Friday, July 11, 2008

Day Forty: Can You Believe It?

Astonishing, right? Didn't the finish line of our 40 Days seem a million miles away? And yet here we are.

Do you know what this means? It means that we've accomplished something. We may have done it gracefully on some days and grudgingly on others, but that doesn't matter. Every prayer we offered or tossed or flung violently up to God, he heard. And he loves us. And he's working our lives for good, according to his plan. Which is better than our definition. This is no small matter. Come tomorrow, my friends, it's time to celebrate :)

I want to offer you two scenarios for how tomorrow could go, so that we can make some choices ahead of time.

Scenario #1: You wake up, realize that the 40 Days are over, and see no evidence that God was even paying attention. You feel a knot of despair wrap around your insides. You check this website repeatedly, hoping for some extension plan or caveat, then decide that you hate us all because we've abandoned you (and gone off to live our perfect, every-prayer-answered-as-if-by-special-delivery, lives). You decide to extend your fast...maybe if you give up more, for longer, God might listen? You fall into bed tomorrow night feeling sad and alone.

You might guess that I'm not a fan of this one! That's why I'm bringing it up in advance. There will be temptation to go this route, to doubt whether this little experiment was anything other than a new way to see our hopes dashed. The Apostle Peter warned us that Evil roams about like a roaring lion, looking to destroy us. Scenario #1 is an example of what that could look like. But Paul makes the fine point that if we resist the devil, he must flee from us. That's the true meaning behind all those "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirts: if we're down with Jesus, Evil can't hijack our thoughts. But he can try.

What to do? It helps to have a plan. I present this for your consideration:

Scenario #2: You wake up tomorrow, and think, "This is the first day of the rest of my life! I wonder what God's gonna do?" Alongside your breakfast, you have a giant serving of whatever you were fasting from (presuming it was a food item) because hey--it's a celebration! All day long, as the thing you've been praying for comes to mind, you think, "Thank you God, that that's taken care of. You've heard my prayers and thank you in advance for the awesome ways you're answering. Thank you that you are working in places I cannot see, doing things beyond all I can ask or imagine. And thank you for all you're doing in me to make me ready. In Jesus' name, Amen..."

And you repeat as needed :)

Today's reading, the final two chapters in Acts, presents a vivid picture of what it can be like to walk in the newness God offers after a season of intense prayer. The scene where Paul is bitten by the poisonous viper is what I'm referring to. Everyone around him sees this deadly snake latch onto him and assumes it's divine retribution because Paul is a prisoner; they figure he must be a murderer who has it coming. And they're not wrong: Paul is a murderer. And yet he shakes the snake off like it's nothing. What's that about?

When we align our lives with Jesus, he makes us a new creation. The old things of our lives--our mistakes, our bad choices, the pain we've suffered from others--goes away. He takes those things, and leaves us clean and new. But it's not that the old stuff never comes back to bug us--sometimes it shows up like a slithery snake, trying to attach itself to us, poison us, and take us down. There may even be people around who think, "Well, she had it coming..." But we can shake it off like it's nothing. Because that's all it is.

Pretty cool, right? Good to remember :)

Do me a favor? ENJOY this last day of our 40 Days. And enjoy tomorrow even more. Make sure to break your fast in some way to officially close this season. And keep us posted about what God does! I'm expecting fabulous things, because we're praying to a fabulous God.

Many of you have asked about next steps for this blog, and I'll post something about that soon. I have some ideas, I just need to check in with God before announcing anything official. And I'll also have suggestions for reading, websites, etc. that I'll post once I'm back from vacation. But for now, let's finish strong today, and celebrate tomorrow. And the day after that...and the day after that.

Thank you for doing this with me. I love you guys, and everything God is doing in our lives. This has been an amazing experience....I suspect it's just the beginning.

Today's Song: Smellin' Coffee by Chris Rice. So funny, so good, so true.

Last thing I remember: sayin' bye to yesterday
Glad to see it over, pulling covers over my head
What were you doing, while I dreamt the night away?
Cause I can tell that some thing's different and my eyes ain't even open yet...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day Thirty Nine: Running, but not on empty.

When I got online this morning, the first thing I did was Google the lyrics to the Jackson Brown song, "Running on Empty." That was the phrase running through my head as I thought about today's post--I had nothing. I quickly discovered, though, that that particular tune is not "Today's Song" material: despite the peppy tune, it's pretty grim. Each verse describes some different facet of a life spent chasing, but never finding. And the worst part is the feeling it encapsulates, of not even knowing what that thing is that you're chasing after.

This was a perspective-changer for me. Because as challenging as it is for us in this 40 Days of Faith to be so aware of what we want God to do in our lives, those empty spaces we're hoping he'll fill, our running (and waiting) has its up side. At the very least, it's not empty.

First, we know we're running after the living God, the one who has the power to answer our prayers. We're not running in vain. And wherever we're at on that road, at least we're on the right road. That's no small matter.

And beyond that, we know what we're running after, because we've been praying, asking God to clarify our desires. They're tangible, now: husbands, babies, book deals, healing for ourselves or people we much as it hurts to want specific things and see no evidence that they're coming, when God answers these prayers, we'll know. That's helpful, right?

I was struck by one of the comments yesterday that drew out the difference between wanting something, and wanting it now. I think that's an important part of this. When we've prayed for awhile about a specific desire, it's really easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "Maybe this isn't God's will for me if it hasn't happened yet..." But have you noticed that these sorts of thoughts rarely leave us feeling encouraged, but rather bereft and empty?

I won't pull punches: when it comes to big life issues like marriage and children, this might be the worst advice I've ever heard. And it comes up A LOT. Here's the thing: as I read the Bible, it's God's will for 99% of us to be married. He set life up to work that way, and when that doesn't happen, it means something has gone wrong. (Note: this doesn't mean necessarily that we've done something wrong, although it could. We live in a world with real evil, trying to keep us from God's best. I think that's important to acknowledge here). The same goes for having children, and for healing, and a whole host of other things the Bible talks about as part of the benefits package for those of us who choose to follow Jesus.

BUT, where we might be out of God's will is the timing. We want now, but he's thinking long-term. I've noticed that so far in my life, there's about a seven year differential between my plan and God's plan. That's not my favorite thing in the world! And yet it's an opportunity for me to live in that in-between place, between the now and the not-yet. Just because God doesn't have THAT answer today--the one I'm looking for so diligently--doesn't mean he doesn't have other answers and blessings and great things in store for the next twenty-four hours. But it's my choice whether or not I notice them.

Today, let's notice.

Today's reading: Acts 25-26. We're still in court. Ugh. I promise, things get VERY cool tomorrow!

Today's song: Walk by Faith by Jeremy Camp. It's rather the opposite of "Running on Empty":

Would I believe you when you say
Your hand will guide my every way?
Will I receive the words you say
Every moment of every day?
Well, I will walk by faith
Even when I cannot see...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day Thirty Eight: Small changes, big results?

I have to confess: the courtroom scenes in today's reading bore me. They probably won't bore you; I think this is a holdover from my days as a litigation attorney, when I discovered that watching people argue all day is not nearly as fascinating as I thought it would be. And it's discouraging to see people in positions of authority screw things up.

What shook me out of this unhappy zone, though, was when Paul's nephew overheard the plot to kill Paul and essentially saved his life by reporting it. It made me wonder: where was the rest of Paul's family, spiritually-speaking? And what did they think about his change of perspective? I mean, at the beginning of Acts, Paul was the most legalistic type of Jew imaginable, arranging to have Jesus' followers killed. Then he gets a little attitude adjustment from God on the road to Damascus, and suddenly he's traveling the world singing "Jesus loves me, this I know..." ? It's not hard to imagine that his family might have been a little, well, surprised.

It's weird to be into Jesus. No other spiritual path I've walked freaks people out in quite this way. I wonder if maybe this is proof of what my friend Dave says, that God created the universe to be RELATIONAL. The only way to not be freaked out by my spiritual choices (0r anyone's, for that matter) is to get to know me. Then you can sort it out, and decide if the path I'm on is worthy of concern. Or, in the alternative, if it's a good thing bringing much-needed improvements.

