Upstairs Prayers

“They went upstairs to the room where they were staying.
They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
Acts 1:13-14

The hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” always makes me cringe a little bit.
A whole hour?
Of prayer?
Sigh.

What does that say about me?
I can watch TV for an hour.
I can read a book for an hour.
I can talk to a friend on the phone for an hour.
But an hour of prayer sounds daunting, if not impossible.

Then I read Acts 1 and a mere sixty minutes on my knees didn’t seem like such a big deal.

After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, the eleven disciples walked back to Jerusalem, went upstairs, and prayed for ten days. I did the math. The resurrected Jesus spent 40 days on earth. Before ascending, Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for a special gift. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which landed on the 50th day after Christ’s resurrection.

50 – 40 = 10

The room upstairs must have been big — there were 120 people up there, all of them joined together constantly in prayer. For ten days. Waiting for something. Not sure what.

Which begs some questions:

  • Was it the same room in which Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper?
  • Who owned the house where the room was?
  • Did they use old Jewish prayers or was it extemporaneous?
  • Did somebody lead or did everybody pray at once?
  • Did anybody get testy?

Which begs some more questions:

  • Could I meet with 120 church members in somebody’s attic and pray that long?
  • Would we be able to take breaks?
  • What about eating? Who would feed all of us?
  • How long would I wait around for something to happen?
  • Would I get testy?

“Whenever God determines to do a great work,
He first sets His people to pray.”
~ Spurgeon ~

Something has been stirring in my soul,
telling me to make prayer a priority this year.
Perhaps a great work of God is on the way.
Maranatha!

Pray to Pray

And pray in the Spirit
on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Ephesians 6:18

I’m a herky-jerky pray-er.
Some weeks I storm the gates of heaven with ferocious faith.
Other weeks, I limp through the days with barely a whisper.

A large percentage of my prayers are focused on me and what I want.
And then I have the audacity to tell God how to go about answering.
“Lord, here’s my problem and this is what I want You to do about it.”
It’s no wonder my prayers don’t availeth much.
Am I the only one? ūüėČ

We all have room to grow in this area, I’m guessing. How can we become better pray-ers? It’s something I’m going to explore in 2021. Here are a few ways I’m going to try to grow in this area.

  • Remember that church directory from a several years ago? I’m going to dig it out and starting with the “A’s”, pray through it, taking a page every week or so. It won’t be long and complicated. When Paul prayed for people, he simply mentioned them to the Lord. (1 Thess. 1:2) When I come across a picture of someone who has passed on to glory, I’ll thank the Lord for their life and the ways they influenced me. I’ll listen for God’s prompting to get in touch with someone I haven’t seen for a while.
  • I like lists, so I’ll make a list of 30 people I know and lift up one name every day for a month.
  • During the sharing of prayer requests at church or Bible study, I’ll actually write them down and actually pray for them during the week.
  • When someone shares a struggle with me, I’ll ask them if I can pray right then and there, out loud, short and simple, instead of using “I’ll be praying for you” as an exit line.
  • If I can’t physically be with someone, I’ll write a short prayer in a text and send it.
  • I’ll keep a list of people to pray for in my phone and turn to it instead of scrolling Instagram during down time.
  • This year, I’m keeping all the Christmas cards we received and I plan to pull out one card every so often throughout the year and pray for God to bless them.
  • I’ll ask God to bring people to mind who need prayer and immediately lift them up when someone pops into my thoughts. Then I’ll send a quick message telling them God brought them to mind and I prayed.
  • Pray the alphabet.
  • I won’t be so shy about making my own needs known so brothers and sisters in Christ can pray for me.
  • I’m going to find a place to make a pile of stones and add one every time a prayer gets answered. Maybe pebbles in a vase on our kitchen counter or a stack of rocks in our front yard.
  • Let’s all pray for church staff and those in teaching/leadership positions on our drive to church every Sunday morning.
  • I’m making a prayer notebook. More on that later!

What ideas can you add to the list? Share, please!

Lord, I pray to become a faithful pray-er.

What Worked For Me in 2020

So many things didn’t work this year. The usual routines went out the window. I’ve got to admit — some of it was a relief to let go of. As an introvert, being told to erase everything off my calendar and stay home sounded like a dream come true. But the world outside my window told a different story. It seemed to convulse with distressing bad news. I wanted nothing more than to bring some order into the chaos, some compassion into the vitriol, some saneness into the crazy. I coped by finding some things that worked for me.

