What are you doing for Lent?

 

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” James 4:8 (NRSV).

 

Do you desire a deeper prayer life? Why not dedicate Lent 2013 to trying a new spiritual discipline: prayer journaling? I have been keeping a prayer journal for more than 10 years.

If I could choose the most important differences in my life since I began keeping a journal each morning, it would be the following:

  • A peace like no other. When my world and the world around me is in turmoil, I know where my peace comes from.
  • The knowledge of who I am and whose I am. I spent most of my life living up to other people’s expectations. Now, I live for Him.
  • Contentment with who I am and what I have. Many of us live our lives in discontent and seek things outside of God to satisfy that longing that can only be filled in a relationship with Him. Material possessions will never satisfy.

For a limited time, until February 28, purchase a copy of “Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God,” and the companion workbook, “The 40-Day Challenge,” for only $23, which includes postage. Contact me at carolaround@yahoo.com to find out how to get your copies.

For more information about my book, check out http://journalingwithjesus.com/about-the-book/ and read more about the benefits of prayer journaling by checking the archives to the right.

 

“If a journal answers one question, it is
‘What is God doing in my life?’”
–Jan Johnson, author of
Enjoying the Presence of God

What do you lack?

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name”—Psalm 100:4 (NIV).

One of the things I like about technology is being able to stay connected with others. While I sometimes groan about our fast-paced world, I love keeping up with like-minded individuals through Facebook. On November 1, I noticed a 40-Day “thanks”-giving challenge. Each day in November, people began to post those things and people for which they are grateful. I joined the challenge and began posting daily.

During November, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving, always the last Thursday of the month. This American holiday is a time to remember and give thanks for all of our blessings. For many, however, it’s the only day of the year they feel led to express their gratitude.

Did you know that one of humanity’s most powerful positive emotions is gratitude? Several years ago, psychologists started studying the science of giving thanks. What they discovered might surprise you. When you count your blessings, it makes you happier, even during difficult times.

Psychology professor Michael McCullough has studied people who were asked to be thankful on a regular basis. “When you stop to count your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system.”

Research by McCullough and others has revealed that giving thanks is a powerful emotion, feeding on itself. McCullough says, “Psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude. It does make people happier. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Another psychologist, Maryann Troiana, has her clients keep a gratitude journal. By listing daily what they are thankful for, it changes their attitude and outlook on life. Agreeing, psychology professor Robert Emmons says, “It is important to focus more on the people for whom you are grateful. By concentrating on what life would be like without the good things, especially people like our spouses, you begin to realize just how grateful you are.”

Grateful people “feel more alert, alive, interested and enthusiastic,” Emmons says. “They also feel more connected to others.” Emmons, who has written two books on the science of gratitude, often studies the effects of using a gratitude journal.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”

Thank God no matter what happens? Surely, Paul was joking. What if we lived each day in gratitude for what we do have? What if we recalled the ways He has taken care of us in the past? Instead of complaining about those things we lack, what if we began to take an inventory of our simple treasures and conveniences like family, friends, food, shelter, electricity, a vehicle, our health and more. The list is endless.

While we can be blindsided by life’s unexpected burdens, we can choose to give thanks in all circumstances. Each day should be a day of thanksgiving to God and a lifestyle among God’s people. What are you thankful for today?

Coming soon: Carol’s new book, “Sola Fide: by FAITH alone.”

Have You Taken the Challenge?

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”–James 4:8 (NKJV).

Are you as close to God as you want to be? Do you struggle with your prayer life? Do you ever wonder if God really hears your prayers? Do you ever doubt that God loves you?

If so, you are not alone. Even the great heroes of the Bible, like King David, struggled with insecurities. Many examples are found in His Word of people who poured out their pain, grief, confusion, anger, bitterness, depression, and sorrow to God. You are not the first to wrestle with your faith, nor will you be the last.

Lamentations 5:19 says, “You, O Lord, remain forever; your throne from generation to generation…Turn us back to you, O Lord, and we will be restored; renew our days as of old.”

