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A PRAYING LIFE: CONNECTING WITH GOD IN A DISTRACTING WORLD by Paul E. Miller

book commentary :: A PRAYING LIFE by Paul E. MillerThere are many books about prayer and many resources for learning to pray, yet A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller is the first I’ve read that made me feel fully adequate in my current prayer life. Not because I pray well, but because the one thing I do know is that prayer is one-on-one with a person – God Himself. I know that I can come to Him in any moment, whether desperate, anxious, totally wrecked, or totally cool with all of life. Prayer is simply a conversation with a holy God, made possible because Jesus sacrificed himself to redeem my own unholiness.

Yet what I’ve always struggled with is the “focus” aspect of prayer – the trying to pray but feeling distracted or, worse yet, too relaxed in the quiet. A Praying Life offers assurance that even this is acceptable to God.

Jesus taught that our faith should be like that of a child, and in A Praying Life, author Miller breaks this down even further by considering children themselves.

“If you ask a parent how long a one-year-old stays on task, he or she just smiles. It varies anywhere from three seconds to three minutes. It isn’t long, nor is it particularly organized.

How can that teach us to pray? Think for a minute. How do we structure our adult conversations? We don’t. Especially when talking with old friends, the conversation bounces from subject to subject. It has a fun, meandering, play-like quality. Why would our prayer time be any different? After all, God is a person.”

From releasing “adult” ideas of prayer to gaining new tools for praying scripture over my friends and family, A Praying Life has led me to a new way of interacting with our LORD. In each chapter, Miller teaches how to let go of what you think prayer should be in order to approach God as He wants us to. By the end of the book I was renewed and energized and coming to God with playfulness and a bold spirit. There’s no big mystery in praying to our Creator, and A Praying Life reminds us how to abide in Him through every situation in life.

MEMORABLE PASSAGES

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Feels Like Dinner With Good Friends

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. By spending time with our Father in prayer, we integrate our lives with his, with what he is doing in us. Our lives become more coherent. We feel calmer, more ordered, even in the midst of confusion and pressure. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Becomes Integrated

The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. — Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.

When it comes to prayer, we just need to get the words out. It’s okay if your mind wanders or your prayers get interrupted. Don’t be embarrassed by how needy your heart is and how much it needs to cry out for grace. Just start praying. The point of Christianity isn’t to learn a lot of truths so you don’t need God anymore. We don’t learn God in the abstract. We are drawn into his life.

When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has given you a new voice – His own. [The Apostle] Paul told us that the Holy Spirit puts the praying heart of Jesus in you. You’ll discover your heart meshing with God’s. — Chapter 4: Learn to Talk With Your Father

Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don’t have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something “productive.” So the act of praying means that you have to rely more on God. — Chapter 5: Spending Time With Your Father

We tell ourselves, “Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a stronger Christian, I’d pray more.” Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are. They don’t try to hide it from themselves. Weakness is the channel that allows them to access grace.

If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else—a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is important to us, we make room for it — Chapter 6: Learning to Be Helpless

You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.

This is the exact opposite of Eastern mysticism, which is a psycho-spiritual technique that disengages from relationship and escapes pain by dulling self. Eastern mystics are trying to empty their minds and become one with the non-personal “all.” But as Christians we realize we can’t cure ourselves, so we cry out to our Father, our primary relationship.

Poverty of spirit makes room for his Spirit. It creates a God-shaped hole in our hearts and offers us a new way to relate to others. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the valley of the shadow of death. We can’t ignore it. We can’t remain neutral with evil. We either give up and distance ourselves, or we learn to walk with the Shepherd. There is no middle ground.

Without the Good Shepherd, we are alone in a meaningless story. — Chapter 8: Bending Your Heart to Your Father

Majesty and humility are such an odd fit. This is one reason we struggle with prayer. We just don’t think God could be concerned with the puny details of our lives. We either believe he’s too big or that we’re not that important. No wonder Jesus told us to be like little children! Little children are not daunted by the size of their parents. They come, regardless. — Chapter 13: An Infinite-Personal God

Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.

Jesus stands at the edge of the story, unwilling to overwhelm [you] so that a richer, fuller [person] can emerge. He allows pain to continue for just a moment so Jesus the person can meet [you] the person. — Chapter 22: How God Places Himself in the Story

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Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

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Homelessness, Interrrupted

Yesterday I shared the story of saying goodbye to my apartment and how God provided a new place for me to live throughout the summer. Until the end of May, I believed I’d be living in a homeless shelter, so the gift of an acquaintance’s garage apartment was enormous! Every little thing was a blessing to me, but the greatest joy was its country setting. My neighbors were horses and chickens and lots of little goats. I highly recommend being lulled to sleep by the whinny of a spirited stallion. This past summer provided the peace that my body and my spirit needed the most.

paint horses

My health has fluctuated back and forth for 20 years, from mostly manageable ailments to fully debilitating disorders, and 3 years ago early menopause was added to the mix. This past June, my health took another turn for the worse when I began experiencing extreme menstrual bleeding accompanied by vertigo and blackouts. For 8 days straight I could only lie in bed. I could not work, and even restful activities like reading and watching TV were out of the question. I had no rest, no true sleep, and the fatigue stayed with me for weeks after. The heavy bleeding continued more than 50 days. My doctor finally confirmed what I suspected: the need for a hysterectomy. But for the moment my only option was medication.

