Prayer – Is It a Struggle?

         Searching His Word
               Seeking His Heart

For our new year, let’s talk about prayer.

 In those things-we-need-to-do lists or New Years resolution lists or how-to-be-a-better-Christian lists, we often couple “prayer” along with “studying your Bible” and rightly so.

We know in our heads that prayer is essential to healthy spiritual life. But… like so many things in our lives, we may fail to prayer effectively, regularly, or even pray at all.

Jesus said,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

In other words, our job in His kingdom work is to be fruit bearers, but we can’t bear healthy fruit (or any fruit at all) without abiding or remaining in Him—attached to the vine, our source of strength. While there are many components to drawing our strength from Him, one of the major elements is prayer.

I’m talking to the choir, aren’t I? You know all this. I know all this. It’s just the consistent doing and deepening, isn’t it? Our branch can get so dry, so withered, barely clinging to the vine.

Perhaps your prayer life is fervent and vitally active. Your  branch is plump and full, brimming with fruit because of the way you are communicating with the Father, trusting the Son, and guided by the Spirit. Praise God. Your ministry is alive and active.

Many are coming to know the Savior because of your influence. Your branch is bearing the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness kind of fruit he wants you to have. We rejoice with you.

But some of us struggle either with not having powerful, productive prayer, or remaining faithful in prayer, or praying at all. Life crowds in, activities take priority, or our prayers feel more like duty than joy.

Our “need to” or “want to” has fizzled out.

Quite honestly, when life is moving along at a relatively good pace, we often become slack in fervent prayer. We can become more engaged when we hit those set backs and realize all over again our great need for the Father to intervene.

But unless we are “prayed up” as some like to say, we may be at a loss as to how to get reconnected to the vine. When catastrophe comes, we end up with “if You will do this, I’ll do that” kind of prayers.

When we have tasted deep, agonizing prayer: jubilant, victorious kind of prayer, or cleansing, life-changing, tear-producing kind of praying, we know what we’re missing and want it again.

So this month, let’s explore where we are, where we can be, and how to get there. I would greatly appreciate your input, testimonies, and questions as we focus on growing our branches through prayer.

   ~ Joyce ~   

 

 

 

Fruit of the Spirit – GENTLENESS

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Have you ever agreed with someone in theory, but their attitude about the subject was so negative you had trouble listening to them? That may be because they lacked our next fruit—gentleness.

Once again we see that what’s on the inside directly affects what comes out in public view. If we are bold, but brazen, it will come forth. If we are overtly opinionated, it will spew out with venomous fervor.

A few years ago, I participated in an inter-denominational Bible study. I loved the format, the in-depth study, and the variety of insights from group discussions. In all those years, only one time did I have strong disagreement with the teaching.

Well do I remember the day when I walked up the driveway to go into a fellow group member’s house for a fellowship time. I had been thinking and stewing over this teaching and how I had firm disagreement with it. I had both barrels ready to plead my case.

But as I walked up the driveway, I thought about my attitude. During that period of time, I had been focusing, one at a time, on the fruit of the Spirit. In that moment, the Lord hit me with the spirit of gentleness. “It’s time, Joyce. Your next focus needs to be on ‘gentleness.’ “

I still felt strongly about the teaching, but I gave my explanations in an entirely different manner than I would have one minute earlier. Attitude is everything.

I’m having a most difficult time with politics right now. Aren’t we all? Our senses have been dulled by this unmannerly game we play. It seems that, in the arena of politics, name calling, inaccurate, slanderous statements flow freely from all parties and we’re expected to accept it because, after all, it’s just politics. Who do you believe? How do you know the true facts?

Or think of social issues. We may have strong opinions, but sometimes those with whom we agree are so obnoxious in their defense of their opinion, we just want to hide or call out, “I’m not like him!”

Bringing it closer to home, think of those moments when you were so irritated with someone at work or with one of your children or your spouse, that you let out your frustration in an explosive manner. It probably accomplished very little. A gentle word—firm, but gentle, usually accomplishes much more.

