instead of remembering the positives.

Relationships as Opportunities for Prayer

As I went through my list this time, I also began seeing the relationships represented more as opportunities than just a list of people I know. I’m seeing it more as a prayer list, which allows me to still be a part of each person’s life even when connection fades. I’m finding tremendous peace in this because no matter what happens in my life or theirs, a prayer connection can always exist.

More specifically, there will always be intercession (prayer to God on behalf of another), and this can actually be the maintenance plan for every relationship we have, regardless of its current state of elasticity. Oswald Chambers said we should

Intercession 1

This means that the focus goes to God, not to the individuals involved. It means we look to Him to work in each individual’s life, and that we rely on His work, not our own, in their lives. In this sense, prayer exists as the way we can be the most helpful to the people we know regardless of the status of the relationship.

Does this undertaking of intercessory prayer seem overwhelming to you? It does to me. In fact, I feel the heaviness of my inability to follow through in an effective way. Fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my own ability in praying for others.

Intercession 2

Paul doesn’t say to pray perfectly, and he doesn’t say to do it eloquently or only when I know the situation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, as best as I am able to do so, I am to pray for others in whatever way comes to mind. In other words, be obedient and let God do his thing.

DISCUSSION: How does intercession live and breathe in your life? What Scriptures come to mind as guides for how we can pray for others?

 

Do You Remember Your First Love?

Love quote

The anticipation. The excitement. The eagerness. The desire to please. Consuming thoughts. Irrepressible smile. Immense feelings. Overwhelming emotion.

Do you remember? If so, you probably realize you don’t still feel the same way you did when that love was fresh and new. Hopefully, though, the love you experience now is deeper and better, less based on emotion and more on relationship.

While this description certainly describes the time I first fell in love 27 years ago with the man who is now my husband, that’s not the love relationship I’m talking about here.

Do you remember the first time you truly realized how much God loves you? Remember when you discovered he wasn’t a distant God but a personal Savior? What Do you remember when you first realized that he loved you enough to come to this earth as God in flesh? And what about the knowledge that your sins are wiped away as if they never happened?

With that first love came a fervor, an unbridled enthusiasm. Along with it came an understanding of the seriousness of sin and the thrill of being forgiven.

Do you still feel that way?

Love verse

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

When I think of what it means (and feels like) to fall in and out of love, I better understand the point God wanted to make to the Ephesians and why this message is so timeless and so very relevant for us still today both as individuals and as the corporate church.

Forsaking your first love means you neglect it. You find yourself going through the motions of life, doing the busyness of life much like the Ephesians did. Revelation 2:2-3 tells us they worked hard, persevered, resisted sin, sought truth & endured hardships all without becoming weary. Yet, they were still found guilty of leaving the love they had when they became Christians & formed the church.

In other words, they lost the fervor (earnest feeling, ardor, passion and zeal) they once had for God. They became apathetic and were simply “doing church” without truly loving God or other Christians. Been there? I have.

Remember. Repent. Return.

When my husband and I grow distant from each other, even if just a little, we find that returning to what initially helped our love grow — spending quality time together, listening intently to each other, intentionally doing acts of kindness for one another, preferring one another, etc. — helps us return to and even go deeper in our love for one another.

Remembering these varying degrees of love I’ve felt over the years for my spouse helps me better understand how to return to the fervor I once had for Christ before apathy and boredom crept into my life.

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

The word used for “first” in this context means foremost, as in time, place and order, and the word used for “deeds” means toil or effort. In other words, get your priorities back in order and do the most important things again, things that seemed so natural at first.

For the Christian, this means putting your relationship with God first, making it your top priority. This begins when we realize what we’ve stopped doing that we need to go back to doing. It also means ridding our lives of that which draws us away from him. It involves asking for forgiveness for the neglect and the wandering. It means returning to a dependence on him to continually rekindle that first love within our hearts and lives. It also means making a habit of doing the things that continually deepen our connection with him.

