Make a Flexible Prayer Plan: LAST DAY of the Pray-May Challenge

For the month of May, we have explored multiple prayer practices, all designed to enhance our conversations with God. Today, on the last day of the Pray-May Challenge, we look back and plan forward.

Why? So we can make a flexible prayer plan for our ongoing prayer lives.

When we look back at what’s been helpful to us in prayer, we can plan forward toward greater conversations with God.
First, we look back.

You likely missed a few of the prayer challenges over the last 31 days. Completely understandable–it was a lot to take in!  Feel free to scroll back through the days as a reminder. (I’m considering putting them all into a downloadable pdf or ebook for my blog readers so they are more easily accessible, but for today, you’ll have to look back through May’s posts.)

  • What prayer practices were most meaningful to you? Identify 2-3 practices that helped you grow.  
  • Why were they helpful to you? Do you notice any commonalities? 
  • What was most challenging to you; though intriguing, they will require more effort and time to fully appreciate? 
Next, we plan forward.

The goal in planning forward is not to make a rigorous prayer schedule, but to design an open, flexible plan for regular conversations with God. Rather than being restrictive and demanding, think of it more like planning fun dates with someone you love, or designing outings with a good friend.

Of the 2-3 prayer practices that were most meaningful to you, how would you like to integrate them into your life moving forward? 

  • For example, having been intrigued by the concept of prayer walking in my community, I’d like to go out for a prayer walk on one Saturday a month, and I’d like to see if I can get one or two others to join me.
  • Or, I really grew through the 5 minutes per hour of prayer, during my waking hours, and I’d like to see about practicing that at least a few days per month.
  • I loved Lectio Divinathe art of prayerful Scripture reading and meditation–and I’d like to practice that on a regular basis during my morning Bible reading time. Similarly, talking to Jesus from within a Gospel story really drew me in, and I want to keep trying that out.
  • It could be that Praying God’s will through Paul’s Prayers has really helped you pray more effectively for those you love, and you want to integrate that more fully into your regular prayers.

You get the idea. After identifying the 2-3 practices that have been most meaningful to you, make an open, flexible plan to use them as a regular part of your conversations with God.

Here’s my challenge for you as you do: 

  1. Keep it fun, and keep it gracious. Don’t be hard on yourself, but rather lean into these practices as exciting, liberating ways of freeing up time and space for you and God.
  2. Share what you are trying with someone who will appreciate it, and may even want to join you in some of the prayer practices (either together, or on their own). Your journey toward greater conversations with God will inspire others longing for more in their lives, too.
  3. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. If there anything we learned this month, it’s that there are a whole variety of creative ways we can talk to our Father (and we barely scratched the surface!).  If you find your conversations with God are getting dull or boring, for your sake and his, change things up!!

Before I close this post in prayer, would you do me one favour?

Please tell us what prayer practices you’ve chosen to continue going forward, in the comments below. That would be so encouraging to all of us.

My prayer for you as we close this month of challenges: Father, thank you for the gift of friendship with you. What an astonishing thought, that you have befriended us, and that you long to simply be with us in loving communion. Inspire us, by your Holy Spirit, to enjoy your presence, to rest in your will, and to walk boldly after you, each day of our lives. For your grace and your love, we stand forever grateful and amazed. We love you!! 

Creating space to meet with God is fun and exciting! Just look at this guy!

Write a letter to God: Day 24 of the Pray-May Challenge

Do you ever feel muddled in prayer? Have you ever wanted to slow it down and express more clearly what you are thinking and feeling? I know I have, and I’ve found writing helps me.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in these last three weeks of our prayer challenge. Today I’m keeping it very simple: Write a letter to God.

For those who journal or write, this exercise may seem naturally easy. But for others, writing anything can be a real stretch, and even more so with something as intimate as prayer.

There is something wonderful about a letter, received from a friend who loves you. Back on Day 10, we wrote a letter from God to us, as we practiced the imaginative exercise of looking at God, who was looking at us. (It’s a great practice: try it out by clicking here.)

Today, we’ll send a letter back. I encourage you to get out a fresh sheet, open up a new journal, turn over the notebook page, and just start. Write a letter to God.

