Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mealtime Majesty

We met at a fast food restaurant for a quick meal before heading to a meeting. Dinner in hand, we found an empty booth and slid into the high backed seats on either side of the freshly wiped table. Engrossed in my meal, I took no notice of the people coming and going around me. But suddenly a little girl's voice from the table just behind me pierced my consciousness.

“Mommy, we forgot to pray.”

I smiled at the preciousness of the comment expressed in such little-girl innocence. Quickly the mother had her correct their mistake, and they went on with their meal. But her words come back to me often now, usually midway through the first bite of any food set before me. Sadly, sometimes it's not till I'm sitting back in my chair, hunger satisfied, that I realize that once again I've left something undone. I hang my head in shame and whisper what He already knows too well, “God, I forgot to pray.”

Fast-food restaurants require that a meal be paid for before it is handed over the counter or through the window to the customer. God doesn't require payment (everything we have has been bought by His Son). Prayer then is a gift made by choice, an offering of thanksgiving, a remembrance that every good and perfect gift – including the food on my plate – comes from above (James 1:17).

Perhaps the practice was established at the Last Supper, when in His last meal with His disciples, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and then talked to them about it's importance. Identifying the bread as His Body and the cup of wine as His Blood, His followers were to think about His death every time they partook of the same.

Some think the verses above apply just when “taking communion” as a part of a church gathering or individually, a time set aside in a service or in a personal devotional time to deliberately think about Jesus' death on the cross and partake of emblems of bread and wine in remembrance of His sacrifice. And yet He desires so much more than that. He wants to be part of our every thought and action, at any and every moment of the day. At the very least, then, our mealtimes should begin with thanksgiving. The gifts that fall from His hands to us, however, cover so much more than just the food we eat. Surely the physical evidence of answered prayer that fills our days should provoke the same response; the husband healed of cancer, the relationships restored, the broken things in me made whole. Our days are so filled with His goodness that our thanksgiving should be as regular as breathing His love and faithfulness in and voicing our gratitude out, all day long. Quite simply, that is what prayer becomes.

I catch myself more often now when I'm about to sneak a bite of a meal or taste a spilled portion before I've given thanks for the whole...not because I am bound by rules, but rather because I have been set free of them to serve a bigger purpose than merely satisfying my fleshly desires. Because of the sacrifice on the cross, I have the privilege of bringing the Bread of Life into every situation I face each day, and I pray before I eat simply because I need the reminder to thank Him for being the Answer I seek before I lay my questions at His feet.

We don't know what we'll find on our plate as we head into each day, but before we dive into it we can be sure we approach it the proper way. Even the hard things are easier to swallow if we trust God enough to thank Him in advance for working all things out for our good. Similarly the words that fall from His lips in response to our requests are not always the ones we want to hear. But they are easier to bear when we know that He hears our prayers, cares about our heartaches, and will make all things right in the end.

May I never again come to the end of the day and hear God say, “Daughter, you forgot to pray.”

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
(Luke 18:17 NIV)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Coloring Within the (Written) Lines

The phone buzzed on the table beside me. A quick glance told me my employer was trying to get in touch with me.


“What are you doing?” asked the voice on the other end of the line.

“Writing a letter. Why?”

There was a moment of silence before she continued on. “We were wondering if you could come in early today...”

The grilling started at the time clock. “Who were you writing to?” “Why don't you send emails like the rest of the world?”

Truly there are any number of ways to stay in touch electronically with those we love these days, and I'm grateful for the ease and speed of all the messaging options available to us. But there is something to be said about a letter you hold in your hand that sets it in a category of communication by itself.

For a good portion of my life I was on the receiving end of such a blessing, my father having used the only form of communication available to him in his day and age to stay in touch with his children who had left home for any length of time. From daily encouragement to homesick kids at summer camp, to weekly submissions to college mailboxes, to family newsletters sent to our own eventual roadside mailboxes, he was the epitome of faithfulness in that regard. By rough calculation, my dad wrote me between 600 and 700 letters in my lifetime, culminating in the one left in a strongbox, written in the days before his death, which he knew to be imminent. I gathered together the ones I still had on hand after he died and put them in a binder to be kept with my most treasured possessions.

Years later, his youngest grandson started asking questions about this grandfather who had died long before he was born. Naturally the subject of his letter writing habit came up in the ensuing discussion, and I mentioned my amazement at the sheer quantity of mail I had received from my home address.

“It is evidence of how much he loved you,” my son replied, words that prompted me to take pen in hand and start writing letters to my own boys who had moved out on their own. In one of the first missives I sent to this son in particular I included a couple of letters I had kept from my dad, hoping that he would catch a glimpse of the man he was, from the words he wrote, to the way he phrased his thoughts, to the ideas that intrigued his curious mind. How gratifying it was to hear my boy later voice his reluctance to return them, saying he felt in doing so he was saying goodbye to a man he was just barely getting to know.

I used to be an avid letter writer. Somewhere deep down I still am. I felt the stirring inside when I came across a couple of websites last year, one of which belonged to a man who planned to write a letter a day for a year, mailing them off to people who signed up to receive them. A similar one dedicated just the month of February to putting snail mail in any form in mailboxes around the country, I suppose as a means of spreading love in the month dedicated to the same. Intrigued, I knew that when the second month of the new year rolled around, I'd be similarly engaged in some way.

Suddenly that very month was upon me, and I found myself with no time to prepare for the event, no time in my schedule to devote to it...and very close to discarding the idea altogether. But something happened that changed my mind. I was plugging in my electric rollers one morning, and noted that because the set had turned upside down in the cabinet, the rollers inside were a jumbled mess. I opened the lid and went about the task of setting each one back on its heat conduit, muttering “Get back to your post!” as I did so. Strange that I would speak to my curlers in such a way, and stranger still that God would speak to me through them! Suddenly those five words were a directive from the Lord to get back to a task I had fallen away from some years ago.

I've written letters all my life, but once I came to know the Lord, He put purpose in my passion. The letters I sent were no longer just a written chat, but a chance to share my Father's love along with my own, in the hope that those on the receiving end would get to know Him a little better, much as I hoped the snippets from my dad's letters that I sent to my son would introduce him to to the grandfather he never knew.

Individual as we are in our pursuits and giftings, we each have our own way of making the Father known. Christian author Max Lucado describes it as coloring a picture of God using whatever crayons we've been given.

Perhaps you've had your life turned upside down by events beyond your control, and now find your priorities to be a jumbled mess. It's not too late to reconnect with your lfe source and reignite the fire within. Others of us simply set our tools aside for a time and they got lost in the clutter of our everyday lives. Now is the time to dig them out and put them to work once more...to get back to our posts. As the times get more difficult, the world needs to be able to see the image of our Father more clearly than ever before. May He simply inspire the artist inside each of us to new effort...and may our work become evidence of how much we love Him, indeed.

Do not neglect the gift which is in you, [that special inward endowment]... Practice and cultivate and meditate upon these duties; throw yourself wholly into them [as your ministry]...”
(1 Timothy 4:14-15 AMP)

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