January 28, 2008

Earnest Prayer – When the Need is Desperate

What was happening in the early church? Was there freedom to talk about the crucified Jesus? Was there a church to assemble in and sing praises unto God? Were God’s ambassadors prominent and deployed? Was importance placed on prayer? Ah yes, prayer…was there ongoing prayer?

We learn in Acts chapter 12 that Peter was imprisoned for his faith in the Almighty God. What’s more, he proclaimed Him openly. He testified that he knew Jesus Christ. As he traveled, he brought with him good news to share with the people.
Peter was arrested because he was known as one who belonged to the church. (Acts 12:1) There was no other logical explanation or reasoning. King Herod had James put to death, and when Herod saw that the crowd was pleased with what he did, that encouraged him to seize Peter also.

Take heart! The church is on the rise!

We discover in Acts 12:5, that the church was earnestly praying for Peter while he was in prison. How did the fellow believers know all about the circumstances that preceded Peter’s imprisonment? They were there! They were the church! They knew what to do following the circumstances of their fellow believer knowing that he was in perhaps, grave danger. What else could they do but pray? They cared, they were concerned, and they prayed. They assembled together at John’s mother’s house simply to share together as a body of believers and earnestly pray.

Did God answer their earnest prayers? Let’s examine the occurrence at the jail. As Peter was sleeping, an angel appeared and woke him up. When the angel spoke the words, “Quick, get up!” the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. The angel then led Peter out of the prison and cautiously walked past two sets of guards, and out of the prison. They continued further to the Iron Gate that was miraculously opened up by the power of God. The angel continued with him until they walked down the street and reached the edge of the city limits and was safely guided out of the city.

Initially, when Peter was awakened, he thought he was seeing a vision. It wasn’t until after the angel left him that he realized the Lord had rescued him. There was no way that Herod’s people could gloat over Peter’s trial and potential death now. He was safe.
Peter went straight to the house where his fellow believers were praying. Of course, the servant girl heard him at the door but was so amazed and overjoyed that she couldn’t even open the door to let him in. Their earnest prayers were answered. There was victory and celebration in God’s camp that night! And all the while they believed in a great and awesome God!

What was the response and actions of Peter’s fellow believers during this great time of need? Was it to draw together for prayer? There was a commitment to share each other’s burdens. Did Peter know that his church family was off praying for him? There was no time factor. There wasn’t an appointed time set to assemble for a prayer meeting. Although it was a late prayer meeting this prayer was a ‘now’ prayer. When Peter arrived at the house of prayer they were still all awake and in prayer. The results were before their very eyes!!

God’s protection was upon Peter. He was safely led out of the surroundings of the prison. He was released from the inescapable clutch of king Herod to the King of all Kings whose power no one can even fully fathom. But faith and trust in the God who loves, cares and understands and orders the steps of His children, is the God who intervenes when His people gathers to pray. Isn’t that what the power of prayer can do? Isn’t that what praying is searching for? There is tranquility in earnestness with the Almighty!

Copyright Janice Keats

January 25, 2008

The Second Labour - Glynis

A while ago I wrote a poem for a course I took with our own Marcia. It was fun to write and summarizes a few of the 'loving challenges' I faced raising my sweet daughter. My blessings have been numerous with this young lady in my life. Although my daughter is far from her teenage years, I still have lots of memories. She works for me now and is the best personal assistant I could ask for. So this poem is dedicated to her- Amanda, who has graduated from daughter-hood to my friend - this one's for her.

The Second Labour

Forbearance is fickle; I know this first hand
It started one day with my daughter.
A perfect, sweet baby, then she sprouted legs
And started to test out the water.
I gritted my teeth and heaved a great sigh
Long suffering would make me be strong
When I look back it was really quite sweet
The way she said "No!" all day long.

I have to admit, there were times I was stretched
My elastic was wearing quite thin.
But God, in His wisdom, gave me the strength
To cope and not trifle with sin.
My daughter, she grew and made her mom proud
Compliance was her middle name.
Rarely the "No!" word dripped from her lips
In fact she seemed gentle and tame.

Then, without warning, the labour - it struck
My contractions were moments apart
The tall, strange intruder, they called my teenager
Said, "No!" and stabbed deep at my heart.
I chomp at the bit and squirm on the lead
Trying once more to refrain
From breathless impatience and red-faced remarks
As I face the battle again!

January 24, 2008

Enter the Impossible

The following piece was my response to a writing exercise that asked, "What would you say if someone asked you for counsel because you seemed to be a good mind reader?"

