Prayer – Does It Work?

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

A friend once told me he’d prayed for God to take away the pain during a season of severe abuse and it didn’t work. The abuse – and the pain – continued.

Other people have prayed that a loved one would be healed from cancer or disease and still watched them die. Or for someone to be freed from addiction only to watch them waste away, enslaved to a substance.

So many people live out stories like this and conclude that prayer doesn’t work. And in strictly consumer terms, it doesn’t.

Prayer is not a thing like a soda machine or a streaming channel where you make your selection, enter your currency, and receive what you ordered. Prayer isn’t an order at all. A prayer can be a request, but in our native human selfishness, I think we forget that requests are not guaranteed.

I might request a raise from my boss and be denied; just as I might request God heal me from ME/CFS, but He might whisper instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

But let’s imagine for a moment prayer did work like a vending machine. What currency would we use to pay for our purchase? Hmm… there’s a tricky one. Even if prayer did operate on the same principle, are we really willing to count the cost and ante up? Food for thought.

However, prayer is so much more than making requests from the Almighty. In our topsy-turvy way, our fixation on requests highlight the glaring truth of who we truly believe is in charge. But we are wrong; God is not our waiter. In reality, we should be the ones taking orders, not Him.

Other than our tendency to look at the situation backwards and upside down, there’s another point I want to make. To say prayer doesn’t work is equivalent to saying conversation doesn’t work.

Prayer, like conversation, only works if both parties are talking about the same thing. One major breakdown in prayer seems to occur because God is talking to us about eternity and how He designed us to operate and we are talking about feelings we can’t even define from moment to moment.

I mean, honestly, we aren’t doing very good with definitions these days anyway. How can we expect to understand the still, small whispers of Truth when we’ve convoluted simple observations of basic biology into intricate fantasy worlds? But that’s a different discussion…

Prayer does work. But it works on my heart and on my sin, not on my terms.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 1

In an odd twist, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing to me. I know that sounds strange, but with the advent of long COVID, there has been more research into ME/CFS due to clinical similarities.

To geek out for a minute, because yes, I sometimes read medical journals, both share such clinical findings as “redox imbalance, systemic inflammation and neuroinflammation, an impaired ability to generate adenosine triphosphate, and a general hypometabolic state” and symptoms such as “profound fatigue, postexertional malaise, unrefreshing sleep, cognitive deficits, and orthostatic intolerance.1

Let me break that down for you in real talk.

I will describe a generic day with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS. Oh and migraine. Because why not, right?

Buckle up, kiddies. Here we go:

Profound Fatigue

You wake up, but only because you have to. You went to bed on time. Early even, but it doesn’t matter. You turn off the alarm, pick up your sense of duty, and wipe away a thin sheen of shame because you need so much sleep.

You also peel your clammy PJs off, remembering half-waking in the night, drenched in sweat. Again.

It wasn’t always like this. You can dimly recall waking up and feeling ready for the day. Or was that a dream?

No matter. Today you get up and do your thing – whatever it is – because you have to. And because people don’t understand. But it’s OK. You can’t blame them. You didn’t, either, until it was your life.

Postexertional Malaise

As you start your day, you think back to your gym rat days and the time when you did P-90X and were in the best shape of your life. You look at your once-chiseled arms as you dress and have a moment of missing the upper body strength.

Back then, you’d start every day with a workout. A brisk walk or run followed by some weight training. Fond memories of times when your body just moved well. Working out was fun; it was therapy.

Now you drag yourself to the yoga mat and hope you have the energy to do a 30-minute flow. But, you remind yourself, be thankful.

You are one of the lucky ones. Some people with ME/CFS can’t muster the energy for yoga. Or going to the grocery story. Or walking up stairs.

You have a part-time job and can even go for a walk a couple days a week. Sure, you have to constantly adjust because a little too much physical or mental effort will cause a crash. Then, there goes a weekend down the tubes. But at least you can still function reasonably well.

Still, as you go into the first downward dog and feel that odd sensation in your muscles that you used to associate with doing heavy reps to the point of muscle failure, you can’t help but miss the strength. It feels like your muscles are starving for something.

Because they are, you remind yourself. The ATP production is janky and there just isn’t fuel in the tank.

Hmmm. Three miles must have been too far to walk yesterday. You remember when 10 miles was nothing.

