Seeking a renewed prayerful heart

Prayer

During this past holiday season, my uncle shared a bit about his recent journey through an in-depth study of prayer.

He’s in his 70s and has been a believer for a long time but the experience of the past two years has renewed his joy and restored his heart in a way he said he has never felt.

I couldn’t help but be captivated by the emotion and authentic sense of closeness to our Lord he expressed.

The freshness of the Word as he reads Scripture, the new authors he has discovered and the books on the topic of prayer he has read have all given him a renewed excitement for communicating with God.

Assessing prayer life

As I processed what he shared, I was challenged to evaluate my own prayer life and asked myself questions such as:

•What does prayer look like in my life?

•Do I honestly and sincerely pray for every situation or person in which I say I will pray?

•Am I able to truly put concerns in the Lord’s hands first and then follow how He leads or do I try to help in my own way first and then pray as a last resort?

•Do I slow down to watch how God works in the situations going on around me?

•Am I in tune enough to notice what God is doing and how He uses us if we are available?

•Do I thank Him and praise Him even in the storms?

•What about the concept of praying without ceasing? Is that really possible? What does it look like?

Seriously, have you ever tried to pray without ceasing? It is hard work.

I experimented with the concept one day, praying for every face I saw, every name that popped in my email inbox, every voice I heard on the phone, everyone that came to mind.

And wow was I exhausted at the end of the day.

Granted, I didn’t pray long prayers but even spending the energy to pray for every single person and situation that passes through your day is an interesting exercise.

It definitely keeps you from fretting over unnecessary items, forces you to weed out frivolous thoughts and conversations and makes you aware of the many, many needs around you.

It also made me aware of just how many things I fail to pray for on any given day.

So as I’m making my goals for 2018 and hitting the ground running following the holidays, I’m working to keep focused, sincere prayer among my “must do” items each day — and remembering what Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 3, “only God gives the increase.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Called for a specific moment

“We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll.” When I read Nehemiah, Jefferson Starship’s 1985 Grammy Award-winning song “We Built This City” pops in my head.

I wonder how the lyrics might have been written in 445 B.C. during the 20th year of King Artaxerxes in the Persian city of Susa (capital city of Elam), specifically as they would have applied to the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah.

Brokenhearted over the broken walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah was granted leave from his position of managing, protecting and serving the royal family’s wine. His heart was full of compassion and desire to help rebuild the walls around the Israelites’ holy city.

Grief and prayer

Even though Nehemiah was born during the Babylonian captivity outside Jerusalem, he still loved his people and their home city. The lyrics might have gone something like: “We built this city, we built this city on grief and prayer.”

After much grief over the situation, Nehemiah turned to prayer as he prepared for his journey to Jerusalem, organized the work to be done and watched the walls come together. Prayer became the foundation for every move he made.

Nehemiah and Ezra

The Book of Nehemiah is thought to be a collection of his memoirs, which leads many to believe he is the author. However, some believe Ezra could be the author because the two books were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible.

Together they tell the story of the restoration of the returned remnant from exile in Babylon. Ezra deals with 2 of the 3 parts of the experience — returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. Nehemiah deals with the third part — rebuilding the city walls, something he accomplished in an astonishing 52 days.

Related to the Christology of the book, we see Jesus portrayed in the restoration act of what Nehemiah does with rebuilding the city walls.

Just as Nehemiah was the restorer of the walls for Jerusalem, Jesus is the restorer of communion with God for mankind. Nehemiah also was committed to the goal and stayed focused on it despite the ridicule and opposition that came, just like Jesus did during His earthly ministry and ultimate sacrifice to pay the sin debt owed by the human race.

Leadership skills

Nehemiah’s leadership and organizational skills are what draw me to this book. Here is a respected layman already demonstrating his character and work ethic by achieving a role not allowed for just anyone and taking it to the highest level by earning the trust and confidence of the king.

It would have been easier and much more comfortable for him to continue in his position and ignore the yearnings of his heart. After all he did not seem to have an extraordinary experience or explosive vision from the Lord. It reads more like a sense or call, so no one else would have known if he did not answer the call.

Heart and soul

But Nehemiah knew he was the one chosen to help the others and he could not get away from that quiet yet powerful tug. His resolve is inspiring. His energy and unselfishness can only happen because of his total dependence on God. His integrity, his humility, his love — they are models for how we all should live.

Nehemiah had a heart for the people and the project. He believed in it, cared for them and kept the faith. He knew God had called him to this moment and he gave the credit back to God rather than taking it for himself.

“He built this city, he built this city on heart and soul.”

—Jennifer Davis Rash

Holding the ropes

Katelyn stood before our church this past Sunday as we had a special time of prayeIMG_20150714_121448r for her before she leaves for a new season of life — life in another part of the world focused on missions.

In early June, Mallory also stood before our church as we prayed for her summer in Ecuador. A Sunday in late May, Bryce stood before his church in northwest Alabama as he prepared to leave for his summer missions work in Uganda.

And countless congregations across the state have held similar prayer moments recently as they sent out their young adults for a missions experience.

