There’s a Lot to Be Said for Bending

While reading Psalm 116 this morning, I was touched by the image of God bending down to listen to my heart.

“I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” Psalm 116:1-2 NLT

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth bending down to hear my heart is a beautiful and humbling image that reminds me of James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation.” In his poem, he describes God this way:

“Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;”

Both images personify the love parents have for their children. God’s love is so much greater, but a loving parent is as close as we come to His love in this world.

God doesn’t need to bend down to hear us, and He certainly didn’t need to kneel down in the mud to create us; but both poets knew the power of those images.

God bends and kneels just as we bend and kneel to listen to our children. We want them to feel our presence, and we want to be nearer to them. God knows our hearts better than we do and listens even when our voices are loud with anger or quietly drowning in sorrow. He also knows we will eventually be quiet and hear Him, so He waits for us to finish so He can fill our hearts with His love and desires for us.

When I finally do come to stillness, His loving presence is always waiting. Sometimes that happens in minutes, and sometimes it takes a decade. He waits patiently for me to be still long enough for Him to pick me up, hold me in His arms, and let me know how much I am loved. He loves those sweet moments as much as I do because there’s nothing better than having our children near.

That’s why as long as I have breath, I will continue to pray ❤️

The Power of “Our”

I’ve been practicing Lectio Devina lately and was taken aback this morning by the power of the word “our.” I decided to go through the Lord’s Prayer over the next few days and began with:

Our Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9 NASB

I tend to get ahead of myself, so I imagined before I went into prayer, that “Father” would most likely be the word God would bring to me as I prayed. For those unfamiliar with Lectio Divina, it’s a Benedictine practice that involves reading and rereading a short passage until one word becomes clear. It literally means divine, or sacred, reading.

Lectio Divina allows the living Word of God to speak to the heart as the person praying digests each word in the selected scripture. One word will come to the surface, and God will lead the person to a greater understanding of that one word.

It seemed obvious to me that “Father” would be the word because it was the most important word as far as I could tell. As always, God turned the obvious around and left my head and heart spinning in the process. I was delighted to find that “Our” was to be the focus of my prayer this morning.

I repeated the scripture over and over again, emphasizing the word “Our.” My body and spirit become still as I chewed upon the tiny word. The more I chewed, the more it became clear that “Our” opened an important door in Christ’s powerful prayer.

In uttering “Our” to the disciples, he included them in God’s kingdom. They became, and we become God’s children. I quickly smiled and repented not giving that simple plural possessive pronoun its due. The whole of the Good News Christ brought into the world is contained in that tiny, seemingly insignificant, word.

The power of “Our” became crystal clear after praying, and I had to laugh as God made it clear that this “Our” was more inclusive than possessive 😊   God gave the image of my smallest granddaughter, who will be two in a few weeks, taking ownership of all in her reach. Like her sisters before her and two-year-olds around the world, she is fascinated by another little possessive pronoun. Mine!! She has a little munchkin voice until she uses that word!

Her voice deepens, and her face becomes ready for battle when she sees something new and says, “Mine!” I smile when she says it, but I also tell her that something isn’t hers if it doesn’t belong to her. I have a little seal I bought in San Francisco that makes a loud noise when you squeeze it, and she likes it a lot. She held it tightly, pulled it to her side, and said, “Mine!” in her deepest I mean it voice.  I told her nicely that it belonged to me, but I would share it with her. She seemed okay with that as long as she could still hold on to it.

Too often, Christians take a two-year-old attitude when it comes to Christ. He shared as no one ever has, and His love was never clearer than in the first little word of the prayer He taught us all to pray.

Angels and Ancestors

When I wake in the wee hours of the morning, I imagine those who came before me and let their love and prayers surround me. The beauty of love and prayers is that they never go away. Once prayed, a prayer lives on forever. My ancestors prayed for me, and I pray for my son, his family, and my grandchildren’s children and grandchildren. I believe in the power of prayer because I have felt its presence in my own life.

