Hope Redefines Prayer

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Praying_HandsFor many years, I was a student of prayer. With every new book about prayer that was published, I visited the library to check it out or hurried into Borders with my coupons.

Two of those books quickly became favorites: “Intercessory Prayer” by Dutch Sheets and “Prayer” by Richard Foster.

Then I was blessed with two mentors who taught me even more about the beauty and power of connecting with God in prayer. And finally, I became a how-to-pray teacher myself. The privilege of praying for others became one of my highest honors.

Yet – even now – prayer can be a mystery. How is it that this incredible God of the universe delights in hearing from us mere humans?

It is because we are his children and so beloved that he desires to communicate with us – to listen and to speak with us.

But now, because of the stress burden, I have found myself hobbling along in prayer. Sometimes all I can do is whisper, “Help me, Jesus.”

Where once I prayed long petitions for others and pleaded with God to meet their needs, now I simply cannot. Too much exhaling has left me with no divine breath.

Spiritually – yes, I am okay. Actually, I am more aware of God’s presence in the daily doings of life. I just have nothing left to give to anyone else. Nor can I intercede with long pathos for other pilgrims.

This change saddened me until I read an encouragement from my latest favorite book. In “The Listening Life,” Adam McHugh writes, “I have grown more restrained in my speech to God. I have come to see prayer more as a way of being with God and less as an opportunity to talk.”

The mystery continues even as recovery progresses. It is well with my soul because that inner sacred space is not dependent on how I can pray.

Rather, prayer is another example of God’s abundant grace wrapped in hope.

God knows who I am and how I am. My connection with him whether in prayer or inhaling his nearness brings spiritual wholeness.

How I pray is not as important as who I love – the divine One who loved me first.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy

 

 

 

 

Silent Saturdays Disrupt Hope

We have recently celebrated Holy Week with its tragic Friday event and the victorious Resurrection Sunday.

saturdayBut the day in the middle – the silent Saturday – lives on in many of our lives.

It must have been the darkest day for those early believers. Their Savior was dead and the resurrection was only a prophecy they weren’t sure would become reality.

Discouragement. Frustration. Doubt.

In hindsight, we know the end of the story. But silent Saturdays continue to haunt many present day believers.

We have come to faith, considered the meaning behind the crucifixion and based our lives on its Gospel message. We know Christ lives and will return again. The Holy Spirit gifts us and guides us. All that is good.

Yet many of us still dwell within our personal silences:

  • The woman who has prayed for her abusive husband, now going on 28 years. She believes yet the answer waits behind the veil of Saturday’s silence. He continues to abuse her. She continues to stay because she believes God has asked her to.
  • The man who needs a job to support his family. He is trained, highly educated with stellar references, yet his silent Saturday continues. His hope dries like brittle resumé
  • The family that has journeyed through cancer with a beloved child. Every remission brings hope. Then another tumor interrupts hope. Their silent Saturdays revolve around chemo, radiation treatments and the fear that constantly threatens.
  • The spouse who sits beside his beloved – a woman who no longer recognizes him. Alzheimer’s has stolen his resurrection joy because her afflicted brain is wrapped in the tentacles of a silent Saturday.
  • The writers who persevere , waiting for that first book contract
  • The hostages who pray for release
  • The marginalized who fight for equality and wonder how many years and how many court dates exist between Friday and Sunday

At some point in life, we all struggle to endure another day – to somehow crawl past our silent Saturdays into victorious Sunday.

But the waiting continues and requires courage to keep breathing, keep struggling, keep hoping.

Answers hide within the loving heart of God as our “Why” questions echo off canyon walls of aloneness.

Yet the only hope we truly have is to repeat the glorious cries of those early believers. “He is not here.” Resurrection dawns.

Someday time will morph into eternity. Silent Saturdays will no longer exist and we will understand why we needed to wait so long.

All we can do now is cling to the hope that Sunday will return. Then we will forever be finished with the silence.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

Hope Finds 3 Options

Number 3When security officials train employees for active shooter situations, they present three options:

  • Run – get out of the building and run away – fast
  • Hide – blockade the door to your room and hide inside
  • Fight – if you cannot run or hide, be prepared to disarm, injure or kill the shooter

Unfortunately in our scary world, we need to be prepared to use these options.

But we can also exercise these three options when life unravels and we need to find hope. What are some examples from history and also from the present?

Run:

  • When boundaries are not respected and a workplace grows unhealthy, we leave.
  • When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, the only way he could respect his employer and obey God was to run.
  • If a woman is living in a destructive relationship, she calls 9-1-1 and hurries to her safe place.

Sometimes the most courageous choice is to run.