You ask for counsel. I’m reluctant. You ask that I understand you. I'm not sure. You say I can always read your mind. I shake my head.

Really? Do you really think I can do all that? I know, I sometimes finish your sentences, even predict what you will say next, but can I understand you? Can I read your mind? I don’t think so.

I scarcely know my own. It is the most inaccessible of places. When I try to explore its caverns and depths, the first things I stumble over are little ridges on the surface, like pebbles around the entrance to a cave, pebbles like the day’s events, people walking by, mundane plans for the evening and the next morning, or next week. Some of these tiny stones roll in like an intruder dropped them on my path—a brief recognition of the sound of cars on the highway or a cool breeze on the nape of my neck. I might read that, but who cares about these pebbles?

As I make my way down my own cavern, I find a layer of choices and emotions. These are more about me, less about pebbles, yet are still motivated by various outside forces. I feel things as I think about and my own happenings and events in the lives of others. Emotions from all sources lurk at this layer, those from outside stimuli and some from my own inside longings that I don’t always understand.

I try to get past that layer about choices and decisions but cannot. Today I read Joshua 24 where Joshua challenged God’s people to “choose this day” whom they would serve. Most of the time I choose to serve me, very unconsciously and without analysis. I’m hungry so I serve my tummy. I’m tired so I eat some chocolate. More pebbles.

Go deeper. I find a few memories of times that I serve God without thinking, like the evening I challenged a certain foulmouthed fan at a soccer game. It was most natural to get off my seat, stride to where he sat smugly in his lawn chair, and tell him that his language was not appropriate. “There are little girls right beside you, for goodness sake, for God’s sake. Move, or zipper it.” He did. Wow. God blesses obedience.

Then there are times when I am aware that I can serve me—or God, and I must choose. At church the teaching staffs were called up front to describe upcoming Family Bible school classes. I teach the ladies class. Then, one very young woman also offered a ladies class in beginner Greek. I had a choice to make. I could scoff her age, her topic, her capabilities, but that would be serving me. Or I could drop my foolish pride and accept that God uses whatever and whomever He wishes. That choice would serve God.

This was one of those thinking choices. I knew it and I knew what God wanted. I also knew that serving me rapidly loses its charm, particularly in contrast to the peace brought to my heart when I serve God.

Go deeper. What about emotions? I believe that they are part of my mind, that they don’t come from the heart, even though I often talk as if they do. Nevertheless, emotions certainly affect my heart, even my whole body. When my mind dwells on things fearful, my heart beats rapidly as my body becomes tense in preparation to fight or flee. When my mind is filled with outrage because someone has violated my rights, or the principles and people that I consider important, my body reacts the same way. Only my mind knows the difference between these two emotions. The heart and my body are its servants.

I conclude that my mind has great power to govern the rest of me, but do I actually know what it is doing? Do I really understand how it affects my actions or feelings? I’m more introspective than many people, yet have little grasp of the link between mind and emotions, mind and choices, mind and body.

Mind, I know, is not merely the arena for intellect. How smart I am or how much I know is housed in the mind, but how do I know how to retrieve it? How can I explain the thoughts that appear seemingly at random, without any effort or choice? Or the dreams that I have, some so funny that I wake myself laughing?

If I could go deeper than choices, emotions, or intelligent thought, what would I find? God says my spirit is in there somewhere. Is that in the mind? Or is it something else? I know it’s the part of me that connects with God, but that connection is often totally outside conscious volition. He makes it. He invades me, fills me with thoughts of Him, and those thoughts transcend choices and emotions—except one. When I connect with Him there is that peace that passes understanding. Yet even then, I’m not sure peace is an emotion or simply a knowing and a state of being.

My mind is also the place where I know guilt, or is it knowing? It is not the same as knowing two plus two equals four, or knowing the taste of cheese, or knowing that the sky looks blue. How is it that I know when I do wrong, yet it is not a taught knowing? Another mystery. Truly I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

My spirit, He says, is the place where I can believe those things I cannot see or know. This is profound. Can I comprehend this? I only know that (at the best of times) my mind hears what God is saying, but believing it never seems like a choice. When you know something is true, you just know it is true. There is no choice to be made, except perhaps to resist or deny it, which seems to me quite foolish.

I don’t know my own mind. I try to get in there, but find it inaccessible, not totally open even to me. So how could you expect me to get into your mind, to know your thoughts, to completely understand you? Don’t ask me to do it. This is folly.