I’ve asked God thousands of times during the past thirty-five years to give His angels watch care over my son. I pray the same for his family, and will continue to pray for them as long as I am here and when I am with God. Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, His Father, praying for us. That is a humbling thought. Love and prayer join beautifully in the heart of a mother, father, grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc..  God hears and holds each one of those prayers.

Hearts and lives are transformed by the prayers of angels and ancestors. I do not believe we become angels when we die. Angels are not humans who have passed into heaven; they are an entirely different entity, but I know they love and protect us because we are God’s children. I’m sure they are intrigued by humans. They celebrated Christ’s birth with abandon and showed themselves to the shepherds near Bethlehem because they could not contain their joy.

Angels and ancestors are not the same, but they do share a love for God and for us. I feel a connection with those who are still living, and I feel a connection to those who are with God. It brings me so much comfort to think about Benoni, Dice Ann, Flave, Anna, Jasper, Lilly Belle, mama, daddy, and all those who have paved my path with their prayers. I cannot imagine not having them in front of me on this journey, but if I didn’t have those dear ancestors, I would still have God, His Holy Spirit, and Jesus to pave the way for me. They are my ancestors thanks to Christ’s precious love, so I will never have to be alone.

When I woke at five this morning, I smiled and thanked the precious loved ones I knew and those I never met. I tell them I can’t wait to see them so we can watch the coming generations together. I plan to pray with all my heart now and in heaven. The call to pray is a powerful call. I used to think prayer wasn’t enough, but I’m learning it’s like putting money in the bank for those I love. The interest accumulates at a very high rate over the centuries, and the balance just keeps growing in my heart and in the hearts of those for whom I pray.

Power of Praying

Holy Singing!

My studies took me to Isaiah this week. One word describes the prophet’s words about God. Holy. Eugene Peterson says it best in The Invitation, “We find ourselves in on the operations of God himself, not talking about them or reading about them. Holiness is a furnace that transforms the men and women who enter it. Holy, Holy, Holy is not needlepoint. It is the banner of a revolution, the revolution.” He goes on to say, “He (God) uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives.”

Isaiah means “God saves,” and his poetry brings, according to Peterson, “Messages of Judgment (chapters 1-39), Messages of Comfort (chapters 40-55), and Messages of Hope (chapters 56-66). Holiness is the goal on this journey, and I’m finding that love leads to praying, and praying leads to singing. Singing is wonderful for my soul and brings me into God’s presence in a powerful way.The songs have been interesting this week, but I realize they were meant to make me to think about falling in love and singing a new song as a result of that love. To know God is to love Him, and my heart cannot do less than sing when I love and pray to Him.

I realized this week that I’ve lusted after God more than I’ve loved Him. Give me this. Help me do this. Fix this. Heal me. Heal others. Praying and loving are so much more than I understood before, and that is where the singing comes in. John describes the song I will sing when I come into God’s presence. I am learning I can sing it now if I allow love to give my heart wings.

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.’ And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’”Revelation 4:8-11 NASB

Those beautiful words have inspired many songs, and two of my favorites are “Holy Holy Holy” by Reginald Heber and “Holy Holy” by Nathan Fellingham. Both touch my heart in the same beautiful place, where God resides. Holy simply means mature, ripe, and ready to be picked. I used to think it meant perfect. Silly me! I’m learning that holy is much more than being who I think God wants me to be. Isaiah helped me come to the place of understanding John’s beautiful words. I can sing those favorite songs of mine with a new vigor knowing my heart is ripening a little more each time I sing out to the God I love more than life itself.

Holy Holy Holy

Reginald Heber

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy Holy

Written By: Nathan Fellingham

Holy, holy, 

Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Holy, holy,

Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Who was and is and is to come,

Who was and is and is to come.

Lift up His name with the sound of singing,

Lift up His name in all the earth.

Lift up Your voice and give Him glory

For He is worthy to be praised.

Jesus, Jesus,

Jesus is the Lord God Almighty.

Jesus, Jesus,

Jesus is the Lord God Almighty.

Who was and is and is to come,

Who was and is and is to come.

