I Can't Help It!

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Today’s devotion is out of the blue. It doesn’t revolve around Christmas or the New Year. It has no place within our current series, The Negatives in the Bible. But the idea came to me as I read through my devotions this morning, and I wanted to share it with you.

When we took our trip to the UK back in May, I felt sure the most difficult things for me would be the time difference, the food, and adjusting to the accents. But I was wrong. I actually adapted to those things quickly. (I know, I was shocked too.)  As it turned out, the hardest thing for me was forsaking the years and years of Southern manners I was taught from the time I was old enough to know better.  

It’s not that the people of the UK are rude; they merely live by different rules, particularly with the use of “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” Across the pond, such phrases have unspoken rules about them.  They are used only when speaking to royalty or occasionally to the elderly (and I mean VERY old). When answering anyone else, it’s “Yes” or “No.” Do you have any idea how difficult that was? Well, I’ll tell you it was so hard that I failed at it repeatedly. I rehearsed this mandate repeatedly in my head, but as soon as someone asked me a question, my ingrained manners took control of my mouth, and inevitably, a “ma’am” or “sir” ushered its way through my lips, causing me to cringe as soon as I heard it. I couldn’t help it! I wasn’t trying to be uncaring of their ways or disrespectful to the crown. It’s just that Southern manners have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t have to recall the rules; they just happen instinctively. Fortunately, everyone there seemed to understand.

The thought that crossed my mind this morning was this: Why was it so difficult to forsake my manners yet often so easy to forget to be thankful? Shouldn’t gratitude be ingrained in me as well? You would think.  After all, part of those Southern manners included phrases like “please” and “thank you.” Yet, thankfulness and praise don’t flow out of me effortlessly as my manners do. Sometimes, they even seem forced because I don’t feel like being thankful, but I know I should be. Have you ever been there?

Thankfully (pun intended), God has offered a solution—a course in spiritual manners, if you will. It’s called practice. Remember the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Well, it’s true. The more we practice praise and thanksgiving, the more natural it will become. Even during those times when my appreciation seems insincere, something stirs within me and reminds me that God is good even when my circumstances aren’t. I can pout, or I can praise. Pouting only prolongs my agony and bad mood while praise holds the key to free me from the chains of despair.  

I am a Southern girl, and that fact becomes apparent the moment I open my mouth. I am also a Christian, so that, too, should be clear by the words I say and even how I say them. Not only will my praise and testimony inspire others to join in, but it will encourage me to be more thankful and full of praise. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness. Praise produces praise. And Southern manners? Well, they breed a well-meaning redhead who is appreciative of all those who understand that forty years of instruction can’t be unlearned in a few days.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:14

The Gift of Attention

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May I share with you my biggest pet peeve? I can’t think of anything that ruffles my feathers more than someone who isn’t paying attention while I’m talking to them, particularly if that person is paying attention to their phone instead. Oh, let me tell you, it’s enough to make this red hair stand on end! I was raised with this odd set of standards called manners—a foreign term in today’s society. Manners dictate that when someone is speaking, you look them in the eye and pay attention even if what they’re talking about is not your favorite topic. You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t need to have something witty to say. You just need to give that person your undivided attention.

Today, undivided attention is an oxymoron. With the rise of technology, we believe we can multi-task better than ever, but the truth is, we’re not multi-tasking. We’re just giving more tasks a portion of our effort and attention instead of focusing on one thing (or person) at a time. I’ve been in conversations with people who are scanning the room while I’m speaking. This gives me the impression they would rather talk with someone else, which makes me feel unwanted and unworthy. I’ve also been in conversations with those who pull out their phones and begin pushing buttons and flipping through apps while I’m speaking, making me feel less important than other things vying for their attention. Some, in trying to defend themselves, declare, “I was listening. I just needed to check this email.” But then, they ask me a question I had just answered, which confirmed what I already knew to be the case—they had turned me off the moment they turned the phone screen on.

I think the reason this tops my pet peeve list is that it does so much more than anger me. It hits me where I’m the most vulnerable by making me feel unloved, unwanted, and unimportant. Like what I have to say isn’t valuable. Like my feelings don’t matter. Like who I am is not interesting enough to not be one-upped by a piece of technology. And, friends, I hate that feeling. After all, don’t we all long to feel loved and appreciated?