Perhaps Paul's family LIKED that he was no longer a marauding legalist. I'm guessing his earlier persona made him a tough guy to be around during family dinners. They might not have known what to do with his new Jesus-ey lifestyle, but if the bottom line was that he was an easier guy to be in relationship with, that sounds like something God would set up as part of his plan.

What's my point here? Today might be a great time to check in with God about what he's doing in each of our lives as we pursue Jesus with our deepest dreams. Are we different? Better? Have any of our attitudes been supernaturally adjusted? We might not see the results we're praying for yet (as I mentioned Monday, I had no date for the celebration after my first 40 Days), but often we can see God moving in unexpected ways, changing things that we never would have thought of. We don't know what we'll need to receive the God's answer to our prayers, but he does. Ask him today to reveal how he's preparing the way inside you, and take note of the answer. Be encouraged :)

Today's song: Gone Are The Days by Nichole Nordeman. It's just so brilliant:

I had found it was easier to dance around
the edges of who I could be.
If I chose to expose what grows deep down,
would you still desire what you see?
No more self-rejection
No longer paralyzed
This holy perfection
Is me inside Your eyes...

What stuns me about this verse is that the kind of acceptance she's describing comes from God. But the promise I see in the Bible is that the husband God sends for us will see us this way, too: through Jesus' eyes, rather than his own. I think that's a mighty fine thing to pray for, actually. Trust me, it comes in handy when you put on thirty pounds right after the wedding, or when you face breaks out, or you say something impossibly hurtful to the man you love. Only God can make him see you as perfect, despite the things that happen in life. But the thing is--God can make him see you as perfect, despite the things that happen in life!

It's never to early to pray for that :)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day Thirty Seven: In the Game

I like that God does miracles. It seems like a huge upside to following Jesus, this possibility that through his power, circumstances can change in ways that make no natural sense whatsoever. That strikes me as rather spectacular.

And yet even as I think about that word, spectacular, I can feel something in me (I suspect it's God) urging me to correct my assessment. I'm no etymologist, but this word looks an awful lot like two others: spectacle, and spectator. I'd guess that they're related. And this inner prompting seems to be the Holy Spirit reminding me that watching from the sidelines isn't how God designed this miracle thing to operate. If we're following Jesus, the Bible says, we'll do miracles through his power at work within us--we get to play, not just watch. That's kind of wild to think about, especially for a girl like me who has always dreamed of being a superhero.

I suspect that many of us have this inner longing to be more powerful--to make more of a positive impact on the world--than our natural abilities allow. But I've looked far and wide for a superhero training school, to no avail. So the question becomes, how do we connect with that something BEYOND our own most actualized selves? Jesus is the only one I've found who delivers on these kind of promises. But the catch is: we don't get to go to school and train for six years; there's no Jesus equivalent to Hogwarts. Instead, as my friend Dave points out, Jesus jumps into our lives like we're in a game of Cranium and declares, "All Play!"

All Play, for those of you not familiar with this game, means that no one gets to watch while the others try to figure out the answer; everyone plays, all at the same time. It's the most fun part of the game, like getting called off the bench in sports. When it comes to doing what Jesus did--the miracles, the lives transformed in a single conversation, the multiplication of fixed assets into abundant provision--we're all meant to play. Imagine what that might mean for the world?

No, seriously: Stop reading, right now, and imagine what that might mean for YOUR world, and for the greater world around you. Amazing, right?

Let's pray:
God, show me what this looks like for my life.
Open the eyes of my heart that I might be enlightened and know the hope to which you've called me; the riches of your inheritance, Jesus; and your incomparably great power for us who believe.
Show me what you're calling me to, and give me the courage to step into it confident that it's not me at work, but you.
Let me see your miracles, God--in my life and in the world around me.
Thanks in advance!
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sometimes you've just gotta dive in :)

If you'd like some help in thinking about this miracles thing, you might check out this talk given by Dave Schmelzer. It's part of the same series as the talks on prayer and guidance I've given over the past few weeks.

Our theme of diving in continues as we look to today's reading, in that we need to double up and do two chapters a day if we want to get to the cool finale of Acts by Friday. So here are today's chapters. Our friend Paul is in a bit of trouble. But oddly enough, the closer he gets to prison, the broader the audience for his message. Interesting strategy. I'll confess that I'd much rather post something on YouTube than go to prison as a way to get the word out, but we all have our preferred ways of operating!

Today's song: All That I Can Do by Bethany Dillon.
I ran around the room again
I ran outside and I ran back in
And I just couldn't get away from myself.
I don't care what tomorrow brings
I won't back down for anything
I want to think that I was made for something else...
All that I can do is hold onto You
And follow where you lead, where You're leading me...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day Thirty Six: Instead of a reality check, how about a sovereignty check?

I received a heartfelt email last night from one of our participants. She's concerned about how we'll end these 40 Days--about the panic that can jump on us as the days wind down and the answers to our prayers still seem miles (or even lifetimes) away. I'd planned on posting on how to fend off this onslaught anyway, but her email reminded me to clarify a few things, lest you guys feel abandoned in such a vulnerable time.

First, let's take a minute to look at what this 40 Days is (and isn't). We're in the home stretch of an intensely focused season of faith. The way we've lived for these days is not meant to be the new "normal." Rather, it's a season where we've put other things aside to seek God in a certain way. Now, understandably, we can think that if we haven't seen our prayers answered yet (and I'm in this category myself--as excited as I am about the answer to my "where do I keep my costume jewelry?" prayer, that's not what I came into this 40 Days looking for!) we need to re-up and do 40 more. Thankfully (says the girl who will be VERY excited to see sugar in her coffee again come Saturday) I don't think that's how it works. Just because we haven't seen his answer yet doesn't mean God hasn't heard our prayers, or that his answer is no.

If you've read my book, you know that I ended my first 40 Days of Faith experience--where I prayed DILIGENTLY for a husband--with nary a man on the horizon. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And then a complete Mr. Wrong came along, and I assumed he must be from God because he showed up and asked me out. ACK! Major detour. But miraculously, through all of this, Jesus kept me sorted out. I made mistakes, but he always got me back on course--because I gave him permission to work in my life. And when he finally answered my prayer for an awesome husband, trust me--I didn't quibble about the timing!

The truth is, I'm not sure I've EVER seen an answer to one of my big prayers during the actual 40 Days of Faith. It may happen yet, so I'm not discounting the possibility. But I want to make crystal clear that if your answer isn't here by midnight Friday, that doesn't mean you've done something wrong, or that God said no. This isn't Cinderella.

Timing is something that's up to God--it's in his authority to make those calls, not ours. That's part of what makes him God.

This brings me to what my role has been in this 40 Days. Last night's email asked me to become more involved in the comments this week if I had the time. I'm so sorry if my silence has come across as not caring or having time for how this is going for you guys--in fact, just the opposite is true. I check the comments several times each day. I pray for you, asking Jesus for the help only he can give. I've often started to respond to a comment, only to feel God telling me, "Stop..." Because the truth is, there's no advice I have to offer anyone, other than, "Try Jesus--he can help." That's been the whole point of these 40 Days...not my great advice, but actual spiritual power from the living God.

If we let him, Jesus can get (and keep) each of us on track to God's best for our lives. He's the link between us and the answers we're looking for; I'm just the girl standing by the side of the road with one of those "Scenic Attractions" signs: Jesus does Miracles--Turn Here! Anything else I'd offer would be merely my opinion, which is an entirely different thing (and not, in my experience at least, particularly helpful when the deepest desires of our hearts are hanging in the balance.) That's why I've kept quiet. But please know that I'm there, reading, praying, and asking God for his miracles, right along with you.

So here's the take home for today: we're in the home stretch of our marathon--let's enjoy it and finish well. The crowd is cheering; random strangers hand us cups of water when we need it most; we see the finish line off in the distance and can't quite believe we've made it this far. The truth is, none of us will know what these 40 Days "mean" in terms of our lives for quite awhile. Stuff takes time. (How's that for a profound theological truth?)