It is not only prayer for the summer missionary and the work he or she will do, but it also is prayer for his or her family. It is a prayer for peace as they release their child into the hands of missions and ministry teams in faraway places. Even a location across the state can seem faraway for parents sending their young adult child out for the first time.

A church “holding the ropes” for those serving in short-term and long-term missions experiences truly can make a difference for the missionary and his or her family.

No matter how strong your call to serve, there will be moments of loneliness and discouragement. And even the most excited of young adults are sometimes shocked to discover the difficulties and frustrations that come with adapting to a new culture, adjusting to the new area and feeling overwhelmed when they see the enormity of the work.

But knowing their church family is back home praying for them truly makes a difference when those weak moments surface.

Facetime and Skype had not been invented when I served a two-and-a-half-year term with the International Mission Board back in the mid-1990s, but a phone call here and there, an email on occasion and definitely cards in the mail became welcomed touches from home that kept my spirits lifted. I also remember the banner Pastor Sammy Taylor hung at Mountain View Baptist Church, Phil Campbell, that said “Mountain View holding the ropes for Jennifer.” I knew their prayers continued throughout my term and weren’t only spoken that Sunday I stood before the congregation to be sent out.

As special as the prayers prayed over you as you leave are, the ones that are consistently being  lifted during your missions service are the ones that sustain you.

Alabama Baptist students and young adults are serving in a variety of ways in Alabama, through ministries in many states across the nation and on missions fields around the world. They may not send back regular reports of their work while they are away, and it is easy to skip days and even weeks of praying for them without a consistent reminder.

Prayer cards, email notes and social media posts are good ways to keep the need in front of church members and others who would like to pray for those participating in summer missions. Posters, banners or other types of visuals in the church also are good reminders.

The Alabama Baptist regularly reports on students and young adults doing missions. When those stories appear, it is another good reminder to pray.

The prayers really do make a difference. I remember many times feeling a sense of strength, peace and focus I knew came from the prayers of those holding the ropes for me. I also remember the confidence and courage I felt with the love and support of family, friends and an amazing church. If someone inquired deeper about the experience, then my enthusiasm grew as I shared my story.

The privilege of praying for Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce provides an opportunity for me to give back by supporting the next generation of young adults following God’s call. Who will be your Katelyn, Mallory and Bryce?

Jennifer Davis Rash

Clearing the clutter starts with me

By Jennifer Davis Rash

It’s that time of year again — time to start fresh, set new goals, attempt to improve.

Clutter

Could this be the best year yet? Or at least could I be the best me yet?

I’m sure going to give it a shot, starting with answering these questions adapted from www.ampersandphotoblog.com:

•What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

•What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your relationships this year?

•In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

•What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

•For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

•What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

•What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

•What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

Working with these questions related to our relationship with God and others should help keep our focus properly aligned. It is certainly a different approach from setting goals such as adapting a proper eating plan, exercising more and kicking bad habits. Those are good goals to have and most of us should still try to achieve them, but think about the true joy we could experience and impact we might have by primarily focusing on our relationship with God and others. What if we really could take all of our spiritual disciplines to new levels?

What is the spiritual discipline I want to make the most progress in this year? Prayer.

What am I going to do about it? Practice it more, read about it more and seek God’s direction through His Word.

I’m a doer naturally. When I see a need, I take care of it — whether it’s my responsibility or not. I enjoy helping others and serving in areas that are sometimes neglected.

I’m also a problem-solver. If something needs taken care of, then I’m your gal. I rarely hesitate. I simply take care of it.

Could be annoying

I’m also full of ideas — to an annoying level sometimes. Inviting me to a brainstorming session will guarantee lots of ideas floating around, but it also may mean that I’ll just go ahead and solve the problem while we are sitting there, thus leaving no reason to review the list of ideas.

Sure this helps account for my need for efficiency and means I am a really hard worker, but as one of my mentors frequently reminds me: “strength overdone becomes weakness.”

Spending time in prayer and seeking God’s direction about the issue before me is where I need to improve. It’s too easy for me to make the decision quickly and go with it.

One particular area in front of me is how I can be a better church member and help our church leaders make some important decisions that lie ahead of us.

Sharing, serving

Some of the moves that need to be made are obvious, but others are not.

How can we as a church family grow and develop in the best way to help our members deepen their relationships with Christ as well as advance the gospel through praying, giving and going?

How can we serve and offer areas of service without overwhelming our members, whose lives are already packed with activities at all levels?

Is it possible to actually break the 80–20 rule that we so easily accept — 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work? And does that apply to giving and going as well? What about praying?

What if every person who walked in the front door of the church came to truly worship God and grow as an individual believer? What if the appearance on Sunday morning wasn’t because of a cultural obligation or to be seen or for purely social reasons?

What if we all emptied ourselves and allowed God to fill us? What if we listened to His guidance and followed in obedience? How amazing would our church services be, and how amazing would our service to the world outside the church be?

And while the go-getter in me wants to push the masses to embrace the same vision, I realize I must start with a time of prayer.

I have to clear the clutter from my own heart and mind and settle all of this within myself before I can ask others to consider a similar path.