You say a prayer that the Lord will help you wake up enough to read your Bible without nodding off, and you know He will make it work out. If not this morning, later on today. He’s good like that.

Cognitive Deficits

You close your Bible and thank God for giving you the mental energy to actually read and understand today. Not every day is like this. You start your prayers and include one you forget most of the time:

Lord please help me to remember people’s names today. And words. And my lessons.

Your brain simply isn’t what it used to be. Of course, some of the cognitive issues started after the first go-round with meningitis and the resulting chronic headache condition. Thank you, Lord, that it’s no longer chronic.

Still, as a teacher, it can be awkward to get in front of your class and forget words. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Worse is when you can’t get a student’s name to come to the surface. You know this child; you’ve known her for years. The name is in there somewhere. But it seems buried.

It’s laughable to think you were once recognized for your memory. It was borderline eidetic. Being able to call up scenes, snippets, the pictures of numbers – that was handy. If you wrote it down, you could remember it because you could call up the image of your writing. You could recall scenes, like having a video playback inside your head.

Now when you reach for a memory, it may or may not be there. You wonder if this is what it feels like to lose a limb. By habit, you go to put weight on it or reach to pick up a glass but there’s nothing there. You say a prayer for people who’ve lost limbs.

Then you remember your Mammaw who had severe dementia and say another prayer that the Lord will take you home before your mind goes so your kids don’t have to go through what your Mama did.

To be continued…

1PNAS article

Debtors

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:12-13, ESV

I recently learned that the devotions I’ve written for my church should be shared differently. Oops! SO with integrity and my Lord in mind, click this link for more:

BBC Daily Devotional

Recent Absence and God’s Unexpected Provision

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:26

I know I haven’t been around much, and it’s looking like that trend may continue.

Oh, I’ll pop in here and there; maybe read a few posts, maybe write one on occasion. But I’ve kind of given up regular posting for a time.

For one, there is SO MUCH NOISE in the world right now. My little voice simply isn’t loud enough to be heard over it all. And to be honest, there are tons of people in my analog life who need time – and tons of people in the digital realm with a wider impact for the Lord than this mama.

If I can be candid…? I’ve been working a part-time job plus another small writing contract, and those added to ME/CFS and regular life (not to mention all the appointments which are now crammed into summer thanks to Covid-Madness) have left me with little extra time.

That extra time belongs to my family and analog friends. For now, at least. Who knows what may happen later? But as I type this, my girls are about to enter their junior and senior years of high school and my son is looking for his first apartment.

This is a season – one that is passing all too quickly. So I will be around the blogosphere; just not necessarily weekly.

But before I go, I need to boast a little about my God.

Last Monday while driving to a dentist appointment, I was praying to the Lord for provision. My current part-time job didn’t quite cover tuition and yet my attempts to work full time at this place brought about extra physical issues.

As I was asking the Lord to provide what I could not see coming – and mean literally as the words were coming out of my face – I hit something in the dentist’s parking lot and blew a tire.

I laughed and said out loud, “No matter. I trust my God to meet our needs anyway!”

The very next day, I went into a meeting with the school’s headmaster. To my great surprise, he had a part-time role there at the school for me.

In fact, it had been his impression that a former employee had already set things up with me (nope!), and among other roles, a schedule had already been made with my name as teacher for a 7th period photography class!

Anyway, it’s a long story how that came to be, but suffice to say working at the girls’ school is very much ideal. For one thing, it almost totally covers tuition. Also when sports practices and so on begin, I’ll already be on site.

I’ve subbed there, so I know and love the people, too. And I get a captive audience of young people to talk to about the Lord. It’s a win-win!

Now to figure out how to translate my experience as a semi-professional-but-mostly-amateur photographer into a classroom teaching experience…

I’d love it if you find a second to pray for me as I tackle this new adventure!

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah 25:1

TBT: #Blessed

Last Sunday, our pastor discussed the Beatitudes, pointing out the differences between our culture’s idea of blessing and the statements of blessing our Lord spoke on so many years ago.

A portion of the sermon reminded me of an Advent article I wrote a few years back. While chronologically speaking, this is not the Advent season, I firmly believe for the Christian, every day is Christmas and every day is Easter.

Besides, who knows when the second Advent will be? Thus but also for fun, this link will take you to some throwback thoughts on the word Blessed followed by a prayer similar to the one the Lord has compelled me to pray for my family since Sunday.

