Monday, November 20, 2017

A Prayer to Grow Stronger, Part IV: Leaves


          While some conceive God’s favorite answer is no, I’ve discovered it’s a resounding yes! God not only says yes to our life, but desires us to have an abundant one. Some of the richest biblical images for God involve life and growth. Perhaps my favorite is when Jesus describes himself as the vine, and we are the branches; we simply cannot flourish apart from him (John 15:5). As I seek to grow at God’s direction, as I look to deepen connections to my Source, I offer you this prayer that revolves around the different parts of a tree. Relevant stories illustrate each part. My hope is that we will flourish in our life and service by praying it. This week is the final edition and ends in leaves, which are timely for the season. For last week's reflection on branches and the importance of taking risks, click here.

Leaves
Lord, I want to live subject to your Spirit. May my obedience further your church as I connect with your people and reach out to the world. Thank you for being a God of jubilation — like a leaf, I want to dance!
            I’ve noticed when there’s a storm approaching, tiny leaves can actually make an awful lot of noise. I marvel at how thousands can move on their branches as the wind brushes past them. I’ve come to understand what the psalmist meant when he describes the trees as “clapping their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). It’s humbling to watch them move harmoniously to the rhythm of our Creator. But this scene holds more than a simple reflection of God’s majesty — it holds instruction too.
            There’s wisdom in imagining ourselves as one of those leaves. When I think about a leaf blowing in the wind, I remember the Bible describing the Holy Spirit as breath and wind, and I imagine living my life in accordance with the blowing direction of the Spirit. A leaf shakes at the smallest gust; I wonder how I can better obey the Spirit’s tiniest promptings. I’m also challenged to view my role as a single leaf in light of an entire tree. A tiny leaf can make a roar when it is connected to its source and joined with others in motion. The same can be said of us as we join with one another in Christ’s service.
            So often faith is a solitary enterprise today. From competing church commitments to a penchant for individual spirituality, the body of Christ is easily neglected. And while a single leaf on the ground can make a crunch, it misses the swaying, spectacular dance. Beautiful things can happen when a community comes together for change; the same can be true of the church. That's why I link arms with my local congregation. And as I desire to make a difference at the Spirit’s prompting, I remember of the humility and power of a leaf.

Reflection
In the past four weeks, we have explored vital elements to Christian growth that are symbolized by a tree’s roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. As you think about your own life in the weeks to come, consider episodes when God has directed your growth respectively by giving you deeper roots, a patient heart, an exhilarated soul, or a jubilant obedience.

Closing Prayer
          Lord, grow me in each element above toward a unified vision of my life that’s flourishing. Help me to find true fulfillment in your service. Thank you in advance for your faithfulness! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thank you for joining me in praying these past few weeks! If you've enjoyed this series, please bookmark this prayer to come back to and share it today with a friend!

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Prayer to Grow Stronger, Part III: Branches

          
          While some conceive God’s favorite answer is no, I’ve discovered it’s a resounding yes! God not only says yes to our life, but desires us to have an abundant one. Some of the richest biblical images for God involve life and growth. Perhaps my favorite is when Jesus describes himself as the vine, and we are the branches; we simply cannot flourish apart from him (John 15:5). As I seek to grow at God’s direction, as I look to deepen connections to my Source, I offer you this prayer that revolves around the different parts of a tree. Relevant stories illustrate each part. My hope is that we will flourish in our life and service by praying it. For last week's reflection on the trunk of a tree and the importance of patience, click here.

Branches
          Lord, speak to my soul and equip me for the risks worth taking. As I listen for your voice, help me to take hold of your hand. May I live the exhilarating life you destined just for me!
            When I was younger, there was a particular tree that I loved to climb at a neighbor’s house. You had to be a certain height to throw your arms around its lowest branch and hoist yourself up. I remember the day I was first able to do it and the fun that ensued. At first, I mounted up the tree slowly and carefully. But the tomboyish spirit of my youth quickly won out as I swung from branch to branch. I felt tall, strong, and invincible. Luckily, the worst repercussion I ever experienced while climbing was a random splinter or scraped knee.
             There’s a balance of exhilaration and danger that a tree offers a young child, and I find the same to be true as I follow my calling as an adult today. On a daily basis, I need to have a comfort level with risk and sometimes, an appetite for adventure. From trying something new in ministry to writing vulnerable words on a page, when I get it right, the thrill feels like it did the first day on those high branches — it’s exhilarating! At the same time, there have been things that didn’t work, outcomes that I didn’t desire, and pushing through those bumps and bruises is a part of the process.
          American author and professor John Shedd once wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” {Tweet that.} I’m convinced that a well-lived Christian life will involve risk; otherwise, faith would not be necessary. It’s no mistake that “do not be afraid” and its derivatives is the Bible’s most repeated statement. In fact, Jesus says it almost three times more than anything else. He knew we’ll never know the fun — nor view — that awaits us if we don’t have the willingness to grab that first branch. Today, he's saying to you, "What are you waiting for?"

Are you new here? Thanks for stopping by! You're reading Part III of a four part prayer. To read week one, click here. To read week two, click here. And be sure to come back next week for the conclusion! Thank you for reading — and praying — with me!

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Prayer to Grow Stronger, Part II: Trunk


While some conceive God’s favorite answer is no, I’ve discovered it’s a resounding yes! God not only says yes to our life, but desires us to have an abundant one. Some of the richest biblical images for God involve life and growth. Perhaps my favorite is when Jesus describes himself as the vine, and we are the branches; we simply cannot flourish apart from him (John 15:5). As I seek to grow at God’s direction, as I look to deepen connections to my Source, I offer you this prayer that revolves around the different parts of a tree. Relevant stories illustrate each part. My hope is that we will flourish in our life and service by praying it. For last week's reflection on roots and the importance of a strong foundation, click here.

