How is your prayer life? I definitely have some room to grow in mine. When I have a lot on my plate, I tend to schedule everything but God into my day. I do make attempts to read Scripture at night or pray before I go to bed, but most nights I am unsuccessful. I don’t really know why I don’t make prayer more of a priority. Sometimes, childhood teachings creep into my heart, telling me to only pray for God’s will because His will must be accomplished. Other times, my anxiety and stress level paralyze my heart and mind, causing me to stay in the here and now and not pray for the future.
A couple of years ago, I knew that my prayers (when prayed) were shallow. Even when I asked God for things, I knew that what I asked was meager and infrequent. So in order to challenge me and to stretch my concept of prayer, I selected the book The Circle Maker. Several statements and passages resonated with me, including this quote:
“The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked.” (p. 19)
Analysis of My Prayer Life
This made me analyze my prayer life. Why do I pray? Why do I ask what I ask? Do I only ask for select things because I question God’s power or interest in my life? Is it a lack of faith, or a lack of trust? Am I putting up emotional and spiritual barriers between me and God so I won’t get hurt? If that is the case, do I not trust God to carry me through whatever trials I may experience?
The follow-up passage to the quote listed above speaks to some of these questions.
“He will answer. And His answers are not limited by your requests. We pray out of our ignorance, but God answers out of His omniscience. We pray out of our impotence, but God answers out of His omnipotence. God has the ability to answer the prayers we should have prayed but lacked the knowledge or ability to even ask.” (p.19)
What prayers of yours have been unanswered because they have been unasked? Where are you holding back in your prayer life? Your family, your career, maybe your involvement in a project or an organization? God may not answer your prayer exactly the way that you want him to, but He will listen and respond. Be still and know that God is with you.
Here are some Scriptures to meditate on…
1 John 5:14-15 “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of Him.”
2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Jeremiah 29:12 “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
I’m sure every person reading this blog could relate to this statement: “I never thought I would do that.” We imagine how something will go in our lives, but our reality ends up being different than our dreams. This blog is my testimony about what God has taught me about my vision versus His plan.
Lesson #1: Everyone has a place in His kingdom.
For the longest time, I struggled with my role in the church. Whether it be related to woman’s roles, my personal relationship with God, my “holiness” compared to others…I never fit in. I always thought I would never belong in the church.
A few years ago, I struggled with anxiety, fear, and what I would describe as depression. I really struggled getting through my daily activities, especially out of the house. Then, I saw an invitation to teach fifth graders. For a reason that was none other than divine, I volunteered. That sparked an eight-year journey of consistently working with pre-adolescents and teenagers. I had to work through some SIGNIFICANT self-doubt. I still have to work through it. But because God is who he is, he made me realize that my personalities can be used for His glory. Since I accepted that fifth grade volunteer position, I have volunteered in our children’s ministry, our youth ministry, our guest ministry, and our adoption/foster care ministry.
If we aren’t careful, we listen to Satan whispering in our ears, telling us that we are not a “good enough Christian” to be part of the body of Christ. But what God has taught me is that we are all made in the image of God, we are worthy of Him, and we have purpose. It takes a faith community, solitude, and an open heart to discern what that holy purpose is.
Lesson #2: Marriage doesn’t look the same for each couple.
Love is not a feeling. It’s a conscious decision to act in love to one another. I never had a “lovey dovey” perspective of marriage, but I never understood the depth of work that a marriage takes. Marriage is not a cakewalk. Marriage is choosing to love your spouse. Every marriage is unique and can bring glory to Him.
He taught me to reach out to others (i.e. friends, family, neighbors) and ensure that their marriage is doing well. “Looks” DON’T MEAN A THING. Just because a couple “looks” happy doesn’t mean that everything is great behind closed doors. We finally started to tell people that we were struggling, and we received overwhelming support. Develop your spiritual network now to ensure a healthy marriage for tomorrow.
Lesson #3: God is the ultimate creator of life and family.