Hide:

  • When Elijah was exhausted and afraid, he hid in a cave. God empathized and sent ravens to feed him.
  • When exhausted ministers need a break, they take Sabbaticals. They hide from the many needs so they can recover and return refreshed.
  • When a young mother is overwhelmed with the diapers and the late night feedings, she calls a friend and takes a break. She hides away for a while.
  • When the 36 hour-day overwhelms a caregiver, he calls a friend to sit with his loved one and hides inside the theatre to watch a movie.

Sometimes the healthiest option is to hide for a while and let healing happen.

Fight:

  • When the enemy of our souls attacks with fear, we fight with the sword of the Spirit. We repeat our trust verses – outloud – because the enemy needs to hear our courage and he is a slow learner.
  • When we are charged unfairly for a medical bill, we call customer service. We don’t stop until our questions are answered and the situation resolved.
  • When we see someone being abused – whether it’s a woman, a person of a different color or a child – we report it to the proper authorities. We speak up against injustice. Think Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Carolyn Custis James.
  • When Jesus experienced injustice, he often took action and fought back. Sometimes he spoke up, “Get behind me, Satan.” Sometimes he pitched tables across the church foyer.

Confrontation feels uncomfortable yet sometimes it is the only way to make our point and speak our truth.

Three options move us toward hope because in each scenario, the situation deserves some type of action. Run, Hide or Fight. Then we wake up the next morning feeling safer and glad we chose wisely.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Finds Another One

A few weeks ago, I met another one – an injured saint completely exhausted from serving God and others.Call to Serve

These wounded warriors seem to surface everywhere I go: former staff from a well-known nonprofit who are expected to pray 24/7 until they drop.

Missionaries fatigued from the struggle of cross cultural shock, language study and the stress of starting new churches.

Ministers – both male and female – expected to raise money for church programs while staying focused on the needs of the people.

Pastors’ wives criticized for each pound they gain or the style of clothing they wear or their failure to fill every gap in the church – play the piano, organize the library, show hospitality to everyone, attend every function.

Those who serve day after day with more and more tasks piled on them because the needs are so great and the money so slim.

Even when they try to set healthy boundaries, their voices are not heard. Their pleas ignored.

Then one day – they break. Tears choke and limbs refuse to move. They lie frozen in a fetal position as their bodies scream, “Enough!”

Then comes the judgment:

  • “You’re supposed to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ.”
  • “Complaining is a sin. So is laziness. The Bible calls it sloth.”
  • “How can you be so selfish when the whole world needs Jesus?”

Condemnation wraps itself around the soul like a blanket of destiny. Burnout, broken relationships, chronic illnesses and a shattered sense of self.

The call to serve has become a death sentence and no one in the support group seems to understand.

Have these warriors failed or has the system itself failed them? Have we required so much of our workers they have nothing left to treasure of themselves? How can they possibly love others if they are denied loving themselves?

Even Jesus rowed across the lake to escape from the enormous needs of the people.

So what can we do for these wounded ones? How can we help them recover?

  • Provide a place of rest – a retreat center, a rent-free apartment, a vacation far away from the source of the stress.
  • Initiate the healing process – a leave of absence with expenses paid, a counselor to help them work through the grief.
  • Show grace – no condemnation and no gossip.
  • Solitude – allow them time and space. Don’t text, call or email because they will answer and automatically want to help YOU, pray with YOU, minister to YOU. They are programmed as helpers. Don’t force them back into that role.
  • Meet their daily needs – a casserole on the porch, a gift card in the mail, a letter of encouragement. But NO condemning Bible verses enclosed.
  • Apologize for devaluing their personhood, for expecting supernatural strength from a homo sapien.
  • Pray for God’s healing comfort and for the gentle salve of the Holy Spirit to wash over their hobbled souls.

Then finally – commit to do a better job next time, to set guidelines that protect the hearts of those who serve, to listen to the cries of the faithful servants.

God does not demand that we kill ourselves for the Gospel. Jesus already paid the sacrifice.

It’s okay to admit, “It is finished.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Hope in the Ugly

To keep an open mind and fully underscore my value system, I believe it is important to listen to both sides of an argument.enough-walls

As a Christian, I look for the root of divinity – seeking God’s presence in the everydayness of life and watching for ways God shows up – usually in surprising places.

As a writer, I research and analyze characters, settings and the ever-changing plotlines of life.

Thus, the story we humans have been writing within the last months of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 intrigues, appalls and forces me to ask the question:

Haven’t we already erected enough walls?

We’ve tried to divide and conquer through ugly Facebook posts, malicious Tweets and the constant debates on every news channel – no matter what the political standard. Yes, Fox News can be just as ugly as CNN.

I believe Jesus would not waste his time watching either channel.

Instead of spending his precious waning hours typing hate on a Facebook page, Jesus would be mowing the lawn for an elderly woman.

Instead of using his energy to emasculate his fellow man, Jesus would fix a meal for a single mom and her kids – then tuck an extra fifty-dollar bill inside the napkin.