Here's what we can know, though: God is alive, working, active in each of our prayers, in ways that are bigger than what we see in front of us. That's what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that God is able to do "exceedingly, abundantly above all we can ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us... " That power is Jesus, and we can't imagine what he's up to. This is a good thing :)

Today's reading: Acts 20. Paul literally bores someone to death, and then brings him back to life. That always makes me laugh. And I think this warning from Paul is important:
"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number, people will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"

We all need to be on guard, and know the truth so we'll recognize counterfeit offers to answer our prayers. There is real truth, and we can know it. I've heard that that's what sets us free :)

Today's song: Check out Romans by Jennifer Knapp.

P.S. If you want to email me about finding relevant Bible verses to pray into or questions along those lines, that offer still stands! I just wanted to clarify here why I haven't been posting in the comments.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day Thirty Four: Action, Reminders, and Grace

Today's reading is rather amazing--it's one of my favorites in the whole Bible.

The Seven Sons of Sceva remind us that we need our own connection to Jesus--we can't piggyback on someone else's--or we'll get our butts whumped as we fight off the things that try to bring us down.

The folks burning their sorcery books suggest that perhaps getting rid of the random Buddha figurine or books on manifesting our destiny we have scattered around the house might be a good way to confirm our allegiance to Jesus and his plan for our life.

And the way Paul walks away from folks who aren't interested in what he has to offer is super-helpful to me: we don't need to convince anyone of anything, spiritually speaking. If they're curious, we've got some good stuff to share. If not, it's okay to drop it.

I think the take home today is that God leads us where we need to go. Sometimes it's baptism, sometimes it's tossing some chatchkes, sometimes it's turning and walking away. It's pretty cool, when you think about it--the wisdom we need is right there for the asking.

Today's song: Amazing Grace by Avalon. This is my favorite remake of this classic hymn--the harmonies are so beautiful. The whole thing gives me goosebumps, especially this part in the middle:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already gone.
Tis grace that's brought me safe this far
And grace will lead me on.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day Thirty Three: Everlasting signs

I came across this this morning, Isaiah 55. I think it pretty much says it all, in an astonishingly clear picture of what Jesus offers us as we recalibrate towards him:

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to [King] David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples.

Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you because of the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor."

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.

Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

This is KEY: understanding that God answers our prayers not just to make our lives better because he loves us, but because every answered prayer is an everlasting sign of his power, his love, and his goodness. Part of why he wants to answer our prayers so others might give him a chance in their own moments of hurt, fear, and need. So if you're someone who feels awkward praying for your own husband, family, job situation, book deal, etc., consider the possibility that your answered prayer might inspire someone else to pray. It's a pretty cool system, when you think about it :)

Today's reading: Acts 18

Today's song: Great Expectations by Steven Curtis Chapman

Speaking of great...SARAKASTIC: send me your address so I can send you a copy of yesterday's book!!! :)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day Thirty Two: Breakfast of Champions

I've been reading an interesting book this week that's re-igniting my prayers. It's not that I haven't been praying all this time--I have. But they've been mostly "wandering through my day mumbling to God when I think of it" prayers, rather than "sit down and have a real conversation" prayers. For some strange reason, I was finding God difficult to talk to, as if he were a complete stranger I knew nothing about and didn't have the energy to engage. I hadn't realized how disconnected I was until I started flipping through these pages. Now, I'm starting to feel like me again.

The book, Principles of Prayer by Billy Joe Daugherty, is pretty "churchy." It's filled with Christian lingo that sounds strange to my New England ears. But the substance is SO inspiring, it's been worth the effort to translate. I thought I'd share a bit of it here.

One chapter that made me laugh (and then made me think) is called "Prayer: Breakfast of Champions." It offers nine reasons why we should make time first thing in the morning to talk to God:

1. Jesus did it. This is a powerful argument in favor of getting up a little earlier, given that he healed the sick and raised the dead. Who wouldn't exchange a half-hour of sleep each day to see those kinds of answers to prayer???

2. The way you start something has great effect on the way it ends up. This got me thinking. Looking back, I can see that the relationships I started under shady circumstances--one or both of us dating other people, or feeling like I needed to sneak around to see someone--ended badly, disasterously, or (in one unfortunate instance) in a divorce where I lived in hiding for three years. But when we start something well--with prayer, integrity, honesty, hope--it sets a direction for how things will go. What if this is true for every day of our lives? Again, worth the sacrifice of sleep.

3. When you pray early in your day, you'll get an attitude adjustment. This is a take on the adage, "your attitude determines your altitude." If reason #2 is about setting ourselves on a straight course for the life we want, #3 is about getting the God's attitude about what is possible and what we're facing so that we can fly above the bumps and pitfalls in front of us.

4. If we pray in the morning, we don't have to worry about the many interruptions that come every day. Have you noticed that days rarely go exactly as planned? Things come up, appointments change, we get phone calls from friends we've been missing for months...if we pray in the morning, asking God to direct our steps and order our priorities, we don't have to worry about leaving him out of our day--he's already been invited in.

5. When we are hungry for fellowship with God, we will take time for early morning prayer. I wasn't sure how this was a reason, but as I read on, Daugherty makes a good point: we make time for the people who are important to us. Imagine a husband saying to his wife: "Honey, I love you, and I think about you all day long. But I don't have time to sit down and talk with you--I'm really busy. You understand, right?" Not exactly the stuff happily ever after is made of. If we want a relationship with God, and all the benefits that entails, then he has to be more important to us than the things we'd have to move aside to spend real time with him (and I am SO busted on this, given that I thought God would be fine if I blogged first thing in the morning--talking to you guys about him--instead of talking to him...ACK!)

6. Just as you would fill your gas tank before you start out on a trip, you need to fill your mind with God's Word and prayer before you start your day. Life demands a lot of us. When we start out with God in the morning, it accomplishes two things: it fills us up and gives us something to invest in the challenges ahead (as Daugherty points out, we can only go so long with our exports exceeding our imports), and it wins spiritual battles that are to come. This seems worth the half hour.

7. In Exodus 16, the Lord told the children of Israel to get their manna before the sun got hot on the ground. Manna is living bread--Jesus. For us, this exhortation is to get a fresh word from God every day before we set out. When we do, it feeds us in a way that provides supernatural nourishment all day long. I'm not aware of exactly how or when my body uses the vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. that are listed on my box of cereal, but that doesn't mean I'm not drawing on them as I go about my day. I think morning talks with God work much the same way, sustaining us for the hours to come.

8. When we start our time of prayer with praise to the Lord, we will receive revelation, instruction, inspiration, strength, peace, deliverance from temptation, refreshing, and restoration. Who wouldn't want that? My new plan is to start every day with, "God, you rock!"

9. Giving God the first part of our day is a spiritual law of giving the firstfruits. There are promises in the Bible that when we give God the best part of something--our time, attention, money, talents--he multiplies it back to us. I've seen this happen with both time (when I was WAY to busy to spend time reading the Bible or to go to my small group, but sucked it up and went anyway) and money (where things felt super-tight, budget wise, but we stuck to our commitment to tithe). I've never once regretted it, and I've been amazed at how when I put God first, suddenly I have plenty of time to get everything done, and more money that I would have had if we hadn't tithed. It's bizarre, in a rather wonderful way. Sort of a supernatural reminder that when we align ourselves with Jesus, we're tapping into a life that operates on different principles. New things are possible.

Interesting stuff, huh? Let me know what you think.
I have an extra copy of this book, which I'd love to pass along. Leave a comment today and I'll draw one name and mail it out.

Today's reading: Acts 17. The adventure continues.

Today's song: Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns.
The waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed
The waves the keep on telling me, time and time again, "Boy, you'll never win"
But the Voice of truth tells me a different story...

God has amazing things to say to each of us. Let's take time to ask what they are :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Thirty One: Encouragement, Guidance, Adventure

I had an answer to prayer yesterday. It's a funny one, utterly silly. But exactly what I needed to remind me that God hears ALL our prayers and cares about every teeny aspect of our lives.

