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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

One night recently, I received a phone call from a distraught friend.

‘I’m in a terrible pickle!’ she gasped. ‘We filled in a form on my computer and now I’ve been scammed. Please pray!’

The next morning, I received a text from another friend. She has been quite unwell and was facing a scary doctor’s appointment.

‘Would appreciate prayer,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t want to cough in the middle of my eye injection!’

My heart went out to these friends who both needed God’s protection—and the courage to keep trusting God in their scary situations.

I began to pray for them, yet soon found myself almost overwhelmed with fear and so doubtful God would be able to rescue them. Then I realised I was falling for one of those old traps the enemy loves to set for us. I could almost hear him sniggering at my lack of faith and, at that point, I became determined not to let him win—over me or my friends. So, I prayed again, entrusting them and their situations to our loving, all-powerful Lord.

We all need courage, not only to face life’s challenges but also to stand firm in our faith, resist the enemy and be prayerful at all times. Recently, I started reading Acts again. And again, I marvelled at the change in the disciples, particularly Peter, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost (Acts 2). Immediately after, Peter does not hesitate to address the crowd who have gathered and call them to repentance (2:38). Then, after the lame man at the temple gates is healed, Peter boldly preaches to a huge crowd (3). And when he and John are jailed and hauled before the rulers, elders and teachers of the law, he again does not hold back.

It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 4:10

I find the religious leaders’ baffled response so interesting too:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 4:17

But this is not the end. After Peter and John are commanded not to speak or teach in Jesus’ name again, they boldly declare they simply have to (4:20). They are threatened further but finally released—at which point they head back to the other believers. Then a wonderful time of prayer ensues, during which the Holy Spirit fills everyone present, enabling them to share the word of God with great boldness (4:31). And on it goes, with Peter and the apostles continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus day after day with amazing courage (5:12-41).

I want to face life with more of this same courage and boldness, don’t you? Although we cannot be with Jesus in human form, as Peter and John were, we can still talk with him and learn from him each day. And, like those early believers, we also have God’s Spirit within us who will fill and empower us to face whatever comes our way. So … let’s trust God and go for it!

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

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I had arrived bright and early at a nearby bookstore to promote my books. As I settled in, I wondered what adventures awaited me. From past experience—and also because I and others had prayed—I knew there would be at least one special ‘God appointment’ with someone that day. And that is exactly what happened. Four or five times as I chatted with various customers, I sensed God connecting our spirits in a way that is hard to describe. It might have been for only a fleeting moment, but I knew something was happening outside of or beyond the words I was saying.

At one stage, I began talking with a young woman who was a little hard to understand at first. Her voice was soft and she wore a mask, but English was obviously quite a challenge for her too. I explained about my books, but could see she was still mystified. Eventually, she picked up a copy of Becoming Me and we talked about receiving God’s love and about understanding who God created us to be. She opened up a little more then, telling me in her faltering English about her husband who suffered from depression but was now doing better. Then she took the book to a spot where she could sit down and glance through it.

Later, however, she returned it, telling me she wanted something that would explain things more or teach her about it all. But then, as she went to leave, she thanked me sincerely in her soft, gentle voice for listening to her—for simply listening! Even though her eyes just peeked over her mask, I could see such gratitude in them and also that she was trying hard not to cry. I will never forget those pleading eyes and my heart went out to her yet again, as I silently prayed for God’s love and grace to fill her and meet her needs.

We can’t all be in bookstores, promoting our books, but most of us at least connect with others during our weeks, however fleetingly, either in person or by phone or some other way. I certainly do, not only in my own home but also in the village where we live, as well as wider afield. So… how do I act then when talking with others? How well do I show respect for them by truly listening? How carefully do I take note of their tone of voice, their manner, their facial expression—and particularly their eyes? How often do I put their needs first, instead of thinking of my own or of what clever comment I myself might make next?

This week, I came across the following blunt proverb in my Bible:

 He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13

What an important warning—to me and to us all! How much better if we were to be ‘quick to listen and slow to speak’ instead (James 1:19). And how much better too if we were to listen more to the voice of Jesus our Shepherd as we engage with others and follow the leading of the one who knows us all so well (John 10:27). Perhaps then we would remember to give that gift of listening more often, don’t you think?