No stress. It doesn’t have to be perfect or poetic.  No one else will read this. Just dive in and express your heart, your mind, your fears, or your boredom to your Father. If you jump around from a minute detail of the day, to a prayer request for a family member, to the deepest longing of your heart, and then back to what’s happening later–that’s fine! Welcome to normal conversation with a good, good friend. You may also find that you are expressing things you didn’t know were there, in ways you didn’t expect.

If you struggle with writing this letter, try to spend a least 5 minutes writing. After you’ve written for 5 minutes, feel free to stop (unless you are in the flow and want to keep writing!). If writing comes easy to you, then I challenge you to press further than you normally do.

But the practice is simple, and the point is clear: Write a letter to your God, so that you can more clearly express your heart and your mind to the One who loves you most.

Enjoy.

Father, as we write to you today, may we express our hearts and minds to you. Thank you for the gift of writing, which many do not have or have not had down through history. I ask that today’s practice of writing will inspire us to further conversation with you. Amen. 

Praying for Mothers (when it’s good and when it’s tough): Day 14 of the Pray-May Challenge

Who would we be without mothers? Even if we’ve had a challenging relationship with our own mothers, we recognize how significant mothers are.

On Day 14 of our Pray-May Challenge, I invite you to pray for mothers. Let’s keep it simple today: Moms need prayer.

I’ve tried to cover as many aspects of mothering as I could think of. If I missed someone, please do pray for them.

PC: Pexels Free
  1. Pray for those who gave us birth and raised us. Be thankful, and give praise to God for what they poured into our lives.
  2. Pray for those who have struggled to be mothers. Infertility, miscarriages, difficulties having biological children is a very real hurt that many carry. Pray for grieving all those over a lost motherhood, especially today when being a mother is so celebrated.
  3. Pray for our spiritual mothers. For all those who have nurtured us, helped us, comforted us and protected us, standing in the role of mother for our souls.
  4. Pray for those who don’t have a mother, for whatever reason. May they discover mothers who care for them in their communities and churches.
  5. Pray for those who have a broken relationship with their mothers–for restoration, healing and forgiveness.
  6. Pray for the forgotten mothers, who (for whatever reason) are not being cared for or are not very connected with their children.
  7. Pray for adoptive mothers, that they may continue to be the gracious images of the God who adopted us.
  8. Pray for step-moms, who find themselves often caught, and are sometimes mothering in less-than-ideal circumstances.
  9. Pray for aunts and single women and good friends who become moms in the lives of other kids, filling in a crucial role of care within whole or less-than-whole family systems.
  10. Pray for the hurting moms, who are watching their prodigals make life choices that are harming them.
  11. Pray for grieving moms, who have lost kids through death, miscarriage, custody battles or any other form of tragedy.
  12. Pray for moms who struggle with depression, anxiety or other forms of mental illness. There are many, and we want to pray for them as they continue to be the best moms they can be in the midst of struggles.
  13. Pray for single moms, who are holding so many things together for their kids and being awesome moms with fewer resources.
  14. Pray for any mothers that come to your mind and heart–perhaps a neighbour or a friend who could really use your prayer today.

Here on Mother’s Day, “motherhood” can be both cause of celebration and experience of loss. So, yes, let’s joyfully give thanks for our mothers, and honestly acknowledge those who hurt today, all with a deep sense of God’s mothering care for all of us. 

My prayer for moms: God, who is our Father and yet mothers us with such a maternal love, we thank you for moms. Thank you for mothers who have loved us and nurtured us! They are a sign of your grace. And for all those mothers who struggle today, for all those who are hurting without the mothers they needed, we ask for your grace and healing and motherly love to flow into all of our lives. Help us to celebrate the gift of mothers, and turn our hearts to you, who cares for us as only a true mother can.  In the name of your Son we pray. Amen. 

Day 1 of the 31 Day Pray-May Challenge: Start by Getting Thankful to God for Prayer

Could your prayer life use a boost? With spring emerging from winter, would you like to experience some of that new growth within your very own conversations with God? I invite you to join me for the month of May for a daily prayer challenge.

Here’s how it’ll work. Over May, I’m going to focus on a prayer practice each day, posting a short description of that practice to include in your own daily prayer. Some will be as simple as making a quick list or praying for someone in particular, while others will include learning a new way of praying, or even praying with others. Each day, we will have an opportunity to grow in our conversations with God.