Here's the background: When I was getting ready to go on the tour for my book, I looked around and realized that most people weren't spending their days in jeans and a t-shirt. I needed to raise my game from the "slovenly writer at home" look I'd been sporting for the past two years. So I did a bit of shopping, and Steve expressed great delight at seeing his wife in fabrics other than cotton. Along with the new outfits, I got some cute jewelry. Costume pieces--nothing fancy--but totally fun. So fun, in fact, that I can't bring myself to tuck them away. I'm afraid I'll forget about them and return to my frumpy past. So, to remind me that bling is back, I've had that jewelry strewn out across my dresser and closet for the past three months. But now that I'm back home and not darting off to the airport every three days, it seems silly to have all my bedazzled items sitting around in piles. So I prayed: God, please show me where and how to store these things. Absurd, right? But then again, why NOT pray for jewelry storage solutions???

That was a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, I went on a major cleaning binge. I'd purchased a black leather box in the office accessories section of Marshalls for Steve to put his various papers, etc. in. As I pulled it from the bag, I discovered that inside were two divided trays that would be PERFECT to hold my faux jewelry. PRAYER ANSWERED!

And as bizarre as this sounds, this discovery gave a much-needed jump-start to my flagging faith for bigger prayers. I feel like I'm back in the game. Let's pray for all kinds of stuff... God has all kinds of answers!

On a related note, I heard the cry out for thoughts about how God guides us. Fabulous, important question. I have three things to offer on these lines this morning:

First, I gave a talk on exactly this topic Sunday. Here is the link. (I sound a bit deranged with the first "Thank yooooou..." but after that, things pick up!)

Second, today's passage in Acts shows Paul & Co. receiving guidance: "Don't go there. Go here instead." It's kind of wild to see the different ways the Holy Spirit directs them.

Third, something I read today totally busted me: It asked, "What are you praying for?" and asked me to write it down, so I did. Then it said, "What Bible passages are you standing on as you pray?" Hmmm. Interesting. Embarrassing, too. I knew vaguely that the Bible says some stuff about the items on my prayer list, but in that moment, I couldn't tell you what they were. So I pulled out my Bible and looked them up.

So I'll ask you: What Bible passages are you standing on as you pray?
God makes us some great promises in the Bible, but if we don't know them, we're missing out on a chance to line our prayers up directly with his will.

A tip, if you want to try this. My FAVORITE Bible for finding stuff is Zondervan's NIV Study Bible. It has the best concordance (index) in the back that I've ever seen. That's where I was this morning, flipping through trying to find the places where God's will aligns with my dreams.

If you're new to this, or would like some help, email me (trishryanonline AT gmail DOT com) If you give me a sense of what you're praying for, I'll do my best to find you some Bible passages to stand on :)

Today's song: Wide, Wide World by Erin O'Donnell. The line "Don't let me miss my chance" is a regular on my prayer list.

It's adventure that we want
And it's what we finally get
There's nothing safe about You
But sometimes I forget
So lead me into the wide world
Don't let me miss my chance
Cause I'll blink and it will be over
And I won't pass here again.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day Thirty: The Rules, circa 73 A.D.

What does it take to follow Jesus? Are there membership requirements--hoops one can jump through to earn the embossed leatherette Bible, WWJD wristlet, and JC is my Homeboy t-shirt we all crave?

Wait, you don't crave these things? (And yes, I'm joking)

If you've lived anywhere in the United States during the past hundred years or so, you've likely heard some sort of answer to this question. It may have been the odd suggestion that you invite Jesus to come live in your heart, or some complex secret code about how one can't swear, dance, wear fashionable jeans, watch reruns of Sex and the City, or wish someone "good luck" and maintain good standing on the Jesus Team. It's a strange world out there, when we start exploring what God ACTUALLY requires of us.

In my moments of confusion (I often feel that I'm just one stubbed toe/expletive moment away from having my Jesus bobblehead doll ordered back from headquarters) it's comforting to know that this sort of disagreement has been going on since the very first people tried to recalibrate their lives towards Jesus' suggestions. In today's section of our Bible adventure, Paul and Barnabas are caught right in the middle of this debate: the Jesus-ey folks who used to be devout Jews (and had therefore mastered the myriad laws attendant to that culture) thought that ALL new Jesus followers should be bound by those rules, also. But for the non-Jews, this seemed daunting (especially the part about odd as some Christian rules are today, most seem tame compared to the idea of a guy standing there with a giant knife, right?)

I love their response. Essentially, after meeting with the other apostles and praying about this, they concluded, "Let's keep this simple." They wanted it to be easy to follow Jesus, presumably so that we don't get so bogged down in rules and requirements that we miss the awesome new life Jesus offers. So they boiled it down to three things that seemed most essential:

1. Avoid food sacrificed to idols. From what I can tell, this means avoid participating in activities that promote or worship other gods. Idolatry still competes for our attention today, and it's worth considering how we might be tempted to "play along" with other things that we think might help us get from where we are to where we want to be, whether it's kissing up to people we don't like but think can help us (in which case the idol is our own capacity to manipulate people or situations), or using our money (and who DOESN'T idolize money to some extent?) or status or stuff to try and make others respect us in some way. This is something we all struggle with. Keeping it under control pays big dividends in terms of feeling a vibrant, real connection with God and where he's leading us. Totally worth the effort.

2. Avoid sexual immorality. Not much clouds our brains and muddles our thinking like sexual connection with someone. God made sex to be this awesome glue that holds husbands and wives together. But when we start connecting in this way with people outside of marriage, it's more like we get stuck in glue: it limits our ability to get away when relationships are over; the fumes fog our minds...if you've ever felt "stuck" in a relationship you wanted to end, this is part of what's going on.

3. Avoid blood and the meat of strangled animals. This is the community-relations rule. It's not so much about the meat, but about the huge rift between the eating habits of Jews and Gentiles at the time. If they were going to live together as fellow Jesus-followers, it would be helpful if the Gentiles weren't doing things that grossed out their new Jewish friends. In today's world, this is the equivalent of Emily Post saying, "If your new friend is a vegetarian, don't serve leg of lamb when you invite them to dinner..."

What strikes me about these rules is that they're hugely challenging on a personal level, but not complicated. Each one is for our good, rather than some arbitrary ordinance that makes no sense. It takes effort to follow Jesus, but the effort takes us someplace worthwhile. I like that.

Today's song describes life my before I decided that this effort was worth it. It's Stevie Nick's classic, Landslide, which still strikes me as sad, painful, and cautionary. The line, "I climbed a mountain and I turned around," is haunting; it's how I felt for the first ten years of adulthood as I struggled to find some spiritual path that would take me somewhere, rather than just on a long, winding road to the top of another hill. Opting for Jesus, with his simple rules, led me out of this song to someplace better. The right mountain, so to speak. (And I'm going to show huge restraint right now and not suggest that we all listen to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High as an alternative picture...feel free to thank me :) )

What do the rules look like for you?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Day Twenty Nine: Craziness

I am astounded, and more than a bit humbled by our little chunk of reading from Acts today. Paul and Barnabas, two new-ish followers of Jesus, are traveling around telling people of all they've seen and heard, essentially saying, "If you want your life to be different, this guy Jesus is the real deal..." Their message had power (miracles make for GREAT public speaking devices) and people believed them. Then five minutes later, those same people heard someone say something different and decided they believed THEM instead, and tried to murder Paul and Barnabas.

(Can you imagine how perilous it would be for self-help/spirituality authors today if every time one of their devoted fans moved on to the next big idea, they tried to kill them??? The Oprah show would be a bloodbath...)

Anyway...this happens again in the next city they visit: one minute, the crowd is so certain that Paul and Barnabas are gods, they're preparing to sacrifice animals in their honor. Then a few moments later, they hear some other persuasive speaker, and pull out the rocks to stone our intrepid traveling pair.

What's up with that? Why are we so prone to believe one thing, and then five minutes later be utterly convinced that something else is "the truth"? And more importantly, how can we get off this crazy ride and land somewhere steady and solid?