  • Walks. Walks around the neighborhood. Walks through the woods. Walks by myself. Walks with PB. The strolls provided more than exercise for the body — they offered a place for my soul to breath, a refresh for my mind, and some tranquility for my emotions.
  • Focus. That was the word I picked out as my theme at the start of 2020. After all — 20/20 vision, right? I can’t count how many times this year I breathed the prayer “Eyes on Jesus. Eyes on Jesus. Focus.”
  • Sermon notes. I saved some pages at the back of my planner for taking notes on sermons. This simple practice helped keep my mind from wandering on Sunday mornings and gave me food for thought in the week that followed. PB also loved it when I quoted him.
  • Blogging. In my 10 years at “a small drop of ink”, I’ve never written so many posts. There was a series on Psalm 23 in the spring and a series on “The One Anothers” in the fall, but my magnum opus was “The Long Song — Psalm 119”. I posted five days a week for 22 weeks, which surprised even myself. The conditions were right for lots of writing.
  • Food. Food worked for me in 2020. When I wasn’t writing, I was baking. Sweet rolls, bread, cookies, cakes. My son introduced me to Korean Beef and Mission Street Tacos. I read cookbooks like novels and have so many recipes earmarked, I’ll never live long enough to try them all. Comfort food is real.
  • Sewing. My sewing machine came out of hiding and I made my granddaughters dresses this summer. It was just the project I needed. Something creative and functional, pumped full of love.
  • Frother. Yes, a milk frother. A little cream in my coffee cup, worked up into a foamy lather and then steaming coffee poured in — such a small thing, but so delightful.
  • BRP (Bible Reading Plan). Every year I put together a plan that helps me stick to consistent study of God’s Word. While I did flounder a while and missed several weeks during the summer months, I got back on track in September because I had a plan. Those early mornings of study and prayer anchored my soul this year. The plan for 2021 is up and ready to go.
  • Words. So many people came through with helpful, encouraging words this year. One of the quotes I copied into my journal as I wrestled with the reality that the pandemic is a “marathon without a finish line” came from journalist, Alex Hutchinson.

It turns out that, if you ask yourself ‚ÄúCan I keep going?‚ÄĚ rather than ‚ÄúCan I make it to the finish?‚ÄĚ you‚Äôre far more likely to answer in the affirmative.

Yes. I can keep going.
We can keep going.
Even after we hit the pandemic finish line,
we will keep going.

God bless us, every one.

“Let us run¬†with perseverance¬†the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

Favorite Listens from 2020

I know.
I turned a verb into a noun.
(“Listens” are not persons, places or things).
Oh well.

Podcasts, apps and music provided for some wonderful listening experiences this year, so they are all lumped together here. The fact that I won a free pair of Airpods only enhanced the adventure of finding good “listens”. Podcasts, apps and music are very personal choices, so take these lists or leave them. But get something good in your ears.

Podcasts

  • Wild at Heart Podcast — I’ve always enjoyed John Eldredge and the content he and his team put out on “Wild at Heart”. This year I needed it. Every Monday, from the onset of the pandemic until now, he has been a calming voice in my ear. Yes, the world is “gnarly” right now. These days call for maturity. God draws near and is full of mercy. His messages kept my chin up and my eyes on Jesus.
  • Pastor Writer Podcast — A weekly talk about books, ministry and writing by Chase Replogle. Three of my favorite things. He’s a very humble guy and is a top-notch interviewer of real quality guests. Plus, he sent me the free Airpods.

Those are the two I try not to miss. Here are a few others I tune in to from time to time:
The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman
Knowing Faith, Jen Wilkin, JT English and Kyle Worley
The Habit: Conversations with Writers About Writing, Jonathan Rogers
Tony Evans’ Sermons, Tony Evans
The Village Church, Matt Chandler

Music

  • Grace and Mercy, Jess Ray (song)
  • Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew Peterson (album)
  • Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1, Andrew Peterson, (album)
  • Yet Not I, City Alight (album)
  • American Standard, James Taylor (album)
  • Song of the Lamb, Harvest (song)
  • Psalm 119, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Exodus Music (albums)
  • God So Loved, We the Kingdom (song)
  • Goodness of God, Bethel Music (song)
  • Psalm 116 (I Love You, Lord), Mission House (song)
  • No Doubt About It, We the Kingdom (song)
  • Evergreen, Audrey Assad (album)
  • Birdsongs (Time to Relax), (album)

Apps

  • Lectio 365 — a free 10-12 minute daily devotional by the 24/7 Prayer movement. It’s so good.
  • Dwell — a scripture listening app with 10 different voices to choose from. There are 64 Bible listening plans, 55 themed playlists, and 286 passages. This one isn’t free, but so worth it.
  • Libby — the library app that lets me borrow audio books. I plan to use this more in 2021.