The best we can do is share with one another, perhaps the few things we know about ourselves. In the process we might discover that we are of one mind, at least on some things. Our oneness might be centered on the complexity of where thoughts come from, or on something far more simple—such as the fact that we both like the taste of peanut butter.

© 2008, Elsie Montgomery

January 14, 2008

A Pillar

The house stood,
Boarded windows,
Peeled paint, spoke
Of weathered storms.
Strong winds,

Strong, sturdy.
Withheld against harsh,
Winds of adversity.
Embraced the new,
Watched it ebb away.
Loved ones snapped like
Apples plucked from a tree.
A man of hope,
Upheld by faith.
He did not forsake his God,
When times were tough.
His parents taught him well.
He drew close to his Maker.
A pillar.

January 11, 2008

A Balanced Diet for Christian Writers - Violet Nesdoly

It's the beginning of another new year and with many of us obsessing about our new diets (or lack of them) allow me to suggest a few menu items for the writer in each of us.

Bread and Wine

My Utmost for His Highest
by Oswald (and Binnie) Chambers

Next to the Bible, this little devotional by Oswald Chambers (and painstakingly compiled by his wife Binnie after his death) has done more in the last few years to shape my outlook as a Christian than any other book. Interestingly, I discovered it through fiction – Jan Karon’s Mitford books, where you’ll recall Pastor Tim often quotes from O.C.

The meditations characteristically take a view which runs counter to the popular wisdom of how to succeed – in life and as a writer. In that vein, however, they ring true to Kingdom of God principles (‘The great reversal" Eugene Peterson calls them in The Message). As a result this little book has rocked my world more than once as it has put me face to face with the fact that success by the world's standards (in whatever my chosen field of endeavor) holds no weight with God. Highly recommended for daily consumption.

(Note: I see there is an "Updated version in today’s language" available. I’d say nix on that! Chambers’ interesting use of language is one of the things that makes this book so appealing.)

Comfort Food

This is my current favorite book in the "hold my writer’s hand" category (Bird by Bird, Page After Page, Writing Down the Bones would be similar). Ms. Goldberg has spent a lot of time teaching writers. In this book she shares what she’s learned on her own writing journey as well as what she’s discovered from helping others. The result is an intuitive and sympathetic read.

Her thesis is that there are three facets of the writing process, beyond the physical act of putting words on paper or monitor, which must be in balance for the creative process to have free flow. These are percolation, revision and going public.

I found the first section on percolation especially encouraging. It put into words what I have often felt – that something was happening on my current writing project even when I wasn’t physically at my desk. In this section of eight chapters Ms. Goldberg brings out, among other things, the necessity for balance in the activities of living (vs. being permanently glued to one’s task chair), the value of input from books and other media, and the importance of being aware of one’s own creative processes. She suggests strategies to aid percolation and advises giving oneself permission to take the time needed to let ideas grow organically.

Editing is one of my favorite activities, so there weren’t as many aha moments for me in the six-chapter "Revision" section. But again in the final "Going Public" six chapters of the book, I felt understood as I rarely had before. Here Goldman discusses reasons for and against going public with writing. She uncovers the dangers of going public too soon and shows how unmet expectations may be the cause of feeling blocked. She exposes the folly of hoping to get emotional needs met by the responses (to our writing) of others and, conversely, the sometimes-ignored fact that writing kept only to oneself is also self-defeating.

Each chapter ends with a section called "Practice" which includes a variety of exercises, both writing and physical (the latter seemed yoga-ish to me and some were a bit off-the-wall).

All in all, this book helped me understand the inner machinations of my writing self. I’d recommend it to writers of any genre, with any amount of writing experience.

Creativity Candy

This hand-held gadget promises to activate the creative juices of writers, artists, actors and storytellers alike. It’s a sturdy cardboard circle thing with, on one side recipes (e.g. "Whine and Cheese": 1 Starter, 6 Words. Complain to your heart’s content about something) and on the other, three circles with slits that dial up to‘words,’ ‘starters,’ and ‘settings.’

Here are the instructions on the spinner:
1. Get a scrap of paper, watch and writing tool.
2. Dial up a recipe.
3. Turn the 3 wheels on the flip side to reveal the ingredients for your stories.
4. Set the timer for 10 minutes...create your story.

I’ve had mine for a while (....and haven’t actually used it – gulp). But I will, I will – as soon as I find a few minutes to play!

(This post was originally published on my blog November 12, 2005. My apologies if you've seen it before.)