Monday, November 28, 2011

I Believe...

There seems to be a magical quality about the Christmas season. There are discussions about holiday traditions and events for the family. If you have kids or are around people with kids, there tends to be talk about Santa Claus. In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be nice to share my beliefs. Please feel free to share your own in the comments section.

I believe in a Creator (God). I believe that God created the universe, the earth and everything in it. I believe there's a heaven and a hell. I believe that Jesus is God's son. I believe that Jesus lived a sinless life and died on a cross. I believe that God raised him from the dead three days later. I believe that we all sin and are in need of a Savior. I believe that Jesus is that Savior and desires for all of us to come into a relationship with God through him. I believe that each one of us has a purpose for our life. I believe that God loves me (and you) even when I/we do not choose to seek him or his will. I believe that God answers prayer, though not always as I might prefer. I believe that we have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and his name is Satan. I believe that we can have victory over our enemy through Jesus.

Those are some of my beliefs. What are yours?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christmastime Activities

Just ordered Christmas cards! Can't wait to get them in so that we can send them out. Better stock up on stamps!

Photo Card
View the entire collection of cards.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Expectations and Gratitude

During my prayer time today, I was thinking about how much I appreciated Adam doing something special for me yesterday. I was trying to think of what I could do to show my appreciate for him and this thought popped into my head: EXPECTATIONS LEAVE LITTLE ROOM FOR GRATITUDE. 

 I realized that there are nice things Adam and I do for each other all the time, but they aren't always acknowledged. I think part of the reason for that is that some of these things have become expectations. If I expect Adam to do something, then I may forget to express gratitude even though I should. With expectations, often times an act is only acknowledged when it hasn't been completed. And then, of course, it is usually in a negative way (You didn't ____ ). 

I think that's how we are with God sometimes. God has faithfully provided for us in some way (or many ways, as is often the case) - perhaps keeping us healthy or helping us meet our financial needs or goals. After a while, that's what we come to expect. So when something changes - we (or a family member) gets sick - we lash out against God (Why is this happening? Why aren't you protecting us?). Somewhere along the way we forget that we should be grateful for all of God's blessings, provisions, and faithfulness. Instead, we place expectation on God and, when something happens that isn't what we want, we blame God.

Perhaps we ought instead to make ourselves more aware of the things God and others do for us, even the seemingly mundane, and say 'thank you' even when we feel they ought to be doing it without praise. It should help us, at least, to maintain some perspective.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fooling Myself

I have been reading Personality Plus for Parents. One chapter invites parents to take their quiz to determine where they fall in the personality four-square. I have taken it before, but thought I'd do it again just because I love quizzes. In this particular one, there are two sections: strengths and weaknesses. There are 20 lines in each section containing four words. You are supposed to pick which word fits you best. Definitions are included to help figure it out. The first four word options are adventurous, adaptable, animated, and analytical. I knew animated was not the best fit. I was trying to decide between the first two (I really WANT to be adventurous, but really I know that isn't the best fitting word). I decided to ask Adam his opinion and he said analytical. I responded, "Well...." Which, of course, helped me to see that I was thinking hard about each option - analyzing, you could even say. I admitted sheepishly that that was the best option.

It's interesting how the test is set up. You go through all of your strength options, which can get you feeling good about who you are. I'm persistent, controlled, self-reliant, faithful, thoughtful, perfectionist, balanced. Of course, I realize that some of these could have a downside, like perfectionist, which is made more obvious when I hit the weaknesses part. In that section I marked unenthusiastic, resentful, pessimistic, tactless, moody, critical. By the end I felt kind of bad about myself. I sounded like an awful person. But these are personality tendencies, not everyday behaviors. I had tried really hard to consider myself optimistic. Who wants to be called a pessimist? Not me, at least. But the book's definition rang true for me however much I want to deny it - while hoping for the best, generally sees the down side of a situation first.

This exercise helped me to see that I do try to deny parts of my personality. It's probably the perfectionist in me wanting me to be all good, with no faults. What about you? Are there characteristics you possess that you try to pretend aren't there?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Improving Prayer Life

I've been reading Bill Hybels' "Too Busy Not To Pray" during my quiet times lately. I have been thoroughly enjoying it. It has helped me to see how I normally pray, inconsistencies I may have, as well as ways I can become more effective in prayer. Lately, my quiet times have gone like this: Prayer journal, read the Bible, read Hybels' book, more prayer journal to incorporate what I just learned. After several days of this I have contemplated reading Hybels' book first, but think it will be more beneficial to continue with my current order.

I picked up the book for the purpose of learning how to be more effective in prayer as well as, hopefully, improving my ability to listen to God. I know that prayer is supposed to be a conversation with God. I'm good at sharing what I'm feeling/what I need but am not very good at being still before God. I don't know if others are able to quiet their mind and hear God speak to them in the stillness. I have found that I am led by God through his Word, books I read, or other people. Usually when I sit quietly, my mind wanders and it feels like fruitless, wasted time. Perhaps I need to spend more time in this practice for it to become effective.

So, what have I learned thus far? I know in my mind that God is willing and able to answer prayers, but my prayer life doesn't always reflect that. If I truly believe that God is able to answer any of my prayers, would I not bring my deepest needs to him? I realized that there are things I would like God to do but appear to feel like he won't do anything about the situation so I do not ask him. That is ridiculous, I know, but that's what my actions say. I acknowledged that part of the reason I don't ask is because I'm afraid that God won't do anything and it will mean that I am ineffective. And if I were to announce that I am praying for something and nothing changes, I fear that someone else will take it as "proof" that God doesn't exist.

I have been encouraged by realizing my thought process. The book has also provided encouragement and help for changing my thought processes. One way is to pray through ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Spending time praising God for who he is and acknowledging what he's done helps me to get rid of my doubts that he has the capability to work in specific situations. Confession reminds me of how much I need God and how faithful he's been. The other two I've always been pretty good at, but I know that I don't always first remind myself of who God is or specifically name sin in my life and seek forgiveness and help. This method is good for shifting my attitude.

I also love that the book has reminded me that an answer of "no" is still an answer, though we tend to interpret God's "no" as God's silence. There is also a section where it suggests reasons why our prayers are not answered. The part that provided clarity to me was that sometimes there are areas in our life where we need to grow, such as eliminating sin in our life. Scripture says that sin separates us from God and closes his ears to our requests. It once again requires that I honestly examine my life to see if I am living as I should. I know that I can't be perfect, but if I am not seeking to live according to Scripture, then there is definitely a barrier between me and God.

I still have more chapters to get through and am interested in what I have yet to read. I already want to read the book through a second time. I may need to purchase a copy of my own so that I can make notes and have it on hand for those times when I feel ineffective in prayer, because I'm sure I will throughout my life.

I have some questions for you, dear reader. Do you also struggle with being still before God? If you don't, please share any wisdom that may help. Have you read "Too Busy Not To Pray"? What were your take-aways? Do you have any other prayer insights you'd like to share? Any additional prayer books or resources? I love learning more about prayer. I know that I have to be careful not to turn the things I read into a to-do list, but to use them to be more honest with God through prayer. Do you ever struggle with trying to incorporate great ideas into your life, even if they don't fit with your personality? I look forward to hearing from others!