We are nearing the half-way point for the Summer Prayer Challenge. The novelty is over, and the real work begins. Will I keep doing this? Or will it be like a New Year’s Resolution that doesn’t stick? Another thing to throw in the pile of failed attempts? When I started, I wasn’t really sure why I called it a “Summer Prayer Challenge.” But now I know… Because it’s hard. It’s hard to have intentional conversation with a God we can’t see, even when we know He is there. It’s hard to hear sometimes, when there is so much else in our lives that can get in the way. The last few days there has been some of that “so much else” that has been getting in the way, and it has been hard to feel like my prayers are powerful and effective (James 5:16), or that God’s voice is saying which way to walk (Isaiah 30:21).

Yesterday morning was a bit of a breakthrough for me, which re-energized my pursuit of God, and prayer, as God reminded me of a few things that can get in the way of effective prayer, and a few things that can make it easier.

  1. First Things First
  2. Do the last thing He told you to do
  3. It’s hard to love God with all of you when all of you isn’t healthy

First Things First
Matthew 6:33 reminds us to Seek first the Kingdom of God – maybe you aren’t a pray and read the Bible first thing in the morning person. I don’t think that’s necessarily what this verse means. Many times what can get in between me and God’s Kingdom is whatever I am seeking before Him. Is there something you do everyday that you can make sure before you do that, you are seeking God? Maybe before you check Facebook each day, or before you check the news. Maybe sometime before dinner. Maybe sometime before you turn on your favorite show. What would happen if before you seek that thing, you seek God first. Come on – I know you can think of something that if you sought God first, you would suddenly find you have more time to seek Him than you realized. My current “Seek First” that I am trying to obey does happen to be a love God more than sleep kind of thing, but I’ve been loving my sleep, and blaming it on other things. I think one of the reasons it has been a hard week is because I didn’t seek God first in the particular way He asked me to right now, and some of my prayers were more cluttered than intentional and purposeful.

Do the last thing He told you to do
There is a common conversation in my house that goes something like this:

Kid: Mom, can I do this thing I really want to do?

Me: Did you do that other thing I asked you to do?

Kid: well, no… but… it’s too hard. I can’t. I don’t know how.

Me: Did you do the small part of it that I already gave you clear and concise  instructions for?

Kid: Well, no … but… I don’t want to. It’s not fun.

Me: If you don’t do the last thing I asked you to do, I am not going to give you the privilege/help/etc. you think you need. I wouldn’t have asked you to do it if I didn’t know that you could. Please obey me, then I will give you the next thing you need. Other privileges (screen time, dessert, sleepovers) are suspended until you take care of this.

Can any other parents relate? Yet I was surprised to discover that I have been having this same conversation with God for awhile now. I know some things God wants me to focus on in my life right now, but it seems too hard/I don’t know how/it’s not fun.

Sometimes we don’t feel like we are getting anywhere in our prayers because we are ignoring what we already know God has told us to do. This kind of obedience takes two distinct steps: Get other things out of the way, and Start Working!

Recently someone asked me to do something… it wasn’t a bad thing, it was actually a really good thing… but I realized that if I did that thing, I wouldn’t be able to follow through on the last thing that I know God told me to do. I was a little bit scared to say that, and I didn’t want to let anyone down, but I couldn’t ignore God. So it is good that I took that first step to make room in my life to complete the current assignment.

But not doing something that gets in the way isn’t the same as doing the thing we need to do. That seems so obvious, but — for example — just because we decide to fast and pray, and we in fact do not eat, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are truly fasting and praying in a spiritual sense. Not eating is not the same thing as fasting and praying. If God says “fast and pray” and you just don’t eat, you won’t get anywhere with God, and you may continue to feel like you aren’t hearing Him. There are things that God has told me to do, but I have been focused on other questions, and those questions about THEN are getting in the way of my obedience NOW. Obey what you know, and I believe God will tell you what is next when the time comes.

It’s hard to love God with all of you when all of you isn’t healthy
The way to inherit eternal life, as summarized in Luke 10:27, is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

When speaking of spiritual things I think the church can have a tendency to talk a lot about the heart and mind, but less about the strength/body, and the relational aspects of our spirituality. If you aren’t hearing God, maybe do a quick check – are your relationships good? Is there an area you are struggling with forgiveness? Are you taking care of your body? Exercise can have amazing mental/emotional/spiritual benefits as well as the physical! Are you properly hydrated? Eating too much sugar? All those things can affect the chemical processes in our brains, which can affect the way we think and pray. Are you filled with negative body image thoughts? There are several verses that speak about how intentionally God has made us, and how he loves us. But beyond that, we need to see ourselves not for what our bodies are. We need to take care of them but it is our hearts with which God is most concerned (1 Timothy 4:8, 1 Samuel 16:7). If we have bitterness in our hearts about how our bodies are, that can turn into bitterness against our Maker, which can hinder our prayers and ability to hear God.

Today’s theme for our Summer Prayer Challenge is Love Mercy from Micah 6:8. The Biblical concept of mercy as expressed in this verse has very much to do with kindness. How can we be kind to one another? How can we be kind to ourselves? Let’s think about that today as we pray for our own needs and for others’ needs, and our interactions with others. How can we be kind?