Lift up His name with the sound of singing,

Lift up His name in all the earth.

Lift up Your voice and give Him glory

For He is worthy to be praised.

I am closer to God and to those in my path as a result of the lessons this week, and I am lifting my heart in a new way and singing a new song because of it!

Like a Lark

Since the week’s lessons have been filled with music and musicals, it didn’t surprise me to have “The Sound of Music” in my path this morning. If this theme continues, folks might begin to think I’ve lost my mind. That’s usually what the world thinks when people go around singing Broadway songs, but those who know and love me me won’t be surprised at all.

The beautiful message this week is that praying is singing that comes from deep within my heart. David is a perfect example of just that. His psalms continue to touch hearts thousands of years after he wrote them. They are prayers that touch the very heart of God. Perfection isn’t what God desires; He simply wants me to be after His own heart and pray as though I am conversing with a dear friend who knows my heart or singing with abandon like a lark on the hillside.  This verse was part of the lessons God had for me this week. It is a beautiful description of prayer that blesses my heart and changes the way I pray.

From “The Sound of Music” 

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds
that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies
from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over
stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray

I was especially touched by the last line, “To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.” I can relate to birds, and if you’ve followed my story, you understand why. Mama loved birds, and I have always loved them too. God has used sparrows, parakeets, crows, peacocks, eagles, and little canaries to teach me important lessons, but I was surprised by the praying lark He placed in my path this morning.

This week, I sat with a dear friend and talked about God’s Word, prayed and communed with my prayer partners, spent time with friends I rarely see, talked with my sweet granddaughters, and sang with abandon. I learned that prayer is as natural as breathing, talking, and singing. I feel very like that lark who is learning to pray. She doesn’t struggle or worry about whether or not the notes come out correctly or whether others understand her song; she just opens her heart and sings with love. I’m learning to pray the same way.

Simply Enough

I am studying Luke 11 this week, and I am struck by the simplicity of verses 2-4

“Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. ‘Give us each day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.’” NASB

I love the simpler version of the Lord’s Prayer Luke offers and have been reminded this week that my prayer need not be complicated. A simple “Have mercy,” “Forgive me,” or “I love You” is more than enough. I talk far too much when conversing with friends, and I do the same with God. Learning to listen is the first step in being the simple witness of love God needs for me to be in this world.

Effective prayer is simply stopping and looking up in love or need to One Who hears my heart before I stop. He just wants me to stop so I can hear it. That usually means hearing what I don’t like to hear, but that’s a beautiful side effect of effective prayer.

The word for Father in this prayer is the familiar word for father similar to daddy. I’m sure it shocked some that Christ would use such a word when praying and encourage others to do the same. It is a word that touches His heart and mine and reminds me that I am His daughter, and I always will be. Uttering and understanding that word alone is enough to get an answer all my prayers.

Picture Credit bellissimanh
Picture Credit bellissimanh

Lilly’s Prayer:)

It was late when I finally got the girls settled into bed because they were still filled with all the excitement of mommy’s graduation. They were so adorable as they clapped enthusiastically for everything and looked around in awe. Lillyann clapped when mommy went across the stage and clapped again when she came down the steps to return to her seat. Mylah just clapped the whole time and grinned knowing she was part of something exciting:)

After I got Mylah to sleep, I turned my attention to getting Lillyann ready to go to sleep. Like me, she doesn’t shut down as easily as Mylah:) I was humbled and tickled at the same time as I listened to her pray. God knows that humor and humbling go together perfectly if I’m willing to see the lesson and laugh at myself. I bent my head and sat with my hands folded as Lillyann prayed. She lifted my head and told me to pray while she did. I smiled and began to thank God for loving us and then followed her model of thanking Him for everyone and everything I could think of:) Children’s prayers are filled with thanksgiving, and I needed to remember that.

