Hope for the Mustard Seed Prayers

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Recently we traveled back to where this blog started, where my prayer was most alive. It was good to be there. The downside was the mustard was blooming, it was beautiful but I think it was really wreaking havoc with my sinuses. I wasn’t acclimated to it as I used to be. As my Grandmother used to say in German, “With beauty comes suffering” or some such thing. The mustard plants made me think of what Jesus said about having faith as small as a mustard seed:

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there, ‘ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” Matt. 17:20

I don’t know about you but that verse has always made me feel a little doomed. Who actually expects that they could move a mountain with a prayer? What did Jesus mean? I can imagine the disciples being a little exasperated. And yet when He sent them out two by two, they came back exhilarated…….the lame walked, demons cast out, hearings occurred right and left.

And later, when the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost they found that their prayers did indeed produced great miracles. In fact, people had only to grab their garments and they were healed!

What does this mean for us today? Does this mean that we shouldn’t even pray? No indeed. It means that we should always pray for God to help our unbelief and increase our faith. Prayer transforms us from the inside out. There are so many people I know whose prayers began with: “If you are there Lord…….” Or just plain, “Help me, Lord!”

It means that God blesses even little scraps of faith. He takes those tiny seeds of hope and prayer that we send up and answers us with an assurance that He does indeed hear. In fact, He loves it when we acknowledge Him, however insignificant our words may seem. He can take that mustard seed and change a heart, change a life, and yes, move mountains in our lives. I have seen way too many lives changed (including my own) to not believe in prayer, however small and weak my faith might be.

Keep on praying. I can assure you that you will be blessed by God opening up a canyon in your heart. I love these quotes from Frederick Buechner:

According to Jesus, by far the most important thing about praying is to keep at it. The images He uses to explain this are all rather comic, as though he thought it was rather comic to have to explain it at all. He says God is like a friend you go to borrow bread from at midnight. The friend tells you in effect to drop dead, but you go on knocking anyway until finally he gives you what you want so he can go back to bed again.

Believe Somebody is listening. Believe in miracles. That’s what Jesus told the father who asked him to heal his epileptic son. Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.” And the father spoke for all of us when he said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-29)

May your day be peaceful. Talk to God today, even if you are not sure He’s there or even listening. You will be blessed!

A Balm for the Scorched Soul

Watch out for this peeled door light! Here without rain, without shame my noonday dusk made spots upon the walk: Tall drops pelted the concrete with their jewelry belonging to the old world’s bones.

Owning this view, in the air of a hermit’s weather, I count the fragmentary in drops as blue as coal until I plumb the shadows full of thunder. My prayers supervise the atmosphere till storms call the hounds home. Thomas Merton, “In the Rain and the Sun”

Last evening as I alternated between nodding off and cradling my phone by the blue glow of “Blue Bloods” on TV, I was following the weather. Waiting for when to turn the air off and open everything up. I held it up, “Look, it says possible thunderstorms!” She then went to her satellite weather ap which did indeed show a small front moving through.

I have been missing all the Arizona monsoon action, all the crashing and brilliant skies that are part of every July-August there. The one thing I most looked forward to over the course of the relentless heat of summer. It was always like a balm for the scorched soul.

And we were treated last night to a light sprinkling of blessed rain. I ran outside to feel the sweet little cold needles pelt my skin. And later, after this side of the world had fallen asleep, the flash of lightning and rolling thunder came. It was nothing like the ferocity and power of Arizona storms which can leave you breathless with simultaneous wonder and fear, but God’s hand was in it just the same.

It was a gift. And here and now I am listening to the earth’s noises in the quiet of morning which is really the same as a prayer without actually speaking the words. A nearby train is rolling through and the dust is settled. I breathe thanks for the doxology of coffee…….”Praise God from whom all blessings flow……..”

Whatever happens in my life I have been given the best possible gift, or I guess I have been able to receive it. We’ve all been given the gift, everyone who has ever taken a Heavenly breath, for all breath does come from Heaven. It’s just that knowledge alone, that God is here and I never remember not knowing that. For some reason in my mind and heart it was settled long ago.

And yes, there have been many times I have wondered at His methods, even as I felt the world as I knew it drop out from under me. Even when I was too tired to believe or pray. And it’s not about simply putting on a happy face, it’s about knowing that something was carved into your soul that was there even before you were born.  And that someone is a God who loves much more than we can possible imagine. Enough to sacrifice Himself to win us back.