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Often, as I read something online or watch a news item on TV, I quickly decide, ‘This doesn’t interest me’, ‘This doesn’t apply to me’ or ‘This hasn’t been my experience’. In this era of information overload, we need to choose what we take on board and what we ignore. Yet this may not be the best way to read Scripture, I realised recently.

I love the heartfelt praises of God I find in the Psalms, but also the honesty, as David or another psalmist cries out to God in times of great need. So at first, I was on board, as I began reading Psalm 55.

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my pleas; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught… (1-2)

Yes, Lord, I prayed, my thoughts trouble me right now too. I’m concerned for our family and others in this lockdown time—and for our whole nation. I read on, taking in how David’s enemies were reviling him and causing him such great fear and anguish that he wanted to run away and hide.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (6-8)

Poor David, I thought–but this doesn’t really apply to me. I don’t have terrible enemies like he did. I was only half-focussing by then, although I still registered David’s horror at a friend’s betrayal and the violence and destruction happening everywhere (9-15, 20-21). No wonder he cried out to God all day in anguish.

But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. (16-18)   

I’m glad God listened and saved David, I thought, but by then, while my mind was present, my spirit was far away. I kept reading, keen to finish and move on.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (22)

Yes, David hung onto God well, despite his circumstances, I decided—I like his certainty here and how he goes on to share this with God directly. Hopefully I would be just as certain, if I were ever in a similar pickle.

Then my eyes caught the final words of the psalm:

But as for me I trust in you. (23)

David had spent the whole psalm describing his terrible situation and crying out to God for help. Yet here he was now, despite everything, clearly stating his own personal, simple, unshakeable faith.

In an instant, his words pierced my heart. ‘Can you say this right now too, Jo-Anne?’ I sensed God asking me firmly but lovingly. ‘The situation is dire for those around you in this pandemic, but aren’t you merely worrying about everything rather than trusting me in it all?’

I made sure I listened then—and I hope I have taken God’s timely challenge on board. Like David, I hope I can say with greater integrity and faith in the coming days, ‘As for me, I trust in you.’

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I have a confession to make. Even though I prayed throughout writing and editing my latest, soon-to-be-launched novel, Down by the Water, I doubted the moment would actually come when I would hold it in my hands. I thought it might—and I sensed God wanted me to persevere with it. But what if I was wrong? What if it never came together and I had spent three or four years writing it for nothing?

Besides, what was I thinking to release another novel in the midst of all the current uncertainties? After all, while my books are sold in Christian bookstores across Australia and online in various ways, including from my own website, most of my sales come via speaking engagements that cannot happen at the moment.

I am sure end-of-year tiredness did not help either. While 2020 was a quieter year, which in fact enabled me to finish my novel, it also held its challenges. I was concerned about the welfare of family members and others in our wider community. I missed meeting face to face with our beautiful church family, despite hosting a group in our home most of the year. And I missed my speaking engagements, where I could share from my heart and encourage others.

But then on Christmas Eve, those shiny, brand new copies of the novel I had poured my energies into for so long arrived. I was in the middle of my Christmas baking, so at first took it all in my stride and left the boxes where they were, unopened. After all, I knew what the cover would look like. Yet I was a little afraid too. What if I was disappointed with the end result? What if what I had seen and approved online did not come together as I imagined it would?

Slowly, I prised open that first box. And as I did, memories of eight other similar occasions in previous years came flooding back. I paused for a while, as I realised again how faithful God has been to enable me to see six other novels and two non-fiction books through to publication. Then I lifted out that first copy—what a surreal moment! Yes, there it was at last in my hands, looking even better than I had imagined.*

At that point, I was filled with remorse for my lack of faith, but also such gratitude to God for persevering with me and for being so kind and gracious towards me anyway.

Is there something God has put on your heart to pray about or work towards in the coming year? Yes, we need to remember God is sovereign and knows what is best for us. But in 2021, I for one know I need to be bolder in my faith and firmer in my trust, as I keep my eyes on the Lord. I want to believe more and not doubt. Truly, I want to be so much more like Mary, the mother of Jesus, about whom her cousin Elizabeth exclaimed:

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’ Luke 1:4

Is that your heart too right now? May we all continue to hope and trust in our amazing God, whatever 2021 might hold for us.

*Please watch for further news about my novel Down by the Water and my Facebook Live book launch later this month!

