Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When a Friend Needs Comfort

When we receive news that a friend or loved one is facing a life-altering trial, our mind often goes blank. We feel numb. There’s nothing we can do. 

We have no idea what to say and so we say nothing at all.  

It’s said that silence is golden, but in times like this, our silence can speak volumes. It can leave those in pain wondering, 

Why hasn’t she called?” or 

I really thought she cared. Why has she turned her back on me?

It’s not our intent to make others feel isolated.  We DO care. We simply have no idea how to offer comfort, which feels paralyzing. 

I’m in that very situation right now and I’ve had to push myself… hard… to reach out. I want to stay in my comfort zone, withdraw and pray in solitude, but instead I feel God’s prompting to act. 

A precious friend faces a life-threatening illness.  We’ve spent many years together in this friendship. I taught her to scrapbook. She taught me to crochet. In another era of our lives, we spent many wonderful weekends together sharing stories of our families, laughing, crying, and sorting out the mysteries of life. Our lives changed and our shared times melted away, but our friendship remains. I cherish her warm smile and gentle wisdom. I admire her tender strength and love the sound of her laugh.  

Right now, my friend faces a trial larger than she ever imagined. While I wallowed in my own heartbreak over the news, her sister whispered to me, “She needs you, Cathy.”  I believe she does. Not because I have anything to offer, but because we were created and designed for community. We need our friends in good times and bad. We need to know that others care and offer prayer on our behalf. We need to understand that we’re not alone.

And so, for the sake of my friend, I needed to stretch beyond myself and act. Sadly, I didn’t know what to do or where to start.

So I asked the Lord. After I prayed, I didn’t receive a telegram or audibly hear His voice of instruction, but a few ideas came to mind. I share them with you now to glorify God. I freely admit that I was as immobilized as most of us feel when seeing a friend in such pain. 

  • Take a Tangible Step.  I began the process in my kitchen and made my world-famous pasta and a plate of cookies. (Who am I kidding? The pasta isn’t even famous in my own neighborhood, but it is a family favorite). I found that taking a tangible step readied me for deeper service. It’s said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My first step was toward the stove. 

  • Listen for God prompts.  With my mind fixed on my friend and her needs, the Lord gently prompted me. For instance, in the car one afternoon, I listened to a sermon on the radio. A pastor shared his testimony about when his wife faced cancer.  He explained that friends who listened much and spoke little often provided the deepest comfort. This was a message I needed to hear at the exact moment it aired. God often provides in such ways, doesn’t He?  I’m reminded that as I minister to my friend, He is with me.

  • Ask for Direction. I prayed and specifically asked the Lord to give me words to speak. I also asked for help to hold my tongue when it was time to listen. I soon found that worship music brought words of love and encouragement. The songs reminded me why I hold such deep adoration for the Lord and what an honor it is to share His love with a friend.  Several Scriptures came to mind - many which have provided me with personal comfort and hope in times past.

  • Consider a Gift.  Admittedly, gifts aren’t always the best option, but they can express love that is difficult to communicate. In this instance, I prepared to give my friend the gift of God’s Word, which contains more comfort than I could muster in a lifetime.  Now, giving a Bible to someone with the hope that they’ll read it is a bit unrealistic, so this is how I prepared: 

    1. I’d recently received a beautiful Bible at a women’s conference. It’s one I cherish and refer to often, but I knew in an instant it was time to give it away. 
    2. I highlighted several verses of comfort then flagged each one for easy reference. 
    3. As I considered each verse, I found myself praying those words to the Lord on behalf of my friend.
    4. When I presented her with the Bible, I explained what I had marked and the hope that she could find one verse each day to hold in her heart.  
    5. I also explained that she could read other passages and the commentary for further inspiration and answers to some difficult questions.  

My friend and I enjoyed precious time talking and praying together. I believe she appreciated the food and feel that the gift touched her heart. I hope that I helped share her burden and offered comfort that would last beyond our visit.

I continue to pray and reach out to her by text message as often as the Lord prompts. I look forward to sharing her company again soon in the coming months and trust that it’s not me who provides comfort, but the Lord. 

Remember Your word to Your servant;
You have given me hope through it.
This is my comfort in my affliction:
Your promise has given me life.

Psalm 119:49-50 HCSB

Your Turn:

When have you felt frozen and immobile when a friend needed comfort?  