‘I’ll be praying for you’

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

Are you committed to prayer or do you just make a contribution to prayer?

Jane Bellew, board chairwoman of The Alabama Baptist, asked that question during the state Baptist paper’s March board meeting. We were brainstorming potential future editorial topics for the paper and prayer surfaced as an idea to consider.

Could we enhance the spiritual lives of our readers with an emphasis on prayer and by providing resources for developing one’s prayer life?

We talked about the fact that fewer and fewer people understand how to pray corporately. We also discussed how the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” has become a general nicety-type statement rather than a sincere investment. It’s said more as a closing statement in a conversation after hearing about someone’s concerns or situation — kind of like how we start a conversation with “How are you?”

What do we really mean when we tell people we will be praying for them? Do we? And, if we do, is it merely a contribution toward the praying being done or are we truly committed to pray intensely and consistently? How often do we even remember to ask them about the concern or the situation the next time we see them?

My brother takes this matter seriously. He is careful not to flippantly tell others he is praying for them unless he truly means it. So when he calls or sends me a text saying he is praying for me on a certain day or about a difficult situation, I know without a doubt he is indeed praying for me.

One of my co-workers also is careful to say things like “I’m going to say a prayer for you right now” or “I just prayed for you about this.” She is a true prayer warrior, but she’s also careful not to overpromise.

A friend of mine at church has had some serious prayer needs during the past year. When she was sharing her situation with a few of us, she said she was seeking prayers from those who were committed at the level of “on your knees, until you are exhausted” kind of praying. She’s given that kind of prayer commitment to us at one time or another, and we had to decide if we were dedicated enough to return the favor.

I have been blessed to have a consistent stream of strong prayer warriors in my life including retired Southern Baptist missionaries Mickey and the late Charlotte Searcy. They were definitely a team you wanted praying for you in times of need.

Charlotte taught me about prayer journaling and organizing prayer lists. She encouraged praying together and praying out loud. She meditated on Scripture and truly knew how to listen to God. She took praying for others seriously.

But what if we are not dedicated at the level Charlotte was? How do we deepen our commitment, and how do we find the kind of time needed to pray at that level?

I think of the various stages of life and how so many of them are excessively busy with no time to spare. At the same time, we have to remember this is one of the spiritual disciplines and we must find a slot for it. Here we are back to balance again — proper sleep, consistent exercise, productive effort at work, time with family and friends and time with God in His Word and in prayer.

What about you? How has your prayer life been turned around? What resources would you recommend for developing one’s prayer life?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Comment here or email me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org.

Healing a hurting heart

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

How can it be that my heart hurts so much? I do care for all of them deeply, but the pain that exists is theirs, not mine. Still I hurt as if it were my own.

Call after call, email after email, personal story after personal story and all in just a few months time — so many close friends and family members feeling such intense levels of loss.

One dear friend buried her 21-year-old son just days after another friend buried her 14-year-old daughter. Another has been told that it’s only a matter of time for her 2-year-old. Yet another fears this could be her child’s fate also.

One lost her husband because he doesn’t want to be married any longer; another is losing his wife for the same reason. One lost his wife to Alzheimer’s; another is losing his to cancer.

Two families are losing their adult children — one a young man, the other a young woman — to lifestyles that mock their family’s Christian faith and value system. One mother lost her teenage son to stubbornness and rebellion. Another family is working through lost trust and forgiveness.

Three young women feel the loss of not yet finding their life mate.

A handful of others lost income and struggle to pay the bills; another lost a large amount in a business investment.

The situations are all different, but they all revolve around pain, loss and a broken heart.

I know I can really never know the extent of the pain because it is their pain, but I do know that I have hurt for them at such an intense level. In every case, I’ve wanted to rush to them and take the pain away, do anything I could to heal their heart. But I know I can’t do that. Only God can care for them at that level. It is their pain to bear, and they have to decide to set their face toward the wind and push through the hurt, even with the multitude of layers and setbacks, in order to find healing.

And while it has been an honor for me to be part of the prayer and emotional support for each of them, it also has taken me on a journey of personal pain as I moved from care and concern to grieving in a sort of vicarious way I’ve never really experienced before. I took on each situation as if it was my own, and in doing so, I’ve uncovered a few areas of personal pain I really didn’t want to face. Doing this has taken a lot out of me emotionally, but the result is proving to be positive growth in me spiritually.

My time with the Lord has been so much more enriched and intense as I’ve pleaded on their behalf as well as my own. My spirit has been truly broken as I’ve wept for them and gained an increased sensitivity to the hurts of others. The Book of Psalms has come to life for me like never before, and the words of songs have ministered to me like only a few other times in my life.

The pain is deep and real; the temptation is to hide and avoid it. I’m learning a lot about just how much one’s heart can hurt and how much one can draw closer to Jesus through the pain. I also know I’m not alone. So many of us mask deep hurts every day as we weave through the many activities of life.

Share your stories and how a psalm or a song ministered to you during your time of need by emailing me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org. I would love to share your stories as well as the specific Scriptures and words of songs in an upcoming Rashional Extras.