Have you ever worked hard to get the details of something mapped out just right only to have whatever it is not go according to plan? My guess is that we’ve all been there. In fact, I just finished up representing Impact Prayer Ministry at a major Christian convention and it felt like the entire experience was one adjustment after another with nothing going quite as I had planned. I suspect I’m not the only one who experiences such change-ups on a regular basis, so what should you and I do when life turns out to be not as planned? Here are some ideas based on my recent trip:
Look for the silver lining. I had planned to be on the road early Monday morning in order to get to the convention center for the start of the exhibit set-up time. A delayed start meant I would not get there when I wanted, but as I arrived in Indianapolis later than anticipated, I realized I was just in time for an early lunch at Skyline Chili! This was a treat for me that I don’t get often and one that I would have missed out on had things gone according to my plan. Not everything that doesn’t go as planned will turn out better than what you had hoped, but often there will be something in the midst of the changes that might even be better than what you had planned.
Trust God with the changes you have no control over. I had chosen my location in the exhibit hall very carefully as I would be directly across the aisle from a “Pastor’s Lounge” that was very popular at last year’s convention. I’m one who diligently studies exhibit hall floor plans trying to figure out the natural flow of people so I can choose a location most likely to get the most visibility. When I arrived, there was no “Pastor’s Lounge” set up across from my space as the sponsor had decided not to have a presence at the convention. This left me at the end of an aisle that went nowhere and my plans for a high traffic flow vanished in a way I could do nothing about. Because there was nothing I could do about this change in the hall layout, all I could do was trust God to bring the people by the display that He would want me to connect with. Even the best made plans are often subject to changes by others that you simply cannot control and cannot even anticipate. In those times, trusting God really is the only option.
Watch for God’s plan to unfold in the midst of yours falling apart. This comes after you learn to trust God that He knows what He is doing even when your plans disintegrate before your very eyes. As I found myself in a less visited part of the exhibit hall than I had anticipated, I discovered that God amplified the depths of the conversations I was able to have with the people He brought to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of having so many people moved to tears by the work God was doing in their life. Yet as I shared the printed resources and some of the stories behind them, God used the experience to speak deeply to many people — and through their reactions, to speak deeply to me as well. I believe God wants us to do our best for Him, but in the midst of our best we must watch for something even better. Often God uses my plans to get me to a certain point, and then disrupts my plans to get me to a place even further than I ever would have dreamed.
In the midst of all the disrupted plans, God continued to work and I was able to put about 500 prayer-based devotional books into the hands of people who were looking to grow in their connection to God through prayer. I praise God that He continues to provide the resources to make the books available and the inspiration to keep writing them. I came away from the convention encouraged by the work God is doing in and through me even when things don’t go as planned — at least not as I planned. 🙂
I had the opportunity to preach yesterday but didn’t remember to take my mp3 recorder with me, so no audio to share this time. As I practice, and teach about, a lifestyle of prayer, there are a number of things that I find happen through such a way of life. I’ve prepared several sermons that highlight some of what a lifestyle of prayer is, and yesterday’s message was one of them.
Many times when we try to describe something we skip the most obvious part of it because it is so obvious we think everyone must know that much about whatever we are describing. In an attempt not to do that, the message I shared was “A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of PRAYER”. But not only is it a life filled with prayer, it is a life filled with the results of prayer and that is what the sermon focused on — some of those results. With no audio to share, here is the outline and some of the main points from the message.
A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of . . .
Peace: The Bible teaches that it is through a continual process of presenting our requests to God through prayers and petitions that we can replace anxiousness with peace. Prayer may not bring an immediate change to the circumstance that has caused you to be anxious, but it should serve as a reminder of who is really in control of the situation. Our prayers should fill us with peace as we grow in our trust of God to carry us through, and beyond, the anxious moments of life.
Respect: As we live with prayer as a lifestyle, we find that our approach to God grows in regard to the respect we give Him. It seems our respect often fluctuates based on how real we view God to be. When we are consistently engaged in conversation with Him through prayer, we find that He not only demands respect but that He deserves respect. It is this life of respect that continually reminds us that while prayer is a conversation, it is no ordinary conversation — it is communication with the living God.
Answers: This is the part of prayer that we often desire most and can be the most likely to wreck our prayer life when it doesn’t happen according to our expectations. Yet a lifestyle of prayer is a life of answers — some “yes”, some “no”, some “not right now”, and some so far removed from the answer we wanted that we fail to see it. When our prayer life is sporadic, we often fail to “connect the dots” of God at work and thus miss the answers He is providing. But the more that prayer is woven into every aspect of our life, the more we begin to notice that God has been answering all along in ways that are for our good.
Yielding: In nearly every relationship we have, the more time we spend with someone the better we get to know them. An active prayer life is time spent with God both talking and listening so that we begin to become familiar with the things of God that He has revealed by the power of His Spirit through His Word. In a life of prayer, the yielding is often interwoven with the answers as we learn to accept that His answers are better than ours. When we can pray, “not my will but Yours be done”, and really mean it, we find that we will be more likely to yield to the answers that God provides as we learn to trust Him.
Encouragement: A life of prayer can bring great encouragement — not just to those who pray, but to the people that see and hear of the mighty work of God that takes place in the lives of those who pray. It is this encouragement that not only emboldens the life of the one who prays, it often causes others to consider what a life of prayer would do for them. While we ought to pray just for the privilege of talking with the creator of everything, many times it is the benefit that prayer brings into our life that keeps us going back to God. Let’s face it, if every conversation we have with a person makes us feel poorly about our self for some reason, we will likely not seek to continue that relationship. However, when our time with God brings daily encouragement to both us and those around us, our desire to pray ought to grow each day that we live.
Renewal: Isaiah wrote that “even youths get tired and weary, but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” A lifestyle of prayer can result in a life of renewal as we continually seek the “new mercies” that God promises each morning. The Bible teaches that we are to be transformed by a renewing of our mind, and prayer is a major part of that change of mind that can bring about a godly transformation. When we allow a growing lifestyle of prayer to bring peace, respect, answers, yielding, and encouragement into our life, we will find that we are indeed being renewed daily by the power of God’s Spirit and through the truth of His Word.
When we live a lifestyle of prayer, we ought to find that these qualities are growing in our life. And as they grow, we find that we are more drawn to prayer as a way of life each day that we live. It is my prayer that each one of us would grow in our desire to live a lifestyle of prayer that results in a life of PRAYER!