This is the whole crux of the Christian Faith:

It’s simply this: I was born, and that alone proves I was meant to be here. And if I was meant to be here, that proves the bigger thing, that God wanted me here. I am here because He was here first. “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

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A highway in the desert

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“The spiritual function of fierce terrain…is to bring us to the end of ourselves, to the abandonment of language and the relinquishment of ego. A vast expanse of jagged stone, desert sand, and towering thunderheads has a way of challenging all the mental constructs in which we are tempted to take comfort and pride, thinking we have captured the divine. The things that ignore us save us in the end.”~ Belden Lane in THE SOLACE OF FIERCE LANDSCAPES (buy it on Amazon,  it’s worth it)

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3

“Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word “glory” a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one.” C.S. Lewis

A person can have a profound encounter with God anywhere, because God is everywhere; but my time in the desert taught me something I don’t think I could have learned any other way. There is a quiet majesty and power there that speaks in the silence. There is a holiness in the sudden rain that comes after the merciless scorching heat of the summer. That rain feels like grace.

The extremity of its character alone simutaneously punishes and rewards like the pillar of smoke and fire God showed up in while guiding the Israelites through the desert. It says, like God, “Keep your eyes on me and you will get through this and reach the promised land. Take your eyes off the trail to your own destruction.”

The desert is just that drastic and following the rules leads to life or death too. In order to live in the desert, you have to obey some very simple rules:

Never find yourself without water.

Know which snakes and insects are poisonous and which ones are harmless.

If you get stuck in the middle of a dust storm while driving turn your headlights off.

The vastness and stark beauty of it makes one feel very small and vulnerable in a way similar to being in the ocean where you can’t see land. Or caught in a thunderstorm in the Sierras.  You wonder how any species could survive, plant or animal, yet somehow they do. The quail lead their microscopic chicks straight out of the nest and along the rocky ground. Sometimes they start with ten and end up with three.

And in the summer it feels like a place of death. You run from one building to the next, you look for the one shady spot someone just pulled out of. And summer seems to last forever. And then one morning in November you are rewarded with coolness and it’s like being born again.

I believe there is a reason for the wandering in the desert and not anywhere else. The harsh landscape makes it easier to know you depend solely on Him, and that goes for physical wandering and also the other kind; when you’re wandering in the “dry spells and deserts of life.”

But there is always hope in every kind of desert you may find yourself in. That in time, He will bring you to the other side. The cactus wil bloom again, life will appear where there was none. You will feel the cool breeze once again and know that you have made it through.

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Winds of Change

 

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I laid in bed listening to the hum of traffic out on the road. I wanted to revel in the sameness of things the way they’ve been for the last 11 or so years for a few more minutes. To let the cocoon of the wonderful comfortable rhythm of days the way they’ve been wrap itself around me for a little while longer. I am aware that today is different. Today my retirement may be accelerated. The plan might be kicked up a notch. 

Today is the day the email will drop, the one everyone at work has been waiting for. The one that will announce the changes and what if anything it means for us here in Arizona. What it might mean for me. My work phone is on the charge by my bed. Usually I shut it off all weekend. But this morning, I wanted to see the message first thing.

Funny isn’t it? How you can pray and pray for something and then when it comes down to maybe actually having it answered, you dig your heels in at the last and a little part of you is afraid that it may not happen and also afraid that it will.

This is what I saw when I finally opened it:

“You are eligible to participate in the Enhanced Retirement Program (ERP).” And then a long explanation about restructuring and reinvesting and growth in the company.

All I kept thinking is how amazing God is. Just when I decided to retire at the end of year, this comes in. And it’s a good offer. The timing leaves me in awe once again of how He works. All the times I prayed, and cried and wondered if I was doing the right thing by staying. And later, in prayer in my little shed, this is what my devotional said:

“Circumstances are in flux, and the world seems to be whirling around you. The only way to keep your balance is to fix your eyes on Me, the One who never changes. If you gaze too long at your circumstances, you will become dizzy and confused. Look to Me, refreshing yourself in My Presence, and your steps will be steady and sure.” Jesus Calling April 25

All day long the wind howled between the houses as if to mimic change blowing in. It picked up strength mid-morning and never wavered. My allergies kicked up something fierce. Elaine came home looking like she’d been in a war. She said driving the bus was like wrestling all day. And then she had to wipe boogers off the seat and window…….

At the end of the day, the wind finally stopped. I sat out for a little while on the little deck, wondering about the road ahead. I can relate to Mary in Scripture when it says, she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I spend a lot of time pondering things in my heart. I guess that’s what writers do before the words make it to the page.

Today, I stand amazed at all He’s done and continues to do in our lives. I may not know all the ins and outs of how it’s all gonna play out, but I know He’s with us. And I know He’ll never leave us. And He won’t leave you either, my friend.