Are you willing to join in? Sign up for updates and have these prayer practices delivered to your inbox so you don’t miss a day. Share what you are learning in the comment section so we can all grow together. But above all, let’s integrate these daily practices to experience spring growth in our relationship with God.

Okay, let’s jump into Day 1 of the Pray-May Challenge:

Step one: Brainstorm a list of why you pray.

As we get started this month, let’s remember why we pray in the first place. Get a blank sheet of paper, pull out a napkin, or open a fresh word doc, and begin listing why you pray in the first place.

Give it the title “Why I Pray”, either at a centre “mind map” style or at the top of the pageAnd then just start detailing all the reasons. Don’t worry about getting it all right–just try and get it all down. Your reasons will range from the very practical (it gives me peace; I have needs) to the biblical (God commands us to pray) to the theological (we enter the conversation of the Son and the Father by the Holy Spirit) to the gut level honest (I’m afraid not to).  While our lists would have some cross-over, of course, there will be reasons you list that I don’t, and vice versa. But I encourage you to write down as many things as come to your mind, and be as honest as you can be.

So make that list–spend at least 5 minutes brainstorming every reason you can think for why you pray.

Step two: Thank God for his availability and care, based upon the reasons you’ve identified.

Now let this list form into a prayer to God, and get grateful. We have an amazing Father, present to us, his children, and attentive to our needs. Let’s start this month by saying “thank you” to God for being that kind of God–the God who listens and speaks and cares–which we can easily take for granted, forgetting how amazing it is that he would want to hear us.  If you’ve identified things on your list that bother you, then be honest about them to God, and be okay with that honesty (God can handle it!). But above all, thank God for his openness to us and his desire to hear his children speak, as well as to let us listen.

That’s day 1. Simple, eh? And that’s how we’ll roll this month, with each day adding to or rounding out our experience of prayer with practical suggestions.

I look forward to growing along with you as we pray through May.

Do you know someone who would benefit from this as you will? Share it with them and do it together. The more, the merrier, as you well know.

Let’s Pray May, and grow into spring.

 

 

Gas attacks on God’s Images: How can we pray through the choke of Sarin?

I nearly threw up watching. The image of a man, gasping for air, dying in the streets of Khan Sheikhun, Syria. And I confess, to my shame, that I looked away. Jesus, forgive me.

When I had the courage, I turned back, mind reeling from the latest atrocity committed against God’s human images in Syria.

Babies. Men. Children. Women. People God loves so deeply eradicated so mercilessly. Sarin gas robbing them of precious breath, their last moments of life filled with pain. Lord Jesus, how can we respond to this crime, to this crisis?

One resident tragically describes what he saw:

“I found children lying on the ground, in their last breaths, their lips going blue,” said Abu al-Baraa, who lives nearby and rushed to help when the full extent of what had happened dawned on him.

Standing across the street from the crater left by the missile, he added: “People on the rooftops and in the basements. People on the ground in the street. Wherever you looked there were dead human beings.” – from The Guardian, April 6, 2017.

He couldn’t just look away. He couldn’t just click the “x”. He wasn’t able to just move on with his day. Neither should we.

A victim of an attack in the Syrian province of Idlib at a hospital in Reyhanli, Turkey, on Tuesday. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag of Turkey was quoted as saying that autopsies conducted on three Syrians brought to his country after the attack showed they had been subjected to a chemical agent. From the New York Times, April 6, 2017. Picture Credit: Associated Press

Responses are coming fast and furious, from air strikes to medical teams to political posturing to stories of blame. Rightful outrage sparked throughout the media. Confusion in the chaos.

But there is one response we must make, as God’s people. Whatever we do, we cannot not pray. We must pray, pray, pray for God’s Spirit to brood over that chaos, for God’s Spirit to bring mercy and justice and grace and peace to a land so fraught with pain and destruction. To pray for life to spring up, to overcome this death, to bring healing and peace to Syria.

When I considered my own prayer–and then our collective prayer–I begin with the words Jesus taught us pray, that the Father’s “kingdom would come and his will would be done” so that we will not be lead into temptation, but delivered from evil and the evil one. Praying the Lord’s prayer can seem so terrifically inadequate at these times, but it’s not. Prayer must be the foundation of our response, so that what we then say or do in response to this evil is shaped by our prior understanding of God’s presence and power. Whatever is said or done by the powers that be, from the US to Russia to Syria itself, we speak as a people under a higher political authority, belonging to a kingdom that is greater, a kingdom to whom all earthly kingdoms will give an account. And we pray for this kingdom to reign, on earth as it is in heaven.