Instead of listening to commentators yell at each other on the idiot box – who can hear what they’re saying anyway? Jesus would be on his knees begging God’s mercy for our fractured land.

Instead of screaming in uppercase with red text, Jesus would use his hands to touch the weeping face of a homeless man, fix a broken fence on the other side of the tracks and make sure his neighbors knew they were welcome in his home if their electricity was shut off.

The one thing Jesus would NOT do…would be to use his pulpit to bully the other side with religious rhetoric. He was, you’ll remember, constantly reminding the zealots that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

We erect walls because they keep us away from someone different from ourselves. And yet, these emotional and socio-economic walls actually reveal our greatest fear: that I am like you and you are like me – a human being in need of love, compassion and grace.

The abused woman and the happily-married woman are the same inside. They want their heart cries to be heard. They want to be honored, cherished and respected for who they are.

The homosexual and the heterosexual are the same inside. Each wants to be accepted and loved. They seek love in different ways, but their goal is the same. Love me. Care about me.

The Muslim and the Christian are the same inside – each bowing the knee and hoping the mystery of God will hear their prayer requests. Their belief systems are different – yes – but at the core, each seeker hopes God will somehow show up and save them.

But it is easier for us to type vitriol than it is to connect with someone we fear.

Can we not realize how much alike we are – a blob of needy and messy humanity whose lives constantly unravel – homo sapiens who want to be understood and need to know our lives have meaning.

Yet it is somehow more satisfying to scream than it is to hug.

It is more appealing to argue than to compromise.

Can we not use our energy to do good rather than trying to defeat each other? Can we join together and dig deeper to consider what our calling really involves?

To get our hands dirty helping others and let our hearts be bloodied with the capacity to meet needs.

To search for the humanity and the divinity in each other and respond with grace.

To not revel in the fight but rather join together in the process of rescue.

Scripture and history teach us it is not one side or the other, but rather both/and.

I wonder which side of the wall Jesus stands on, knocking as always and hoping some lonely soul will answer.

Because what we all need is hope, and we cannot find it when we refuse to scale the walls.

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

Hope Explains Beauty

confident-womanThe friend request made it through my Facebook filter, so I thought…okay, I’ll confirm this person. Maybe he wants to know about my latest book.

Click. Accept. Then came his first post, “You are so-o-o beautiful.”

GAG!

Facebook didn’t allow me enough space to reply, so I decided to vent on this week’s blog post and maybe teach this guy something valuable.

His statement was obviously a response about my profile headshot which I attribute to a gifted photographer and a makeup artist. It is placed on my Facebook page to help promote my books and build my brand, but it is not a reflection of how I ascertain beauty.

In fact, I believe the most beautiful women are those with an inner glow that comes from an eternal source.

A chorus from my high school years explains this type of beauty:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me 

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, thou Savior divine

All my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

 

 This type of inner beauty cannot be determined by a profile picture. It has to be matured and nurtured throughout the years, often through difficult trials and a commitment to grow faith in spite of turmoil.

In today’s world, temporary beauty is identified by celebrity status, the perfect hairdo and the size four dress. Yet women know lasting beauty involves utilizing our gifts, developing self-confidence and using our voices to speak our truth.

Whether we’re stay-at-home moms or CEO’s in top corporations, beauty is determined more by WHO we are rather than how we look.

And that is the beauty that lasts.

What this Facebook guy doesn’t know is that I am happiest in my jammies with no makeup, working on my next book. My second happiest place is outside, with my hands in the dirt and sweat dripping off my nose, planting next season’s flowers and dreaming about how my gardens will thrive.

Beauty for me is reflected in the fresh dewdrop on a red rose, the turquoise and coral swirls of a sunset or the trouble-free sparkle in a newborn’s eyes. True beauty has nothing to do with the outer visage we show each other.

To experience someone’s true beauty, we must be vulnerable enough to really see them, hear them and understand the core of their being. We must reach beyond our opinions and accept the soul’s inner space, to search for that place that defines personality, heart desire and the passion of chasing our dreams.

For men who try to use pickup lines to invite relationship, I remind them words are empty. Women of beauty seek men of honor – guys who don’t rate women on a 1-10 scale or call them nasty if they disagree about a particular topic.

Women want men who are trustworthy, whose behavior mirrors their words – men who remain honorable throughout the years, men who aren’t afraid to cheer for women when they lead or make more money, men who truly listen when a woman speaks her heart.

Hope expands when women are accepted for the beauty God has placed within them – not the cultural norms printed on magazine covers and photoshopped to attain a certain luster.

True beauty begins inside the soul and no matter what happens in the aging process – that type of beauty cannot be destroyed.

So…to the Facebook “friend” who somehow thought I would be impressed with his overused and tired pick up line, I have a simple response to his feeble attempt to connect….

“Delete.”

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy