“Our Father who art in Heaven…” Let’s start this Ash Wednesday on a prayer journey.
We call it “the Lord’s prayer.” But actually, it is our prayer, taught to us by Jesus. It is a beautiful template to guide our conversation with the almighty, eternal God. Jesus begins the prayer with a radical call: “Our Father.” This is startling for two reasons. First, he says “our” including each of us in an invitation to address God as kindred. Further, we are invited to call God “Father.”
This was a startling invitation. The Jews would not even utter God’s name. And here Jesus is inviting us to a level of intimacy we can hardly fathom. In Gethsemane Jesus goes even further calling out to God as “Abba” – the word the little Hebrew children used for “Daddy.”
But prayer to God as “Father” is not always easy, especially if we had a difficult time relating to our earthly fathers. Awkward as it is, we are beckoned with this command. And in fact only in this relationship can we find healing from our hurts and disappointments from our own fathers. In God we find a father who is what a father is suppose to be. God the father is:
- The source of our life (John 3:3)
- Supplier of all we need (Matthew 6:31-33)
- The one who rightly disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-11)
- The one who grants us an inheritance (Romans 8:15-17)
- The one who gives us abounding affection (I John 3:1, Luke 15:20-24)
Some things to do:
We being our prayer journey by addressing God, the maker of all, as Father. Through this week take time to speak out loud to him as “Father.” As you drive to work or wash the dishes or lie down to sleep whisper the word “Father.” And as the week moves on grow more bold in this. Try speaking to him as Jesus did. Say “Daddy…” How does it seem?
Some things to talk about:
Why is it challenging for us to think of and speak of God as our “Daddy”?
What can we do to “spur each other on” to experience this reality more deeply?
Our Father, teach us to be comfortable with the truth of Your intimate love for us, to embrace You as Daddy. To receive our identity from You and You alone. And out of that intimacy and identity, to live the life Your Son died to give us, with His joy embedded deep within us.
Fat Tuesday is now swept up in the trash bins of the French Quarter. Ash Wednesday and Lent has arrived.
Many followers of Jesus set aside these next 40 days leading to Holy Week as a focused time for fasting and prayer. Lent can be an opportunity to invite God to search our hearts (Psalm 139), to reveal and then purge, anything that compromises our relationship with him.
Fasting is an ancient discipline practiced by many religions. For Christians fasting is a way for us demonstrate that our souls are stronger than our bodies, that we are not slaves to our appetites, but instead rule our appetites by the strength of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Catholic believers between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday. U.S. bishops define fasting as eating only one full meal the entire day and two smaller portions of food during breakfast and lunch. All Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat.
Other Christian traditions leave the specifics of the fast to the conscience of the individual. The principle however is the same: Fasting helps us focus on our physical weakness and need for grace and forgiveness, and it strengthens our faith and power in the Spirit.
Consider entering a fast this Lenten season.
We’ll talk more about this in the days ahead.
For many, Mardi Gras – “Fat Tuesday” – is an excuse for raucous indulgence, a “religious” excuse for that matter to eat and carouse and throw off restraint.
Some of the tradition of this “celebration” goes back to the Christian calendar, as a “last hurrah” before Lent, the traditional season of fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday. The deeper root however is pre-Christian and anchored in Roman Springtime festivals.
The popular assumption is that Christian faith is austere and even “anti-celebration” as if we have to whoop it up before the fun police of religion put the kibosh on our joy.
But far from it! On the last page of the Bible we see a picture of the destiny of the people of God. We’re in heaven, at a feast, a party of joy that lasts forever! Mardi Gras has become an excuse for indulgence, but it’s also an expression of a heart-cry buried in all of us for celebration, belonging, fun, and indulging in the joy of the Lord.