From the Proverbs:

A gentle answer turns away wrath. Proverbs 15:1

From Paul to the Philippians:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. Philippians 4:5

From Paul to Timothy—his actions should be:

…not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome… I Timothy 3:3

Other Scriptures couple gentleness with humility, patience, and respect.

I think of Jesus being gentle with those he healed and those who had a hard time understanding. He remained gentle, even after a long day of teaching and healing.

May we move into our days with a gentle spirit, humble, respectful, firm, but gentle. I would love to hear how that fruit comes to life for you this week.

~ Joyce ~

Fruit of the Spirit – FAITHFULNESS

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

I remember a question that was often asked in a Bible Study in which I participated. The question—”What attribute of God do you see in these verses?” Frequently, my answer was “faithfulness.” 

Just as faithfulness characterizes God, He wants to develop that same character trait in us. The Greek word for faithfulness means steadfastness, trustworthiness, and stable. Those three words translate easily in our minds when we think of the faithfulness of a spouse. We desire a stable, trustworthy relationship.

We may also think  of faithfulness in a friend—steady and true. Likewise, the Spirit provides the fruit of faithfulness to us as believers.

Jesus told a parable to teach the principle of faithfulness. He talked of a man who gave talents of money to his servants. One received five, another two, and the other, one. The first two servants were faithful in using and developing what was given to them, but the third man did not develop his gift. He was not faithful, but fearful and unproductive. To the other two, Jesus said:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Matthew 25:21

As we carefully and obediently follow His will in the small things, He can entrust us with expanded responsibilities that lead to even greater fulfillment.

Exciting as that can be, we may find ourselves at times becoming weary in well doing. Paul reminds us:

Let us not be weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Yet, faithfulness is more than just keeping on keeping on. It is, as with the other fruit of the Spirit, a matter of abiding in the vine, dwelling in Him, drawing strength from Him. 

What does “abiding faithfully” look like in your life? How do you stay fresh for the task week by week? What practical plans do you set in motion that prompt you to be faithful to Him?

You know how I have been talking so much off and on about staying connected to the vine? I looked at the Bible Study lesson I am scheduled to teach this Sunday. Would you believe? It is from John 15—“I am the vine, you are the branches.” I’m sure Jesus smiled at me just as I smiled when I saw the topic.

Finally, be encouraged with a look at John’s vision of Christ in Revelation.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. Revelation 19:11

Great is Thy faithfulness! 

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Amazing! I finished this blog Wednesday afternoon. When I went to choir tonight, our Minister of Music started the rehearsal by singing “Great is Thy faithfulness.” (smile)

~ Joyce ~

Fruit of the Spirit – GOODNESS

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Goodness. Well, this fruit thing just keeps getting harder, doesn’t it?

Paul didn’t say, “Doing good.” We could probably handle that one on our own, but, as I’ve said before, even those who don’t know the Lord are capable of doing good things or good works, good deeds or having good purpose or even a good reputation.  In fact, they often bank on their good deeds for salvation. No, Paul didn’t say “good works,” he said “goodness.”

Goodness is inside. It causes us to do good things, even sacrificial things, but it stems from the goodness within. Most of the time when the Bible speaks of goodness, it is identified with God’s goodness. Of course we are striving to be more and more like our creator. Goodness, then, hints of  rightness, righteousness, holiness.

Whoa! Goodness is one thing, but to suggest we be holy does not set well in today’s society.

One year I was in a Bible Study about Moses. At one point, the leader suggested we begin praying for holiness. Immediately, negative slogans shot up in front of me—

Miss Goody Two-Shoes

Being put on a pedestal

Holier than Thou

Obviously, we do not want to flaunt an attitude of holiness. The goal is a heart of humility.