I didn't really have an answer for that question when I typed it a few minutes ago, but then I heard Ayiesha Woods' song, The Remedy and thought, "Well, there it is..." Download it, listen to the lyrics, and let me know what you think. The reminder (and reassurance) is well worth the 99 cents. Who knows? It might be the first time you've ever paid to get off a ride :)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day Twenty Seven: Friends

Hi All,
I'm in Connecticut right now, hanging out with Kristen and engaging in some quality girl time. She and I have been friends since college. We've seen each other through weddings, divorces, dog dilemmas, fashion crises, and everything in between. And we've each, at times, been so mad at the other that we were ready to throw the whole thing out.

Wow, are we glad we didn't. The only reason that's possible, and the only reason we're still sane after all of our collective drama, is that God helps us forgive--each other, the people who've hurt us, the guy who cut us off in traffic last night on the way home from dinner--everybody. Because the truth is, if we're close to people, we're going to annoy them from time to time. We'll forget to call, or we'll remember to call and end up lecturing the other on what she ABSOLUTELY HAS TO DO (that last one is me...trying to fix that!), or we'll screw up in some other way for the ninety seventh time.

Sometimes you forgive and move on, and that's totally the appropriate choice. But sometimes you forgive and hold on, realizing you've got something worth sticking around for. With Kristen, I'm super-glad we opted for the second option.

No take home point for today's post, I guess...just what's on my mind :)

See you Monday!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day Twenty Six: Get up, keep moving

Sometimes, we fall off the wagon. It might be on a diet or exercise plan, it might be some new habit we're trying to cultivate or break, it might be something we're fasting from in hopes that God will move mountains in our lives. It happens. Here's the thing though: it's rarely as big a deal as we make it out to be--it doesn't have to short-circuit our hopes or dreams or prayers.

I've messed up on almost every fast I've tried. When I fasted from dating for six months, I met a guy in the middle of month four. (I didn't fall off the wagon so much as fling myself from it. You can imagine how spectacularly that went...) But afterwards, when I picked my face up out of the mud and ascertained that no bones had been broken in the crash, a wise friend pointed out that the best thing to do was to ask God to forgive me (because this was a choice I made, not an inadvertent slip up), and finish out my fast. No need to start over, or double my time as some sort of self-inflicted penance; that's not what this is about. Just get back ON the wagon, he said, and you'll be fine.

I flashed back to this at the beginning of our 40 Days. I think it was day three or five--not to long into things--when I was sitting on an airplane from somewhere to someplace else, realizing, "Oh $#%&! I had sugar in my coffee this morning!!!"

As some of you might recall, I'm fasting from sugar in my coffee, and yet just a few days after we started, there I was, ripping open those Dominoes packets in my hotel room like God and I had never had that chat. For about a nanosecond, I felt horrible. But then I realized that my guilt didn't add anything to my prayers. I'd been sitting too close to the edge of the wagon, not paying attention, and I fell off. No big deal. So I said, "God, please forgive me...and help me remember my fast!" and that was that. Sometimes, things can be simple.

On an entirely different note, today's chapter of Acts shows things getting decidedly complicated for the Disciples, who encounter some serious resistance to their message. Believers in other spiritual paths, religious folks who were all about rules rather than transformative spiritual seems that suggesting Jesus as the reason for the season wasn't always a big hit back then, either. Still, as Dr. Phil points out, you can't argue with results...

Today's song: Brooke Fraser's Faithful. I saw her in concert last night, and this song just amazed me. It's lyrics talk about that frustrating feeling when God seems far away, unreachable... If you're feeling this way, I'll be giving a talk on Sunday about different ways we might realize God is guiding us...I'll post it as soon as it's online. Until then, let's reach anyway...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day Twenty Five: Are we there yet?

The awesome answer to Kim's prayers (see yesterdays comments for the scoop) did MUCH to bolster my spirits yesterday--how about you? It's so easy to look at the heading on these posts and think, "How is it possible that it's only day twenty five when we've been doing this FOREVER???" And then God answers, and somehow we're given the strength to hope and pray for one more day. Yay God :)

I took a much needed hour off last night. It was around dinner time, and I went out on the deck with a giant glass of cold water and my iPod, to slouch in a chair and listen to Natalie Imbruglia's White Lilies Island. And that's all I did for a whole hour. No multitasking, no jotting down quick notes about things to do when I went back inside, no wondering when things would change or besieging God to make things different. Now I know the whole "we're spiritual BEINGS, not spiritual DOINGS" bit has gotten a lot of press in recent years, but to be honest, I don't really ascribe to it as a long-term life solution. For the most part, God has stuff for us to do with our lives, and that's a good thing. But every once in awhile, it's nice to dial down and recharge for a bit.

What recharges you? Specifically, that is--most of us generally like the beach, music, sunsets, etc. Is there a specific place outside you visit to wind down? A certain artist you listen to?

Our reading today is the opposite of dialed down: there's a prison break, a murder, two different angelic visitations. I'm going to try and grab a few minutes today to head back outside and think about what this passage reminds me: that God has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve to change circumstances in our lives. He's not limited by our imaginations, so the more freedom we give him to work, the more miracles we'll see. That seems to be the deal. (And, as Peter discovered, when God does cool things, it may take a bit of patience to explain it to everyone else...)

Have an amazing day, all! And if you're looking for a good song, check out Sunlight :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day Twenty Four: Not what we expected

Sometimes things don't go quite the way we plan--have you noticed?

My brother takes this idea so seriously that he and my sister-in-law have made a special effort to teach their kids to roll with change. After all, life goes a lot more smoothly when you're not stopped in your tracks every time you don't get the job, the girl, etc. Wise parents, huh?

Not much of anything in my life has gone the way I thought it would. For a long time I was the poster child for that song, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again..." After a few wipe-outs, you either get really scared of what's gonna happen next, or you develop some skills in assessing new circumstances and moving forward with what you've got. I've done this both with God's help and without, and I highly recommend the former. It wasn't until I took a few minutes, down there in my pile of dust, to ask Jesus his thoughts on my circumstances--what to take forward, what to leave behind--that I gained any sort of momentum toward where I wanted to be in life. And a LOT of what he suggested surprised me. It's as if I thought my problem was apples, and he said, "No, your apples are fine...but your oranges, on the other hand..."

In Acts 10, pretty much everybody's expectations get blown out of the water. Cornelius is visited by an angel, Peter is told by God to eat food formerly forbidden to Jews, the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles for the first time and it's clear God intends the good news of Jesus for everybody. This is, I think, a great representation of what life with God looks like: it's usually not at all what we expect or plan. It's BETTER somehow, when we look back on what has happened. We can't always see it when we're in it, but hindsight reveals a track record of God bringing things together for our good that's second-to-none. In the meantime, though, we just have to trust his promises and follow his lead. And if he says our oranges could uses some attention, it's probably worthwhile to listen, and do as he suggests.

Today's song: Change by Tracy Chapman. Her lyrics made my eyes go wide when I first heard them, they're so direct and to the point:

How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses, how much regret?
What chain reaction will cause an effect?
Makes you turn around, makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change...makes you change?

I think they opened my heart a bit, too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day Twenty Three: Name Change

I had ugly nightmares last night. The violent, grisly kind that left me unwilling to go back to sleep but so exhausted I couldn't really fight it. Not fun.

So this morning, I'm rather foggy, reading about this violent murderer Saul and how Jesus stopped him on the road to his latest slaughter, knocked him down and said, "What the #$%$! are you doing?" (Okay, maybe he didn't put it quite like that, but you get the picture.) Now, Jesus didn't just knock Saul down. He picked him up again and gave him an entirely new identity: from that point on, he'd be Paul, and his job was to tell others what he'd seen--that Jesus was real and had the power to transform our lives. He went on to write two-thirds of the New Testament. Kind of a big deal.

In the six years I've been into Jesus, I've wrestled with Paul's take on life more than anything else in the Bible. From the moment I first encountered him, I thought, "Man, this Paul guy has issues..." Suffice to say, Paul and I don't always share the same perspective. But my friend Dave says that when you hit these rough patches, it's helpful to assume that everything that is in the Bible is supposed to be there--God knows about it. So then our job is to ask God, "What's the deal with this?" and he'll help us reconcile what we read with how we see the world. And he really does this--it's rather amazing.