May I offer a prayer right now?

“Lord Jesus, who created each of us, living for us and dying for us and rising for us, hear our prayer today! May your peace and justice reign on this broken, troubled earth. May your people act in the power of your forgiveness and grace, when we are so tempted to strike out in hatred and retaliation. May your people stand for life, as you have called us to stand. May your grace be evident to these families in Syria, who have experienced so much loss.  And may your church rise up, from the rubble and from the world, to pray, to serve, to give and to speak, for the sake of these ones you love. May your kingdom, Father, come here on this blood-soaked, sarin-gassed soil.  May your will be done from the halls of our power to the streets of our towns. We confess that we are ignorant of so much, but you are not. We confess that we are inadequate in our response–show us your ways to respond. Lead us, Lord, into your path of life, and deliver us–deliver your children in Syria, your children in Khan Sheikhun–from the evil one.”

Our hearts are sick. So I’m asking you: Will you pray for the people of Syria?

Maybe you have questions about why prayer matters, about why prayer in the face of such evil even counts? If you do, I’d like you refer you back to something I wrote last June called “Evil keeps pounding but we keep praying.” In this post, I give four reasons I keep praying in the face of evil, and I hope you will find it helpful.

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer and have mercy. 

How often do you say “no” to yourself? One lesson I learned through fasting.

To be honest, I don’t say “no” to myself very often.  I don’t mean the stupid or harmful or overtly sinful things–I say “no” to those as often as I can! But I rarely say “no” to my common desires, my everyday loves, the things that I simply must have and cannot do without: food, sleep, coffee, snacks, me-time.

Enter: fasting. Which is all about saying “no” to some very basic loves.

Fasting–abstaining from food for a prescribed period of time–is an ancient spiritual practice that crosses religion, time and tradition.  Fasting has formed an essential practice for those who long to discipline themselves, become more aware of God’s presence in their lives, attend to certain issues, as well as express sorrow and deep penitence. It has also been used as a practice of preparation and discernment. And there are those who say fasting has a component of breakthrough, enabling a person or a church to move through some barrier previously unbroken.

While fasting is not an end-all or be-all practice, nor is it commanded in the Bible, it has been helpful to many.

Last week, I fasted for seven days, specifically for the church I pastor. I was praying for our heart, that we would be aligned with God’s heart for our Valley and our world. And I waited upon God for myself, that I would be ready and available to the Father for all he needs me to be.

And in the process, I learned a few things, much of it about myself. One of them was key: It is good to say “no” to yourself sometimes so you can say “yes” to God all the time. And while that may seem pretty basic, I’m telling you, it was very illuminating for me.

It is currently vogue to learn to say “no” to others, to competing voices, to those who would draw us away from our main priority.  Much of that is good, and I’m learning that graceful art in my own life. Learning to say “no” to some things, even good things, so you can say “yes” to the right things and the best things is wisdom.

But perhaps we don’t go deep enough with that, if we only focus on saying “no” to exterior distractions or opportunities.  What I realized last week was that I need to be able to say “no” to myself, to my wants, to my needs, to my desires–so that I can really say “yes” to what God really wants for me.  And fasting, well, that brings it all up really clearly and poignantly. Every day, every meal time, snack time, coffee time. Which for me is a lot of times during the day! Saying “no” to myself is a healthy discipline.

Am I saying everyone should fast like I did? Not at all. However, anyone could employ some form of fasting with good benefit (skip a meal, say “no” to coffee for a month, etc). But what I am saying is that saying “no” to ourselves is an important part of our spiritual and personal growth, as well as critical to our larger leadership, but something that we often overlook.

With Lent coming into view, the season traditionally used to say “no” to ourselves, perhaps you want to consider some kind of fast or discipline, denying yourself something good so that you can avail yourself to Someone greater. Or maybe it isn’t about Lent or fasting at all–maybe it’s just about that daily choice to place God’s best before my good, knowing that his best for me will always be better than any good I can imagine.