How then do we pray for, even yearn for, a heart of goodness, a spirit of holiness? It almost smacks of blasphemy, as if we are trying to be God. Yet Jesus tells us:

Be perfect, [righteous, whole, completed] as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt. 5:48

God said to the Israelites, “I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; be holy, as I am holy.” Lev. 11:45

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. Psalm 31:19

Have I taken refuge in Him? Do I fear and revere Him? If so, He has stored up His great goodness for me. Read the verse again. Tall order.

We are not told to be God, but to grow in goodness and holiness like God, to receive the goodness He has stored up for us.

One more thought—when God created the heavens and the earth, He looked at his day’s work and said it was “good.” It was pleasing to Him. 

As we have His Spirit of goodness growing within us, we will certainly show deeds of kindness to others. At the same time, we will relate with a pleasing spirit—not just to casual acquaintances, but to our young active children, our testy teenagers, our spouses, a cantankerous sibling, or to an aging parent.

Will you begin to pray for a heart of goodness (even holiness) and a spirit that pleases Him in these next few weeks? Imagine the powerful year He will give you.

~ Joyce ~

 

Fruit of the Spirit – KINDNESS

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

A friendly, elderly man plopped himself beside me today while we waited at Bob Evans for a table. He quickly engaged me in conversation and introduced himself as “Bob.” We covered the gamut in our 10-minute wait which included comments about having joy. “Not just happiness and having a good time,” Bob emphasized, “but joy inside.”

“A heart attitude,” I added. He agreed. I couldn’t resist mentioning that joy is a fruit of the Spirit (since that’s been on my mind these days.) Before they called my name for a table, Bob handed me a ballpoint pen that read, “Have a nice day. Bob.” He keeps several on hand to pass out to people. What a nice thing to do.

The heart attitude we think of today is kindness. In essence, the Holy Spirit wants to give us desires and attitudes that mimic God Himself.

When Joseph was unfairly cast in prison by Potiphar, “the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21) 

Some of King David’s last words, as he looked back over his life, were thankfulness for God’s unfailing kindness to his anointed.” (2 Samuel 22:51) 

Paul often paired kindness with understanding, patience, and compassion2 Corinthians 6:6 and Colossians 3:12

We have thought at length about the heart attitude, but to “bear fruit” means we have to put it into action at some point. A kind heart will produce kind acts.

Have you ever listened to a family member answering the phone and noticed the different voices they have as they respond to the person on the other end of the line? Right away you can tell if it is a telemarketer, a loved one, or a bothersome friend. Our very voice inflection points out our bent toward kindness or lack thereof. 

Speaking of the phone—several years ago, I was knee-deep in child rearing a 5 year-old daughter and a terrible two’s son. I had a particularly bad morning with them and was mad as a hornet—then the phone rang. Before I thought, I said, “Hello” in the most disgusted voice you can imagine (yes, sweet Joyce) and the lovely elderly lady from church responded in a frightened voice. “Joyce?” I instantly melted and realized how awful I had sounded. I made no excuse—there wasn’t one. It was a mighty lesson. My kindness fruit (and patience, for that matter) was dearly lacking.

Can we show equal kindness to the lady whose body odor nearly knocks us down, as we do to the church staff member we adore? Can we speak a word of encouragement to the mother who is struggling to keep her children at bay in the doctor’s office rather than frowning piously? If we have the gift of leadership but are asked to do a menial job in a ministry, can we kindly help with what’s needed? If we have the gift of helping, can we show kindness to the bossy leader?

Let’s pray that we can heed Paul’s words:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy, and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 2:12

~ Joyce ~

 

Fruit of the Spirit – PATIENCE

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

A couple of years ago, my 10 year-old grandson excitedly asked, “Are you ready for your first lesson on your new iPad, Nana?” We sat side by side on the sofa. Instead of  grabbing it away from me to do it himself, he went step by step, ever so patiently, telling me how to navigate my way around—a great example of patience!

Patience. We may sigh and say, “If I’m going to have patience, it will indeed have to be a gift.” Patience smacks of waiting and enduring—even when you’re fighting frustration inside. Well there’s the problem—what’s on the inside? Gifts of the Spirit are more about what we are than what we do. If what we are isn’t in check, then what we do loses its strength.