So I thought that today, as we see Saul become Paul and an entirely new chapter in the Jesus Chronicles begins, this might be a handy tool for us to have: when we read something in the Bible that bothers us, let's take it to God. We can ask him to explain himself, and what this might mean for us. If we leave a little bit of space for him to answer us, he will. And I guarantee it will be different--more encouraging, filled with hope and possibility--than we might expect.

Any suggestions for today's song? Leave them in the comments :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day Twenty Two: Signs and Wonders

We're reading Acts 9 today. I dig this chapter, I guess because it's action-packed, and because when I first read it, it helped make sense of what was going on for me. I felt a bit like Simon the Sorcerer, then--I'd keep people amused and amazed by my own little collection of magic powers: knowing things about them through astrology; explaining how if they'd just move the couch to the other side of their living room, everything in life would go better; repeating words of authors I'd seen on Oprah that seemed wise and profound... And yet underneath my sparkling fun facade, my life was pretty disappointing. Whatever "it" was I'd been searching for, it was pretty clear to me I hadn't found it.

But when I read what Jesus claimed in the Bible, and then saw it playing out among real, live people who were trying to follow his lead, the difference between that and what I was hawking was like night and day. It's not that what Jesus says is altogether different than the other spiritual systems I was working (although I'm fairly certain Jesus never rearranged anyone's tent furniture to fix their love life...) It's that he offers real power through the Holy Spirit to get us from where we are to where we want to be. Other systems might tell us how important it is to overcome our fear, or our ego, or our my experience, only Jesus has the power to pull that off; without him, it's just a bunch of wasted effort.

When you're in the middle of a long trip (as we are, here in this 40 Days of Faith), it's easy to wonder where you are, and if you're even headed in the right direction. I've been on many a highway in my various travels, longing for a sign to tell me I was actually headed north on Route 301. I guess this post--and this passage in Acts--is like a highway sign. If you're trying to follow Jesus' lead in this, you're on the right road.

For obvious reasons, THIS is our song for the day :)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day Twenty: Ask, Seek, Knock

"When you see the southern cross for the first time
You'll understand now why you came this way.
Cause the truth you might be running from is so small--
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day."
--"Southern Cross," Crosby, Stills & Nash

When we get where we're going, we'll know why we came this way. Interesting thought, huh?

I first heard Crosby, Stills & Nash in concert right before heading off on one of the bigger adventures in my life. I wasn't sure what was about to change, exactly, but I knew nothing would ever be the same. And these three guys, with their beautiful lyrics of hope and longing and loss, with the ambiguous spiritual undercurrent running through it all, connected me to God in a way that had never happened before. I remember that feeling: knowing that rough waters were ahead, perhaps, but that things would turn out okay.

Of course, I forgot all about this feeling the minute the rough waters hit...

Last night, I remembered it again. I'm taking part in a two-day workshop about how God can transform us if we let him. One of the main speakers was telling a story about searching for a house when he first moved to Boston. He'd almost settled for a grim little condo because so many people had told him it would be impossible to get anything at all in his price range. But when that deal feel through, a friend asked him, "Did you ever ask God for the house you want? You know--specifically?" He sheepishly admitted that he hadn't. But by that point it seemed crazy to ask God for something so much nicer than the grim condo he'd just lost out on. Nevertheless, he asked. "I'd like a place for a grill, God...and some yard for a garden." He also wanted to be near his son & daughter-in-law.

You know where this is going: today, he has a great little house a block from his family. He grills. His wife gardens in the yard.

This story totally busted me. I haven't been asking; not specifically, anyway. I've been praying in broad strokes, asking for vague "good things." Ugh. Sigh.

God invites us to MORE. He loves when we ask. So last night, I recalibrated. I asked. And I'm doing so again today. It takes some time, because there are a few different miracles I'm praying for. But if I'm on this ship headed for God's best for me, and I don't have to steer, that means I've got plenty of time to dream and pray about where we'll land.

Today, let's just do one chapter of Acts, as it's pretty intense. Acts 7. Stephen suggests that we tend to ignore (or kill) the people God sends to tell us where our ship is headed. Let's not do that anymore....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day Nineteen: To get over the bar, we can't sneak under it...

"I ain't settling for just getting by
I've had enough so-so for the rest of my life
Tired of shooting to low, so raise the bar high
Cause enough ain't enough this time."

I want to start today by saying how proud I am of you guys! This is hard, what we're doing, and I love the fact that you're not only hanging in and pushing through, but you're also cheering each other on in the comments section, offering encouragement and saying, "Don't settle! We can do this!"

Amen to that.

THIS is, I think, why God wants us to pursue him together, why following Jesus is a team sport. We're not alone in seeking him for big things that feel impossibly far away; we're not the only ones out on this precarious ledge of hope, wondering if we'll fall or fly. Somehow, it helps to know this.

Today's reading is a doozey. Acts 5 kicks off with two people lying to God because they want to look good to the people around them, and the consequences are pretty high. It's tempting to look at this story as a threat that we have to give up everything that matters to us to be okay with God, but I think that's a red herring. What I actually think this suggests is much simpler: don't lie. Don't say you're "fine" when you're struggling; don't say you're sponsoring 14 kids at an orphanage in Brazil if you're not; don't say you own your house if you rent. Jesus' friend John warned that we'd be tempted to boast of what we have and what we do, but that this urge is not from God; it leads us off the path of his best for us.

But after this warning, it's back to the miracles: the apostles are put in jail, but set free by an angel. That's a pretty cool reminder that God has ways of getting us out of bad situations that go beyond what we can dream up. It's around this time, seeing all of these things happen, that a guy named Gamaliel makes a wise observation: "If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourself fighting against God."

Have you noticed how things of human origin fail? I'm thinking of diet fads, self-help suggestions, even the some of the things I read in the latest issue of my favorite women's magazine that make me cringe and think, "Actually, that's terrible advice..."

I feel like a point I keep coming back to in my life is how important it is for us to look at the lives of the people we're following. Not just their bank accounts, or that they have the power to attract media attention (although both of those are fun things to have). God keeps telling me: Look at the structure. Look at the life they come home to at the end of the day: their relationships, their sense of themselves. Are they miserable, always casting about in the hope things might be different, or they do they have that peace and grace that shines through when someone is connected with God's Holy Spirit?

This is, I suspect, part of not settling. We don't have to run down every path that presents itself. We can stop and ask God for direction and discernment, saying specifically, "Don't let me settle, God...I want your best..."

Here's to not settling. I'm pretty sure this is where the exceeded expectations hang out :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Day Eighteen: Dig Deep

We're almost at the halfway point of our 40 Days of Faith, which is typically when I start to wonder why I ever bothered. It's so easy to lose sight of the big picture here in the middle.

I've been chatting with God about this over the past couple of days, asking for ideas for how to cheer us all on and keep us moving in the right direction. But God's answers when I've broached the subject haven't been of the "let's throw a party to keep morale high" variety. Instead, he pointed me to the book of Acts and essentially said, "Get going."

My guess is, this is why: Sure, I could throw in a pep-talk day with a random, happy bible verse like Jeremiah 29:11. I could even give something away, like a book or an ipod shuffle with our song list on it. And at some point, I probably will. But I feel like God's point right now is that with this much of our journey left to go, we don't need a party to cheer us on. Instead, we need solid evidence that what we're pursuing is real, and worth the effort.

There's no better place to find this proof than Acts. We're only in chapter 3 & 4, and already we're seeing a crippled man healed. Which was such a GIGANTIC, OBVIOUS miracle that it freaked out an entire city and landed Peter and John in court. What strikes me about this part of the story is how different Peter and John's reaction to this hurting man is that what our society typically suggests: They didn't empathize with him. They didn't spend hours validating his feelings or dredging up his wounded inner child. They didn't give him money. Instead, they said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk." And he did.

I feel like this runs directly counter to the way we're typically told to help each other in today's world. The Acts approach is not about empathy, validation, or dredging up our past hurts and ripping them open again for more examination. Jesus promises us NEW LIFE if we're following him, and that transcends all our pop-psychology attempts to deal with things on our own. This path we're on is about more than than our own best ideas and efforts: It's about real spiritual power coming to change things in our lives so that we can be everything God created us to be.

