Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Prayer

I grew up experiencing prayer in a few different situations: before meals, before bed, and at church. I was taught that prayer was how we communicated with God, and so when we prayed, we simply asked God for whatever we needed, told Him how we felt, and asked Him to watch over those who were sick. It was all a very simplistic view, and as a child, I probably would not and could not have understood much more.

At my college ministry, however, prayer was treated as a very real and very tangible thing. As a community we would pray over someone and lay hands on them. If I ever went and discussed anything with my pastor, he would end the meeting with prayer. All our leadership meetings began and ended with prayer. We had entire worship services dedicated to prayer! It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before, but I instantly enjoyed it.

However, I still struggled with prayer on my own. I kept a prayer journal at the suggestion of one of my small group leaders, but I had trouble hearing God speak in return. I would spend lots of time listening for God's word for me, but I never know if what I hear is simply my own thoughts or God speaking to me. In my discipleship group, we discussed prayer at length one night and I expressed my concerns.

My leader encouraged me to test what I heard. If God is speaking, then the message will align with scripture (in other words, it can be actual scripture passages, or it can simply mean that the message in no way contradicts the character of God as shown in scripture.) Another way to test the message is to share it with other people you trust in spiritual matters and ask them to pray about it. Do they feel confirmation with your message? If not, you might need to continue to pray about the message or disregard it altogether.

Now, what exactly is this message? Well, I've come to understand that God communicates differently with differently people. For me, He mostly speaks in thoughts. He gives me ideas, like the one for this blog, or he strongly encourages me to do something-- sometimes to the point where it's impossible to resist! Once when I was younger, I was on a camping trip with my family, and we were finishing lunch and a group of uniformed soldiers sat down at the picnic table next to us. Something inside of me told me to go speak to the soldiers and tell them thanks for their sacrifices. I can be shy sometimes, and since my family was leaving, I just shrugged off the feeling and tried to ignore it. No good. The feeling became so intense and strong that I had to fight off tears! So, I ran back to the soldiers, said "Thanks-so-much-for-serving-I-appreciate-your-sacrifice" very quickly and ran back to my parents.

For others though, God speaks in pictures. One friend keeps a sketch pad by her bed to record any pictures or visions she has from God. Another finds inspiration from scripture, another through music. I believe God has wired you with a special way of communicating with Him, and if you have patience (something that was really hard for me!) He'll break through whatever distractions are going on in your life to speak directly to your heart.

If you're looking for new ways to pray or experience God, there's a couple suggestions I'd like to make. First, find a good quiet spot to pray. I've found that I enjoy being outside, but high up on a balcony so I'm "invisible" to the rest of the world. Find something that works for you-- a quiet room, a special chair, beautiful music, or an easel. Try different things until you find one that really works for you. Second, don't think that your prayers have to look like anything specific. Sure, it's great to be thankful and ask forgiveness, but listening is also key. A friend once told me "Just go BE with God." I think of that often when I'm praying and I feel like I've run out of things to say. I try to relax and just enjoy His presence. God just wants to spend time with you!

So, let me know if any of these ideas work for you. And tell me, what have you experienced in the past? What do you want to try? If you're struggling, let me know and we can discuss what's going on. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'd love to work it out with you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Misunderstanding

I grew up going to church. Every Sunday, Mom woke me and my brother up, got us all dressed up in our "church clothes," and took us to Sunday School and the 11am worship service. As I got older, I became involved in youth choir, youth bells, and adult bells. I started teaching the Pre-K Sunday School class in high school, and spent every summer going to choir camp, mission trips, choir trip, and VBS. I did everything!

And yet, something was still missing. And I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I'm a good person!  I thought, I do well in school, I respect my parents, I make good decisions. Why is that not enough? I had come to believe that faith in God meant doing good works and being a good person. So, when doing one good thing didn't help me feel any closer to Him, I did more, volunteered more, helped out more. Surely that would bring me some sort of enlightening experience with this omnipresent being who was somehow involved in my creation.

But how would I know if I was experiencing God? Was I supposed to listen for a response to my questions? Would it be an actual voice, or some miraculous sign like the stories talked about in my Christian magazines? What if God came to me in some sort of burning bush, like Moses? (I wasn't sure how I'd handle that sort of experience...)

I wanted more from God, but nothing I did brought about anything like I expected; and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Eventually, in the middle of high school, I gave up on faith-- to an extent. I still did all my activities, followed the morals I'd been taught, and attended church weekly. I simply decided that whatever "more" I was searching for didn't exist. Church and faith were essentially the same: do good, behave well, love people, go to heaven.

If you've ever had similar thoughts, let me be blunt: that is NOT all there is to God. He's so much bigger than doing good deeds. He wants you to know Him. He wants to have a relationship with you. And, even though it might not seem like it, He's been actively seeking you out, searching for you, since the day you were born.

In the next few blog posts, I'm going to go over a couple of ways that I learned to open my heart up to listen and search for the Lord; namely prayer, Scripture reading, and discipleship. For now, I'd love to hear your stories. What have you experienced from Church? Have you ever gotten tired of the whole faith thing? Does my story spark any questions? Let me know!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Welcome to Ezer!

The word ezer is a Hebrew word from Genesis 2:18: The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  Ezer kenegdo doesn't have a direct translation from Hebrew to English, but is often translated as helper, companion, or helpmeet. But, as Stasi Eldredge points out in her book Captivating, the adjective ezer is used only a few other places in the Bible, and it's only used to describe God himself when he comes to rescue someone. How awesome is that?! We are a lifesaver! We aren't subservient or second class; we are sustainers!

The goal of this blog is to help, encourage, enlighten, and grow young women searching for answers to spiritual questions. If you've ever felt like there had to be something more to your faith than a handful of Bible stories learned at Vacation Bible School, or if you've never felt satisfied by the answers offered to your spiritual questions, or perhaps you're not spiritual and are just curious about what I'm talking about--- then this is the place for you. I welcome anyone and everyone, though, as a woman, I will probably focus more on issues that affect women.

Growing up in the church, I had a wonderful, loving, and supportive church community. And yet, I never learned anything more than the stories, the surface lessons. When I asked questions, I often got evasive answers, or frustrated responses--sometimes the other kids in my group would tease me for asking so many questions. Eventually, I gave up on spirituality. I concluded there wasn't anything in the Christian faith beyond the moral lessons and doing good works. And then, in college, God showed me so many amazing things. He completely destroyed all the preconceived ideas I had about what it meant to have faith in Him, and how to actually have a REAL relationship with Christ. I'm not by an means perfect or mature in my faith, but now that I know there's so much more out there, I can't wait to open the eyes of those like me; those young women who, for whatever reason, have grown numb to God or just never had the chance to know Him.

To begin with, I would love if you guys would do two big things for me: first, spread the word! Post my blog on your Facebook pages, tell your friends about it, and even twitter about me! Second, tell me what questions you have. With what issues about the church, your faith, God, the Bible, do you struggle? What do you not understand? I would love to hear any and all of them! You can leave a post here, or email me anytime. Your contributions are definitely appreciated!