When I was younger, I had these thoughts of what my children would look like…white, smart, athletic, hard workers. I thought my children would be mini-versions of me. Isn’t that what your children are supposed to be? Yeah, God laughed HARD at that dream for my life.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would adopt a child of color. Adoption was not part of my worldview growing up. That’s not wrong; I had just never been exposed to it. God knew what he was doing when he brought Benjamin into our lives. Adoption, race, and social injustice has hit our family full force over the past five years. We are forever changed, and we couldn’t be more grateful to God for it.
He taught me that a family is what He designs.
He repairs the brokenness in families and loves us through our hard times. That love and repair may look very different than what we imagined, and we may not even understand it. Do I believe that God caused the hardship, loss, and grief within our family? No. Do I believe that He brought beauty from the ashes? Yes.
He taught me that the greatest way I can love someone is through sacrifice. At first, I didn’t know how to love Benjamin when I was fatigued, tired, upset, etc. He required 100% dependence of me, and I didn’t know how to give out of my “emotional and mental” poverty. However, God has worked on my four cornerstones through motherhood–spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental. He has put His word and His people in my life to help me navigate motherhood in the way that I need. Don’t get me wrong–I have my moments of anger, frustration, and fatigue. But those moments are diminished, so I can give my all to my family more often with no hesitation.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I don’t really know where I go from here. I think that is my main point behind this blog. We never know. To an extent we can plan, but we never know what God has planned or how He will work. But God is there, ready to give us what we need to fulfill the roles in our life journey.
There were times in my life that I know my heart and mind were closed to His guiding whispers. Now, because of these lessons, my family, and my faith community, I have a better idea of what His whispers sound like. Will you hear Him? Will you hear Him calling you to fulfill your role in a way that you never imagined?
As many of you know, my husband and I adopted Benjamin from birth. The entire process took over three years, but the “waiting game” was almost two years. We struggled…hard. We experienced anger, heartache, doubt, and guilt through those two years. During this time, we had a village praying for us (notice I said the word for).
One time, when I was sharing our frustrations with my friend Kayci, she said something I will never forget. She said, “I am praying with you.” It actually made me stop and think, mainly because I had never heard it before. So many times, people had said they were praying FOR us. I had never heard someone say they were praying WITH us. That was the beginning of a prayer journey for me that I never had thought I would take.
To be 100% transparent, I don’t have the best prayer life. I used to have a prayer journal and make time, but even then I would fall asleep. However, hearing Kayci use the word “WITH” slowly changed my perspective of prayer and community. I think the word “FOR” is great if you are speaking a general, broad prayer over something/someone. This new word “WITH” in my prayer life means something different. It means that my prayer for a person has to be interactive. It isn’t just going home and praying for the person before I go to bed. It means that I need to reach deeper into the lives of those in my faith community and neighborhood. It means communicating with those that are struggling and remembering to reach out to them beyond the initial contact.
Verses that focus on prayer:
”Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
”My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
”Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
So how has this word “WITH” changed my perspective?
1. I no longer try to assume that someone is doing okay, even if that person says they are.
2. When I think about someone who I know is struggling with something, I tell them. It’s difficult to feel your support group if they are silent. This was huge during our adoption, so I want to give that back to our faith community.
3. I attempt to reach out to people I haven’t seen in a while. I know it makes me feel special when someone notices that I’m not there. Why not use that tool to connect with community and see if a “praying with someone” opportunity presents itself?
4. It made me think about who I am praying about. Am I praying for the people I should? Am I only praying for those who are in my home or around me? Something that I want to commit to this school year is praying for community leaders and church leaders. These leaders interact with those around us every day. We need to be praying for the people who pour into us and our community.
5. Literally praying WITH someone is always better than praying for them when you get home to do it.
I hope that this blog is a blessing to you about prayer, faith, and community! Perhaps you will gain a new perspective just as I did!
