Archives For prayer

36157_515235323548_7763964_nIn college, I had a friend named Rachel (pictured here; please ignore how terrible I look). She was an English major (a rare breed at our college), and one of the things that Rachel absolutely loved to do was to journal. She loved it so much it became quite a point of good-natured joking in our friendship. I mean, this girl was obsessed. She journaled every day. I have no idea what she wrote or how that process worked with her; all I know is that there were probably seasons of Rachel’s life that could be summed up as eat, read, sleep, journal, repeat.

Once she posted a picture on my Facebook wall of all her old journals in her bookshelf. A whole bookshelf. Crazy.

I, on the other hand, have never been much of a journaler. Several times, I’ve tried to keep a personal blog going, only to fail. I guess that my life really isn’t that interesting or something. But if I can’t keep a blog going, surely a journal… well, that’s never going to work.

There are just too many obstacles, it seems like. For one, I hate physically writing. In college, we had to take blue book tests. You probably know the ones I’m talking about; the professor gives you a couple essay questions, you choose 2 out of 3 or something like that, and then you’re expected to fill an entire small notebook with your thoughts on said question. If I could type my answers on a computer, I would have loved them. But I’m a slow writer, and writing hurts my hand. Plus, I’m left-handed, so I’d always smudge my pencil lead or ink all over my hand as I write (#lefthandedprobs). But beyond actually writing, it’s time-consuming. And then there’s always the matter of content. No offense to you journalers out there, but I never know quite how to write. It seems I can never escape the image of the teenage girl sitting down to write in her diary about all the latest school gossip or the cute boy she likes or whatever else teenage girls care about (who knows?).

No, journaling just isn’t for me. Or so I thought.journal

Then, three things entered my life. First, something called the Daily. It’s this email devotional I receive Monday through Friday in my email inbox. It’s generally got a short passage of Scripture to read, a few thoughts, and then some sort of response question (it also has a chapter from the New Testament to read each day, should you choose). I enjoyed doing it, mostly because it would connect me with God each day. That’s always good. But I’d kind of feel bad because I’d always just think my answer to the response question, which usually meant I would try to think my answer but get distracted by my grocery list, how busy the day in front of me would be, what I was going to wear to work that day, or whatever else.

Second, I discovered a little app for my Mac, iPhone, and iPad called DayOne. It’s a journaling app. I liked it because it looked nice, was easy to use, and most importantly it would let me write thoughts down without having to physically write. I still didn’t like journaling, but I’d use DayOne every once and a while as a method to pray. Sometimes when my prayer life feels a little stale, I’ll take a brief season to write down prayers instead of saying them aloud. So I’d use the app for that sometimes.

The third thing that entered my life, though, was a conviction. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t doing so great at reflecting on thoughts and stuff from my daily email devotion. What’s more, I felt like oftentimes I just read the Bible to read it; I wasn’t actually thinking about what I was reading. I was really just checking off a box on my “to do” list. I like to read books on Christian living as well by guys like Pete Wilson, Craig Groschel, Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, and those kind of guys, and when I’d read, I felt like there was a lot of material that I was just missing because I wouldn’t stop and take time to reflect. 

And that’s when the light bulb went off. I could journal!

Hearing From GodOkay, I didn’t call it journaling. I basically started using my DayOne app like a blue book for a test. Each day, I’d write a new entry and answer a reflection question or bullet some thoughts there, just to get my thinking down on paper. That’s helpful for me. And then after a week or two of this, a realization dawned on me… I was journaling. (Gasp!)

Fast-forward to e100. We have two questions a day, right? Guess what I do? Each day, I open my Bible and read. When I finish, I jot down my answer to the two “Hear from God Everyday” questions, pray, and then get going on the rest of my day. Like I said, I’m not a journaler. In fact, I make fun of journalers. But it’s been really helpful for me. Even if you’re not a journaler, I think it’d be helpful for you, too. So give it a shot!

How about you? Any best practices for journaling? How does it help you?

The Starting Point.

wesblackburn —  November 20, 2013 — Leave a comment

Many times, I get asked by people what they can do to start growing in their relationship with Jesus. (Seems like a good question to ask a pastor, right?) There’s definitely a lot of different suggestions that you could make. But as I’ve continued in my personal journey, I’ve really come to a belief that one of the greatest starting points for someone to cultivate a deeper personal relationship with Jesus begins with having a daily time you spend alone with God.

Allow me to give a little bit of insight on my story. I came from a church that was pretty adamant about spiritual disciplines. For that, I’m thankful. From a pretty early age and definitely when I began my relationship with Jesus at age 14, it was pretty clear that the solid building blocks of spirituality were to worship with other Christians each Sunday, spend time studying God’s word, and make sure that prayer was a regular part of your lifestyle. Those are all great suggestions, I think.

mgxrY22The problem was that I am really bad at daily disciplines. And let’s be honest; “high school student” and “discipline” aren’t normally two words that one associates with one another. So, my pattern throughout life with the whole “read your Bible, pray, worship” thing was up and down.

Then I went to college. Again, up and down.

Internship at Suncrest? Up and down.

Highland Campus Worship Pastor? Yep. Still up and down.

