Do You Glow in the Dark?

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Have you ever owned something that glowed in the dark? Growing up, I found the otherworldly luminescence mesmerizing, so I took full advantage of opportunities to add to my collection. I still remember the simple pleasure of my mini super ball, purchased from a converted gumball machine. Carried around in my pants pocket all day, it was merely a ball that could clear small buildings in a single bounce. However, if it spent part of the day in the sun, I could enjoy an evening of outdoor ball play.

Of course the fun was short lived. By the time I climbed into bed I could barely distinguish the fading orb from the shadowy pile of toys on my dresser.  I eventually learned I could restore the ball’s brightness with a few seconds held close to a lamp, but its luster would begin to diminish almost immediately.

Reflecting on my own faith journey, I can relate to that super ball. When I returned from a spiritual retreat or other significant time with God, I felt like I was almost glowing–not physically like Moses when he returned from many days with God on Mount Sinai, but from within. Unfortunately, after a few hurried days of work with limited prayer time, the feeling quickly faded. I also found that quick charges–like an inspiring worship service, insight during prayer or breathtaking scenery–created temporary illumination much like holding the ball to a lamp.

These toys remind me of two important faith lessons:

  • If I want to follow Jesus and bring his light into the world, I need to regularly connect with my eternal light source. The strength of my relationship with Jesus is evident, not just in what I do and say, but can be seen in who I am. In Matthew 5: 14-16 Jesus says that “you are the light of the world” and “let your light shine before men.” If you’ve spent time around any loving, mature Christians, you know what Jesus is referring to here. When I talk to these “brilliant” believers, I’ve discovered that their time with God isn’t tucked into a tiny corner of their day, but more of an ongoing conversation.
  • Those that shine are meant to go out into the night. The unique value of glow in the dark objects is only apparent when you take them out into the darkness and use them. So, too, with my faith. My closeness with God isn’t just an inner light, but something meant to attract others to the one behind it. Even those of us who feel like we’re merely a ten watt bulb in church can take heart—in the darker corners of our world that will stand out like the brightest lighthouse.

Each day, as you head out into a dark, chaotic world, know that your mere presence can brighten the lives of others. Because of this, it is important to remember that the time you spend in prayer with God not only has practical, spiritual value for you, but also for all those lives you touch each day.

(Patrick Klingaman)

 

Please share your own “glow in the dark” experience in the comment section below.

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Exercise #17: Add a fixed-hour prayer to your routine

Many people have used this as a fixed-hour prayer.

Many people have used this as a fixed-hour prayer.

Consider adding one or more “fixed-hour” prayer times to your day. Many Christians over the centuries have followed David’s example (Psalm 119:164) of praying seven times a day. Typically these times include: waking up, beginning workday, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, evening and going to bed. These can be brief (like, “Here I am again, Lord”) or lengthy, formal (i.e. The Lord’s Prayer) or informal—the point is to make a habit of regularly turning our attention to God. If you are ambitious, pray once on the first day of the exercise, adding an additional time the next day, and so on. How did this affect your focus on God throughout the day?

When I first began to take my faith seriously as an adult, I began with a (mostly) regular time of prayer and Scripture reading in the morning. I left my time of prayer determined to keep my focus on God throughout the day. At the end of most days, I realized that I had sailed through all my activities without even a passing thought directed toward God. If this sounds familiar, perhaps an additional prayer time might help you as it has helped me.

The point of fixed-hour prayer is to periodically and briefly interrupt our daily activities to direct our attention once again toward the One we follow. To make this a regular habit, I recommend starting simple: maybe one additional time using a prayer that is familiar to you (or just talk to God about your day). During the workweek, I found that praying as I returned to work from lunch helped me recapture the focus I had when the day began. Experiment to find what works best for you. Remember, God is thrilled whenever any of His children turn their thoughts and hearts toward Him.

For those of you who have tried fixed-prayer, please share how it has impacted your spiritual walk in the comment section below. Thanks–Patrick

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Blizzard Blessings: Counting one but not the other

Blizzard and blessings. You won’t often find those words in the same sentence. I write them in the midst of a series of blizzards have left record levels of snow throughout much of the northeastern United States. At my location in coastal Maine, we’re bracing for up to another couple feet of snow, along with 50+ mph winds and potential power outages.

Life is often like a blizzard. We get dumped on and sidetracked from our daily routines. Like those of us glued to our screens watching the latest radar or video reports, we often become spectators of our own stormy situations. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  imagesCA2EAMVV

Is there a more productive way to spend life’s blizzards? Unfortunately, in nature’s storms, I find myself glued to accounts from local news and The Weather Channel. I wonder if conditions will be worse than predicted. I’m concerned about whether we might lose power or when our electricity will be restored. My wife and I wait until there is enough snow to clear but not more than our undersized snow blower can handle. Storm watching, snow removal, eating and sleeping–that’s all I often seem to do (not much more productive than my life’s personal blizzards).