Silence

  • This is also a very good idea.

Favorite Movies/Shows of 2020

When “Stay At Home” orders were issued in March, PB and I started taking a walk every evening. Then we would sit down and watch “The Andy Griffith Show”. Every evening. It was a routine that provided some comfort, a bit of stress relief and a little escape from the headline news.

We watched more TV than usual this year, something I ordinarily consider to be a colossal waste of time. But I discovered that it’s not all twaddle (trivial, silly or tedious). In fact, I welcomed the entertaining diversion and even learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite films and shows from 2020.

  • Little Women — I love every version ever made of this classic. PB and I saw this movie in a theater in January. Haven’t been inside a theater since.
  • The Great British Baking Show series (Netflix) — seasons 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Yep, we got hooked. I even bought a thermapen and a digital scale.
  • Somebody Feed Phil series (Netflix) — One of the happiest people on earth, traveling all over the world, eating amazing food. A perfect trifecta.
  • The Chosen series (free app) — The best Jesus film I’ve ever seen. Finally, a Jesus with personality. I have so much appreciation and respect for the director and his approach to this project. Beautifully done.
  • Chef’s Table – BBQ (Netflix) — Especially episode 1: Tootsie Tomanetz, an 85 year old pit master.
  • Lars and the Real Girl — A sweet movie about the power of community to help a young man work through mental health issues. Don’t let the blow-up doll throw you. We borrowed it from the library, but I bought a copy so I could make all my family and friends watch it.
  • Hamilton (Disney+) — PB and I saw the show in Chicago, but watching it in our living room, with subtitles on, was such fun. Then we watched it without subtitles. Twice.
  • Pioneer Quest series (Amazon Prime) — Two couples spend a year out on a Canadian prairie, living like it’s 1870. Filmed in 2000, it’s reality TV before it was a thing. I would have lasted a week. Maybe. Pioneers were tough folks. Alone series (Netflix) was a modern day version of survival in the Canadian tundra, but had a competitive twist. I would have lasted a day. Maybe.
  • The Crown series (Netflix) — Can’t stop watching those British royal historical dramas. Also Victoria (Masterpiece Theater – PBS)
  • The Mandalorian series (Disney+) — I never was a serious Star Wars fan, but it was fun watching this series with our son and daughter-in-law every Friday night this fall. Mando is so cool.
  • Enola Holmes (Netflix) — A smart, quirky mystery featuring Sherlock Holmes’ sister, Enola. Pure fun.
  • A Most Beautiful Thing (Amazon Prime) — A documentary about four young men from rival gangs from Chicago’s west side who became a rowing team.
  • The Movies That Made Us (Netflix) — The behind-the-scenes stories of how movies got made. We just watched the “Home Alone” episode. Then we caught the “Elf” episode on The Holiday Movies That Made Us. The insider information produced in an engaging style was interesting and entertaining.
  • Just Mercy — PB and I saw this in a theater in January, too. We didn’t know then how poignant this film would become in the coming year. As I write this, I am reminded of a quote from my #1 book of the year, “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers”.

“But God, being rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4) Nowhere else in the Bible is God described as rich in anything. The only thing he is called rich in is: mercy. In his justice, God is exacting; in his mercy, God is overflowing.

Dane Ortlund

May the same be said of His people in the coming year.

That’s just a sampling! We watched about 50 movies/television series this year. I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I also feel no shame! After all, it was 2020. Got any film recommendations to get me through the winter?

Favorite Books of 2020

Most people are ready to say, “So long!” to 2020.
It did seem so long.

Still, I can’t resist a look back at one of the most unique years of my life. In the midst of uncertainty, loss and grief, there were some surprising gifts. So, during these closing days of 2020, I’ll be sharing some of those good things — starting, of course, with books. I read 50 books this year. Here are my faves:

1. The Chronicles of Narnia
I started off the year by reading through the seven volume series by C. S. Lewis. I was familiar with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but have never read the whole series. Fantasy isn’t my forte, but Lewis created a world that drew me in. I cried when Aslan bounded down the mountain in the final scene. The series was written for children, but it is deep and rich enough for any adult.

2. The Scent of Water
Elizabeth Goudge was a British author who wrote novels set in English towns with flowery descriptions of gardens and cottages. I found, tucked within her stories, bits of wisdom that have stuck with me. I kept stopping to jot down lines that made me sigh with satisfaction.

“Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands. These are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.”

In mid-February, little did I know “times of distress” were around the corner. I was grateful for those three three-word, necessary prayers in the months to come.

3. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament
Most of us don’t know how to lament very well. There’s a right way to do it, and Mark Vroegop walks us through it in this book. After losing a child, Vroegop traveled into dark clouds and then found his way back to deep mercy. The Psalms gave words to his suffering and he encourages us to be honest about our pain on the way to healing.

4. Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus and Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
These two books by Lois Tverberg were extremely helpful in understanding Jesus’ Jewishness and middle eastern culture in general. There are some things in the Bible that seem strange to my American mindset, but make perfect sense when put in the context of New Testament Jewish understanding. Tverberg’s insights made the gospels come alive with meaning.

5. The Golden Alphabet
While preparing to write a series of blog posts on Psalm 119, I stumbled on this gem by Charles Spurgeon. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, taking about 12 minutes to read. Spurgeon’s verse by verse commentary takes 9 hours and 45 minutes to read. However did he do it with no internet?

6. All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love
John Eldredge writes in a way that makes me want to put the book down and applaud at the end of each chapter. Especially when it comes to imagining the possibilities that awaits us in eternity. If you think heaven is one long boring church service and all we do is sit around strumming harps, this book will rock your world.

7. Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
I love Austin Kleon’s little books of pep talks. They are simple, profound and can be read in an afternoon. They contain a combination of funny drawings, poetry and good advise. Like this:

“How to Be Happy”

8. The Old Man and the Sea
I wanted to read at least one classic this year and this title by Ernest Hemingway was available at the library. It was also skinny — only 128 pages. I had another reason for reading this book. I remember my mother tucking me in at night and saying, “Bed, you are my friend,” which was supposedly a quote by Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman. She was close (“And bed, he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing”). Now it makes me wonder if sometimes at night, my mother felt exhausted, like she fought with the biggest fish in the ocean all day.

9. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Healthier, Happier and More Creative
This book wasn’t an easy read and (full disclosure) I skimmed some of it. Written by Florence Williams, a journalist from Washington D.C., it’s full of reports on studies done on the effects of spending time in natural surroundings. I figured nature was good for us, but I didn’t know HOW good. According to this book, it’s more important than we think. She included enough personal stories to keep me interested, but in the end, the scientific findings were what stuck with me. We need nature.

10. Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane Ortlund’s thoughtful and meditative book was my #1 book of the year. This look at the heart of Christ made me think about things I’ve never thought about before. It showed me things about Jesus I’ve never noticed before. The chapters were short, but packed with many, many underline-able sentences. I will be carrying this one with me into the new year, reading it again so I can discover more things to think about and underline everything I didn’t the first time through.

Here’s to a good reading year in 2021!

Cloaked in Love

My sister sent this reflection to me this morning.
Her words made me sit down, pause, and linger.
It was just what I needed — maybe you need it, too.

He will quiet you with his love.
Zephaniah 3:17

The 5 day old snowfall of 6‚ÄĚ is still clinging to the trees and bushes.¬†It was a wet heavy snow which stuck to everything it touched.¬†Usually the wind or the sun that follows a snowfall shortens the life of the accumulated flakes on the branches. Not so this time.¬†Though the trees on higher ground have lost their coating, the trees and bushes in the valleys and in more protected areas are still clothed in snow, defining every branch with white outlines.¬†Beautiful art in the middle of a colorless and gray December.¬†The clouds turn the woods into a black and white photo.¬†The silence of a snow-cloaked woods is complete and extremely peaceful.¬†It beckons to us to come away from the noise of our living, to soak up the calm, the stillness, the lack of activity and movement.¬†Listening to the quietness is a balm to our souls.

In our daily living, we experience highs and lows, mountain tops and valleys. When we are in the valleys, our God protects us and clothes us with his love. Every nuance of us is defined with his beautiful touch. He silences the noise and provides a quiet place for us to heal, to re-energize. 

This is 2020 ‚Äď need I say more?¬†

We have spent 10 months of this stormy year in the valley. We have searched for the quiet amid the chaos, the healing in the middle of a relentless illness, the renewal of energy as we face long days at long distances from each other. We need connectivity, touch, relationship, acceptance, love. Yet, in an unexpected way, the valley has protected us, for this is where God reaches us. This is where he covers us with his love.

Eventually, the snow will melt or fall to the ground; the black and white beauty will dissolve into a grayness, exposing the branches to the next storm. Eventually, our stormy year will recede and fade into the background, a gray shadow in our memories. But I know that with the next inevitable storm, God will meet us there in the stillness and clothe us with his protective love again.