I was deeply touched when Lillyann prayed, “Thank you for my daughters.” I heard mommy’s prayers in hers and joined in and thanked God for my granddaughters:) Praying together is important, and I was happy to be praying out loud with little Lillyann. I always suspected that she may lean toward pentecostal worship given her energy and need for movement. That’s okay because one of my favorite poems is “When Mahalia Sings.” It’s a wonderful reminder that worship is about an individual relationship with God  and can take many forms.

When Mahalia Sings by Quandra Prettyman.

 We used to gather in the high window of the holiness church and, tip-toe, look in and laugh at the dresses, too small on the ladies, and how wretched they all looked-an old garage for a church, for pews, old wooden chairs.
It seemed a lame excuse for a church. Not solemn or grand, with no real robed choir, but a loose jazz band, or so it sounded to our mocking ears.
So we responded to their hymns with jeers.

Sometimes those holiness people would dance, and this we knew sprang from deep ignorance of how to rightly worship God, who after all was pleased not by such foolish laughter but by the stiffly still hands in our church where we saw no one jump or shout or lurch or weep.
We laughed to hear those holiness rhythms making a church a song fest: we heard this music as the road to sin, down which they traveled toward that end.

I, since then, have heard the gospel singing of one who says I worship with clapping hands and my whole body, God, whom we must thank for all this richness raised from dust.
Seeing her high-thrown head reminded me of those holiness high-spirited, who like angels, like saints, worshiped as whole men with rhythm, with dance, with singing soul.
Since then, I’ve learned of my familiar God-He finds no worship alien or odd.

If you haven’t heard Mahalia sing, then you’ve missed something wonderful. Her love for God is evident, and she doesn’t contain that love but rather lets it flow beautifully from her whole body. I love Quandra Prettyman’s poem, and I love my pentecostal friends. I’m finding that worshiping with my whole body feeds my soul in a powerful way, so I’m raising my hands more and not worrying about what anyone else might think. Loving God and worshiping Him takes on many beautiful forms, and I know He loves each and every expression of love offered up to Him. Whether it’s a moment of silence in a hectic day or a high-spirited voice raised in praise, they all say the same thing. “I love you God!” The most important element of prayer and worship is love, and it can be whispered in solitude or shouted from the rooftop.

God reminded me that all worship blesses Him, and a dear friend reminded me that worship is a gift from God. The heart of God is at the heart of worship, and that’s all that matters. He wants to bless us, and He loves it when our love lifts prayers and praises to Him. Whatever its form, worship is about stopping for a moment, thanking God,  and letting Him know how very much I love Him. Lillyann started and ended her prayer with, “Thank you God,” and I believe that’s a great model to follow. Thank you God indeed!!


Breathing in God’s Presence

Lessons on the path to the praying life have been simple ones that left me changed in a powerful way. God stripped me down to my bare bones and took me to the very core of my heart in a way that left me empty and exposed as never before. In the bareness, I’ve found simplicity and felt like hitting my forehead with my open palm the way the folks on those vegetable juice commercials do:) I suppose I was thinking I would get to some higher level of praying, fall into lengthy, more complicated patterns of prayer, or master centering prayer or Lectio Divina, but the exact opposite occurred. Praying became second nature, and prayers became simple moments with God.

The point of all the lessons is that praying and living are one and the same. Praying is breathing God’s presence into my spirit as often as I breathe air into my lungs. I’ve found that praying is more necessary for living than breathing. Praying simple prayers constantly is walking in God’s kingdom as a barefoot child walking a familiar path. It is a sweet state of being that brings light in the darkness and cool water in the desert. Praying is holding God’s hand, riding on His shoulders, or resting in His arms as He shows me His world; it’s a wonderful way to travel. I don’t have to find the way or forge the path. His Son did that, and His Holy Spirit waits patiently for me to quit striving and worrying so I can delight in all God has to show me.

