When it is Too Hard to Pray

(This was a hard post to write. It might be a hard post for you to read. I hope it brings encouragement to someone who feels like God has forgotten.)

Praying. How long do you pray something before you quietly stop? At what point does the praying become too painful? It can be like ripping a scab off an old wound.  Is it right to keep demanding something from God after you have prayed earnestly for years?

I was reminded of Zacharias the other day. (See Luke 1:5-23) He and his wife were “righteous in God’s sight.” They were also well advanced in age, and childless. Zacharias was serving as a priest and it was his turn to go into the sanctuary and burn incense. Imagine his surprise when the angel Gabriel appears to him beside the altar. This was his message.

“Do not be afraid…your prayer has been heard.” “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”

Now I suspect that at one point Zacharias and Elizabeth had both prayed fervently for a son. I also suspect that they had quit praying quite a while ago. As the years passed and as they both grew older, they realized that God had chosen not to send the son they longed for. They had stopped hoping.

I think Zacharias’ response to the angel points this out. “How can I know this? … For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.” 

What a comfort to know that God hears our prayers. He hears the first prayer. He hears the last prayer. He hears the prayers we pray boldly and the ones we whisper. His answer is not dependent on our praying harder or longer.

Yes, we are to persevere in prayer, but it is not our perseverance that brings the result. God alone answers as He wills.

So pray. But when it gets too hard to pray, sometimes we must leave it with Him. To shift our gaze from the longed-for answer, to the God who heard our request the first time we asked.

In the Valley

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

Help me trust you in the valley

When the way is dark and drear.

Help my steps move ever onward

In your arms I need not fear.

Help me know that You are with me

when I feel so all alone.

When others may forsake me

You’ll not leave me here to roam.

Help me see You know the details

when others misconstrue.

You are ever, only for me

as I fix my eyes on You.

Help me see beyond this trouble

as I struggle with today.

Knowing you have planned my future

ever ordering my way.

Give me strength for each tomorrow

when today I’m overwhelmed.

Knowing strength comes as it’s needed

as I look to you for help.

Thank you, Father, for the valleys

as each one comes and goes.

For in them I find Your comfort

as You guide me safely home.

(By Karen Pickering)

Winter and Trouble

Winter –

Bitter cold,

Swirling snow,

Howling winds,

Barren landscape.

There is a harsh deadness to winter. Will there ever be life again?

Yet year after year we look for signs of Spring. We know from experience that it will come. God has promised and it has always come. So I pray and wait. Trusting a good God will bring Spring and new life out of this deadness. Struggling to thank Him in the winter, knowing it leads to Spring that will be more marvelous because of the winter that came before.

So too trouble comes with its cold, harsh, barrenness.

Sudden storms that are unpredictable.

Storms I have no control of.

Storms I want no part of.

Yet here they are swirling, howling about my life. They refuse to give an answer to my “why?”

So I pray and wait. Trusting God is with me especially in the trouble. Holding me close, teaching me to rely on Him. I haltingly thank Him for His care. Knowing someday there will be a “Spring” that will be even more beautiful because of the trouble that came before.

For Further Study:

Deuteronomy 31:8; Isaiah 43:2

Matthew 28:20; John 16:33

Matthew 6:25-34

Time is Short

Fall is in full color. Another year is winding down. What a year it was. January was uneventful until the end when I had a stroke. I spent some days in the ICU. The hospital wanted to keep me 2 more weeks, but I convinced them I needed to get home. I was able to do just that with the help of my family. After several weeks of therapy I am semi-normal. Some things will never be the same, but I am thankful to be here.

When you are faced with death you think of all the things you want to say to all the people you love.

This is such a letter.

My life is made up of so much more than what you see on the outside. Yes, I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher that enjoys hiking, making music, making art, going to auctions, cooking and a good cup of tea.

However, my life is held together by one thing. My relationship with God. Any good you see in me is because of Him. Any bad you see in me is because of my failure…yet He still loves me and calls me His own.

I have known Him for about 58 years. I first learned of him by listening to my parents as they told Bible stories using flannel graph figures and when my father read the Bible to us at the breakfast table and often after supper.

Then there was the music. Hymns and songs that still come back to me with word perfect clarity.

I am so glad that our Father in Heav’n Tells of His love in the book He has giv’n

Wonderful things in the Bible I see, This is the dearest that Jesus loves me.

I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me,

 I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me.

If I forget Him and wander away, Still He doth love me wherever I stray;

Back to His dear loving arms would I flee, when I remember that Jesus loves me.

There are more verses and many more songs. Many with deep theology, some with poor theology. But the point of them all is how much God loves us.

Why does He love us? The short answer is … because He made us.  We might not like our nose or our hair or any number of things we think of as defects, but He made us just so, to serve a purpose, to worship Him and bring glory to Him, but instead we have turned our back on Him. We try to make our own way. These efforts have gone horribly wrong.  The point is we need God. We are nothing without Him. Our best efforts belong on the garbage heap.