How did you step into action?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or joining me on Facebook or Twitter.

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jump Start Your Prayer Life in 4 Simple Steps

Once upon a time, I considered myself a prayer warrior. That is, until I met a real prayer warrior - but we’ll save that story for another post.  My point here: I used to be very disciplined in prayer. I spent time before the throne of grace every day, if not several times a day, and made involvement in corporate prayer groups a high priority. I could pray Scripture without even thinking about it. I saw my prayers answered and believed, without a doubt, that when I listened for God’s nudges and promptings in prayer, He responded. 

That was then.  Now things are different. My prayer life is stalled and needs a jump start.

I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and it’s anointing, not to mention the peace, direction, counsel, discernment, and yes even joy that comes through prayer. I have seen first-hand the incredible comfort and other blessings of prayer, yet right now I’m really struggling in it. I’d love to tell you I don’t have time for prayer. But the truth is, we make time for that which is most important to us. We all have time for anything we’d like to do - if it’s a high enough priority. 

It’s not the amount of time that I have (I have exactly the same number of hours in a week as everyone else in the world), but it’s how I utilize that time. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that any time I have a change or even the smallest disruption in my schedule, my routines suffer. Even the simple act of rescheduling a weekly staff meeting from a morning to an afternoon will throw a wrench in my gears. I know - sad, but true. 

Over the years, I’ve experienced countless changes to my schedule as I’m sure you have too. I’ve noticed that with each change, my prayer life has suffered and little by little, my prayer routine has become nearly non-existent. I still shoot the “prayer arrows” heavenward - the short requests that come up during the day.  However, meaningful prayer is much more than that. It involves time of praising God for Who He is, thanking Him for all He provides and chooses to give, and confessing my daily sins to Him in order to stand in the Holy place cleansed and prepared for service. That’s the part of my prayer life that has diminished so terribly.

I need a jump start.  Perhaps you need a jump start too, and my hope is that this post will provide some very practical helps for both of us.  It’s time to take action. It’s time to establish a new routine and get back on our knees for some regular and intimate time with God Almighty.  

For the last two weeks, I’ve used some newly implemented tools which are helping me re-establish a pattern of prayer.  New practices and resources are often helpful. Here are 4 simple ways I’m jump starting my prayer life:

1. A new prayer journal. 

This is what mine looks like:

It’s a small 3-ring binder that I had on hand. (I used to keep my task list in this notebook until I switched to an electronic version (Nozbe) which I am completely nuts about.) I like the 3-ring binder because it allows me to add and rearranges pages as needed. 

Inside the binder are 11 dividers, labeled:

On the divider for each day of the week, I have penciled in categories for which I’d like to pray on that day. 

Please hear me here. I pray as the Lord directs and intercede for whatever He places on my heart. If a friend asks me to pray for her grandma and I see that I’m not “scheduled” to pray for friends until Monday, I certainly do not let the schedule stop me from lifting up pressing needs.  The schedule merely helps me to not get “stuck” praying for only those needs I see and prompts me to pray for some “bigger picture” things. It’s a tool, not a law.

Here’s my proposed schedule:

Monday: Family, friends, relationships
Tuesday: My husband’s workplace, Strengthened by the Word Ministries
Wednesday: My church and church family
Thursday: The women I meet through ministry and women’s ministry needs
Friday: Our community, state and nation
Saturday: Pastors and Spiritual leaders
Sunday: Personal needs, preparation for the week ahead, strength, direction, creativity, integrity, etc. 

Each day, I jot down some of the things I’ve prayed for and how I believe the Lord is prompting.  This helps me remember what I’ve asked and to give thanks for His answers. Often we forget we’ve even prayed a thing and neglect to give Him glory when an answer arrives!

2) Write More.

When we write (on paper with a pen or pencil and not on an electronic device), it helps us slow down and focus on what we’re recording. I truly consider His attributes when I write them longhand. I feel more passionate about prayer needs when I’ve carefully scribed them into my notebook. Thoughts and needs are impressed more firmly on our minds and we’re less apt to forget if we’ve written it by hand.

This one of the primary reasons I’ve created this prayer journal as a notebook and not as a computer file. I find I’m more purposeful and less rushed with pen in hand. Plus, I get to change the color of my ink whenever I’d like - a small detail that keeps me in a happy place.