Trunk
Lord, may my life demonstrate the splendor of a mighty oak for your glory. Enable me to be patient as you grow me. Keep my eyes, ears, and spirit attentive to your full purpose for my life.
When I was in high school, I went on a mission trip to do flood relief in Idaho. I remember staring at the mountains on a cold night with a star-filled sky. My favorite pair of jeans and a warm sweatshirt did little to comfort me. Talking with my youth pastor, I was overwhelmed with the need I saw in the world. Our group was making a difference; I wanted to keep doing that in real time and not be relegated to the sidelines with years of schooling ahead.
          My youth pastor had an interesting response. While I expected him to mimic my frustration and encourage an alternative plan, he talked about trees instead. He contrasted two kinds of trees: a sapling and an oak. A sapling, he said, is quick to shoot up. While it’s presence is known right away, it’s fragile and tender. It has limited resources to contribute in the moment with only a thin trunk. A mature oak, however, is slow growing. Its towering height is a testament to the roots, branches, and leaves it has produced one at a time. There are many uses for its substantial trunk, indicating that its maturation time was well spent.
          My youth pastor’s trunk imagery encouraged me to think strategically about my ministry from a long-term perspective for the first time. Having now served in churches and as a hospital chaplain, I continue to reflect upon its truth. I’m grateful that I indeed pursued my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. While training and preparation can take a variety of forms dependent upon our respective callings, it inevitably opens doors. Whenever I’m tempted to feel impatient, I remind myself that the work of the kingdom of God often hinges upon slow, quiet growth. {Tweet that.} In the end, the thicker our trunk, the more facets we can serve, and the richer our canopies.

Next week's reflection on branches will concern risk-taking. Stay tuned for Part III of the prayer!

Friday, November 3, 2017

I'm Preaching THIS Sunday!


A quick note to local friends:

Find out how everyday rocks can inspire you through tough times by faith. Bonus: This service will be recorded by Hometowne TV for the first time! Come to Central Presbyterian Church's auditorium at 5 pm this Sunday, 11/5. The church is located in Summit, NJ. The sermon is part of a nature series at Central's contemporary WAVE service.

I'd love to see you there!

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Prayer to Grow Stronger, Part I: Roots


While some conceive God’s favorite answer is no, I’ve discovered it’s a resounding yes! God not only says yes to our life, but desires us to have an abundant one. Some of the richest biblical images for God involve life and growth. Perhaps my favorite is when Jesus describes himself as the vine, and we are the branches; we simply cannot flourish apart from him (John 15:5). As I seek to grow at God’s direction, as I look to deepen connections to my Source, I offer you this prayer that revolves around the different parts of a tree. Relevant stories illustrate each part and will ensue in the coming weeks. My hope is that we will flourish in our life and service by praying it.

Roots
Lord, help me to cultivate my roots in you. Gift my foundation with wisdom and my fruit with abundance. Guide me so that I bend, not fall, when the winds of life blow — for many are the benefits of life with you!
I began practicing yoga about seven years ago in order to stretch and strengthen. I soon discovered that balance is another one of its benefits. Yoga classes often include balancing poses. Tree pose is a popular and basic one. It entails finding a concentration point in the room and balancing on one foot. The other foot is often delicately tucked above the knee and against the groin. The arms are raised and fan out like the branches of a tree. Holding this position takes focus; when concentration wanes, the body often wobbles. Instructors encourage practitioners not to fight the wobbling, but rather to try rooting the standing foot into the ground even more intentionally. The concept of growing roots releases a stabilizing force.
In relationships and life, I’ve found the same to be true. I remember a particular conversation with my father one day when I was a college student. He wanted to impress upon me the importance of building a future marital relationship wisely. He explained that a healthy marriage, like a thriving tree, is dependent upon its root system. In order to grow strong and healthy, it’s what is under the soil that really counts. Faith enables a couple to draw upon support that is stronger than themselves; in essence, it enables them to prosper in good times and be fortified in tough ones.
It didn’t take long for me to discover the truth of his words. While I was dating my future husband, we experienced 9/11 as New Yorkers. We drew strength from the unique hope and uplift of regular church attendance during that trying time. Our faith cemented us together. We’ve since been married for over fifteen years. As I consider the challenges and changes we’ve weathered, root imagery still applies. The best metaphor to illustrate this is the palm tree. Its root system anchors the tree so that its flexible trunk will bend and not fall over amidst hurricane-force winds. As the winds of change have blown in our lives, and even as I wobble during yoga class, I’ve discovered the strength that can come from a good foundation.
While activity underneath the soil can better a marriage, it can also better a person. Roots have the capacity not only to anchor us, but to ensure a positive growth trajectory. Jesus’ parable of the sower illustrates this principle (Matthew 13:1-9). The sower discovers that the path, rocks, scorched ground, and thorns all threaten growth. When soil is fertile, however, roots develop and produce fruit one hundredfold. The hectic pace of culture, a desire to people-please, and empty worldly goals are not the fertile soil for building wise foundations. We need to root deeper to unearth the alternative scripture offers. It’s not just what we build, but how we build it that counts. {Tweet that.} As we cultivate fertile soil, our resultant fruit will be richer both in relationship and as individuals.

Next week features Part II of the prayer, which focuses on patience and is based upon the trunk of a tree...Stay tuned!

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