So why does He love us? Such wretched creatures surely aren’t worth His time. But you see God is a master artist and we are His masterpieces. We have gotten twisted and ruined, but if we come to Him; He can restore us to how we were meant to be.

Our sin should have meant the death of us, but instead Jesus came to take our place.

To die for us.

To rise for us.

To ascend to heaven to intercede for us.

This is no small thing. This should make us daily fall on our knees in worship and awe. We have been bought with a price. We can choose to continue in our ruined state or we can accept His gift of salvation and watch His transforming power.

There is nothing I can do to earn heaven. It is a simple act of repentance and accepting the free gift.

Don’t delay. None of us knows how long we will be here. Decide before the opportunity passes you by.

I love you, friend, but there is someone who loves you more. Get right with Him today.

“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”…for Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.”  Romans 10:9-11, 13

Seize the Day

Job 38:8-11 Or who enclosed the sea with doors, when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb. When I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, And I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther, And here shall your proud waves stop’?

This week I went to the beach with my husband, daughter, and two grandchildren.

I brought along my sunshade tent since I burn easily. I intended to sit in the shade and watch my grandchildren play, talk to my daughter and maybe take a nap…but the waves beckoned.  

Lake Michigan was warmer than expected. What is usually too frigid to stay in for more than a couple minutes felt like bath water.

We made our way out onto a sandbar and positioned ourselves in front of the crashing waves.

The waves picked us up and pushed us back to shore. We could barely stand up before another came and pushed us even farther. Again and again we made our way out only to be carried unceremoniously back to where we had begun.

We laughed and laughed at our ungraceful, awkward body surfing. It was like we were playing with God.

Like he had arranged the waves just for us.

Like he had twisted the wind so the waves came at us not from one direction but from two.

Like he had warmed the water enough that we stayed in not a couple minutes, but a couple hours.

We dragged ourselves out of the water and sat winded, but oh so happy.

Then we went back and did it again.

Some of you might say that isn’t very dignified for a 63 year old woman who has had a stroke to participate in such an activity. You would want me to be more careful.

My daughter, Anna’s answer to the day was…”Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day).

Enjoy today. Quit worrying about how it looks. Tomorrow might not come. Waves like that might not be that warm again. Whatever it is you are afraid to do…do it.

Enjoy each day God has given you. Do the things that bring you joy, not because you are the best at it, but simply for the joy. There will be plenty of serious days when you do serious things. They too should be done with all your heart, but for today look for the joy. Look at the wonderful world God has made and enjoy each minute.

Ps. 104:24 -26 – O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions. There is the sea, great and broad, in which are swarms without number, Animals both small and great. There the ships move along, And Leviathan, which you have formed to play in it.

My Father’s Arms

I can still remember sitting next to my dad and, without thought, resting my head on his shoulder. It was a safe and comfortable place to be. I was a shy child and there was nothing more comforting than to sit beside him and half hide my face behind his strong arm. Sometimes during a long sermon as my head would nod I would gratefully rest my head and drop off to sleep knowing he was there beside me.

Other times at a camp meeting or other large event I would stand beside him and grab his arm as he talked to people I didn’t know. I would not have dared be there by myself, but there was a quiet excitement to being with him. He would protect me. He would bring me safely home again.  

Yet again we would be walking through the park. As I got tired, my dad, grinning, would take my hand and we would walk/run the rest of the way. It was so much easier with his arm encouraging me on.

Those arms of his brought great comfort. It wasn’t what he said so much as the action of a simple hug or strong presence. I was heartbroken when he died just before I turned 30. I wasn’t as grown up as I let on, but because of the gaping hole left by his departure I learned to look to my heavenly Father more…to look for His strong arms to comfort and to give courage…knowing that whatever trouble I came across, He would be there to walk me through or possibly to take me home.

It reminds me of a song I learned when I was young. I can still hear my Father singing it with his strong Bass voice.

Are you leaning on these Everlasting Arms? If not, why not? Don’t delay. Decide before it is too late.

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms – (E.A. Hoffman/A.J. Showalter)

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms! What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the everlasting arms!

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms! Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day, Leaning on the everlasting arms! (Chorus)

What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms. (Chorus)

For further study:

Deuteronomy 33:26, 27

Luke 15:34

Never Alone

I have been blessed over the last weeks to have many people praying for me. I am grateful for those prayers and for those who helped in many other ways.

I also think back to the nights in the hospital and even the times I woke up in the middle of the night once I was home. Those were times of being reminded by God of his tender care of me. The verses he would bring to my mind or the fragment of a hymn.

“Jesus the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrow cease. ‘Tis music in the sinners ears. ‘Tis life and health and peace.”

Our world is in trouble right now. It is more than a physical sickness. It is a spiritual darkness that envelops many. We think especially of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, but there are many people hurting in many locations like Afghanistan and China. It seems hopeless, but we have a God who sees and hears. He still comforts those in trouble. He is at work even in the darkness. Our hope lies not in governments or leaders, but in the God who patiently waits for men to turn to Him. My prayer is that the current trouble causes such a turning.