Prayer is not complicated. We make it that way. If after hearing an impressively spoken prayer by another you feel inadequate, join the crowd. Not everyone is gifted orally. However, your private prayers are between you and your heavenly Father and have nothing to do with word choice. It is about the heart connection you have with Him and your willingness to be open and honest with your Abba Father. Abba is the Aramaic word for father, used by Jesus and Paul to address God in a manner of personal intimacy.

In Prayer, A Heavenly Invitation, Max Lucado says, “Prayer is a window that God has placed in the walls of our world. Leave it shut and the world is a cold, dark house. Throw back the curtains and see His light. Open the window and hear His voice. Open the window of prayer and invoke the presence of God into your world.”

Do you want more of God in your life? I hope you will join others as they take The 4o-Day Challenge. Click on the menu above and download your free ebook to get started. If you do take the challenge, please let me know by contacting me at carolaround@yahoo.com.

 

Climbing Out of the Pit

“Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you,
for I am your God.
I will strengthen you…
I will uphold you”—Isaiah 41:10 (NASB).

 

Depression affects about 19 million people in the United States every year. In the past, depression was a taboo subject. People didn’t talk about it because of the stigma associated with the word. If someone had a “nervous breakdown,” the family hid the truth from the prying eyes of the community.

Thankfully, today, depression is out in the open. Many of us have felt sad or alone at some point. However, when the sadness becomes overwhelming or lingers for a long time, it may be a sign of depression. Depression symptoms can include insomnia, anxiety, dismal mood, panic, thoughts of suicide, loss of energy/weight/joy/libido/love for life. It may conjure up images of people staring through a window at a drizzly day.

Depressive illness, which is a medical condition, isn’t like that Monday-morning I-hate-to-go- back- to-work feeling. It’s not the down-in-the-dumps feeling you have when your return from a vacation to find your house in disarray because your hot water pipes burst. Depression is a medical fact, like breaking a leg, only the broken part is in the chemical circuitry of your brain. Depression can affect people’s ability to work, study, interact with others or take care of themselves. It can be caused by imbalances in brain chemistry but can also be triggered by stress, poor nutrition, physical illness, and personal loss as well as school or relationship difficulties. Healing doesn’t happen overnight.

In my early 40s, I was diagnosed with depression, triggered by marital problems. My mother fought it most of her adult life. If you have a family history, an event can activate the depressive state. For me, healing required counseling and medication. However, one of the greatest tools to healing has been my prayer journal.

Writing down my thoughts in a letter to God has helped me to see how valuable I am. My self-worth took a nosedive in my 40s when my husband (at the time) wanted a divorce because he was attracted to another woman. The fact that the woman was 20 years his junior didn’t help my self-esteem either.

I sought self-worth in other things, including an extreme weight loss and rigid exercise routine, shopping for new clothes because I’d lost 55 pounds, a complete makeover which included a new hair color and seeking approval from others.

Through prayer journaling, I have been able to unravel the reasons my marriage failed. I have also come to realize that God loves me for who I am. I don’t have to prove anything to Him. As I have overcome my depression, He has replaced it with joy.  Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

The opposite of joy is sadness. However, it’s hard to remain sad when your joy is found in the Lord.  Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Help Me Lord, I Need Some Direction

“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations”–Psalm 33:11 (NIV).

Have you ever been lost? I have. I am not only directionally challenged but can get lost with a GPS, especially if I ignore the “voice” giving me orders to go right or turn left. Our relationship with God can be just like that. We can get lost in the cacophony of a noisy world shouting, “Follow me. I’ve got all the answers,” or “If you buy this gadget/book/pill, your life will be transformed in three easy steps.”

 While following God is not always easy, His path is clear. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

 Determining God’s path for my life only came after I surrendered my will to His. I did not invite Him to be the Lord of every breath I take until I was in my late 40s. I can still recall that peaceful fall afternoon in 2001 when I prayed aloud for the first time. My prayer follows:

 “God, please help me. I need some direction in my life.”

 Since that day, more than 10 years ago, I have been seeking His guidance, His plans and His goals for my life. Have I gotten it right every time? No. However, my prayer journal entries reveal a woman who has grown closer to Him, a woman who has learned to trust that “still, small voice,” that is often drowned by the outside world. That is why keeping a prayer journal has helped me to distinguish between the world’s shouts and His quiet whisper, telling me to go this way or that.