Gracious Redeemer, You are the Blessed One and the source of all blessing. Thank You for the privilege of sharing in Your blessings through the sacrifice of Your only Son!

Today I pray for Your Church as I’ve prayed for my family this week; that we will have the blessing of being poor in spirit so we may understand the depth of our need of You.

Teach our hearts to mourn for sin over the darkness in this world as well as to share in the grief of our brothers and sisters. Destroy our arrogance and pride and replace it with profound humility.

Change our desires and appetites so that we hunger and thirst after righteousness and not after worthless pursuits. Guide us in being merciful to others as You have been merciful to us.

Purify our hearts so our desires and the overflow of our hearts are pure before You as well as demonstrating Your purity to others. Show us how to be peacemakers and not contribute to the turmoil and chaos of the global conversation.

And when persecution comes to us, Lord, let us be found faithful to You. Teach us to rejoice over everything that drives us closer to You, even thought it may be exquisitely painful at the time. You are worthy, Lord, and we are Your humble servants, amen.

Walking With the Lord

How are you doing during this COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine?

I won’t lie – I’m enjoying it. We have all our teens here under one roof, I’m starting to finally catch up on a decades-long sleep deficit, and we are blessed with a large neighborhood to walk in full of all that is blooming and green.

But I know this isn’t easy for everyone. Not all of you are introverts or ambiverts content to have alone time. Not everyone enjoys their family. And many are stuck in apartments and flats far away from anything naturally green.

So let me know how you’re doing. Seriously.

As for me, I’m enjoying another chronological trip through the Word. I’ve been in 1 Samuel the last couple of days. Today what grabbed me was Samuel’s apparent integrity.

At the very beginning of his call to speak for the Lord, God called out to the boy in the quiet of the night and Samuel answered Him.

And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

1 Samuel 3:10

It’s interesting to note in ancient Hebrew, the word translated “hears” could also be translated “one who hears,” making his reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is one who hears.”

The root of this Hebrew word is the same root in the beginning of the Shema where it is translated, “Hear!”

In both the Shema command for Israel to hear and Samuel’s reply that he hears, the word does not merely refer to the physical action of soundwaves starting a chain vibration through the eardrum, malleus, incus, and stapes into the cochlea and then to the vestibulocochlear nerve.

In both cases, there is an implication of hearing with an attitude of readiness for action to what was heard. So when Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears,” he meant something like, “I hear and obey.”

It’s my prayer that if God calls out to us during the relative quiet of quarantine, we will answer Him with ears to hear as well.

Fast forward to the time Samuel appointed Saul king over Israel.

“Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.”

1 Samuel 12:3-4

In this passage, Samuel is virtually handing off the government of the people to the newly appointed king. By her own request Israel is making the transition from theocracy to monarchy, and Samuel’s role is changing, too. Until this point, he had spoken for God directly to the people. He will now speak for God mostly to the king.

Wouldn’t it be something to be able to stand before a nation and ask them Samuel’s question only to have them answer with a testament to your faithfulness?

Again, I pray that the Lord will make us faithful in our integrity to others as Samuel was in his integrity before the people of Israel in the days before the first king.

Now if only the people of God kept a familiarity with the Scriptures, they would’ve known the standard their new king should be held to (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Hmm… seems there may be a lesson and a prayer for us in there, too…

When God Speaks

Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

Numbers 17:11

One complaint I’ve heard among unbelievers – including yours truly in the years before God got through to my stubborn heart -is that prayer doesn’t “work.”

I confess I only have my own pre-Christ experience to draw from when I’m breaking that phrase apart. However, what I meant at the time (and what I think most unbelievers mean today) is that their prayers do not achieve the results they want.

Of course, if every prayer whispered or shouted resulted in a concrete and predictable outcome, prayer would merely be the coinage for the vending machine on high. But that’s a rant for another day, perhaps.

My prayer habits after nearly two decades of following Christ are markedly different then the demands I haughtily tossed at the Most High back in my arrogant youth. During those days, I evidently thought that I, the creation, had some inalienable right to order my Creator around. Talk about role reversal!

It can be argued that Moses made his share of bold and unseemly comments and requests. Especially for a person who had witnessed several mind-boggling displays of power, the guy had a bit of steel in him when it came to talking with the Lord of Hosts.