That is when we decided to adopt. After I prayed for peace, the next prayer was this:
God, please help me to love our birth mom, not judge her.
As a naturally critical person, I was afraid my insecurities or judgments would interfere with God’s work in our adoption. For over two and a half years, our prayer has been to unconditionally love our birth mother and to accept her into our lives.
Fast-forward to June 2015.
All adoptive families want to receive “the call,” and finally, we received our call. We had been selected. We scheduled a visit to meet our birth mother in Texas and talk about the logistics of the baby’s birth. There isn’t a rule book of how to interact with your birth mom. You just kind of do it. She set the tone for the interactions, but our agency made sure that we discussed the sensitive topics. When we arrived at our meeting with the birth mother, we didn’t know what to expect. We couldn’t have asked for a better meeting. All she could talk about were our needs and the baby’s needs. She constantly put others ahead of herself in our discussions.
When Benjamin was born, we had frequent reminders that he wasn’t our child. We were connected to him but technically didn’t “have him. Fighting the emotions of wanting to love a child who wasn’t yet “ours” was emotionally and mentally challenging. We tried to love him in the best ways we could. Something else we were not expecting was the truth: loving Benjamin meant loving our birth mother.
The Choice to Love
We constantly had to work out with our birth mother who was to care for Benjamin. Our birth mother was also recovering from a c-section and needed physical assistance, encouragement to eat/drink, and someone to talk to about her emotions. I could feel God giving us a choice. Would we show love only to Benjamin? Or would we also show love to our birth mother, even if that meant giving up time with Benjamin and loving her when it was uncomfortable to us?
Using Adoption to Teach Us About Loving Others
When I look back over that time in the hospital, I am so thankful that God showed us what to do. We had no control over what was happening and no “road map” of what to do or how to act. God used our adoption story to teach us what loving others when it’s uncomfortable could look like. It wasn’t until Benjamin was born that a realization hit me.This child was not ours; it was hers. Yes, we had waited…and waited…and prayed…and cried…and grew angry…and waited some more. But, it was her choice to follow through with the adoption. It was her choice to make medical decisions regarding the baby. And it was her choice to engage in sacrificial love so her child could have the life she planned but could not give.
Our birth mother stated that she was confident of her decision, but her pain was evident. She loved Benjamin so much. You could see it in how she swaddled him, fed him, changed him, and held him. Her choice did not invalidate her sacrifice. That sort of love made me feel guilty. I felt unworthy of being forever connected with her. How do I show love to a woman who is giving a part of herself to us?
Adoption Changed Our View of People
People have suggested that it’s time for us to move on. This has been difficult for me. I constantly think about our birth mother. While we were together, we talked about life, family, and God’s presence in our lives. Our time in Texas challenged us spiritually, mentally, and physically. Beside the fact that we are now a family of three, it also provoked new thoughts of life, love, and our Christian walk. This wasn’t something that we can move on from because it has changed the way we look at and love other people. I can only pray that it helps us move forward in how we treat others.
This experience has led me to several questions:
What would the world look like if more people chose life (adoption/parenting) over death (abortion)?
If we truly treated everyone as if they were made in the image of God–put aside race, socioeconomic status, education level, worldview–what would the world look like? What if we really treated people like we would want to be treated? We wouldn’t even need rules and regulations governing our way of life because the Spirit would lead us to live in communion with one another.
What if there were fewer adoptions? What if we were in the lives of others so much that we pooled our resources and supported all families (not just those that look, act, and talk like us) as we all try to get through life? There would be fewer adoptions/foster care children, more family preservation, and more support. God asks to us to give to the poor and support those in need. He asks us to stand in the gap for those who are hurting. Isn’t this the basis of what draws biological families into turmoil and chaos?
I don’t know what the answers to these question are, or even if they are logical. I just hope that these questions will lead our family to live out the love of Christ in everything we do.
May us all live lives where we love others even when it’s uncomfortable.
May God use us to engage others who are not like us. Help us support them with the sacrificial love of Christ.