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Jo 17A couple of weeks ago, our church celebrated its fifth anniversary of being in its renovated and revamped premises. To fill everyone in on the journey taken to get the building to its present state, photos taken at different stages of the remodelling were shown during our services. All up, it was a wonderful testimony to what can be achieved when a community trusts God and works together to bring a shared vision to reality.

Of all those inspiring images I saw that day, one in particular has stayed with me. It was a photo of something that looked like a piece of graffiti scribbled on the floor of the main auditorium. You see, the night before the carpet was due to be laid there, some church members decided they would like to write prayers all over the floor—prayers that God would always be honoured in this space, that all who entered would sense the presence of God’s Spirit and feel welcome and accepted, and that lives would be changed as a result. What a surreal feeling to look down and realise our feet were resting not only on carpet but, more importantly, on all those prayers written and prayed on our behalf!

Later, I remembered a similar but much smaller project I was involved in years ago at a different church. It was in the days when banners were still used on church walls to remind us of certain truths or words from Scripture. I had seen a banner somewhere else that featured a vine covered in fruit and felt we needed one like it in our own church. So some of us created one with a twirling grapevine and lots of bunches of big, purple grapes on it, along with the words ‘Chosen to bear fruit’. Then as we began attaching those grapes, we decided to write the names of all the streets in our area underneath them. We felt this was a way of praying for all those living nearby, that God would touch and transform their lives, so that they would not only become the fruit of our labours but would, in turn, bear fruit for the kingdom themselves.

We prayed and we sewed—then prayed and sewed some more. And that banner hung on our church wall for quite some time, reminding us why we were there in that place and what God could do as we prayed. It was a hard area, but people did come to know God more and see God work in their lives.

Time passed and we moved on—and that banner too disappeared eventually. But I believe God heard those prayers of ours, as well as the ones written beneath the carpet in our current church. Our role is to pray—and God is not deaf to our pleas. That fruit will come, both in our own lives and in the lives of others, as we continue to trust and to share God’s love. How blessed we are that we can pray in all sorts of diverse ways, leaving those requests with our gracious, loving God!

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Matthew 6:9-10

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Jo 12I missed my friend’s phone call about how her job interview had gone, so my husband passed on her message.

‘On the morning of the interview, she woke up laughing’ he said. ‘She’ll tell you the rest on Sunday.’

I smiled to myself. It sounded good news to me, as I remembered what had transpired after she had asked two of us to pray for her at church the previous Sunday. She had told us how she was feeling about the interview and how it had been a challenging task to compile her resumé, after not having done so for years. So together we bowed our heads and began praying.

Straight away, the other lady present asked God for deep peace for our friend, for the ability to sense God’s presence with her at the interview and for a clear mind to answer any questions put to her. But as I stood there agreeing with her prayer, I found myself feeling more and more joyful. In fact, I almost burst out laughing! What was I to do?

In the end, I prayed for our friend to have a good night’s sleep and wake up on the morning of the interview feeling joyful and refreshed. Then I shared with her how I sensed so much joy surrounding this interview that I had almost laughed aloud! I also told her that I felt she would find herself saying something at one point that she had not expected to say at all—and that, when she did, those interviewing her would heave a sigh of relief, laugh together and say, ‘That’s exactly what we wanted to hear!’ Yet, even as I shared these things, I wondered if they were from God at all or if I had simply imagined them.

How reassuring it was then to see her beaming face last Sunday, as she came to tell me what had happened! Yes, she said, she had indeed woken up laughing on the day of the interview. In fact, she had had a dream during the night that she arrived for the interview in old clothes and with just thongs on her feet. In the dream, she had apologised, but the interviewers had laughed and assured her it didn’t matter!

In the actual interview, however, when asked what she would do if she encountered something she had not dealt with before, my friend, without thinking, simply raised her left arm high, waved it around and let out an anguished ‘Help!’

At that point—you guessed it—the interviewing panel laughed and said, ‘That’s the best answer we could ever have hoped to hear!’

But wait, there’s more! For a long time, my friend has had problems with her left arm—yet this was the arm she had used, with no trouble at all, to raise and wave around enthusiastically!

Yes, Jesus, our Saviour, our Immanuel, has come into this world. Our God is with us, in the midst of our joy—and in the midst of our pain. Our God is with us, whatever our situation. Our God is with us, to the end of all time.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:25

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Jo 23You have to hand it to King David. So many times in the psalms, he doesn’t use any softly, softly approach when it comes to asking God for help. I have to say that’s a bit different from many of the prayers I’ve prayed over the years—and from some I’ve heard prayed aloud in public meetings at times.

