Prayer and Needs

It feels like it should be 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. It is only 12:40. I got up this morning and went to early morning prayer at the church with several friends from my small group. So I was out of the house at about 6:15, which is highly unusual for me. After prayer, we went to Starbucks for coffee, then to Sam's Club. I was home by 11:00 and it seemed like I'd had a full day already.

I really enjoyed being a part of the morning prayers. This group meets every morning at 6:30, 365 days a year. Not everyone comes every single day, but some do. This was my first time, but definitely not my last.

I've always wanted to go, but I was intimidated. At my church, people don't hesitate to pray out loud, spontaneously, anywhere and any time at all. If you ask someone to pray for you, most will respond, "Let's pray right now." They are experienced pray-ers.

I remember one day, while I was volunteering in the office, getting a phone call that my nephew had been in a serious car accident and had been life-flighted to Vanderbilt. I didn't know if he would make it and I was so shaken up. I told my friends in the office what had happened and that I needed to go to the hospital to be with my family. They immediately formed a circle and began to pray for my nephew, for me and my family. One after another, each one prayed individually as we all held hands. I was the only one who remained silent. I felt the Holy Spirit in their prayers, but I was too timid to pray out loud with anybody listening to me. I didn't grow up praying this way. And as extroverted as I am, this terrible shyness and timidity comes over me at the thought of praying audibly in the presence of others. I suddenly become an introvert.

Two of my small group friends, who have started going, assured me that I didn't have to say anything if I came and I would not be called on to offer a prayer. So I committed to going this morning. I found it to be a wonderful way to start the day. And it occurred to me that participating in this group might be a great way to overcome my timidity. I know it was no coincidence that God was prompting all three of us to start going to morning prayer group at the same time and it kept coming up in our small group.

I have always "wished" I was more of a prayer warrior. I struggle to pray as much as I should, even though my thoughts are almost continually on God. I rarely go an hour without my thoughts being on God and spiritual things. I listen to books and sermons and worship music in my car. I read every chance I get. My friends are all Christians and we share regularly about the different ways God is speaking to us. But my prayers are mostly spontaneous little prayers throughout the day. I'm undisciplined and sporadic. I'm not content with my growth in this area. I want to be a mature Christian and that will never happen without prayer. I know that I will never "wish" myself into being a prayer warrior.

I remember the first time I was asked to participate in a women's study at the church and be a small group leader when we broke into discussion groups. The thought terrified me, but I did not want to say no. To those who asked me, I know I must have seemed like a natural because I'm such a communicator and so open. I had been in other small group studies and did plenty of talking, sharing and crying.

I have no problem participating and sharing my heart. But I wasn't eager to be responsible for "leading" anything and I knew one of the things I would be expected to do was lead us in prayer. That was so hard for me. I would be so very nervous every single time. But I knew that the only way I could grow in God was to allow Him to challenge and stretch me beyond my comfort zone. I felt so inadequate, but I made myself respond to this opportunity. As a result of that first study, I have gained close friends; several of us have remained a bonded small group ever since. And I believe that first study was in 2005. But I still get nervous when I pray out loud, even though these women are now my close friends and no longer strangers as they were on that first night.

Our church is very large and one of my initial concerns was how I would ever feel connected and be able to form close relationships in a church that size. But being anonymous and unconnected just wasn't an option for me. So I looked for ways to connect and get involved. The first thing I did was volunteer to work in the office. The first year I worked twice a week. When my first grandson came along, I cut back to one. But I don't see myself ever resigning from my Monday post. I don't work outside the home and earn an income, but I have an abundance of discretionary time. And I consider Mondays to be a tithe of that blessing -- my way of telling God that I'm thankful. Whenever a joke is made in the office about my pay grade (zero), I always respond that God has paid me far ahead of my service. And one of the ways He has blessed me is through and with the friends He's added to my life.

I know far more people at church today than I ever dreamed I would. It is a big church with a small community feel. I don't even think of how many people go there now. But I love how I am continually forming new and lasting friendships within that community. God is so good. I grew up in a church where everyone knew me from birth and I considered it my family. I didn't think I would ever be able to find that in another church. But God had so many surprises for me. He is far bigger than my wildest imagination.

This is turning into one of my rambling posts, it seems. I was going to share more from the book I just finished, "When People are Big and God is Small." I guess I will save those comments for another post, since this one has already become long.

I think about how blessed I am every day. But while listening to some of the prayer requests this morning, I felt overwhelmed by God's mercy and His abundant blessings on my life. I'll just never understand why I have been so blessed or why God would love me as He does. I just want to be someone through whom God's blessings can flow to others. I know for certain that God does not bless any of us so that we can kick back and enjoy. He wants us to be His instruments and to look for opportunities to bless others. He wants us to focus on what He's given us and not what He has withheld.

My friends and I were talking about this over coffee this morning. One of the newer friends God has brought into my life is so very much like me, I'm discovering. We are both relationship oriented and emotional "pursuers." We were sharing about our lives this morning and the similarities were quite striking. I told her how God has been impressing upon me not to seek validation from other people (as I always have) and not to pursue certain relationships anymore. There have been certain relationships I have longed for throughout my life which just never seemed to be what I longed for them to be (close). I am the misfit in my biological family and I have always felt like something was wrong with me, that I was somehow unacceptable or unlovable -- too much trouble. It may be all in my head, but you know what they say about perception and reality. It's very real to me. It's been a lifelong emotional struggle. I'm realizing, more and more, my problem is that I need people too much. And when we desperately need people, we are not free to love them unselfishly. We're too busy wanting them to meet our needs. We're too busy making them idols in our lives.

Very recently, however, this has been changing for me. I am learning to look to God more and to people less. Oh, have no doubt, I am in my infancy here. I could burst into tears tomorrow if I hear about a negative comment. But the last time I felt that sting of being misunderstood, I recovered much more quickly. Quite by accident, I discovered the book "When People are Big and God is Small" and began reading it. Even before I got the book, though, I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, saying, "You don't need to be validated by that person. Let go. Focus on ME and what I am doing in your life, the people I have added to your life, your blessings. Do not grieve. Be thankful."

I heard a sermon once about how we humans commit the sin of making good things into ultimate things. We turn desires into needs. In doing so, we make good, God-given things, including people, into idols. I have done that. But I'm learning to stop and evaluate what I'm feeling. If I desperately need someone's approval or validation, I'm making them too big.

In ""When People are Big and God is Small," David Welch writes, "When feelings become more important than faith, people will become more important, and God will become less important."

I don't think any of us would ever consciously make our feelings more important than our faith. But we do so every day when we allow our focus to be on people, and people's opinions of us, instead of on God. When tempted to fall into that trap of needing people too much, we must simply say to ourselves:

"What does it really matter if I don't have the acceptance of other people? Through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, I have the acceptance of God!"