I don't know about you, but when I'm in need, I'll take God's power over well-intentioned human expression of, "Oh, that must be so hard for you..." any day of the week. But sometimes I have to dig deep to get to the place that knows this, because the empathy lulls me into a false sense of comfort.

So today, no false comfort. Dig deep folks, we've got a ways to go. But we're going somewhere, and God is in this with us. That's good news!

Today's song: Love is Waiting by Brooke Fraser.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day Seventeen: All Things Are Possible

I'm not sure how many of you caught the NBA finals last night, but the Boston Celtics beat the pants off of the LA Lakers. Now obviously, as a lifelong New Englander and a sports fan, this was a fun game for me to watch. (Especially because I'd broken protocol and prayed for the Celtics on Sunday when I spoke at church about the power of prayer...)

I'm not bragging about basketball here on our 40 Days blog simply because I'm an excited fan. I'm bragging about basketball because what happened with the Celtics this season feels like a bit of a miracle. Them winning the championship represents an absolute, 180 degree turn around from where they were were at this time last year. Day and night, complete change. Beyond what anyone could have asked or imagined.

The Celtics have stunk for most of my adult life. Last year was especially bad; they won only twenty four games ALL SEASON, and I think one of those was a charity event against retired circus clowns or something. It was pitiful. Fans called for Coach Doc Rivers to be fired, captain Paul Pierce to be traded to some pickup league in the Arctic Circle, and Larry Bird to be brought out of retirement to see if maybe he, on his own, could amass a better record. You know, maybe win twenty five games.

Then everything changed. New players came on board, rolled up their sleeves and worked harder than anyone expected, checking their egos at the door for the good of the team in ways NO ONE thought possible. Attitudes were different, expectations were different, and (most excitingly) RESULTS were different. EVERYTHING CHANGED.

This is today's take home point: however things look today, it's not (necessarily) indicative of how they'll look at this time next year! That's an exciting possibility, right? What God invites us into is shaping that change, rather than coasting along hoping for the best. We can work with him to push back against inertia and hopelessness with real spiritual power. Now granted, we have to roll up our sleeves and work harder than we expect, and check our egos at the door, because now, we're part of a team. But the results!?! The Bible seems to suggest that it's completely reasonable to expect a complete turn around in our circumstances. How cool is that?

In keeping with this, we're diving into some deeper waters, reading-wise. We're turning to the book of Acts, which is the action-packed account of what happened after Jesus left earth for heaven. (If you need proof that Jesus can make good on his promises, Acts is your book.) It was written by a doctor named Luke, who also wrote the account of Jesus' life that bears his name...the book of Luke is a "prequel" to Acts--interesting reading if you want to check it out.

Right before Jesus left, he promised his followers that they would be "clothed with power from on high." That's what happens in the early pages of Acts: God's Holy Spirit comes and fills the people who have said, "I'm with Jesus." This changes everything in some astonishing, miraculous ways.

My friend Dave says that this one of the most important moments in human history--that throughout all time, people have longed for a connection with the divine, and at this moment God came down and filled us with his Spirit, such that we can speak with him and hear from him all the time. This strikes me as pretty great news.

Today, let's read the first two chapters of Acts. It tells us about the Holy Spirit showing up for the first time, and how it resulted in a pretty big turn-around in Peter, who had been a complete buffoon up until this point. Suddenly, he emerges as a powerful, encouraging leader...I'm pretty sure no one saw that one coming.

If you're on the fence about whether or not to jump into the "I'm with Jesus" line, today might be a good day to give it a go. And let's all pray, "God, fill me with your Holy Spirit, open up the doors of connection."

If you'd like more on this "talking to God" idea, here is a link to the talk I gave on Sunday called "How Can My Prayers Have Power?" (It jumps in mid-way through my first few sentences, but it's right at the beginning). And don't worry, I only spent a little time praying for the Celtics :)

Today's song: Turn it Around by Israel Houghton & New Breed. The first few lines are great prayers for today, saying to God (and reminding ourselves): All things are possible for you...nothing's too difficult for you...

It's the truth :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day Sixteen: Repeat as Necessary

We're going to soldier through and finish Psalm 119 today. It's been a long time coming, huh? This is the longest prayer in the Bible, and to be honest, I was a little afraid we'd get bogged down in it and never find our way out. But the risk seems worth it, because this Psalm is a pretty handy thing to have at our disposal when we're asking God to do big things in our lives.
(Which, if we land in the exciting, dynamic lives some of us dream of, might be everyday...)

If you've read my book, you'll know that I first happened upon Psalm 119 as a escape hatch when I found myself facing a certain type of temptation (the nature of which I won't mention here because who needs that kind of web traffic?) Let's just say that sometimes, taking your mind off of things for a half hour or so is a helpful option :)

But now, as I read these last few sections, I'm struck by something slightly different: how the writer of this prayer reminds himself--and God--of the same few things, over and over and over again. At it's core, Psalm 119 goes something like this:

1. Okay God, I've investigated all the other options. I get it: your way is the best way if I want things to go well for me.

2. But I'm likely to lose sight of this, because--let's be honest-- the other ways of approaching life seem a lot cooler and more attractive than yours. But I've seen where those ways lead--which is pretty much nowhere.

3. Your way, in contrast, produces great results. I'll try to focus on that, because that's what I want my life to look like.

4. And now that we've established this, God...could you PLEASE answer my prayers?

I love the honesty in this. It reminds me that I have every right to come to God morning, noon, and night asking for the deepest desires of my heart. Why? Because I've decided to live according to his system...and this is how his system operates. He set it up this way. We don't bug God with our prayers; rather, we invite him into places that have up to this point been labeled, "No Divine Help Needed/I'm Fine Here, Really..."

Look at all the things the writer asks for in the final section of Psalm 119:
Hear my prayer
Give me understanding
Deliver me
Teach me
Help me
Save me
Let me live that I might praise you....

And by "live" here, I think he means the abundant life Jesus promises, not just mere survival. As Nichole Nordeman, my favorite singer-songwriter asks so poignantly:

Why would a young man live in a waste land
When the castle of his dreams is standing by?
And why would a princess put on an old dress
To dance with her beloved and the chance to catch his eye?

Why, indeed?

Her song, Live, is today's addition to the playlist. Let's ask God to make it possible (and repeat as necessary).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day Fifteen: Who Are You?

"If you're always guarding your image, you can't ever get to the essence of what God is calling you to." -- Mark Steiger

Wise words, huh? I feel like this has been a central issue for me in terms of "growing up"--giving up the illusion that I can/should/must control my image. Like anything I've ever tried to control with my own will, these attempts at perception management haven't gone so well for me. Instead, they created this bizarre three-way split between who I was in public, who I was in private, and who I longed to be. Intriguing, at some level, perhaps; but not anyone you'd want to spend more than a few minutes with unless you were doing research for a psych class.

I was pretty much at the end of my image when I finally decided to give Jesus a try. I was living in a run-down shambles of an apartment, temping at a job where I'm make one or two photocopies a week and then surf the internet for the other thirty-nine and a half hours. There was nowhere to go but up. And yet at some level, as my life improved in tangible, amazing ways, I always thought that at some point, I'd get it (my image) back.

Touring with my book over the past two months disabused me of this idea once and (I hope) for all. It was astonishing, really--at any event I went into with some pre-conceived idea of how I wanted to come across, I fell flat on my face (and got run over by a bus or two while I was down there). But when I checked my image at the door, amazing things happened: great conversations, answered prayers, interactions with fun people that instantly felt like friends. And (not coincidentally) lots of book sales. So much more fun and fruitful. Good stuff.

So last night, when I was with a group of people discussing a book called "HEROIC LEADERSHIP" (and what tempts me to start polishing up my image more than the idea of being a hero???) my friend Mark made the wise comment above. I scrambled to write it down. I should have it emblazoned on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and post-it notes; little reminders that guarding my image not only takes TONS of effort that could be better spent elsewhere, but it's destined to fail.

How about you? Do you have an image you cultivate?