Finally, it got to a point where I decided that enough was enough. I felt like a hypocrite always instructing, encouraging, and challenging people to make things like daily time praying and studying God’s Word a priority when I was honestly doing a poor job of it myself. So I decided to do a hard reset. I signed up for a daily e-mail devotional guide that also had you read a chapter of Scripture each day. It wasn’t easy, but I forced myself to get in the habit of sitting on the floor of my bed, opening my Bible, reading and thinking through my devotion, and then praying. There was never this magic moment where I recall the heavens opening up and God’s presence shining upon me or anything. But day after day and week after week, it was becoming a habit and most importantly, I was allowing God to speak regularly into my life. Over time, that adds up to make a big difference. You might even say a changed life.

I’ve seen establishing a daily time alone with God become one of the most transformational practices of my life. I think that you might, too. There aren’t binding, and they aren’t in the Bible. They’re just what’s worked for me. And if you’re needing some help, here are some of my tips to help you get started.

1. You have to decide it will be a priority. It really does start here. My problem was that for the first 9 or 10 years of my life as a Christ follower, I was just sort of expecting I’d magically arrive at this place where daily time with God would be a habit. Wrong. This stuff doesn’t happen by accident.Priority stamp I get that your life is busy. I get that there are commitments vying for your time. My life is no different. But it’s just a cold, hard fact: We make time for what’s important to us. If you want to engage with this in a meaningful way it always comes back to us making the decision that this isn’t just going to be something nice we try to do, but a real priority.

2. Consistency is key. Making this a regular time in your schedule is also important. My rhythm has changed a lot over the past few years. I used to do my time before bed, but then I decided that time with God might make more of an impact for me if it came at the beginning of my day and not the end. For a while it was the very first thing I would do each day. Then I shifted to making my daily time first thing after I shower and get ready in the morning (so I’m a little less zombie-ish). But what ultimately is key is finding a time that works for you and sticking with it. If I miss a morning, it’s generally a guarantee that it’s not getting made up later on. Likewise, I think setting is also important. Something about doing your daily time with God in the same place sort of triggers a response in us I think too.

journal_pen3. Journaling thoughts is helpful. For the longest time I hated journaling. To be honest, I’m still not a fan. But I have found that writing down a couple of thoughts after reading Scripture is huge in helping me to think about how it actually applies to my life. Even a few sentences or bullet points can be extra helpful. You can write stuff down physically in a notebook or just make a new note or document on your phone, tablet, or computer. DayOne is a nice little journaling app I use that you can read more about here.

4. Make prayer a part of it. There’s something important about making sure we are opening up a line of communication with God each day. Listening from his Word is great, and I find that when I pair that with some time honestly spent listening to him through prayer as well, it just seems to exponentially grow that relationship for me. I’ve shared on here many times that prayer doesn’t always feel like the most natural thing for me, and some days it feels like a struggle. But just like reading from Scripture, taking that time each day makes a difference. Even simply praying for God to guide and direct as we read and study his words together is great, too.

That’s it for me. Any tips that you would add?

My name is Wes, and I am a control freak.

Man, felt good to get that off of my chest.Image

But that’s the reality that so many of us live in, right? We want to be in control of every aspect of our lives. My career. School. Marriage and relationships. Friendships. I have met very few people who are comfortable taking a backseat in their lives and giving control to others.

The sad thing, though, is that control is an illusion. If you joined us last fall for the Plan B series, you probably remember the message where we talked about control being an illusion. None of us are really in control of anything – one series of random, chaotic events can land us in a totally different place in our lives. All in a matter of seconds.

Control is an illusion.

We’ve been talking about prayer for the past few weeks on the Cultivate blog, and we have arrived today at the point in the Lord’s Prayer (Jesus’ model prayer for how we should pray) where he says this:

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10

Jesus tells his followers that after they have spent some time praying and reflecting on the greatness of God, they need to spend some time surrendering their lives to this great God. Jesus tells his followers to pray asking for God’s kingdom (or God’s will) to come on earth (in other words, our lives) just like it already does in heaven.

Can I be honest with you and say that this is my least favorite part of prayer? I want my will to come. I want my will to be done. But I think that praying this prayer is the whole reason God wants us to pray in the first place. It’s all about our alignment with Him. It’s a reminder to us to radically re-orient our lives around the life God calls us to live, in light of the greatness of His glory.

Now, there are certainly seasons in my life where this prayer is prayed and God is bringing to mind a big-time change. A little over a year ago I went through a break-up and after some of the dust from that had settled, I prayed this prayer and I felt God saying, “You need to take a year off of dating. A full year.” I didn’t like that change. I prayed about it for a few months hoping that God might change His mind. But He didn’t. And sure enough, I ended up taking a year off. And now, a little over a year later, I feel much better equipped relationally to have a mature, Christ-honoring relationship should the opportunity come in my future when I meet someone I’m interested in dating.

But honestly, most of the time when I pray this prayer, I simply say it and listen. I listen for God’s voice. And generally, what I hear back are some reminders of places in my life where I’m out of alignment with Him. My thoughts. My attitudes. My actions. Sometimes I see the faces or Imagehear the names of people that I need to say the words “I’m sorry” to when I see them next time. This prayer of surrender is so closely linked with me listening to God. And as I do, I’m bound to hear some stuff I don’t like. But when I have the courage and the faith to follow through, I’m never sorry.

So, it’s my hope that this week, in addition to taking some time to pray about God’s greatness that you might also tack on to that prayer the prayer of surrender. Take some time this week to ask for God’s kingdom to come powerfully in your life, and for Him to show you how You need to play a part in that. I’m confident it will make a huge difference in your life and help you be used by God to change the lives of others as well!