I’m knee-deep in the process of starting my next book. At this point, the Lord has given me only a partial skeleton of the plot—real partial, like three vertebrae, two fingers and a toe bone. However, because of previous experience, I realize He gives just what I need for the time being. As I faithfully follow those leads, He will reveal more. Patience. In that sense, patience means waiting.

The Lord impressed a favorite verse on me during a very trying time in my life.

Those who hope in the Lord (or as KJV says, “wait upon the Lord”) will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

I grew to understand that in order to walk, run, or best yet, soar on wings like the eagles, I had to wait, but not just sit idly by; I had to wait on the Lord. In His time, He miraculously turned things around. 

We’re not talking about waiting with a grumbling and complaining attitude or stomping a foot at God with a fist in the air. What’s in the heart will eventually show itself. No, the Scripture means to patiently wait, wait with expectation and hope, anticipating that He will grow us along the way so we can walk, then run, and eventually soar!

We have those times when we are so exasperated with loads of activity or expectations, or relationships with bosses, co-workers, friends or family members, etc. It is all we can do to endure. It isn’t so much a matter of waiting, but enduring. Both carry heavy negative connotations unless we draw the fruit of patience from the Holy Spirit. So what is patience? In many ways, it is closely akin to peace. It is calm in the midst of frustration. When love is present, it puts a positive slant on our ability to have patience. If we have joy in our soul, it subdues our lack of patience. All the fruit fit together, don’t they?

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

May I devote my life wholly to Thee:

Watch Thou my wayward feet, Guide me with counsel sweet;

Purer in heart, help me to be.

Remember from last week—Inhale the Spirit, Exhale anxiety.

~ Joyce ~

The Fruit of the Spirit – Love

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

In the next few weeks, we will take a look at the fruit of the Spirit. We will find that the emphasis is not so much on what the Holy Spirit causes us to do, but how He causes us to be.

Jesus taught his disciples that when He went away, He would send another counselor (besides Himself) who would be with them forever—the Spirit of truth.

“The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26

Jesus went on to give them that wonderful passage about the vine and the branches. He is the vine from which we draw our source of spiritual life. We stay alive and fruitful only when we, as branches, stay connected to the vine.

Paul gives us a delightful list of the fruit our branches will bear with the help of the Holy Spirit. We call it, of course, “the fruit of the Spirit.” But first Paul lists the acts of our sinful nature—like sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, etc. Then he tells us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23

Today, we begin with “love.” Ah, sweet love. It is why Jesus came. It encompasses what He taught. It defines how He lived. It is the reason He died for you and me.

Likewise, He expects it of us.

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

Truly, this is our hearts desire, but what if we don’t even like someone much less have love for the person? Permit me to share an experience from my days at Georgetown College.

I couldn’t wait to participate in a Bible study/discussion group led by a well-respected teacher on campus. We gathered for our first meeting and all went well. However, one guy in the group just turned me off. Jake wasn’t very attractive and was a bit effeminate. I found myself cringing any time he made a comment.

I thought about my attitude and felt ashamed that such little things would get in my way of friendship. It occurred to me that in the normal flow of relationships, you first notice people, have experience with them, like them, and then grow to love them. But what if I couldn’t get to the “liking” stage? 

At this point, I believe the Lord Himself planted a thought in my mind. What if I prayed to “love” Jake first? Even if I didn’t like him, perhaps the Lord would help me to love him. I fully focused on this idea for weeks. Then, after we were well into the study, I became aware of a new attitude breaking through. Not only was I learning to love Jake as a brother in Christ, I was actually beginning to like him!

Could it be that there is someone in your life that you need to “love” into “like”? What breakthrough might God be ready to reveal to you? As we stay connected to the Vine, the Spirit will give the gift of love.

 Next week—JOY.

~ Joyce ~