I know God does. When I think about how much God has done for me, I realize there’s no way I could ever repay Him, and the good news is, I don’t have to. Never once has He asked for repayment or reimbursement. He does, however, ask for my attention. Such a small request, yet I often find myself guilty of my pet peeve, and I go to God with divided attention. Part of me is meditating on His Word while another part of me is scrolling down my to-do list. My prayers are interrupted by random thoughts and other pauses to take care of this or that so I don’t forget. And, yes, I’ve even opened my phone to check an incoming text message or answer a phone call when I’m supposed to be communing with my Lord. (Would you believe I just received a Facebook Messenger notification on my tablet? Spooky, huh? On the plus side, I didn’t stop to check it.)

I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
— Psalm 69:30-31

Did you catch that? God wasn’t interested in sacrifices. He sought undivided attention. He desired praise and gratitude. Is that too much to ask? Is it that difficult to set aside some time to be alone with God? No phones. No television. No newspaper. Just me and God. Just you and God. No stray thoughts. No agendas. No to-do lists. Doesn’t He deserve at least that much?

I wonder, too, if we gave God our undivided attention if that habit would transfer over into our interactions with our fellow human beings. What would our world be like if we would put aside our technology and agenda for a few minutes (or hours) and truly listen to one another? How many misunderstandings could be avoided? How many burdens could be shared? How much love and kindness could be related through the simple gift of attention? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to find out.

Beginning today, I make it my goal to give God and others my undivided attention. I know it won’t be easy, and I’m sure I’ll mess up a few times (or more), but by God’s grace, I will learn to listen as He listens and to interact with Him and others with kindness and compassion. Who’s with me?

Portraying the Power of Prayer

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During my lunch break yesterday, I was watching a show on television, and one character made a statement that broke my heart. During a discussion on spiritual matters, the man declared, “In this life, prayer usually doesn’t work. Nobody shows up to save the day.”

At first, I was offended. After all, to say prayer doesn’t work is to call God a liar, for James 5:16 tells us, The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayer works. Prayer helps. And while it may seem like nobody “shows up” to save the day, the truth is, God is always present. He performs miracles day after day, but we’re often too preoccupied to notice.

As I sat there rolling that statement over in my head, my emotions gravitated from annoyed to convicted. The person who made this statement claimed to be a man of faith, yet he doubted the power of prayer. How often have I done the same? Is it possible that others have such a weak view of prayer because I’ve failed to allow others to see its power through my life?  

We’re quick to ask for prayer, but how often do we mention our answers to prayer? We’ll spend hours detailing our unfortunate circumstances, but how much time do we spend recounting our blessings? I never want to doubt the power of prayer; neither do I want anyone else to question it because I fail to offer testimonies of how God has come through for me repeatedly.

That being said, I’d like to share with you the blessings Jason and I have encountered on our missionary journey. First off, we were accepted by the first mission board we approached and could take part in our orientation just two weeks after our acceptance. This is not the norm.  

We booked our first two meetings without having to approach any churches because the pastors of those churches invited us, which is always a good thing.  

Despite many people telling us we wouldn’t be able to have our table display and materials ready for our first mission conference, we had everything we needed. Not only did we procure all our materials, but we found great deals and were able to get what we needed for a fraction of the cost we were expecting.

Our first mission conference was a huge blessing to us in so many ways. We were able to see friends and family we hadn’t seen in many years. We had the opportunity to meet and chat with other missionary families who gave us much-needed advice and valuable contacts. We were able to present our ministry to the biggest congregation of the conference as well as those listening on the radio and the internet. The songs and sermons each day encouraged our hearts and strengthened us for the journey ahead. The church fed us every day, and I’m talking about some good food—Thanksgiving dinner, steak and baked potatoes, pork tenderloin. YUM! And above all that, the church provided a love offering far above and beyond what we anticipated. Talk about an answer to prayer!

We have another mission conference booked in a few weeks, and between now and then, we have several pastors to contact, many of whom were referred to us by other missionaries. We’ve also been invited to a third mission conference at the beginning of November, and once again, we haven’t even made the call yet. God is bringing meetings to us before we can even book them for ourselves. What a blessing!

I hope you don’t mind my taking a few minutes to brag on God this morning. I tell you, friends, I don’t think we do that often enough. If we did, more people would know and understand there is power in prayer. If we believe that, it’s about time we acted like it.

How would the world change if all of God’s children lived in the knowledge that prayer works? Let’s find out!