For this blizzard, I’d like to do something other than keeping a running count of our snow inch total. Instead, I plan to spend time counting my blessings. “Count your blessings” is a familiar phrase to almost every one of us–yet it is a rare practice. Too bad. Few actions are more beneficial than remembering and giving thanks for our many blessings.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This has long been among my favorite Scripture passages, one I frequently remember during times of uncertainty or difficulty. In seeking God’s will for us during each turn of life, we never have to be paralyzed without a clue while we wait for specific directions. Being joyful, prayerful and thankful are three actions that are always part of God’s desire for our lives.

Counting your blessings is a great way to accomplish all three tasks. After a few minutes of thought, it is hard not to feel thankful and joyful–and to direct our gratitude to God in prayer. The benefits of such an exercise are not just spiritual: many mental health professionals prescribe keeping a blessings journal for patients battling burnout or depression.

There is no right way to count your blessings. You may want to start with little things in the present moment, like Ann Voskamp does so well in her book, One Thousand Gifts. Being thankful for things like a roof over your head and a crackling fire (or the taste of Crunchy Cheetos!) may lead you to reflect more deeply as you look back over your life to see God’s hand at work in bigger ways. For more on starting a blessings journal, check out one of my earlier posts: https://powerupyourfaith.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/weekly-exercise-6-start-keeping-a-blessings-journal/

During this storm I hope to spend more time reviewing and counting my blessings–and less time watching television weather coverage.

How did counting your blessings work during whatever kind of blizzard you might now be facing? Please leave a comment below. Thanks–Patrick

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Weekly Exercise #16: Practice Submission to God

Reflect on any areas of your life where you find it difficult to submit to God. Ask God to reveal to you how you might be resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in your life—and why. You may want to use a variety of disciplines (meditation, prayer, solitude, confession and guidance) to help guide and structure your reflection. Consider involving a close friend or spiritual mentor in this process. Confess any sins that come to mind and trust in God’s forgiveness. Pray for God to reveal any tangible changes you can make to establish greater intimacy with Him.

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Submission is a challenging and often misunderstood discipline, but one that is crucial to our faith. In fact, placing our faith in God should be considered the ultimate act of submission. Although we may have trouble with the word, the act itself can bring a level of freedom that “independence” can’t.

In my younger years, I must admit that I spent more time trying to get God to submit to my plans (i.e. bless what I had already decided to do) than for me to submit to Him.

One early lesson in submission came during my dating years. Like in many other areas of my life, I had a plan. After college, graduate school, establishing my career and maturing a bit more socially, I thought I would be a better match to the soul mate God would send me. As I prayed for God’s provision in this regard, I had subtly given Him a target date: age 30.

This all made sense to me until I reached my 29th birthday. With no well-suited match in sight, I began to question my plan. As I prayerfully reflected on the situation, I realized that I hadn’t fully submitted this situation to God. I was still trying to control God with my plans. What if God had something else in store for me? Perhaps His timing would be different than my own.

In my prayers, I placed this situation completely in God’s hands, submitting to God’s will for me—even if it wasn’t part of my plan. I told God that I was fine with whether or not He had someone in mind for me and would also submit to His timing.

I got the sense that God was waiting for that act of submission. The next month I met my wife and soul mate, Kathy, and we were married less than a month after my 30th birthday.

Of course, submitting to God doesn’t always result in such a rapid response, but my own experience and the examples in Scripture indicate that God always desires what is best for us. Since He is in a better position (in so many respects) to determine what is best, the more we can bend our will toward His, the better.

If you are struggling with this exercise or are looking for more on the spiritual discipline of submission, click on one of the posts below:

https://powerupyourfaith.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/weekly-exercise-1-intentional-targeted-submission/

https://powerupyourfaith.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/weekly-exercise-4-reflecting-on-the-fruit-of-the-spirit/

How did this exercise go for you? Did you discover any areas where God would like you to set aside your ways for His? You are invited to share your experience in the comments below. Thanks–Patrick

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Weekly Exercise #15: Create a Celebration

Week 15: Schedule and plan a celebration with family and/or friends. It can be a celebration of a particular event/holiday, a simple dinner party or a fun outing. Ask God to guide you in how to best honor Him and show His love through you to those participating.

time to celebrateIt is easy to get in a rut. All of us are “so busy” that sometimes even the thought of fun leaves us feeling guilty. Or we work so hard to try to make our celebrations the envy of Martha Stewart that they end up being just another source of stress.

This week, take a few moments to think about holding a celebration in the near future—one that is also simple and fun for you. You could hold a gathering around a holiday or special occasion like a birthday. Or you might invite a few friends or neighbors over for a simple dinner. The point is to take time to enjoy some of the people God has placed in your life.

I’ve stress the word “simple” for a couple reasons. First, for those of you who feel the need to always throw shindigs worthy of the best event planner, this might be an additional opportunity to practice the spiritual discipline of simplicity (this might be more difficult if you are an actual event planner).