3) Speak More.

I’m attempting to create a habit of praying out loud - with my voice - even when I’m alone. I know, it sounds a little silly, but it keeps my to-do list from clouding my thoughts. Talking out loud to the Lord helps keep my mind focused on Him.

Once I’ve spent several minutes praising, thanking, confessing (okay - that stays silent most of the time) and interceding, my heart is fixed on the Lord and I can then close my mouth and listen. I have prepared my heart to receive any prompting He may choose to offer. For me, such promptings often come as creative thoughts, or fresh ideas that I know didn’t generate in my own mind. They’re usually the “best idea” I’ll have all day - for obvious reasons.

4) Pray With Others.

If you’re married, you should be spending time in prayer with your spouse. There’s little that says “I love you” more than hearing your husband (or your wife) petition the Lord on your behalf. Mike’s prayers are so soothing I sometimes fall asleep to them (he’s learned that they bring me great peace and doesn’t take offense).  

Mike didn’t always feel comfortable praying together. That’s something you may need to grow into as a couple, but I (we) highly recommend it. It’s worth the work and practice.

Our church has a weekly prayer service. Does yours?  Attend! I’m working to re-prioritize this weekly meeting and attend more faithfully. I love gathering with other believers to hear their hearts, praise the Lord alongside them, and receive their caring prayer coverage. 

Moms in Prayer is a wonderful ministry. There are groups for every age of child, including adults!

Oswald Chambers is credited with saying, “Prayer is an act of will.”  Once we’re well-established in the practice of prayer, it may begin to come more easily. Until then, it’s work. Let’s not neglect it since it’s commanded in Scripture. 

Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. Ephesians 6:18 (HCSB)

Your Turn:

What tools do you use to support your prayer ministry?

Have you ever experienced a stalled prayer life? How did you overcome?

Do you feel these 4 steps might be helpful to you?

Leave a comment below or continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word
Psalm 119:28


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When the Meadowlark Sings

Every early spring, their distinctive song lingers in my ears after a long winter of silence. My heart rejoices when the meadowlarks arrive.  

sketch © Oksana Hassel 2015

Their melody takes me back to dozens of mornings working side-by-side with my dad - putting up fence, building barns, or plowing the field.  I was a child, mind you, so my level of help was

“Cathy, hand me that hammer;” or

“Go get me some more nails, sweetie;” or

“Hold this board right here, as still as you can;” or

“You can sit right up here on my lap while I plow. 
Someday when you’re big enough to reach the pedals, 
you can drive the tractor.”

I don’t recall hearing the songbirds as a child, yet my heart remembers them well. Their music rekindles feelings of safety that came under a father’s watchful eye. I think back on his frequent guidance that everything works out for the best. When I hear them, I can almost feel my father’s warm embrace.

I’m amazed at the memories a song can stir. 

The tune of a meadowlark brings with it a sense of calm and comfort.  Although my earthly father passed away many years ago, my heavenly Father still reigns on high. I remain under His watchful eye and He tells me from His Word:  

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. 
Isaiah 41:10

The lark’s warble reminds me that all is right in the world - because I remain under the watchful eye of the Lord. God is sovereign and has has victory over evil. I feel protected, safe, and loved.

To my surprise, the Lord has often used the flutelike song to quiet periods of stress and anxiety in my life. 

One particular day a few Novembers ago - long after the meadowlarks traditionally fly to warmer lands - I faced a difficult decision. I’d wrestled with options for weeks and prayed for the Lord’s direction. He seemed silent, yet the time to render my decision was at hand. I stated my position yet continued to feel unsure, not knowing if I’d made the right choice.  

As I left the gathering and stepped outside on that chilly November afternoon, I heard the comforting and familiar melody of the meadowlark. It’s unusual timing lifted my spirits more than normal and I felt it was a gift from the Lord. Peace washed over me. I felt a divine, shielding hug and knew in my heart that all was well.  

The call of the meadowlark has deep significance to me. I feel my Father’s warmth and embrace with every trill. When I hear it, I feel protected, safe, and loved.  

If you’re unfamiliar with the meadowlark, click here to listen to its glorious birdsong. 


What “heavenly hugs” have you experienced?  

What made them most special to you?

Leave your comments below or join me on Facebook or Twitter! I look forward to hearing from you!

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28