When prayer becomes an involuntary act of love as natural as breathing, the praying life begins. Like a newborn baby taking in her first breath, I was worn out and scared to death from the process of entering into a new way of praying. It becomes more relaxed and natural with each prayer, and now I can’t imagine praying any other way. It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about how or when to pray anymore, and if I feel a stuffy heart coming on, I know the Holy Spirit will quickly open my prayer way if I call on Him for help. He usually prescribes a good dose of scripture because there is nothing better for prayer than God’s Word taken under the care of the Great Physician:)

Good Grief

I didn’t expect to find myself kneeling and weeping with abandon on the altar this morning, but that’s just where I found myself. God is calling me to be part of worship in two places right now, and that’s not something I understand. I have learned not to question His ways, but sometimes He confounds me. Perhaps He knows I’ll get lost in the confounding and find Him. I love both places and know He is present and alive in both. It’s a rare blessing to find someone willing to speak the truth with love, and both Pastor John and Pastor Jeff do just that. 

The deaths this week, especially Dorothy’s, left me numb. I’ve heard five amazing messages this week, and the message this morning touched me more deeply than I was prepared to be touched. God knew it was time to weep for mama. I put off weeping four years ago. I cried and cried and cried, but I didn’t weep until today. Weeping with abandon in front of others isn’t something I would have chosen to do, and it’s far too personal and intimate to do in from of others, but God knows that weeping together is part of the grieving process. I felt a sense of release on that altar that can only come when I let go of everything and let God and others hear my heart and my hurt.

It isn’t easy to let others hear my heart, but weeping frees the spirit and opens the heart as nothing else. As I watched Pastor Jeff, a big strong man, tear up as he talked of his own journey, the way was wide open for me to do the same. Letting others see our vulnerability opens doors for ourselves and others. Jesus wept openly for Lazarus. He was a very strong man who loved his friend dearly. Perhaps He cried because He knew he was bringing his friend back into a world of pain. Perhaps he cried because he knew Lazarus had suffered and would suffer again at the hands of death. 

Christ gives me hope and is my strong center. That was the beautiful message this morning. God’s grief is good grief because He is my hope, my comfort, my rock, and my redeemer. He never moves or changes, and that is the best news of all. There will always be weeping and loss in this world, but I can walk in God’s kingdom and chose to grieve as He grieves knowing that I can grieve with Him and share my grief and His love with those in my path. I will weep until I am with God in heaven, and I learned today that weeping is a very powerful form of prayer. That changes my journey in a most beautiful way. That’s good grief, and I thank God for showing me the difference between the world’s way of grieving and His.

Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts and prayers cannot be separated, and that makes praying with something else on my mind impossible. That was the humbling lesson this morning. God gently told me that He couldn’t hear what I was praying because what I was thinking was too loud. That got my attention and reminded me of the lesson on praying attention! This was more that just paying attention; it was understanding that my thoughts are my prayers.

I can’t set aside thoughts and sit down to pray any more than I can set aside my mouth and sit down to eat. It can’t be done, and that was the clear message this morning. Proverbs 23:7 is a warning about appearances being deceiving, but it is also a powerful reminder that the thoughts within me are my truest self. “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” That doesn’t just apply to the ruler in Proverbs; it applies to me too. When I sit down with God, He hears my thoughts. If there is a conflict between what I’m praying and what my thoughts are saying, He goes with my thoughts.

Sobering lesson this morning for my wandering mind. I am still holding on to what I want in my head, so God cannot hear the cry of my heart over the din of my mind. As I said yesterday, the lessons in praying are proving to be my greatest challenge. Give up my thoughts too, Lord? Yes was His quiet, but powerful, answer. The heart and mind must be of the same accord before my prayers are what God desires. Christ did not think one thing and pray another. He didn’t hang on to His wants and pray God’s will. He emptied Himself completely, and that is what I must also do. Letting go of those pleasant thoughts of what I want are not easy to do, but it’s necessary if I am to give up space to God and pray as His sweet Son.

There is a peace that comes from clearing out stuff, and an even better feeling comes when I give up those thoughts that fill my head. Letting go of the notion that things could have been any different is the most freeing clearing I’ve found. Learning always comes at a cost, but the greater the cost the greater the blessing that comes from it. God has blessed me beyond belief as I’ve cleared my head so He and I can both hear my heart. It changes the way I think and pray and makes living the praying life much easier:)

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