Fears in the night are often just plain foolish – phantoms that amount to nothing but in the darkness of the moment appear larger than life. Recently I awoke in the night and found myself groaning in fear over how my recent Facebook post may be misconstrued. I lay there agonized until I woke enough to realize my folly. My dismay revealed a character flaw I needed to address: I get entrapped by the fear of what others think of me. This fear can hold me captive to insecurity; it can alter my decisions and cripple my ability to act.
The next morning I “went around the circle” (as we say in 3DM and The Order of Mission). I “repented” and then “believed” the good news. Thank God for the good news, the potential for change!
The process of what the Bible calls repentance is really just a process for learning and transformation. Change begins with simple observation. In this case I observed that I give fear too much power.
Next, I reflected on the implications of this problem. I thought about the stress that ensues whenever I put my trust in my Enemy’s false accusations. This stress causes all sorts of havoc in my life: it sucks the joy out the journey; it creates tension and sometimes even real physical pain; it makes me irritable and that can wound my relationships; it generally messes with me, and I don’t like it, and neither does God. On reflection I see that most of these fears are based on false assumptions. I’m believing a lie, and lies are always dangerous. My fears that others are judging me is really silly. And so what if they are. Does it really matter if I KNOW that God accepts and loves me?
Next, I discussed my quandary. Mark and I talked about what I’d realized. It felt good to share with someone, and I found that by bringing the deception into the light I could begin to realize that it wasn’t as ominous as I imagined. Just by saying it aloud I could begin to see my way clear: fear is not a life sentence to doom. With help I began to believe that God could overcome this giant.
I made a plan. Seeing folly and believing truth is a great start, but that only takes me half way “round” the learning circle. I have to move onward and do something about the good news. In his case my plan of action involved a renewed determination to grab what Paul and Apostle calls “the shield of faith” and the “armor of God.” It sounds cumbersome but actually I found it quite comfortable! I decided to change my mind from believing the lie that I am responsible for how I am perceived. Like Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” I grabbed a new philosophy.
And my plan: each morning as I get dressed I would imagine myself “putting on” the armor of God – the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the sword of the Spirit. And then I would stand… Physically I would stamp my feet and stand strong in who GOD says I am! That would be my morning ritual… Then, I made myself accountable. I cut myself free from accountability to random people, and renewed my accountability to God and a few important, honest people who love me. I told them about my morning plan and asked them to ask me how it’s going.
It works. I’ve come full circle. I’ve changed. I’ve “repented” and I’m living in a new way. I’m not perfect and sometimes I still fall under fear. But I know where to turn. I can hide in God instead of under my covers. There, I’m never vulnerable, no matter what anyone thinks of me. No matter how they rock my boat, I can curl up with Jesus and sleep in peace through the storm, blissfully oblivious to anything other than the sound of His gentle breathing.
“God, my soul finds rest in you alone! You are there, and you love me. What else matters? If you are for me – and you are – who can be against me?”
One month ago about 100 million of us made some form of formal New Year resolution. It’s time for a check-up.
How are we doing? Any healthier? Are finances in order? Learned anything new? Any improved relationships?
One month in to the year we should be seeing some movement. Of course, many – most – resolutions for change fail miserably. Why? Making real and lasting change – what the Bible calls “repentance” – isn’t mystery or magic. Here are a few simple keys:
Make intentions measurable and specific. If I need to lose weight, I can frame that objective as a concrete goal: “I will weigh 185 pounds on March 8, 2010 and stay there until December 31, 2010.”
Writing goals works wonders. Psychologists suggest this exercise frees the left brain from asking “what?” and releases the right brain to solve “how?” I’m putting goals into words here and now… You can do the same in the comments section below if you choose!
Tell someone. Asking for accountability from someone we trust brings extra leverage to our commitments.
Commit to a plan not just a goal. There might be several paths to reach your goal. Pick ONE and follow it!
Formalize no more than five personal goals at any one time. Five is the capacity of our focus. Trimming my “wishes” down to five priorities is difficult but necessary if I’m going to move beyond “hope” to “will.”