At the end of it all, it’s not about saying “no”–not really. It’s actually all about saying “yes”. Yes to the Father, Yes to the Best. Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons to Pray in the New Year

I like New Years. I am one of those folks who finds the turning from one Anno Domini to the next invigorating. I like to plan and set goals, and have found each year comes with unique opportunities and challenges. The calendar re-set is helpful to me.

But in the midst of all the planning and goals, there’s one thing that I don’t want to forget: to talk to Jesus about the year ahead. Why should we do that?

Here’s 5 Reasons to Pray in the New Year

  1. Establishing priorities: When we pray about the year ahead, we remember what matters most, and what matters less. I find it so easy to get lost in all the things I want to do better, habits I want to change, books I want to read, and activities I want to incorporate into my life. By talking through the year with Jesus, what really matters becomes more clear to me.
  2. Giving God glory: By praying through the New Year, I am able to consciously and deliberately dedicate the New Year to God’s glory, to tell my Father explicitly that I want him to be honoured in my decisions this year, in the ways that I serve and work and love and act. This is important and powerful not only because it’s true, but also because this declaration then influences how we plan and what we do.
  3. Asking for the Spirit’s power: Knowing how important our daily lives are, and how significant God’s call is on each one of us, I ask for the Holy Spirit’s power to serve him this year.  I think this is a missing piece in much of our New Year’s resolutions and plans–we need God’s Spirit to empower us, each and every day of 2017. Much current cynicism regarding goals and resolutions may be rooted in our attempts to make changes in our own power.
  4. Keeping oriented to God’s kingdom: In the broadest possible way, praying through the New Year keeps me oriented toward the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of Tom. I am reminded, forcefully, that 2017 is not about my personal agenda, even through it will involve me in very personal ways. Instead, 2017 is a year to proclaim the presence of God in and to the world he loves, making his name great and demonstrating his kingdom in word and action.
  5. Submitting my life to Jesus’ leadership: And finally, I am able to submit my days and plans and goals and schedule to Jesus’ leadership. I declare him the leader in my New Year–not the plans I have made or the resolutions I have considered. Jesus is the one who will lead me this year, and that will mean detours and mid-course corrections, interruptions and fresh vision, all along the way.

So I encourage you, in the middle of your New Years resolutions and reflections, to talk through the year with Jesus. Every day is a gift; every year an opportunity. Let’s walk into this year of our Lord with the confidence only children of the Father can fully enjoy.

 

 

 

A Bridge Within The Prayer: How Jesus Brings God’s Big Will and Our Little Lives Together

Have you ever wondered why God asks us to bring every detail of our lives to him? And yet also insists we pray his will, not ours, to be done in the world?

In his teaching, Jesus shows that though God’s will is bigger than any one of us, it includes us in the smallest of ways. Nestled within the larger Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray:

Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. (Matt 6:10-11 NIV)

The move is seamless. From “kingdom come” to “daily bread”, Jesus leads us to ask for God’s heavenly will to be done on earth and for our daily needs to be met. He commands us to pray for our Father’s name to be hallowed and for our sins to be forgiven. The first half of Jesus’ prayer seems bigger than we can imagine, and then the second, smaller than we had expected. The first, all about God; the second, all about us.

And this leads us into something beautiful.

Like a bridge inside the prayer, Jesus spans two seemingly different realities–God’s large plan and our little needs. Jesus’ prayer connects the big and the small, revealing his Father’s heart–the same God who created the world and oversees its direction also attends to the lives of its little inhabitants.  But this prayer bridge also tells us something about his will, too.

Jesus leads us across a bridge, joining our Father's overarching will with our daily experience of his grace.
Jesus leads us across a bridge, joining our Father’s overarching will with our daily experience of his grace.

As we follow Jesus’ leadership across this prayer bridge, two worlds begin to merge. We discover our big and small petitions are connected. God’s ultimate plan, it turns out, is realized within the world of fed people, provisioned children, delivered families, loved men and empowered women. The Father’s name is hallowed as people experience the grace of Jesus in their struggle to forgive. The Father’s will is done as men are lead away from temptation.  His kingdom comes as once-shackled souls find deliverance from evil. The bigger-than-any-of-us plan of the Father finds its fulfillment in the intimate restoration of each and every person.

