A poor widow. A rich man.

A few mornings ago I took to my journal and began writing out my prayers.

Lord, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning. Please forgive me for my selfish heart, going to social media and the news before you. I still get anxious about what you might say to me if I open up and pray, so I push it off. But you are what I need. The other things suck me dry and fog my head and make me sad and grouchy. That’s how I feel now.

But then I stopped. I realized that while everything I wrote was true, I was trying to put on my best face. Trying to put a good spin on it. So I continued…

I need to be honest with you.

Honestly, I’m tired and hungry. I wish I were back in bed. My expectations for this time with you are low in a bad way, and I’m mad at myself for going to electronics before you. I can never seem to get it right. I tried to pray, but it was a flop. No power. No idea what I’m doing. I don’t see the power in prayer.

But, this is why I need to spend time with you. You, Lord, are the safest place to process all this. With you, I’m free to fail and grow. And I need you to develop me. You’re the one with the answers. But… you’re not just some guru…you’re where I belong.

At this point, I decided to start digging into the bible. My bible study group is reading through the gospel of Luke, and the next section read,

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

Luke 21: 1-4 NLT

I stopped here because it showed me something. We’re all bound by our own circumstances.

This showed me that we can’t all offer God the same things. But there’s also not a specific standard he’s holding us to. In my Americanized understanding of this passage, the widow had two pennies. On their own, two pennies are worthless. Compared to the rich who gave, say, hundreds or thousands, the two pennies are shameful. Embarrassing. Pointless.

In his commentary on Luke, titled BE Courageous, Dr. Warren Weirsbe said, “God sees more than the portion; he also sees the proportion.”

This is why I can find no help in comparing myself to another. This is why, when I spend time with the Lord, it is not helpful thinking about how much better someone else is at it than me. Or how much better someone is at prayer or why it seems like someone else has something figured out better than I do. When I do this, I get frustrated and discouraged and I feel like I’m never enough. Never even close.

The widow is also talked about in Mark 12:43. In this telling, Jesus called is disciples to him when he saw what the widow was giving. They weren’t watching the people like Jesus was. They were doing something else, I suppose. But it was so important to Jesus, that he called them to him.

Digging in further, I noticed that the rich people “gave a tiny part of their surplus.” This implies that they had an abundance. They had more than they needed. And, they also kept as much of it as they could.

But the widow, she had “given everything she had to live on.” That tells me volumes about her heart. She didn’t have a surplus. All her needs weren’t being met.

In 2 Corinthians it says,

“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.”

2 Corinthians 8:12 ESV

We aren’t judged by what we don’t have. So, what someone else does bears no weight on my own value, purpose or calling. I am judged by what I have and what I do with it.

God looks at my heart, my experiences, my choices, my resources, and my capabilities ….independently of others.

The rich man could have pleased Jesus by giving everything he had.

The widow could have given nothing at all.

Again, it’s not’s not about how much or little I have. It’s what I do with it.

I think that’s why comparison, or envy, is so dangerous and why “do not envy” is one of the ten commandments. Instead of focusing on what we have available before us, we get trapped into how it compares to others.

But God isn’t looking at everyone else when he’s looking at me. He looks at me. And only me. And wonders what I’ll do with what I have. He wonders about the state of my heart. He wonders about my motives. How will I respond? How will I react?

I guess to sum it up, I don’t know how to pray, be generous, or live my life well. But, I know who does. And he’s willing teach me everything I need to know. So, without looking to the left or to the right, I’ll set my heart on him and follow where he leads.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Loved

I was raised in a Christian home. My upbringing included Sunday School on Sunday mornings, Youth Group on Wednesday nights, and Small Group on Fridays. From an early age, God quickly became the most important person in my life.

I can remember the first time I raised my hands in worship during Sunday School. I would spend hours in prayer at church camp in the summer. My journals are filled with prayers and questions – looking to God for the answers.

Growing into adulthood, the godly women in my life encouraged me to spend intentional time alone with God, where you read your bible and pray. And I have done my best to make this a priority for the last 10 years. They’ve never been the perfect “hour every morning with a cup of coffee”, and they’ve never been perfectly consistent, but spending time in the Word and in prayer has continued to grow in importance the older I get.