Pray. Yes, pray. I realize up front that I’m doomed to fail with all my plans to change myself. Yes, disillusion too is a necessary step, and with it a cry for help. Jesus once said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, all my intentions and plans AND commitments and disciplines Will in the end fall short. I’m not strong enough or focused enough, even with all the right strategies. Yes, I can improve the odds of success, but I can never dodge Jesus’ tenet: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” One great spiritual teacher put it this way: “I can’t, you can, please do, thank you!” That is the key to transformation… and resolution… I can’t. Jesus can, through me. I can ask for that change, and then thank him for that completed promise.
“God, I want to change. I need to change. You made me for more than I am. But the truth is, I need more than my own resolve. I need you. I can’t make the changes I must. Please work in me to lead me toward my destiny. Give me strength and determination and focus and the humility to ask you to work when and where I cannot. Thank you ahead of time for your strength to accomplish your purposes in me. In Jesus…”
Tax preparation time… ugh!
But “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross…”
Joy? I need to borrow this Biblical principle apply it to my taxing tax work? I know. It’s ludicrous to compare taxes to crucifixion. Both can be agonizing, but the torment of the latter far exceeds anything imaginable. Still, I like to think of this phrase, “For he joy set before” when I have to endure mundane or dreaded tasks, like preparing taxes. While I am gathering receipts and making spreadsheets and double checking mileage, I can think about how good it will feel when it’s over. Can’t I?
Every year when we go through the process of accounting for our income and business expenditures, I promise myself to be more diligent next year. “I WILL do this better next year.” I vow! I’ll use a better system. I’ll be more disciplined. I’ll document more. I have “repented” like this for years. But every year I find that I’ve slipped up on execution. I’ve discovered that repentance without REAL steps of change is merely a nice gesture. Good intentions alone never bring the joy of transformation.
True “repentance” does begin with recognition of the problem. That part is easy. It then moves to a next step: “Believing the good news,” or seeing and then implementing a recipe for life. Repentance means deleting what’s not working and then adding a download and upgrade for what will work. Tax prep time is a great seasonal trigger to remind me to see where I’ve come short, and then to make a plan to TRULY change that process.
I thought I knew the principle of repentance. After all, I’ve been apologizing to God on for decades. But regret without a re-turning is like dry yeast without warm water and sugar, like Peter without Paul and Mary, like H without 2-0.
My perspective on change “changed” when I read a little book by Mike Breen and Steve Cockram called “Building a Discipling Culture.” Seriously revolutionary! It’s available at www.weare3dm.com. Breen and Cockram helped me see how fun and projective repentance can be. That’s right. I actually said that. Repentance is fun! There’s joy set before us when we walk through the disciplines of change.
More on this tomorrow. For now, let’s talk change. I’d love to hear your stories – even your struggles – to bring genuine transformation in your life. How have you turned good intentions into plans of action? Maybe you’ve made a New Year resolution – to “repent” and you’ve developed a strategy to bring that about. Hop on my Facebook page and offer your story and suggestions for the other half of repentance: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jill-Herringshaw/243379225672172?sk
Can you guess how many sessions it took with my sleep psychologist before I began sleeping through the night after ten years of insomnia? One. And one follow-up visit which was spent with me holding back the urge to bow in reverence at his feet.
As I’ve told you, this sleep psychologist put me on a sleep diet and gave me some very important guidelines to follow.
- Never nap.
- Never do anything during wakeful hours but read quietly in a chair.
- Restrict your hours in bed.
- Keep regular and routine sleep times and wake times.
- Make practical changes in lifestyle.
So I adhered to his suggestions religiously. At times during this experiment, I could almost fall asleep standing up, so I had to keep myself very active, because if I would sit down, I would invariably and almost uncontrollably snooze.
Miraculously within a week I was sleeping through the night every night, and that grace has lasted now for two and a half blessed years. How grateful I am for the change it’s meant for me, my family, my relationships, my work, and every dimension of my life.