‘Lord, we just ask you to heal her now, if that’s your will. But if it isn’t, please just show her what she needs to do to get better.’

‘Dear God, we invite you to be with us today. We welcome you to this place. We know you are here anyway, but please just be close to each one of us.’

Now I’ve discovered God is truly gracious and does hear and answer such prayers. Despite our slightly weird theology at times, God sees our hearts and knows what we need before we even ask (Matt 6:8). God isn’t confused by the words we use when we pray in public either. And David knew that, since in Psalm 139:4 we read: Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

But how refreshing it is to read those honest, gut-wrenching cries from David’s heart! Recently, I came across Psalm 35 again which begins:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.

There I was, cheering David on as I read and thinking about how this prayer could apply to the challenges in my own life, when I was stopped dead by his words at the end of verse 3:

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Hmmm … could David actually be telling God what to tell him in return? It’s as if he’s saying to God: ‘I think you said you’d save me. I was convinced of that—but now I’m not so sure. I want to know that deep down inside me, so please tell me it’s true.’ In The Message version, Peterson puts it this way:

Reassure me: let me hear you say, “I’ll save you.”

But I think there might be a bit more to it too, given David’s bold approach in the rest of the psalm. It’s as if David is calling God to account—as if he’s saying something like: ‘God, this is what you told me you’d do for me, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening. So if you tell me you’re my salvation, you’d better make good on your promise—because if you don’t, then you won’t have lived up to your name!’

What a challenge David is to me in the way he talks with God! And God doesn’t seem to have been offended, but rather sees David as ‘a man after his own heart’ (1 Sam 12:14). Surely it is that David understood God’s heart very well and, because of that, knew he could be completely honest and that God would not turn him away.

I want to pray big, fat, bold prayers like David did. I want to be a person after God’s own heart. Don’t you?

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My family will tell you I am not the world’s best patient. There is too much to do to lie still for long – after all, I have my latest novel to edit and speaking engagements to prepare for. And yet I know the severe sciatica in my right leg has a much greater chance of improving if I look after myself, apply heat to the affected area and stay off my feet as much as I can. I know too that pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will help – and yet I am reluctant to take them. I try to remain stoic – and not too grouchy and grumpy!

So what’s to be done? Well, eventually I do rest and take medication – but I also pray. And when I pray, I have two things in mind. Firstly, I ask God to bring healing and relief from the pain – at least enough to enable me to speak where I’m supposed to speak.  I know God can do this, because I have experienced it before. Several years ago, I was about to head to Turkey to visit a friend, when I ended up with excruciating lower back pain. We had planned a holiday together in the mountains near the Black Sea, which I knew would involve carrying a heavy backpack, climbing on and off buses, sleeping in hard beds – plus lots of walking. How would I ever manage? I couldn’t let me friend down – and besides, I really wanted to go. So I finally asked someone to pray for me at church one day for healing. At first, nothing seemed to happen – and I must admit I was slightly sceptical about it all. But later that afternoon, the pain lessened and finally lifted altogether. And during my time in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem doing all the things we had planned to do – praise God!

But the second thing I ask God as I pray is what I can learn through this time of pain. Is it perhaps that I have become a little too self-reliant, thinking I can do everything in my own strength? Is it that I need to learn to empathise more with others who are going through painful times? Or is it merely to develop more patience and perseverance in me? After all, writing novels does need both these qualities in vast measures – especially when it comes to that painstaking editing and re-writing process I have just begun.

And while I wait for God to answer both aspects of my prayer, I try to relax, knowing God is listening and will never forsake me. I am held in God’s loving arms, now and forever. I don’t know how or when God will answer, but I will keep praying and not give up, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18). Jesus ends this story with some words I always find quite sad and challenging:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

I want to be among those who are found to be full of faith. I want to learn to trust God more, whatever the circumstances. And right now, I pray for you too, if you are persevering through pain in any way. May God bring healing to you, just as you need, and the strength to stand firm until the end.

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In a recent blog, I described how one of my granddaughters has a unique theological approach to playing Snakes and Ladders. I have now become used to listening to her anguished pleas for God to help her throw a six and to observing the desperation on her cute, little face as she does so.