 I recall a journal entry in July 2003 when I was considering a job change. Although I had been encouraged by friends to apply for the position, I was uncertain. I was only two years from retirement. However, the new job, if I got it, would mean substantially more money and a heftier retirement check. I was not afraid of change but I had been a part of the faculty for 28 years in the same school system. I didn’t have peace about the change, even if others were encouraging me to apply.

 I did apply. On the morning of my scheduled interview, I read Proverbs 3:5-6 before journaling my prayer to God.

“With all your heart
you must trust the Lord
and not your own judgment.
Always let him lead you,
and he will clear the road
for you to follow.”

Immediately, I felt a peace settle around my soul. Whatever the outcome of my interview, I knew God was in control. I praised God in my journal for making His presence known to me that morning. I didn’t get the job. However, God’s plans for me were much better than I could ever have imagined.

 If you’re struggling with identifying His plans for you, try writing a letter to Him in a journal. Ask Him to show you the way. He will. You just have to trust that “still, small voice.” He won’t lead you astray.

The Freedom to be Yourself

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”–Luke 19:10 (NIV).

 Do you struggle with your identity?  Is your self-esteem low? Are you addicted to your career, alcohol, food, people, money, perfectionism or anything else that occupies your waking thoughts? Maybe some, or all of these, describe you. You’re not alone.

 For years, I struggled with my self-worth and found it in all the wrong places, mostly in being a people-pleaser and a perfectionist. I hid behind a mask of self-deception, trying to convince myself, and others, that I was whole. I identified myself as daughter, sister, wife, mother and high school teacher. However, I didn’t really know who I was. I tried so hard to live up to other people’s expectations of how I should act and what I should say that by the time I reached my 40s, I imploded like a light bulb that blows inwards when it burns out—and that is not healthy for anyone.

 I began to question my existence and identity. My sons were grown, my 28-year marriage ended and I found myself alone for the first time in my life. Raised by a mother who expected her daughters to do their best, I became an overachiever. For 28 years, beginning at age 19, I had sought to please a man who could not be pleased—and I didn’t have a clue as to my identity.

 In the fall of 2001 I began to seek the One who knows me better than I know myself. Although I had attended church faithfully as a child and teenager, I had drifted away in my 20s. I returned for several years when my sons were young; however, it wasn’t until that October afternoon that I realized what was missing in my life—a relationship with my Savior. He is the only One who can fill the God-shaped hole to make us complete.

 Since that time, my journey has led me to discover my identity through a personal relationship with Jesus. Spending my early morning time with Him, pouring out my heart on the lined pages of a journal has led to my wholeness and healing. Through this journaling process, I have regained the sense of self I had as a young child who delighted in spending time in the outdoors with God.

 When the ink flows across the pages of my journal, I am free to be completely authentic with Him. To be authentic means to be genuine. If you’re hiding behind a mask, it’s hard to be real with yourself and with others.

 God is the only One who can help us find our self-worth. The true sense of one’s value or worth as a person can’t be found in other people, things, jobs or the world. Psalm 118:8 says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”

 In whom or what do you place your trust? Is the object of your trust absolutely 100 percent dependable and eternal? If not, you’re giving up the freedom to be yourself.

Forgiveness is a Choice

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14

free

As legend goes, a now-famous feud began with a dispute over the ownership of a hog. The feud escalated and lives were lost on both sides. The battle between the Hatfields and McCoys continued for 12 years until they agreed to disagree. But it wasn’t until June 14, 2003, that descendants of both sides signed a truce, though the conflict had ended a century earlier.

Lewis B. Smedes, author and professor, once said, “If we wait too long to forgive, our rage settles in and claims squatter’s rights to our souls.” Numerous scientific studies tout the benefits to our health when we forgive those who have wronged us. Chronic anger and stress are almost unavoidable consequences of an unwillingness to forgive. Both are toxic to our physical and emotional health.

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

After my 28-year marriage ended in 2001, I carried around some toxic emotions. Bitterness, anger and unforgiveness ate away at me until I began to pour out my heart to God in my prayer journal. I wasn’t healed overnight. This gradual process led to my letting go of the past. As I inked my pain on the pages, I was released from the bondage and the emotions that threatened my health.