Once it was working well, my doctor allowed me to add more sleep in fifteen minute increments, however, I found that if I slept more than seven hours a night, I would get off track and begin to awaken again. So, my limit is about 6.5 to 7 hours maximum. Some people, about ten percent of the population, need as much as ten hours per night. God bless them!
If we don’t get enough sleep, our health is compromised. Dr. Oz warns that, “A lack of sleep heightens your risk of Alzheimer’s.”
Now, what was I going to say? Oh, yeah. So that’s my sleep journey, from a super-frustrated life on my way to a super-natural life. I hope and pray that all our reader friends can “lie down and sleep in peace” every night of their lives. Rest is a gift from Heaven.
Here’s a hug: 0
Jesus, You could sleep anywhere while you were here in body, even in the middle of a boat, in the middle of the sea, in the middle of a torrential blast. Would you give us Your peace and rest, so we can enjoy the benefits that you’ve designed for us to have? Thank You. We can do all things through Your strength. Amen
During a long, dreary season of chronic insomnia, I also developed TMJ. (I was getting good at this stuff.) So when I was sleeping (which was rare), I was clenching my teeth, contributing to pain which also hampered sleep. But the TMJ ended up to be an unexpected benefit, for therein was the source of the solution.
I was sitting in the TMJ doctor’s office feeling groggy and gross as usual, looking out of her window at the grey, gross sky, and almost nodding off in her chair. She came in and handed me a sleep evaluation. My answers alerted her to my extreme insomniac condition. She referred me to a sleep doctor.
The sleep doctor confirmed that sleep medication in my case would not be advisable for the very reasons that I feared. Instead, he ordered a sleep analysis which would rule out sleep apnea as a cause. What a trip that was! Wired from head to toe, who can possibly sleep in that condition? I managed to sleep somehow that night, and sleep apnea was ruled out.
Next I was sent to a sleep psychologist. Little does that sleep psychologist know that he is my hero (well, I believe I have written him to tell him something to the effect). I’m almost embarrassed to admit how very simple the cure was. Painfully simple. It was a crash diet. A diet that enabled me to crash! Sleep was restored to me once again, but it wasn’t food I was depriving myself of on this prescribed diet; it was sleep. Ironic, isn’t it? Depriving yourself of sleep in order to gain sleep.
It can affect the way our mind works, our immune systems, our moods, and our blood sugar. Dr. Oz says that, “People who suffer from chronic insomnia are five times more likely to become depressed and 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder.”
Losing sleep over losing sleep? It can be a very rough, discouraging battle.
Father, I think of all the people in the world tonight who are stressed at the thought of another sleepless night. Would you cover them with a warm blanket of rest and security in You?
Stay awake – on purpose – tonight. You might get to see the aurora, the northern lights caused by the largest solar storm to hit our planet’s magnetic field in about 8 years. And, there might be other benefits as well… Read on…
It’s hard to believe now, but not long ago insomnia was my “State of the Union” – and it wasn’t pretty!
But sometimes the answers to our challenges are almost too simple to believe. That was the case with my case of insomnia. At the end of my rope, I went to a” sleep shrink” – a sleep psychologist. Yes, there are such specialists. It was one of the best decisions of my life! Solution: he put me on a sleep diet. That’s right. He restricted my sleep to get me to sleep, and doing so gave me some very simple but important guidelines to follow. I followed. Here they are… I’ll amplify them in later posts.
Never do anything during wakeful hours at night but read quietly in a chair.
Restrict your hours in bed.
Keep regular and routine sleep times and wake times.
Make practical changes in your lifestyle.
Here’s how these principles played out for me – and changed my life!
In my exhaustion I had been indulging in frequent siestas. Having only averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, I was afraid that if I didn’t nap, I might fall asleep at the wheel while driving my kids to school. Occasionally, I came dangerously close to doing just that! Now I was not allowed to nap. Ever. But the promised pay off was well worth the delayed gratification.