DISCUSSION: What practices can you return to to rekindle your connection with God? What priorities need reestablished in order for love to be the primary driving force in your life?

The Babel of Unity

Babel

Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

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The Physical has SOME Value

some value 1

Living in the Extremes

Some people give their physical bodies a lot of focus from extremes with exercising, weight lifting & dieting to an obsessive focus on appearances through things like clothing, hair, nails, etc. By the same token, I know many who don’t attempt to care for themselves physically much at all past the bare minimum. They pay little attention to what or how much they eat, and physical appearance seems last on their list of priorities.

At one extreme, there are people in top shape physically but doing little for their spiritual fitness because the “some value” placed on the physical is choking out any attention on the spiritual. At the other extreme, many people, while effective for God, limit their potential by neglecting the “some value” placed on the physical self.

In no way am I saying that attention toward the physical and the spiritual should be equal. Balance does not mean equal. What I am saying is that while that which lasts into eternity should hold a larger portion of our life’s focus and should be a higher priority, the physical aspect of this life does have “some value” right now. And we do ourselves – and God – a disservice if we completely neglect or give too much focus to our physical selves.

Understanding the Value

some value 2

To help better understand the balance between priority toward the spiritual and giving “some value” to the physical, consider how a life focused largely on the eternal must also live in as healthy a way as possible in the physical here and now. Let’s look at what 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 & 2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10 say about this balance.

  1. We do need our physical bodies – our tents – even if only temporarily.
  2. Our physical bodies house the Holy Spirit.
  3. We don’t own our bodies, God does.
  4. We are to honor God and aim to please Him with our bodies.
  5. Our bodies also hold precious treasure, namely, the light of the truth of Christ as Lord.
  6. The struggles of our bodies connect us with Christ’s death & His life is seen through them.
  7. The frailty of our physical bodies creates a longing for Heaven.
  8. The troubles in our bodies point to great glory beyond them.
  9. We will be rewarded based on what we do and don’t do in our physical bodies.
  10. Christ bought us with a price. We now show gratitude for His sacrifice through our physical selves.

The more I read in Scripture about the value placed on my physical body, the more I realize the importance of doing the best I can with what I am given in this life. Doing so demonstrates good stewardship of this temporal life given me.

At the same time, what I do in and with my physical body also demonstrates my eternal focus, the even greater value placed on godliness and the honor I can give God in this life even as I long for life beyond this temporary dwelling.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the balance between our physical & spiritual selves playing out this side of Heaven?

How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Filtering Thoughts

1430223_49148998 (2)Filters purify. They keep out the harmful and leave the beneficial. In any are of life, improvement comes through removing or keeping out bad and adding in good, through filtering.

A defective filter does little good. Only remove bad and fail to replace with good, and the bad comes back in full force (Luke 11:24-26). Only add in good and fail to remove the bad, and the good fails to have much – if any – benefit (Colossians 3).

Filters in our thought lives reduce overload by sifting through all the information and opportunities constantly coming at us. They allow for separating and removing what we don’t want and keeping what we do want. This filtering involves processing information received by placing it against truth, and with the Holy Spirit’s guiding choosing the appropriate response.

Filtering to Prevent & Reduce Overload

Applying filters involves creating habits and establishing priorities that help keep out negative and allow positive to shape us.

Habits go a long way in directing our thought lives. For example, I make a habit of considering the impact of whatever I choose to read. This means reading very little romance or horror and also flipping between fiction and nonfiction as a routine. I also regularly consider the benefit of the various blogs and articles I read. This habit keeps me balanced since my thoughts are easily influenced by the written word.

Filtering thoughts also involves prioritizing. This means realizing that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things simply because we cannot say “yes” to everything if we hope to avoid overload. Prioritizing includes everything from the what to read, what movies to watch, who to spend time with, and even what commitments to accept or reject at church.

My husband and I have created a filtering system that orders priorities within our schedules. This system works well in keeping my inner atmosphere from getting overwhelmed with too many details and lack of focus and my husband from getting out of balance by failing to relax and rest.