Today's passage: Psalm 119:113-136

Today's song: My Life by Mary J. Blige

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Day Thirteen: Pray it like it is

My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, "When will you comfort me?...How long must your servant wait?"
--Psalm 119:81-82, 84

These are the opening lines of today's section of Psalm 119. I love them, and at the same time they make me want to throw stuff across the room in frustration. Here's why:

I love them because they give me proof that we can pray honestly. The person who wrote these words wasn't stifling his disappointment or making peace with his plight. He was saying, "Look God--I'm doing what you asked me to. I spend all day, every day, looking for you to come through on your promise....until my eyes FAIL. When are you going to come through???" If I'm going to worship and interact with a God, I want him/her/it to be a God I can be real with. I guess it's like any other relationship--it quickly loses steam if I have to be someone I'm not. To me, it's good news that God can handle my prayers, even when they're of the, "HELLO!!! Have you lost my file???" variety.

The throwing stuff across the room part comes from the fact that I have these times at all. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't? If each time we found a new promise in the Bible--abundant provision, for example, or purpose and direction in our lives--we could just press the right buttons on the God computer and order them shipped to our front door?

I was just going to write that the Bible is not a catalog, but then I stopped. Because in a way, it is. It gives us pictures of things we can have if we're willing to pay the price. The thing is, though, the price is our prayers, our faith, our willing to wait for God's timing, rather than insisting on our own. It's expensive, this God life. But the stuff we get after all the praying and hoping and waiting is top-quality, custom built, and made to last.

A few lines later, the writer of Psalm 119 comes to the same conclusion I always do, still wanting God's best rather than something less: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path," he writes. "Accept, O Lord, the willing praise of my mouth and teach me your heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end."

Let's pray that today, honestly, from wherever we are. God can take it!

Here's a fun song that helps me bounce back from the funk of "have you lost my file?" prayers: My God is Good by Fred Hammond. It's a fine reminder :)

Have a great sabbath tomorrow (living like we know our prayers are answered, and the results are on their way) and I'll see you Monday!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day Twelve: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work :)

Sorry for the delayed post. I was in Princeton, New Jersey last night, speaking to a super-fun group of women. We talked some about life and love and spirituality—all my favorite subjects. But the focus was actually on bigger questions, along the lines of, “Does God want us to dream big dreams?”

Here’s what we came up with, in a nutshell: Yes.

What strikes me about last night was how much the women in that gathering supported each other. You could almost feel the energy and excitement in the room when I asked, “Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s easier to have faith for other people then for ourselves?” These ladies didn’t just nod, they shot each other knowing glances, the ones you give your friends that say, “Don’t you DARE give up hope!” And some of them had never met before that night.

Powerful stuff, this. As I rode back on the train this morning, I was wondering how we could leverage this on our Forty Days Blog. Here’s what I came up with:

Someone, somewhere, said that 90% of life is showing up. Let’s start by showing up. If you come by the blog, if you have something you’re asking God to do in your life, leave a comment. Say, “I’m here.” This isn’t an attendance sort of thing. Rather, it’s a way to give us all a sense of how NOT alone we are—how we’re all hoping and praying that God will come through. That’s POWERFUL. We don’t know how our presence might change things for someone else. But we know for sure that it won’t change anything at all if we don’t show up.

So for the record, I'm here :)

Today’s wise words from my favorite how-to book: Psalm 119.

Today’s song: You Found Me by Kelly Clarkson.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Day Eleven: Enough to Go Around

Have you ever looked at someone who has what you want most in life and thought, "Really, God? Her, but not me?"

I'm sure you never have. It's just me who goes to that place of despair and ugly hopelessness, certain that if someone else has the success, the relationship, or the children I long for, then there's none left for me.

The good news is, when I get in this headspace, I'm wrong. Not "wrong" as in, "My, Trish, that's not a very nice way to look at things..." or "Wow dude, that's, like, unspiritual..." But "wrong" as in, "That's simply not the truth of the situation."

Here's the truth of the situation: Anytime I see someone else walking around with something I'm praying for, it's fabulous, encouraging news. It means that God is still into making cool things like that happen for people; evidence that my prayers could be answered in the tangible way I hope.

I was reminded of this over the weekend. I was at a writers conference, and met a rising-star author who (and this is where you can feel free to say, "Wow dude, that's like, unspiritual...") I fully expected to dislike. I'm not sure why... I guess it's because her writing is so good. Disliking her was the last defense I had against the ugly truth that her success made me feel bad about myself. But she won me over: she was lovely and gracious, funny and humble.

This morning when I got up, I felt God say to me, "Pray for her..." Not as penance to atone for my own lack of graciousness, but as a reminder that her success is proof that God makes things happen; he answers all sorts of prayers, in all sorts of ways. So for today (and probably a good part of tomorrow), I'll be thanking God for making that author's book such a break-out hit, praising him for doing such excellent work, and asking for even more blessing for her.

Try it with me, if you want. It's a little hard to get going, but so far, it's made for a pretty sunny morning.

Here are today's verses from Psalm 119.

And today's song: Breathe by Michelle Branch. I just like it :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day Ten: The Right Step in the Wrong Direction

I took our assignment literally yesterday, spending a good part of the afternoon driving through the hills of about fifteen different towns west of the city, listening to Patty Griffin's "Rain" (an impossibly beautiful song about broken hearts and dashed hopes) and wondering how far I could get before I'd need to pull out the map to find my way home. I used to love doing this. Driving through the mountains of Connecticut while listening to one singer-songwriter or another was one of the ways I occupied myself right after I escaped from my first husband (even when you're in hiding, you still need something to do all day). But now that a tank of gas costs almost as much as a monthly car payment, driving for the sake of driving seems outrageous. I have to say, though, yesterday's excursion calmed me in ways no massage or spa treatment ever could.

It also got me thinking about momentum, and direction--this idea we touched on yesterday that we're going somewhere. To do this, we have to get up off of the couch sometimes; we have to become initiators... and yet somehow balance this with letting God call the shots.

Have you noticed that God (unlike AAA) doesn't map out the whole trip for us beforehand? There's no yellow-highlighted direct route, or alternative scenic back roads marked out in orange. Usually there are just two marks: a giant circle with an arrow marked "Here's where you're headed," and then a tiny dot next to where we're standing, about an eighth of an inch from where we are. "This is your first step," is the implication, but it seems too crazy to be possible. Why? Because if we follow that dot, it will usually move us AWAY from where we want to get to. No rational person would choose this path.

A big part of my spiritual journey has been figuring out when to step away from what a rational person might do, to create some space to see what a person of faith might do. From what I can tell so far, that second person listens for God's suggestions, and then suspends disbelief for long enough to give it a try.

No rational person would choose driving through the country listening to a recently-divorced singer-songwriter wail as a way to restore her equilibrium, but God knows what we need. No rational person would believe that leaving the sugar out of her morning coffee would somehow bring her closer to God's plan for her life, but God suggests that it might. God knows what we need to get going, to build the right kind of momentum and direction (rather than that awful kind that leaves us exhausted and spinning our wheels) and it probably won't make sense to us if we think about it too closely.

So today, let's follow those small promptings. Let's chase after them, even. Ask, "Jesus--what's my next step?" and then when something occurs to you (it may be right away, it may be at nine o'clock tonight) jump in and give it a try. How will you know it's God? If deep down inside, something in you says, "Oh--that would be wonderful, but it's so ridiculous..." then that's your thing.

Speaking of wonderful and ridiculous, let's read Psalm 119 together over the next few days. It's a prayer, essentially asking for God's help in following the path he lays out for each of us. We'll start with the first three sections. My favorite part here is the line that says, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." That seems so honest, admitting that on my own, I'm likely to miss the good stuff.

If the language or imagery in what we read seems obscure, feel free to ask about it. Ask God, that is. I'm consistently surprised that when I pray, "Jesus, this seems like the stupidest, most outdated/obscure/ridiculous thing I've ever read; how could this possibly apply to me?" He answers in some very cool ways. It's almost as if he enjoys the conversation :)

Verse 105 of this Psalm says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path," which seems to indicate that the Bible is part of what he uses to mark our map. Here's to that experience being real for each of us, starting today.