For the rest of us, sticking to basics works better because it eliminates much of the stress that often acts as a barrier to us initiating celebrations in the first place. I can’t count how many opportunities I did not pursue because I lacked the energy to gear up for a big event. Plus, I’ve discovered that simple celebrations tend to be the most fun for all involved. A game night with snacks or a simple dinner party (like a hearty soup, bread and dessert) makes for an easy celebration—and no one has to spend half the evening slaving in the kitchen.

If you are like me, it may take a while to fully appreciate the spiritual side of this kind of celebrating. Our cultural images of celebration—opening extravagant gifts or “partying” through New Year’s Eve—seem to be the exact opposite of spiritual. The contrast is heightened when we take ourselves so seriously that we drain the joy out of our worship, prayer time and life in general. If our faith is not producing the joy that Scripture promises, it may be celebration that we are lacking. I try to keep in mind what Richard Foster writes about this discipline:
“Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong… Celebration gives us the strength to live in all the other Disciplines. The other Disciplines faithfully pursued bring us deliverance from those things that have make our lives miserable for years, which in turn evokes increased celebration. Thus is formed an unbroken circle of life and power.”

Celebration can not only help sustain our own spiritual walk, but it can also infuse life into our Christian gatherings. For instance, if you participate in a small group Bible study, consider taking an occasional meeting “off” for celebrating as a group. Think of it as good practice for what we will be doing for eternity when we dwell permanently in the presence of God.

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As you become more intentional in your efforts to celebrate, be conscious of its impact on the rest of your life. Share any examples or conclusions in the comment section below.

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Weekly Exercise #14: Pray for others with systematic intentionality

Week 14: This week, try to regularly pray for people on any prayer lists you or your church might have. If you don’t have a list or if it is badly outdated, you might want to consider spending time prayerfully assembling a new list. As the Holy Spirit leads you, choose at least one person on the list to pray for on a regular basis beyond this week.

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For most of us, praying for others requires much more intentionality than praying about our own situation. I know that my ailments and issues rarely slip my mind, but I often forget to follow through on my intention to pray for people whose needs dwarf my own.

How do we become more intentional about those good intentions to pray for others? One way to begin is to develop some sort of list or system. Many great prayer warriors have developed elaborate systems for prayer (I’ll leave you to search for one that best suits you), but most of those I’ve examined share a common approach: start praying a little bit for a lot of people and then, as God leads you, pray a lot for a few of them.

Toward the end of my first three-day silent retreat back in my late twenties, I decided to make a prayer list of those people with whom I interacted with on a regular basis. I arrived home with a list of about a hundred friends, family and coworkers to pray for. Since I kept the list tucked in my Bible, I usually found time to pray through the list on a semi-regular basis—although I think those people near the top of the list received a few more mentions.

I didn’t think too much about my list until a person I had met through work phoned me with news that he had turned away from his self-destructive lifestyle to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus. This was probably the last person on my list I expected to hear from. I could tell it touched him to know that somewhat had been regularly praying for him.

Other approaches: One marketplace ministry I was involved with had us fill out Top 10 cards of people to pray for, which also worked well for me. Plus I know of a church in my own spiritually frosty New England that has experienced explosive growth by having everyone in their congregation “pray for one” person. Any type of prayer system can work, for the point of having a system is to provide a structured reminder for us to pray for others, instead of just for ourselves.

How about you? Do you have an approach to praying for others that has worked for you? Please leave a comment below. Thanks!–Patrick

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Weekly Exercise #13: Step back from the material world (and give away some stuff)

Week 13: Spend some time going through one of your areas of greatest material accumulation (clothes, tools, books, electronic devices, etc.). Thank God for those possessions you especially appreciate. Then identify and/or set aside any items that you haven’t used in the past year. Prayerfully reflect on this material aspect of your life and consider which of these items could be given away.

Are you a hoarder? Most Americans would admit to having some clutter, but few of us would admit to being hoarders. After all, we’re not like those extreme cases we see on television. Still, if any of us took the time to pile up all the possessions we haven’t used in the past year, we might be shocked at our materialistic tendencies.book hoarder

Few of us have time for a complete inventory of our stuff, but this week’s exercise asks us to examine just one aspect of our material world—both the good and the bad. Being a longtime packrat, I’ve battled with many areas where my possessions possessed me. This week I’ll be addressing my relationship with clothing. I will thank God for His ample provision—for the comfortable clothing I will wear for years to come and for the work wardrobe I fashioned on the cheap via frequent clearance rack coups.

I will also find “bargains” that tend to stay in the closet, either because there was a good reason for them being on clearance (i.e. “UGLY!”) or because I didn’t need one more sport coat, despite the 90 percent markdown. Why do I have trouble parting with shirts I wear once a year or pants that have “shrunk” in the waist? If I go through my stuff in a prayerful manner, God might reveal much that will help me better practice the spiritual gift of simplicity.

As you evaluate your stuff, don’t forget the most practical part: the giveaway pile. Just as Sabbath rest keeps us from being addicted to work/activities and tithing protects us from the love of money, regularly giving away possessions lessons the control they have over our lives.

Please share your experience with this exercise in the comment section below. Thanks–Patrick

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