I just finished reading Daniel Nehrbass’ book Who’s Using You? Making Yourself Available for God’s Use. Used can be such a negative, emotionally charged word in our society today. Nehrbass challenges the reader to broaden the definition of “used” and apply a spiritual filter to its meaning. He encourages us to become aware of how we are used daily. In the book, he addresses being used in three different ways: by others, by the Enemy (Satan), and by God.
Being Used by Others
According to Nehrbass, others can use us in positive or negative ways. He references personal and biblical accounts of how people can be used by others. In his book, the author talks about how we, as vessels of God, cannot be used appropriately if others are using us. He encourages us to think about ourselves as God would. Nehrbass says,
“Our hope in being used by God is not to overcome the disparity between how we see ourselves and how others see us but instead to know how God sees us. In every case, He sees a person He can use” (page 42).
I knew this concept before reading the book, but how many of us live into it? How many of us live our daily lives, letting ourselves be used by “things,” i.e., people, jobs, or desired objects? I know I don’t. This section of the book reminded me to be more mindful of my time and my priorities in my daily life.
Being Used by Satan
This is a big one that I believe people underestimate. Satan is constantly engaging in spiritual warfare. He knows he can’t win the war, but he fully intends to win some battles. He will use whomever and whatever he can to keep us from living into the life that God wants us to live. Nehrbass quotes John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life, and have it in full.” He reminds us who the true enemy is, and it’s not our families, friends, or bosses. It’s Satan.
He states, “My struggle is with spiritual forces of evil. I understand that I can be used by Satan to tempt others to sin and that they can be used the same way. Once I remind myself of this truth, I see the people around me as co-strugglers, not as enemies” (page 99).
Did that last quote resonate with you?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that people commit horrific acts and should be held accountable for them. But what if, no matter the circumstance, Satan was involved (or benefited) from the turmoil? What if we all stopped looking at others as evil and recognize that Satan might be using either of you to attack God and His kingdom. As I have grown older, I have recognized that Satan works in subtle, everyday ways to rob us of our relationship with our Father. I’ve noticed this firsthand with my anxiety and anger. The more I am consumed with either (or both) emotions, the less available I am to be used for God’s intended purpose, his vessel.
Being Used by God
I would assume that every Christian could identify with being used by God. Nehrbass explains, in detail, multiple ways in which believers can be used as vessels for His kingdom. The one trait that stuck out to me the most was forgiveness. He challenges us to forgive, even when we don’t have overwhelming feelings to forgive. He says:
If you have found it difficult to forgive, do not wait for some overwhelming feeling of forgiveness before you verbally affirm the truth that you are not perfect yourself and that you forgive the person who sinned against you. You do not need the other person to know you have forgiven him nor does he have to ask you for forgiveness. This is a private choice separate from what the other person deserves or what you feel (page 202).
WHOA. You can (and maybe should) forgive someone even if they don’t “deserve” it or even know about it? God does it to us all of the time. That is the basis of our entire relationship. We say we love Him and will try to stop sinning. But then we give into our desires once again. Then we ask for forgiveness. He gives it, and we make more promises He knows we will break. Jesus died on the cross so we could be forgiven for any sin at any time. Should we repent of those sins? Yes, I believe the Bible says we should. I think that Nehrbass encourages us to recognize the toll that bitterness and hatred has on our hearts. In Colossians 3:12-13, Paul wrote:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
So Where Do We Go From Here?
I am sure most of us knew that we could be used by different people. Hopefully some of the information from this book provided you with another perspective on how we can be used. Nehrbass encourages his readers to ask God how we can be used today. I loved this thought, because I typically ask God to use others for myself. This might be appropriate if I am really struggling, but it shouldn’t be my daily request. I need to make enough emotional and spiritual space in my life to ask God, “How can I be your vessel today?”.
So how are you being used today? Is it by others, or by God?
**This is not an official review for “Who’s Using You? Making Yourself Available for God’s Use”