The other day, however, I discovered she has further refined her attempts to win. She now has a couple of additions or ‘postscripts’ that follow on after these heart-wrenching pleas to God.  When I heard the first one, I was a little shocked, I have to admit. You see, it was in the form of a veiled threat:  ‘Pleeeeeaaaaase give me a six, God – or I won’t be your friend!

It occurred to me, however, to wonder if some of us respond like that when God doesn’t seem to give us what we have asked for. How many of us feel really short-changed when things we have prayed about don’t happen – or at least not in the way we had hoped? Do we perhaps pull back and distance ourselves just that little bit from God? Maybe we choose to serve God just that bit less. Or perhaps we simply spend less time with God in prayer or bible reading.  But of course we’d never acknowledge this even to ourselves.  At least my granddaughter is being honest.

Then her next words made me think too. After threatening God with the withdrawal of her friendship, she decided God needed reminding who was actually doing the praying. ‘It’s Olivia here!’ she muttered, kind of under her breath as an afterthought. In other words: ‘Just in case you can’t quite tell who’s asking, God, or are a bit hard of hearing, I’m letting you know my name’s Olivia!’

Well, I tried to put her straight at that point and tell her God knows who she is and what she needs, so doesn’t need reminding – obviously she thinks God is perhaps like one of her grandfathers, who sometimes can’t quite tell which of his granddaughters he is talking to on the phone. And of course when he asks, she tells him in a hurt voice – ‘It’s Olivia here!’ So why not treat God like that too? Besides, God might be a bit absentminded as well and not quite remember her.

Olivia’s too young to understand fully yet that God in fact knew her long before she was even born and is intimately acquainted with us. In Psalm 139:2-4, we read:

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

So God knows our names and will hear us. Yet that doesn’t mean we will always get the ‘sixes’ we think we want or need – or at least not immediately. And it also doesn’t mean that when this happens, we sulk because we can’t control God. But I can’t help wondering, as I listen to my granddaughter, whether God would be more honoured my life if I were equally honest with him about my thoughts and feelings when I pray. After all, God knows them anyway – why pretend?

So let’s be God’s true and honest friends – all the time!

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Have you ever played Snakes and Ladders with a pre-schooler?  Perhaps you too have had the job of explaining that if you land on a square with the end of a ladder in it, then you can actually climb UP the ladder!  On the other hand, you might also remember the deflated look you received when you passed on the bad news that landing on a snake’s head means you have to slide DOWN said snake and thus lose a lot of the hard won ground you have gained!

Snakes and Ladders is definitely a game of fluctuating fortunes, so when our granddaughters first learned to play it, I was quite happy to help them along and ‘let’ them win.  Nowadays the game still has its tricky moments for my four-year-old granddaughter – sometimes it’s a challenge to work out which way she is supposed to head.  After all, is fifty really the next number after forty-nine? Yet on the other hand, she has also become quite resourceful even at her tender age and occasionally tries to employ a couple of original techniques to aid in winning.  One is to throw the die behind her back or somewhere far away and then miraculously when she picks it up to turns out to be a six!  But the other is much more ‘spiritual’ – it involves fervently praying aloud to God to give her a six!

‘Please God – I really, really need a six!  Pleeeaaase listen to me!’ she entreats in an agonised voice, with screwed up face and hands cupped plaintively around the die.

And when, as happened yesterday, she does throw a six, she lets out a sigh of relief and exclaims in a delighted voice: ‘Oh, thank you, God – you did listen to me!’

Now I thought I had better put her theology straight at this point. So I tried to explain that whether she ends up throwing a six or not, God is still listening – and that God doesn’t always give us what we think we want or need.  But I didn’t get much further than that.  For some strange reason it seemed to be going over her head – and anyway, she had lost interest, since she had won the game.

I came away from this experience with the humbling thought, however, that perhaps God was trying to say something to me through it all. At times I’m sure I treat God like a ‘Snakes and Ladders’ God, crying out for help when disaster threatens and only giving thanks when I am rescued – if even then.  Yet I don’t want to be like that – I want to live in a place of rest and peace with God, knowing that whatever happens, God is still the same loving, holy, powerful and awesome God and will be forever.  And I want to ensure that Paul’s words are true of me at every stage of my life – as I hope and pray they will in our granddaughters’ lives:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6)

How about you?  Are you into ‘spiritual’ Snakes and Ladders?

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