My granddaughter, Arianna and I recorded this a couple of years ago. It was written by Emma and Stuart Townend. “I Am Here for You”.

For further study:

Deuteronomy 3:22 – “Do not fear them, for the LORD your God is the one fighting for you.”

Isaiah 31:1 – “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, And trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!”

Isaiah 41:10, 13b – “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” “…Do not fear, I will help you.”

Jeremiah 31:3 – “…I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.”

Matthew 28:20b – “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

John 16:33b – “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

I John 4:10 – “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Baabaa’s Story

This post is dedicated to my oldest granddaughter, Ashlee. Too quickly you have grown from the little girl in this story to a beautiful young lady.

I firmly believe God gives us children and grandchildren, not so we can teach them, but so they can teach us. Ashlee, you are still one of my favorite people. Love, Grandma.

(First published January 2, 2014)

I know a rabbit named Baabaa. She had downy white fur with soft pink on the inside of her ears. Her eyes were bright and sparkling. She had an orange scarf around her neck. There was a zipper on her underside that opened to a little pocket that carried a tiny baby bunny.

Baabaa came to live with a little girl with red hair when she was just a baby and became her constant companion. When the little girl is tired or afraid she pulls Baabaa close to her face and whispers in the soft pink ears.

The scarf was lost long ago. The eyes are dull and scratched. The zipper is broken, and the tiny baby bunny has been put away for safe keeping. She has been washed so many times that her permanent color is grey. Her coat is matted and worn. The ears which once were so lovely are her roughest part. She has been held and dragged and kissed and loved until she is misshapen, stained and unrecognizable as a rabbit.

There was one horrible episode where she was lost in a store and the little girl spent the night crying… and worrying about where she was… and would she ever see her again. She was retrieved the next morning by the girl’s mother and quickly kissed and hugged and cried over with much relief. From that point on the little girl was more careful with her. She held her tighter when they ventured out.

What is Baabaa worth? Sadly, she would not fetch even 25 cents at a garage sale. Most people would throw her away if they found her, but to one little girl, with red hair, Baabaa’s price is far above rubies. Baabaa would be a very foolish rabbit indeed if she was proud and bragged about how valuable she was. Her value lies only in being loved by a little girl named Ashlee. Without Ashlee her value is less than nothing. There is nothing good or valuable in her.

We are like Baabaa. We are worn and bedraggled and misshapen. We have no worth, but there is someone who loves us and in that is our value. We would be foolish people indeed to brag about how good and valuable we are. No, our only value is in being loved by a good and merciful God. A God who chooses to use broken and weak people to do amazing things.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” I Corinthians 1:26-31

When God is Unkind

(First published 12-17-13)

Even though Joseph was from a dysfunctional family he lived a life of integrity. Several times in scripture it mentions “the Lord was with him”. His life was anything but smooth sailing, but the Lord was with him.

The Lord was with him when he was thrown into a pit by his brothers.

The Lord was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery.

The Lord was with Him when He worked in Potiphar’s house.

The Lord was with him when he was falsely accused, by Potiphar’s wife.

The Lord was with him when he was in jail.

The Lord was with him when he interpreted dreams while in jail.

The Lord was with him when he was forgotten by men.

The Lord was with him when he worked for Pharaoh.

He did nothing to deserve trouble. Yet, God was kind to Joseph by being unkind.

God was kind to Joseph’s family by saving them from the famine, through Joseph.

God was kind to the Egyptians by saving them from starvation, through Joseph.

God was kind to Joseph by allowing him to be part of God’s plan to bring deliverance.

There is no mention of Joseph doubting God’s goodness. There is no hint of bitterness. After the death of his father Joseph reassures his brothers by telling them. “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

Sometimes trouble comes to my life or your life. I don’t know why most things happen, but…

I do know God is kind.

I do know that God is sovereign.

I do know that sometimes God is up to something I don’t understand.

I do know that God is with me.

That simply needs to be enough.

For Further Study:

Genesis 37:4, 18-20

Genesis 39:1-5, 19-23

Genesis 41:39-41

Genesis 50:15-20

Acts 7:9-14

Hebrews 11:22

Softball and Being Chosen

(Originally published 8-29-2013)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Softball was my least favorite sport.

It had a lot to do with how the game started…choosing sides.

I was little and skinny and usually chosen last. As I grew my coordination became worse which made me even more undesirable as a teammate. The only time I wasn’t chosen last was if there was someone smaller and skinnier than I was. (It didn’t happen often.)

On rare occasions one of the captains happened to be my Dad. I can still hear him say,

“I choose Karen!”

Not with reluctance, but with love and confidence. He chose me, not because of my great athletic ability, but because he loved me and wanted me on his team.

That’s how it is with God. I Thessalonians 1:4 says

“knowing brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.”

God has picked me! I’m weak and sinful and mess up often, but He loves me and wants me on His team. How can I help but love and serve such a God?

For further study:

I Corinthians 1:27-28; Colossians 3:12; I Peter 2:9