Our prioritizing filter involves keeping each other accountable and not adding any large and/or long-term commitment to our schedules without consulting one another. We ask if the added commitment will tax the margin in our lives because lack of margin almost always results in an overwhelmed thought life.

Creating Your Own Filters

Start by looking at what overwhelms you easily and finding specific ways to simplify and keep overload at bay. Remember that a good filter usually involves the following…

  1. An accountability system.
  2. Acknowledging and recognizing limits.
  3. Prioritizing to maintain healthy margins.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  5. Consistent time with God.
  6. Adjustments with the seasons of life.

The idea that focus determines reality is never more true than in our thinking. This is why we must deliberately choose a filtering system based on absolute truth, God’s truth, and not on the relative truth of man that changes like shifting shadows.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

DISCUSSION: What filters can you apply in your own life to prevent and/or reduce overload of any type?

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

How to… Have the Best Summer Break Yet

After adopting our youngest son two years ago, we discovered the need to create more structure in our summers than we’d had previously. (Our oldest is very independent and keeps occupied easily.) The tips below are the result of what has worked well for us over the past two years and that look to make this third summer with him the best one yet!

  1. Know Your Priorities. Many parents save vacation time or adopt a modified work schedule for the summer months. Do this if at all possible. The challenge of summer break is only for a season, and parents whose kids are no longer at home stress the importance of making the most of every opportunity while the kids are still young as a top priority. If a changing work schedule isn’t an option, do what you can to make evenings and weekends as focused on family time as possible.
  2. Create Goals. Have goals to help motivate and focus you and your kids. Set reading goals summer, such as a certain number of books or completing a certain series. Set physical goals such as training for a 5k or exercising so many times a week. Set academic goals too, such as memorizing multiplication facts or completing a summer bridge workbook. Having goals gives kids a “go to” activity when boredom strikes. And, of course, have rewards for reaching goals too!
  3. Have Balanced Structure. Partly because my youngest needs structure and largely because I like sanity, we create a daily and weekly schedule. We allow for alone time, time together, and time out. We schedule TV and electronics time, and we schedule projects and activities such as cooking new foods, visiting interesting places, and playing with friends. We don’t schedule to the point of exhaustion but enough to avoid boredom.
  4. Be Flexible. Yes, we have a schedule, but we’re not fanatics about it. We allow for the spontaneous and unexpected such as weather changes, friends calling and those joyful moments when the kids come up with something to do together all on their own. We keep a list of summer activities to help create our schedule but remain flexible.
  5. Set Boundaries. Many kids would play video games and watch television all summer if they could. To avoid this, schedule media time into the day. Also, even though kids are at home, I still have work to complete. So, the office door closed means I need some time to write without disruption. The office door open means they can sit and talk to me while I work.  Also, they stay in their rooms until 8AM every morning and let me have time to exercise, pray and do devotions until 10AM. Setting these types of boundaries goes a long way in maintaining balanced structure.
  6. Get Input. Toward the end of the school year and when school first gets out, my boys and I spend time creating a list of summer activities. They usually have terrific ideas, and giving input creates excitement for the summer ahead.
  7. Include Mental Stimulation.  Tell kids they need to do schoolwork all summer to keep from losing what they learned during the school year, and they’ll look at you like you’re insane. But include mentally stimulating activities such as summer camps and going to the library or museums, and kids get excited. Get creative, but find ways to stimulate your kids’ minds.

Whether parents are home with their kids or not for summer break, the above suggestions provide ways to help make this summer break the best one yet. Take time within the next couple of days to go through these suggestions and create a plan of action. Oh yeah, be sure to write down what you come up with. My kids love looking at the schedule and list of activities to find out what’s coming up.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you plan on trying? What suggestions can you add?

Additional Resource: The article Keep Your Summer Organized by Simple Mom has some terrific suggestions that go well with today’s post. Check them out and let Tsh at Simple Mom know how great her ideas are!

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