Thursday, July 4, 2013

Devotion to Prayer

"Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving." Colossians 4:2

Prayer has never come naturally to me. I have always felt awkward in prayer for some reason. Over the past year, I have finally come to the conclusion that in all my years as a Christian, I have never really learned how to communicate with God properly. Not that I haven't made valiant efforts. I have had beautiful prayer journals. Sections for specific days and topics. I have written out my prayers (I still believe that helps me concentrate). I've used all the acronyms and prayer plans. But in the end, I look at it all and think, "If one of my friends communicated with me this way, I would toss them out the door." Some days I feel all I do is bring my wish list to God - admirable though it may be - and ask and ask and ask. For now, I'm done with asking.

Color me ecstatic when I learned our little Bible study between online Bible studies was going to be on prayer!

The verse at the top of the post from Colossians is one of our focal verses this week. It is the end of Paul's letter to the church at Colossi and he is asking for prayer for himself and for the word of God to go out.I can't say that verse two had ever jumped out at me before, but this time I saw with fresh eyes.

Devote. says this means to concentrate on a particular pursuit, occupation, purpose, cause; to set apart or dedicate by a solemn or formal act; consecrate. The Amplified Bible reads like this, "Be diligent and unwearied and steadfast in your prayer (life)...". The Message says, "Pray diligently..."

My prayer life has to be intentional. I have to concentrate on it. While sending up short prayers during the day are necessary and good, I can't rely on that totally. I have to consecrate or dedicate myself to this act of communion with God. Like Mary in yesterday's post, I have to sit and listen. I can't just run in with a list of wants. I have to set apart a time and a place to have a conversation - talking AND listening. Preferably, more of the latter.

Stay alert. Alert is also defined as being "fully aware and attentive'. Once I dedicate myself to this pursuit of deeper prayer, I can't go about it haphazardly. I can't have the television on at the same time I'm talking to God. I can't be keeping one eye on the internet. I need to go into my closet and pray. (Matt 6:6) I must be fully aware and attentive, sitting at his feet, listening in order to hear what he has to speak into my life.

One word that caught my attention from the Amplified Bible was "unwearied". The thought of being weary in prayer resonated. Possibly because my prayers had become so much requesting and I seemed to receive so few answers, that I just got tired of trying. Beginning now, I am starting over. Getting back to basics, so to speak and learning all over again. My main goal is not to see tangible results, but to know him better. Then if  I remain in him and to have his words remain in me whatever I want will be done for me because it will be what he wants too. (John 15:7) 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mary, Mary, Never Contrary

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!' 'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" Luke 10: 38 - 42

No one has ever accused me of being a Martha. Don't get me wrong. My house is clean - sort of - and I can cook you a great Southern meal if you come over for dinner. I just hope you feel at home enough in my house to get up and refill your own sweet tea. (Glasses are in the top cabinet to the left of the stove)

I believe I have always had a little pride in not being a Martha. After all, Jesus did rebuke her. Tonight, though, as I read the story again, the Lord took me down a notch as I realized being worried and upset and busy don't necessarily have to do with my housekeeping skills. Sigh.

Now, I don't think there was a thing in the world WRONG with Martha wanting to be hospitable - especially to Jesus. I mean, really, if the God of the Universe in human form was having dinner at your house, wouldn't you want everything to be perfect?!?! I want Jesus to be welcome in my home, at my dinner table, with my friends...The problem was that Mary let all of her preparations come between her and her relationship with her Savior. Here he is. In her house. Telling her things that only God can know. And she is too busy in the kitchen to listen. I'm sensing a priority problem. 

I was interested to find a note in my Bible under the word 'preparations' indicating that the Greek word used here is diakonia. If this sounds familiar, its because its the word we get 'deacon' from. It means 'to serve, to attend to, to MINISTER to'. In one sense of the word, Martha was doing exactly what our deacons are called to do - serve and minister. Unfortunately, her service and her ministry was not what God wanted from her at that moment. Uh oh. You mean all my service at church is getting me nowhere, if I'm not spending time with him? Maybe, just maybe, I have some Martha tendencies after all? 

Here are a few insights I gained from the passage tonight:
1. Jesus wanted to spend time with Martha. He wasn't judging her for not listening to his teaching. He was disappointed because he loved her and he wanted to be with her, too. (John 11:5) In my own insecurity, sometimes I think it really doesn't matter if I pray or have my quiet time, because I'm not really all that important. He could be spending time with Billy Graham, or Tony Evans, or Beth Moore - why waste time on me?? I know in my head that God wants to spend time with me, too. It just has a hard time really making it into my heart sometimes. Tonight, he reminded me that it is important to him, that I take the time to be with him.
2. Martha placed the wrong priority on service. Service is good. We are called to minister to those around us. But not at the expense of our relationship with the Lord. Another note in my Bible says, "Our service to others should be in direct relationship to our time spent at the feet of Jesus." If I am not spending time with him, how do I know if my service is misplaced? How do I know if my priorities are right or wrong? Am I doing a good thing for the wrong reason? How can I minister to others if I am not allowing Jesus to minister to and teach me? 
3. Martha had a touch of ADD (she was distracted). Distraction is so easy these days. Work, TV, computers, smart phones, internet, activities, and on and on and on..... I get distracted too often from the moment I walk in the door after work to the last second before I lay my head on the pillow. So many things vying for my attention. It may not be the dishes in the sink calling my name, but I get distracted nonetheless.

What I need to take away from this:
  • He loves me and wants to spend time with me. He misses me when I don't. 
  • I need to get my priorities straight. I may need to step back from areas of service if they are interfering with my ability to spend time with Jesus.
  • I need to make sitting and listening part of my daily Bible study and quiet time routine. That's all Mary was doing..sitting and listening. What I gain from that time will not be taken from me.
  • I need to be intentional about getting rid of distractions. Plan a time and a place where I can sit at his feet without interruption.

And now, just for giggles.. Once upon a time, in another Bible study, I had to write an epitaph for Mary and Martha. So for your reading pleasure:

"Here lies Martha. Resting in peace for the very first time."

"Mary, Mary, never contrary, still sits at her Savior's feet.
She now can rejoice
For she hears His sweet voice
And from Martha - she can't hear a peep."