What a difference this makes in our prayers. What a change this brings in our experience with our Father. What confidence this instills. Asking the Father for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, leads us to seek his will in our hungry, wounded, tempted little worlds. And as we do, we see God’s big will and our little lives become beautifully joined in his loving heart.The Lord's Prayer as a bridge


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)

 

 

 

 

Don’t give the devil more credit than he’s due

While the devil tries to destroy our lives, we often blame him for things we should be taking responsibility for.

The devil isn’t responsible for everything that goes wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong: I believe there’s a devil.  Not the horned dude in red tights or the diabolical joker from Far Side hell, but a personal, powerful being who has set himself against all that is good and God’s in the world, destroying and deceiving wherever and whomever he can.

That said, I think we sometimes give him way too much credit.

Wedding cake visual metaphor with figurine cake toppers
Royalty-Free StockPhoto (Rubberball)

A marriage starts to blow up, and the devil gets the blame for destroying it. Maybe . . . or maybe selfishness did that without any help from him.

Health problems surface, and somehow it’s an attack from the evil one. Possibly, or perhaps our bodies really are broken and waiting for resurrection?

division
Google images

Division sets into a local church, and it’s deemed a sign of spiritual oppression. It could be. But what if the division was created by poor leadership? Or hard hearts? I’m sure the devil’s cheering us on, but causing it? Maybe not.

 

A child is killed in an accident. Listen. The devil loves that stuff; he cheers on death because he’s deluded by it’s power. But he didn’t necessarily, or even likely, cause the tragedy. Accidents happen, forces collide, people fall asleep at the wheel, roads get slippery, mistakes are made, vehicles break down.  We live in a broken world, and in the midst of brokenness we long toward the time when all will finally be well, in the resurrection and new creation. But we aren’t there yet.

Next time you hear someone say “Satan’s working overtime in our family, in our church, in our town,” question it. Is that true? Or has the devil become an easy scapegoat, keeping us from actually confessing and repenting for ways we have contributed to the problem. (And by the way, the devil’s more than happy to take the blame if that keeps us from dealing with reality so we repent and change.)

So what should you do when you suspect this might be happening? Two things:

First, do pray against the work of the evil one. Jesus taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” or “from the evil one.”  We are in a war with the evil one, and we must be attentive and aware of his schemes. All that is true. As James 4:7 commands us, when we “submit ourselves to the Lord” and then “resist the devil”, he flees from us.

Lead us not, deliver usBut pray the whole prayer: before we ask for deliverance from evil, we ask that we not be lead into temptation, remember? And for the purposes of this post, I’d like to suggest that one of our temptations is to assume the devil’s handiwork when it well might be our own.

Then, secondly, ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight, so that you can know what is really going on. If it’s Satanic, then fight it appropriately. If it’s sin, confess it and change. If it’s the harsh reality of a broken and not yet redeemed world, then lean into God’s goodness and continue to trust his leadership through the difficulty. But let the Spirit guide you toward wisdom, so that we can live and respond from faith and not from delusion.

Does the devil attack us? Yes. “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe,” as Martin Luther wrote generations ago. But let’s not give him more credit than he’s due. We’ve got plenty of responsibility to take, and by doing so, we will see God’s goodness flow into broken situations, bringing healing and restoration where there had previously been only pain and denial.

Have you experienced situations where human responsibility was ignored because the devil was blamed?

Marriage Got Gaps? 10 Ways Jesus Can Fill Them

Every marriage has gaps. And when two beautiful-yet-broken people commit to a life together, lots of grace is needed.

Gaps of all kinds spring up: expectation gaps, ability gaps, misunderstanding gaps, sin gaps, cultural gaps, value gaps. Sometimes you can hear them forming:

He just seems too focused on work to listen to me anymore.

She isn’t as physically active as when we met.  

I had hoped we’d do everything together, but we live pretty separate lives.

She’s just so different. I thought we’d be able to get past it, but now I’m not sure.

We aren’t intimate like we used to be. 

I’m disappointed.

gapslogo

Gaps form in any relationship between two real people. And I’m convinced that it’s into these gaps that Jesus wants to pour his grace so our marriages can flourish.

How can we let Jesus fill the gaps?  Here are 10 ways.