He’s in it for the long haul.

 

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Philippians 4:12

This morning in prayer, all I heard were the cars zooming behind the house. I ached for quiet. The kind of quiet you find in the country, or sitting at the base of a massive redwood with only the wind sighing above. Everything in my brain is noisy lately.

It is cooling off some, and for that I am very grateful. Here in the desert, it’s hard to remember what season you’re in. I forget what month it is. It feels more like Spring than Fall. The garland I strung, along with the fall wreath of yellow and orange and brown remind me that it’s near. That other places have crisp mornings with the promise of frost, crunching leaves underfoot.

I couldn’t hear the birds over the cars either.

I longed for the company of a quail or mourning dove. But then I sensed God saying……”Do you come out here to seek me or hear the birds?” I thought, “Well, to sit in Your presence of course, but the birds are a nice touch.” Maybe He allows distractions, and maybe He even sent the birds away for the morning.

And maybe I needed to be reminded that life, and prayer, are sometimes as dry as toast.

And it’s perfectly okay.

Because wherever He is, there is beauty and truth, and everything we need.

He is all I need, more than enough like the song says. Somehow, by His grace through the years I have learned this secret. To open my eyes to the extrordinary in the ordinary and lift out the miracle that resides within. All around us are people who need a miracle, and we can give it to them.

Because He has called us “friends.

And the thunder rolled……

“Thus says the Lord……Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

As I read the words of Jeremiah this morning, reflecting on the wrath of God poured out on a disobediant people, I felt a chill crawl up my spine. Jeremiah had the unpleasant task to be the mouthpiece of God to Israel.

“My soul, my soul! I am in anguish! Oh, my heart! My heart is pounding within me. Because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war!”

Just then, as if ordered by God himself to put a little emphasis on His own words there was a terrible clap of thunder and I almost jumped out of my seat! The anger of God is something I never want to experience personally.

It is easy to feel a little “puffed up” as the Apostle Paul put it, when we read about all those rebellious things the Israelites did, how they strayed from God to worship foreign idols, statues that could neither talk walk or breathe.

How could they, we wonder? After God himself came down in a visual form…..a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day? After all He had done for them? And all along, there is a loving Father who wants His people back. He longs to love and cherish them and yet they push Him away.

There was another loud clap and in my mind I remembered all those times when I myself have push God away, thinking I knew better….thinking the plan I had for myself was better than the one He had for me. And yet, His mercy and love have pulled me back, over and over again. Not once has He ever refused me.

Oh how He loves us…….His mercy calls us back, new every morning.

As with all things of nature, it thrilled me no end, that clear and powerful reminder. It reminded me this morning who is in control, and it is most definitely not me.

To watch a lightning storm is to watch the finger of God touching down on the earth, and to hear His voice in the thunder a gift, a marvelous thing.

His power, my weakness.

What He said

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37

I had a rough start this morning. I was feeling under the weather, but I successfully made it out the door. I have one more day and then I get on a plane to go see friends and family and one little girl who has been very excited that I am coming. Every day for a month she has been asking…..”Lori come today?”  It is somewhat bittersweet……it is hard to leave when I know how difficult it will be without me here. But I have a very gracious friend, and she knows how important it is for me to be there too.

I gave out a relieved sigh as I got in the car and buckled in. I slid the CD into the player, the one I picked somewhat blindly since I didn’t have my glasses on. As the notes filled the car I felt the beauty played by Phil Keaggy flow through my soul. Healing…..incredible, the power that music has to heal.

As I watched the light fill the sky and turn it every different shade of violet, I remembered what I heard last night from Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists,  as interviewed by Barbara Walters.

“Heaven doesn’t exist, hell doesn’t exist. We weren’t alive before we were born and we’re not going to exist after we die. I’m not happy about the fact that that’s the end of life, but I can accept that and make my life more fulfilling now, because this is the only chance I have,” she tells Walters.

No, I thought, I don’t accept it, absolutely not.  And everything I see and hear and feel around me tells me otherwise. This is the tip of the iceberg, my friends. And to me, this morning, Heaven felt more real than anything else. And besides, as Elaine said, if we are wrong, then we have simply lived a good life, but if she is wrong……I said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be a very long eternity.”

I have seen people die with Christ, and I have seen people die without Him, and I can tell you this for sure. The ones with Christ have the lights of Heaven reflected in their eyes when they go, I have seen it myself.

I believe the proof I see all around me, and I take Jesus at His word that Heaven is very real indeed. When people ask me what I believe about Heaven, all I need to do is point to Jesus and say…”What He said.”

This is only the beginning.
“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:7-9