I have had many seasons in life where I’ve felt alive in Christ. I’ve felt his love wash over me and my times with him have been fruitful and life giving. But this year, my times in solitude with the Lord started to get frustrating.  I was leaving each time upset and irritated. I couldn’t feel God. I couldn’t hear him. The logical solution was that I was doing something wrong. So, I would try getting up before work to start my day off right. I kept falling asleep, so I’d plan out exactly what I would read. When that didn’t work, I’d try spontaneity – just opening up anywhere in the bible and reading. I gave devotional reading a shot. I tried focusing on prayer alone. I gave reading a book by a Christian author. Nothing worked.

It wasn’t until just recently that I was able to finally voice the lie that had been planted in my heart. Luke and I were driving home from a dear friends funeral, and I don’t remember exactly how it came up or how the conversation wound its way there, but I remember telling Luke with tears in my eyes… I don’t think God loves me.

Just voicing this to Luke and identifying it caused blinders to off my eyes. I can see it now. I was trying to earn his love. I realized on that car ride home that I had been trying to earn his presence by getting up early each morning. I was trying to be good enough for him to speak to me by doing all the right things. I was trying to come up with ways to manipulate him into speaking to me.

But as I remembered the overarching story of the Bible, the truth became so clear: I cannot, under any circumstances, earn his love. 

Romans 5:6-11 says,

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

God chased after us, even while we rejected him. God extended his love to us, even when we failed, yet again. God sealed the deal, even while we sat covered in our sin – paralyzed by our inability to measure up.

Psalm 23:6 says,
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

He pursues us.

I hope you can begin to walk in this freedom today, too. I encourage you to spend time with the Lord, knowing, believing, and declaring that he loves you.  Let this truth wash over you:

You are loved. You are his.

I thought I was bad at praying

I thought I was bad at praying. When Luke and I would take the time to pray together, my mind would go blank. How do I decide on just a few things to pray for? How do I not take it from something seemingly tiny, like my day at work, to something huge, like the salvation of humanity and ultimate world peace?

It wasn’t until our mentors challenged us to pray together every day that I started to learn the truth: it doesn’t matter how we pray or how much we say – what matters is bringing our concerns and requests to the feet of Jesus.

Praying together every day began as a struggle. In the beginning, I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t feel passionate about anything. I didn’t have a stirring deep in my soul to see something big come to pass. But one of the goals was to pray for each other, so I remembered a few prayers from my high school days and I threw in some scriptures I had recently read. I began to pray over my husband that the Lord would increase his territory, that his steps would be made firm and that the work of his hands would be blessed – both at work and at home. I prayed that he would be looked on in favor by both his bosses and his colleagues. And that was about it. Then Luke would pray and we’d be on our way and off to work.

I prayed that same prayer for a while. It felt right, and based on what I’ve read in the Bible, I knew I was praying things that would be pleasing to God.

Then Luke got a promotion at work. And a raise. And things started to happen. God was indeed blessing the work of his hands throughout the day. Even at home, things were falling into place for him. He would work on something and it would take half the time it normally did. He was able to find answers quickly when he was having trouble. And his joy and satisfaction were rising. It was beautiful!

This has started teaching me an important lesson: God is listening to me. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t felt the power of the Holy Spirit rising up in me each morning – it matters that I’m saying the words and asking. It matters that I am acknowledging the Lord and surrendering my cares to him.

Matthew 6:7-8 says,

“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

I am finding freedom in this passage. Freedom and humility. Matthew 6:30 goes on to say,

And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

This is all transforming the way I think about prayer. The other morning I felt the desire to pray, but again felt the weight of it. Where do I even begin? Thinking about how I prayed over Luke, how short and to the point those prayers have been, and yet how God not only heard me, but moved, I allowed it to be simple. I wrote the following in my journal –

Lord, my prayers today are that I would find freedom from stress and perfectionism. That I could surrender all knowledge and control to you. That I would stop trying to figure out the meaning of life, and would instead trust you. That I would see miracles happen in the people around me. That our community and influence would explode. That we would be generous at all times and we would overflow with thankfulness.

I poured out my heart to the Lord, and left it at his feet. And that is the point I want to drive home: You have no power in prayer…God does. The power is in our surrender. The power is knowing that it is God who holds the world. It is God who knows every single hair on our heads. He knows when we rise in the morning and go to bed at night. He knows the people in our circles. He knows our innermost being, down to our deepest desires, down to our tiniest cells.

I was bad at praying because I thought the answers to my prayers rested on my shoulders. I need to keep reminding myself that prayer is my opportunity to place my desires at Jesus’ feet, and to ask him for help.

Prayer can still be hard sometimes. But I am thankful that all I need to do is ask for his help and trust in faith that he’s listening.