If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.

Numbers 11:15

Read Exodus and Numbers. There are plenty more. The intriguing thing is, despite Moses’s alarming audacity, God grants a great many of his petitions!

For me on this, my anybody’s-guessth time through the Bible, a refrain of sorts has captured my attention. It always begins with, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…” and often ends with a variation on, “…Moses did as the Lord commanded him.”

Another way of putting it is the book is full of God’s instruction and Moses’ obedience.

When I think about it in these terms, what I called “prayer” in my unbelieving days – those imperious attempts at imposing my will upon God’s – were highly ignorable. Not because they were bold or demanding, but because there wasn’t a single atom of obedience tied up in them.

Though his start may have been a trifle reluctant, Moses did spend a good portion of his life obeying God. Even then, his disobedience was addressed and dealt with by God. Sin is always serious even if it is seldom.

So when the Lord speaks to us, do we listen and obey? Or are we more apt to filter the words of God, discarding the uncomfortable bits and keeping only the attractive and cozy ones?

If as the Lord commanded does not often appear in the refrain of our lives, why would we expect any of our requests to be granted? And if we aren’t hearing from the Lord at all, we might want to check our obedience and cooperation levels as well.

He is, after all, God. King.Creator. Above all things, He is to be reverenced and obeyed.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

This prayer was originally published on my old blog in 2012. It’s no less true today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Father, Provider,Comforter, Deliverer, I have much to thank You for today. You have given me so many blessings, and for many such as food, shelter, clothing, and health I have expressed my gratitude numerous times. Yet there are blessings I have neglected to thank You for, in part because I have only recently recognized some elements of my life as blessings.

Betsie Ten Boom once thanked You for the fleas in the filthy concentration camp barracks she was imprisoned in, only later to discover that it was the fleas that enabled Your word to be spread and shared without interference from the guards. She was wiser than I and recognized that Your blessings do not always come dressed in a package the human mind appreciates. I have neglected to thank You for the “fleas” in my life, and today I intend to do so.

Lord, thank You for long, friendless spans of time in my pre-Christ life. Those periods of separation, though they chafed at the time, prepared me to walk the narrow path unaccompanied at times when I find that it is necessary to choose between walking alone or forsaking Your way. Thank You that feeling rejected then has galvanized me against being rejected now, for the zeal I now have for You and Your Word is not always readily embraced, and I again find myself categorized as a freak, albeit for better reasons this time around!

 Thank You that the same loneliness left me with a tremendous ache that was oh, so ready to be soothed by Your love. My heart had been seared by suppressed anger, by fear and rejection, and by my own bad choices, and it was calloused and numb. The shock of meeting You, the realness of You, pierced through and made a start from which You began Your patient work of pruning. It hurt, but I knew somehow even then that it was worth it–that You were worth it. Thank You for carefully debriding and then healing the fathomless wounds of my heart.

 Thank You for bringing me away from my hometown, for causing every friend I thought I had to desert me, for showing me the intense suffering of a young person dying of cancer, and for bringing me to the point of questioning every worldly philosophy my non-believing self had embraced. Without being confronted with death, I may have never found life. Without that sobering morbidity thrust into my directionless, bar-hopping lifestyle, I may have continued in my flippant attitude about death, life, and all things Christian. Thank You for forgiving me of the disrespectful manner towards You that was my custom at the time. Thank You, also, that in those small acts of betrayal and desertion, in the agonies I witnessed, and in the death of self I experienced, I am not alone. Jesus, too, experienced those things, and so I know my Redeemer can also empathize.

Thank You for the headaches and other pains of aging today that are a constant reminder that the outer man is wasting away but the inner man is being renewed day by day. Thank You, too, for the increasing slips of my mind and waning of physical strength that remind me that Your power is perfected in weakness. In the relentless decay of self, I find that apart from You I truly can do nothing.

Thank You for allowing me to walk through times of darkness and despair in my Christian life, for in those bleak spells I have learned that You truly are with me wherever I go even through the valley of the shadow of death. Thank You, also, that in those times of desolation You have stripped away all the consolations of religious feeling, all my pride, and even the sense of gratification that comes of service to others or to You. You have utterly flayed my soul until all of me was raw and naked, weeping before You.