*Guest post by Robin Masters

Above All, Love

“Above all,
love one another deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8*

Today I’ll wrap up the “One Another” series
with the granddaddy of them all.
Love one another.

Above all.
Most important of all.
Before all things in order of importance.

Deeply.
Intensely, fervently, without ceasing.
It means to be “stretched out”, straining with unceasing activity which requires a degree of intensity and perseverance. The same word is used to describe Jesus praying in Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood.

Love covers over a multitude of sins.

“Our love needs to be the kind that covers each others sins. In other words the focus is on the effect of love that enables fellowship in spite of sins. Isn’t that remarkable? Peter is saying that bona fide, authentic love and fellowship is based, in part, on the covering of many sins. This is not sweeping things under the rug. It’s not endorsing keeping skeletons in the closet. It’s not renouncing church discipline. It’s saying at least this — probably more: When we’ve done all the confrontation — when we’ve done all the argumentation and exhortation — we cover it. Whatever side we are on we cover it; we give it up; we bury it as a cause of murmuring.” (John Piper)


Throw the cloak of love over everything.
Devotion
Honor
Harmony
Acceptance
Greetings
Encouragement
Bearing with others
Agreement
Service
Bearing burdens
Kindness and compassion
Spurring on
Hospitality

Lord, help us, Your children, to love one another deeply. Amen.

*Part fifteen in a series on “The One Anothers”

Offer Hospitality

Offer hospitality to one another
without grumbling.
1 Peter 4:9*

I was not allowed to grumble when I was a kid. During the summer, my mom made me pay her ten cents every time I complained about it being too hot. My income was limited, so I kept my mouth shut.

My own parenting technique with grumbly children was less subtle. “Hey kids, do you know what happened to the Israelites when they complained? The earth opened up and swallowed them.” (Dubious looks from four sets of skeptical eyes.) “Yep. It’s right there in Numbers 16:32. See for yourself. The ground opened up. The grumblers got swallowed.”

Not my best parenting moment.

This is the only “one another” that warns against grumbling. Why is that?

Not everybody is a hostess with the mostess. PB and I have been in homes where no one offered to take our coats (so we tossed them in a corner), we weren’t asked to come in and sit down (so we stood around awkwardly), nothing was offered to eat or drink (although cookies sat on a plate all evening). Sometimes people just don’t know how to be hospitable.

The problem is, we tend to get hospitality confused with entertaining. When entertaining, we assume our house has to be perfect, our food has to be gourmet, and our conversation has to be riveting. That’s stressful. Hospitality is opening up our homes, our hearts, and our lives, just as we are, and making others feel welcome and comfortable enough to put their feet up on the coffee table.

The Greek word for hospitality is
philoxenos
which actually means
love (philos)
for strangers (xenos).
Yes, strangers.

This idea was demonstrated for me when I was about seven years old. An elderly gentleman showed up at our door one night during a snowstorm. His car had gone into the ditch out in front of our house and he had trudged his way up our driveway in a blizzard. I watched as my mother helped him into the living room and tenderly took off his wet shoes and socks. She warmed up some supper for our unexpected guest and made up a bed on the couch. It was a bit unsettling going to bed that night, knowing that a stranger was sleeping in the house. I don‚Äôt remember him leaving the next morning or getting his car pulled out of the ditch or ever hearing from him again.

 Mostly what sticks in my memory is how my mother made an old man feel welcome and comfortable in our home during a snowstorm.

Hospitality is a test for godliness because those who are selfish do not like strangers (especially needy ones) to intrude upon their private lives. They prefer their own friends who share their lifestyle. Only the humble have the necessary resources to give of themselves to those who could never give of themselves in return.” (Erwin W. Lutzer)

There are strangers all around us: in our neighborhoods, at the post office and grocery store, even in the next pew. We are called to push ourselves outside our friendly (cliquey?) circles and show some love to people we don’t know very well.

And do it without grumbling, or you know what might happen…

Dear Lord, it seems impossibly hard right now to extend hospitality to friends, let alone strangers. Yet not one of Your commands include the words “unless there is a pandemic”. Show us how to display welcoming love to people even under these strange conditions. Especially under these strange conditions. We need the Holy Spirit’s creative power to be at work in us, giving us energy to look beyond ourselves. Forgive our grumbling and remind us we are here on earth because of Your kind hospitality. Help us, Your children, to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

*Part fourteen in a series on “The One Anothers”.