With the end of summer quickly approaching and the likelihood of entering the homeless shelter, dozens of questions entered my mind about how to live in a communal setting while experiencing such a personal health issue. How would I manage symptoms like pervading vertigo and persistent bleeding while sharing a bedroom suite with 3 other women? As the days of summer dwindled, my nerves and fears threatened to overwhelm.

My prayers had been tender-hearted for many months, expressing my desire for rescue while also acknowledging that I may have much more desert to cross before comfort arrived again. Over and over I was reminded of God’s provision for His children. Bible reading led me to scriptures about His care for even the smallest of creatures, about His joy in giving good gifts, and about His constant presence as we walk through every valley in life (and any other time, as well). Songs on the radio described the peace that comes even in the midst of life’s worst moments, and Paul’s words reminded me that circumstances should never change my contentment in life. At every turn, I encountered Jesus, and by the end of August I was ready to enter the homeless shelter as a missionary for Christ. My heart was perfectly at ease, and my prayers changed from cries for help to joy at the prospect of a missional purpose. How like God to slowly strip away the “things” of my life so that I might be unencumbered as I move into a new phase. I became excited at the possibilities!

On the morning of my intake at the shelter, however, I was incapacitated with another bout of bleeding. I was sure I needed to visit the emergency room, but my doctor said there was no reason to worry. The new medication would require a few months to reach full effect. Unfortunately, the morning setback meant I lost my bed at the shelter, and I had nowhere else to go.

It was my parents who offered an immediate solution. In their capacity as full-time volunteers, my parents travel around Texas and work at Christian camps. This month I’ve joined them, blessed with a place of respite while my body recuperates. It’s just another pause in ever-changing circumstances, but I am so grateful for this option. These days are a chance to regroup and strengthen, and I praise God for carrying me every step of this journey.

Homelessness is still a definite possibility, but in the past few months God has taken the fear away. I’ve learned to see my future as wide-open. I’ve come to understand the freedom of having very little “stuff.” Though I still have much more than 2/3 of the world’s citizens, I’m less attached to it than I was six months ago. This is the way God works, and I’m excited (even if a bit nervous) about what He could possibly be up to in my life. What a story I’ll have to tell!

country sunset

Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

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So long. Farewell. {saying goodbye to my apartment}

apartment exterior

I had always been able to make rent on my apartment during these 3+ years of unemployment, but the time came this past March when I certain that I shouldn’t renew. During the two previous renewal periods I’d felt confident that I was to stay in the lease and trust God to provide each month’s expenses. And He did provide! But this year I knew it was time to move on.

At the time I was still partially employed as a website content manager and that monthly stipend covered 80% of my rent. But I sensed this job would soon be off the table, and with no new leads on other employment, my future income looked very bleak. Much prayer confirmed that it was time to find a new place to live – and this time I needed to find a way to live within my means, insignificant as they were. I submitted a move-out notice for May 31st.

As only God can, the next two months brought provision after provision. Within the first week, I received an unexpected phone call from a personnel agency that I’d thought was closed to me, and a couple weeks later I was working 30-hour weeks for a Christian organization. Though the salary did not cover cost of a new living space, I’ve seen God work with much less, so I proceeded with the packing process.
apartment packing

By the end of May I was shoulder-deep in boxes bound for storage, piles of paper to be recycled, and stacks of items for giving away. I spent every free moment purging 20 years of my life and 8 years of accumulated “stuff” in order to fill a 5’x10′ storage unit (the only one I could afford). As the days progressed I became less attached to things and more willing to toss them aside. While I hoped to be in a new place by end of summer, I packed up my life on the assumption that I was heading to a homeless shelter on June 1st.

God has a crazy great way of waiting till the last minute to reveal His plans to me, so it was nearly the end of May before I received a phone call that changed my “plans” once again. An acquaintance of my parents agreed to let me stay in a garage apartment used for visiting missionaries in need of a temporary home. And, just as God always works things out, I didn’t have to pay living expenses throughout the summer. It turned out to be the greatest of all blessings when my health issues became debilitating and my job could not be maintained. I shouldn’t be amazed – though I always am – how God makes provision for a future that I could never predict.

Saying goodbye to a home is never easy, and this 8-year residence was the longest I’d had since moving from my parents’ home. It was only the second time in my life I’d felt fully independent, fully adult. That feeling waned a lot as I became more emotionally dependent on my family and financially dependent on workforce assistance, but the majority of my time in this 700-square-foot flat was filled with great memories and easy circumstances.
living room move-out

On the day my family helped move the bulk of items to my storage unit, I stood beside my parents’ truck and thanked them for their continual help. As they drove away and I walked up the hill to my building, I felt months of suppressed emotion welling up in my throat. Tears formed at the corners of my eyes, and I could not have spoken to anyone. It was the first sense I’d had of finality. Despite all the prior weeks of packing and sorting, it was only in that instant when I felt the sadness of leaving. In that moment, my life was taking a turn down an unknown path.

I’m still walking blindly, but I fully trust God for direction. I trust that it will be revealed to me at the exact right time. It’s this faith that carries me through, but it’s a Great Hope that makes me keep searching. Moving from this place of comfort is just one more chapter in a long life of learning how God works, who He is, and who He created me to be.



Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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