Painful as that those times were, in them I have found that at last I know where my allegiance honestly lies and it is no longer to myself. With my spirit laid bare and bereft even of the longing for You and the satisfaction of knowing You, You gave me the blessing at last of utter assurance in this: I cannot be separated from You. When You asked me, “Would you, also, like to leave Me?”  I can now echo Peter in saying, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life!”

 Thank You for the times of financial crisis my husband and I have been through. I thank You specifically for the time when we had a single car, single income, both a baby and a mother-in-law to support, a tiny duplex where we all lived, no television, basic phone service, no Internet, and no cell phones. Though it did not make sense, we chose to forsake my income and obey Your voice that I should stay home with our infant and our future children. We learned so much: That You truly provide for our needs always, that there is a very distinct difference in what we need and what we want, that You bless obedience even when obedience does not make human sense.

We are in a different stage of life now, Lord, and we have so much that I sometimes take it for granted. I find I am now feeling that my needs have increased  when in fact it is only my wants that have increased. Lord, forgive me for presuming upon Your provision and thank You for the lessons You taught me in poverty. Should You choose to remove all the material gifts You have lavished on us, I will still follow You. You are my God. You are my Portion. You are my Reward.

And I am Yours, wholly Yours. Thank You for all the blessings of pain, irritation, and desolation that have brought me to this conclusion. Thank You for the fleas–every last one of them

Attitude

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2, HCSB

I know I’ve said it before, but we really are a funny people.

It’s ironic that my country celebrates a national holiday devoted to giving thanks for what we have, then finishes the day off with a commercial holiday in which many retail businesses sell enough merchandise to shift their financial ledgers from red to black (from loss to profit).

“Black Friday” doesn’t even start on Friday anymore, people! Let that one sink in a moment. Evidently, in this nation of wealth and abundance, we can’t even spend nine or ten daylight hours in a state of gratitude and contentment.

I could pick on the fact that, if you were to create a linear graph, you’d probably find the increasing secularization of the good old USA has follows an inverse linear curve to the gradual encroachment of retail sales into Thanksgiving day. I suppose if you’re offering gratitude to an ambiguous nothingness as opposed to acknowledging God as the Provider to Whom we give thanks, there’s really less of a reason to devote an entire day… but I won’t pick on this one.

Instead, I’ll pick on me.

In a recent reading of Colossians in my late Pappaw’s NASB Bible, chapter 4 verse 2 in the NASB grabbed me by the throat. It hasn’t really let go since.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…

Colossians 4:2, NASB

Devote yourselves to prayer… with an attitude of thanksgiving.

As a sinner saved by the unmerited grace of the God I once denounced and by the sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah whom I formerly laughed off as a fable, my whole being really should resonate with thanksgiving. I’ve been forgiven for denying the One who loved me enough to take the death sentence I deserve for my crimes!

For this alone, I ought to have gratitude to God in all circumstances. All of them. Period. After all, no matter what happens to me in the 80-odd years (give or take) I spend on this atmosphere-cushioned ball of rock and water, I’ve been granted an eternal life that I don’t deserve during which I will forever revel in the joy of the King of kings!

But beyond that unimaginable gift, my King has also granted me food, shelter, healthy kids, a loving husband… and the list goes on and on and on. Recently, He has answered a few prayers in overwhelming ways – some of them quickly!!

Yet I’ve realized that when I pray, what I focus on is not the hundreds of granted requests, but the handful I still wait to see. My heart is weighed down by the list of lost people or bleak situations who show no glimmers of interest in the Lord, no hopeful sparks of light.

I focus, not on the abundance God has lavished on me, but on the concerns I’ve yet to see resolved.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of walking with a long-time close friend, and she mentioned how we are both seeing God at work now in both people and situations we fervently prayed together over for years.

During some of the darkest times we shared with each other, lifting up our families in prayer, we never even saw so much as the twitch of God’s finger. His hands remained – almost maddeningly – still.

But now… Yesterday, we both walked and gave thanks together for the many ways we’ve recently seen Him moving in those very same situations.

And so, my friends, not only this week, but from here on out, I am resolved to keep track of the ways I see my God at work, both in the large and the small ways.

I am resolved (Lord help me to keep this commitment!!) to devote myself to prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving, looking forward with gratitude to see how my King is mighty to redeem even the most damaged, hardened, and imprisoned heart.

Will you join me?