  1. Acknowledge the gaps. Get honest with yourself and with God. Be real about your feelings, your disappointments, your angst. But keep it to yourself for now; wait till you’ve had some time to process the gaps before you talk to your spouse about your feelings. The guidance of a good counselor or trusted spiritual friend can help you identify the gaps you are experiencing.
  2. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom about which gaps can be closed and which gaps may never be resolved. The fact is, some of the gaps in our marriages won’t be “solved.” Some cultural and personality gaps may never be fully closed, requiring ongoing grace to make up the difference.  Other gaps may result from physical challenges, such as when a person has had physical trauma and is not able to do things that had previously been part of your shared life. Grace is needed for the gaps, whether they can be closed or not.
  3. Offer grace and forgiveness. Whatever the gaps, grace and forgiveness must be our basic stance. Jesus enters into all our gaps, be they gaps in our life with him, the ways we are not yet transformed, or the gaps in our marriage, and he fills up those gaps with his grace. Let him do that for your marriage by regularly offering grace and forgiveness to each other.
  4. Work on you. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to grow yourself. When gaps are acknowledged in a marriage, it’s easy to become focused on how “they” are the problem, ways “they” need to change, errors “they” must acknowledge. But that’s very ineffective (and usually untrue!). As the advice runs, the only person you can truly change is yourself. When you let God into your gaps and pursue personal growth, you’ll find that you’ll be helping your marriage. Read, pray, get counselling, get honest, grow in self-awareness, let the Spirit develop in you all the fruits of his presence.
  5. Pray! Prayer must become the primary way we address the gaps in our marriage. Talking with one trusted friend is good. (But with many friends? Not good!) Exploring our gaps with a counselor? Yes. But none of that replaces the most basic conversation we need to be having with God.  I find it’s at the moment when I’m feeling the most discouraged or challenged by the gaps in my marriage that I’m presented with a choice: Will I fret and worry? Or will I trust and pray? Choosing to pray is always the better choice.
  6. Be watchful. As gaps grow, temptations rush in and relational distance increases, widening gaps into canyons. Temptations come in many forms: comparing your spouse with another, throwing yourself into a hobby rather than connecting in conversation, working longer hours, even seeking false comfort in polar bear jumping ice gapdangerous and unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much or viewing pornography. The more one allows temptations to pull your heart away, the greater the gaps become.  In my counselling with couples, I find that small gaps became larger as people refused to acknowledge them and simply pursued other distractions.
  7. Gently discuss with your spouse what you have been discovering about yourself and what you’ve been praying about for your marriage. Do this without accusing. Notice that this is the first point I’ve made about actually talking to your spouse about the gaps you’ve identified. Why? Because we often talk about the gaps way too soon. We haven’t wrestled with our role in the gaps, we haven’t spent time working on ourselves, we haven’t cultivated an attitude of grace and acceptance; in short, we aren’t ready, and talking about the gaps before we are ready will backfire. But there is a time when we must talk about them. Do it gently. Recognize that this may be the first time your spouse has become aware of a particular gap, and they may push back. Give them time and space to process and pray. Resist getting defensive. And keep praying.
  8. Be patient and listen to how they see the gap. In the conversations that follow, heed the sage advice to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Even after all the work you’ve done, you need to let your spouse share their perspective, their insight, their struggles. Be open to them and what they see. Keep offering grace and forgiveness, and be willing to ask for it.
  9. Be willing to let go of demands and expectations. As you process the gaps, be open-handed. There will be some expectations and demands that you will need to let go, letting Jesus make up for what your spouse cannot. This is true in every marriage, and it’s a key way we are reminded that our spouse cannot be everything for us–we need Jesus to be what only he can be. Some gaps will close slowly. Some will never close. But as we offer freedom to one another, we can experience grace in our marriage, even in the midst of the gaps.
  10. Live in a posture of thankful grace. When we focus on the gaps, we can forget the goodness. Make sure, in the midst of all the prayer and reflection and discussion, to continually and intentionally encourage your partner, celebrating God’s goodness in them, the ways they delight you and excite you. Live in a posture of thankful grace, letting Jesus fill the gaps, and experiencing in the process a relationship that is growing in depth and in passion.

 

How have you identified and addressed gaps in your marriage?

What is the best advice you’ve received for gaps that seem insurmountable?