Then he gave me some very particular instructions of what to do and what not to do when awakened in the middle of the night:
1. Do not lie there more than fifteen minutes.
2. If after that time you still can’t sleep, get up quietly, turn on one light, get comfortable in a chair and read a peace-evoking book (Anne of Green Gables will do).
3. Read until you get sleepy again.
4. Do not surf the web, do laundry, check email or Facebook, unload thedishwasher… (you get the picture).
5. Quietly shuffle back to bed.
6. Repeat as necessary.
I was to put myself on a strict sleep diet, called “Sleep Restriction.” Sounds cruel, but it works. It meant that I would limit the hours I allowed myself to lie in bed. After a while, I would get so sleepy that my chances of sleep would increase. My doctor started me out on a limit of six and one half hours per night. For years I had followed my teachers’ counsel that everyone needs eight hours a night. My sleep doctor assured me that everyone’s sleep needs varies, and perhaps I was one of those blessed people that only need six hours a night. We would find out.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I had read all of these suggestions online (most likely during my fitful, wakeful hours in the night) and dismissed them, assuming that my solution was health-related or hormonal-related or medical-related. I wanted a fix that I didn’t have to work for.
I was the answer to my own prayers, but I didn’t want to believe that.
Is it possible that your solution is right under your nose, so obvious that you’re missing it? Whether insomnia or some other life challenge, God has given us wisdom, knowledge and supernatural power to conquer them. As Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church, “… in all these things (challenges) we are more than conquerors through him (Jesus) who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Father, open our eyes to the solutions you have for us that are within our reach. Help us to not wait for other people to fix what is broken; help us to roll up our sleeves and get to work ourselves. In Jesus…
Do you wish you could just upload yourself to “The Cloud” for a night of restful sleep? Oh, if it could be that easy!
I (Jill) was tired for ten long years. All the time for all that time. I recall sitting on the front step of our home with our youngest son. He was about six years old, and we were having a lovely conversation about Heaven after someone we knew had gone to live there. I told him what I’d read in the Bible about Paradise and he suddenly got an inspired look on his face. His eyes widened, and he exclaimed, “Mommy! You won’t be tired anymore!”
Ugh. That moment made me realize how my battle with sleep – lack thereof – affected not only me but my family. I was a mess and there was no telling day to day if I would be Dr. Jekyl or Mrs. Hyde. Would I be the haggard, depressed, and crabby mom or the energetic, organized mom? It all depended on whether I got my miracle – a sound and deep sleep. Insomnia was robbing me of being the kind of women I was created by God to be: joyful, engaging, consistent, firm but loving, fun, patient, and productive. Day to day was a crap shoot… more crap than shoot, I’d say.
“Why in the heck didn’t you just take sleeping pills?” you ask. My answer: I am weird. I knew that once I started down that road, there would be no end. So I went the direction of herbs and alternative medicine. These things definitely helped, but after spending loads of time and loads of money on chiropractors and naturopathic remedies I still wasn’t cured. So I prayed. I had others pray. I fasted. I had others fast. I cried. I made others cry. And I waited…
Until one sweet day — well, it was more like a week, one of the best weeks of my life — my answer came from a most unexpected source…
Are you, beloved blog-reader friend seeking solutions to your sleep problems? You’re not alone! Dr. Oz notes a recent study that lays out the ugly ramifications of sleep deprivation. “Sleep is necessary to rejuvenate the connections between brain cells; these connections become increasingly erratic the longer you’re awake.” He goes on to say that when sleep is disrupted, the brain connections essential for attentiveness and memory are also disrupted…Now what was I going to say? Oh, yes. I remember now.
Father, You have all the answers to the very real dilemmas we live with. You care about sparrows; you care about us much more. Again, we lift up to you those who are plagued with insomnia. Give them Shalom tonight. And give them a practical way out; please fix what is broken. Amen.