PRAYER: SOME ‘NEW’ PERSPECTIVES

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At the home group I attend, we have been discussing prayer. As we began to unpack prayer, a different perspective of prayer has opened up for me. These perspectives are not actually ‘new’ but rather a deeper understanding of what prayer is about. As we discuss these ‘new’ perspectives, I will be speaking from a New Covenant perspective. It would be useful then always to bear in mind the following:

  1. We are no longer servants but sons and daughters.
  2. Because we are sons and daughters we have an intimate Father not a distant God.
  3. Our sins past, present and future are forgiven and our Father sees us as righteous because of the work of Jesus.
  4. Because we cannot be perfect in this world we will still miss the mark (sin) because of our brokenness but our ‘sin’ does not separate us from our relationship with the Father.

So what is prayer?

Prayer has often been described as a discourse with our Heavenly Father. We can say it is a conversation. The important part of all conversations is that there is talking and listening. It is the listening part of that conversation that we often miss. We need to recognise that the Father can and does speak to us in many different ways, such as through a Bible verse, a spontaneous thought, a dream, a word of prophecy, through a picture etc., and this may happen at any time of the day or night. We should realise that this hearing Abba speak to us is a part of prayer. Now we may begin to have a bigger understanding of the scripture that exhorts us to pray without coming to a close.[1]

Prayer is a continual conversation of talking and listening. As with all our relationships there will also be periods when there is no conversation. But as with all our relationships these periods of silence do not mean that they are not there or no longer interested in us. Rather there is our continual readiness to engage in conversation no matter what we are doing. There will be times of deep conversation where we will go to a quite place for a period of time, where we will commune at a deep level. Also there will be times when we could talk, chat, request or call for assistance during our day. The key, I believe is to understand that prayer moves beyond just our specific ‘prayer time’ into a 24-hour relationship that has communication as its foundation.

Lastly, why do we pray?

Most people only pray when they have or see a need. I don’t think that should be our reason for prayer. I believe our reason for prayer should be founded in love. Praying out of relationship is fundamental. Secondly Abba Father has a better view of life than we do. Scripture tells us we don’t know everything but only see part of the story and what we do see is back to front[2]. Abba Father can see our pitfalls and therefore can guide us so that we are successful. With that understanding I realise I need Abba’s guidance every moment of the day.

For me, prayer is not an optional extra to being a believer but a vital necessity to be able to live life. And it happens 24/7.

More next week!


[1] 1Thessalonians 5:17

[2] 1Corinthians 13:12

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Is God in control?

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Most people when confronted with the question, ‘Is God in control over the events of our life here on earth?’ will probably answer ‘yes’. Often they will qualify it with some explanation why bad stuff happens. They may say that God allows it, it is His permissive will or even, it is His punishment.

So to the question: ‘Is God in control of the events in our time-space continuum – our life here on earth?’

Let us ask ourselves the following questions:

‘Do we have a free will?’

‘Does God interfere with our free will?’

The answer to that is we have a free will and God does not stop anybody using their free will in any manner they choose. He has taken His hands off and has allowed us to do what ever we please. Therefore He cannot be in control here on earth. He will not stop any person from committing an atrocious crime no matter how vulnerable or innocent the victim is. History is testament to that.

The only way God can influence the events taking place in our time-space continuum is when we invite Him in through prayer. The key to our invitation to Him to intervene in the affairs of mankind, is that it must be in line with His perfect will. Our prayers must be born out of our own correct motivation and belief. Scripture says we can pray incorrectly or with the wrong attitudes (James 4:3).  The person being prayed for also needs to have the correct heart attitude and faith.

Our prayers also need to be focused towards the problem and not the fruit of the problem. For example if the person we are praying for has a stomach ulcer and this is caused by worry, God may not heal the ulcer but might want the person to trust Him and deal with the reasons that he has developed anxiety. Our body may then heal itself. In many ways our bodies are created to heal themselves.

My personal belief is that outside our time-space continuum, God is totally in control. The moment we leave our earthly bodies and enter His realm, His will be done. Scripture clearly states that every knee will bow and there is no freedom of choice in that statement.

In summary, God can only be in control of the events in our lives when we invite Him to take control and His response may not be in the manner that we may want because we cannot always see the ‘big picture’.

 

Maintaining change in altering habits

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Often having embarked on a program to alter our undesirable habits, we relapse. By way of an example: if we are altering our habit of smoking, we apply all the suggestions that we have talked about in my previous blogs. We have planned everything, started, and then, after a month we find we have started smoking again. It is at this point that we may feel a number of negative emotions. We may be disappointed, feel helpless, worthless and want to give up.

This is why it is so important to have a support group around us. With them we need to evaluate what has happened. We need to realise that we had given up smoking for a whole month. This is a great accomplishment. A whole month without smoking! Well, if we can do it for a month, then we can do it again for another month. All we need to do is go back and re-implement everything that we did before. Set the goal, do the planning, look at the resources and set the plan in motion.

But now we have even more resources – we know we can do it for a month!

With this approach we can easily string a whole heap of ‘no smoking’ months together. At the end of the year we may have gone 9 months in total without smoking. That is a whole heap better than the year before.

The main keys are to have achievable goals, do some more planning and restart. It is useful to avoid focusing on what we are trying to stop but we need to create an image of what we want to be in our mind. We always need to evaluate our successes.

There, we have done it!

 

Planning to change our habits

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As I said in a previous blog, if we want to change a habit it is important to formulate a plan to manage the change. This blog will set out how to plan for change.

Obviously the first step in change is the realisation that change is necessary and that we want to change. Before this happens many of us may think that our habit is not a problem or that we can see no reason why we should change. Only after the realisation of the gravity of our habits, the long-term consequences and how it is affecting those around us, do we think about change.

As we begin to consider changing a habit we may be faced with the feeling that it is almost impossible to change. This is often true when we have tried before and failed. We may need to talk to someone about our feelings of hopelessness, despondency and depression.

Having reached the point where we know we want to change, we need to decided what we are going to do. This may be joining a gym, an exercise group, attending therapy sessions, eating differently etc. What we are going to do needs to be practical. It should be within our physical and mental capability. It is not beneficial to choose an activity that we are physically incapable of doing or have an unrealistic expectation that will leave us despondent. If we are going to diet, do we have the knowledge to develop a healthy diet plan or the skills to cook fat-free meals?  It will also be important to seek professional help and opinion especially if the habit has an addictive aspect.

The next step is to look at the resources we have.

  1. The most important resource is our support group. The support group will be there to encourage us when we become disheartened. The professional consultants are also part of the support group.
  2. Time is another important resource and will need to be managed to allow for exercise, therapy or time to prepare different meals (depending on the habit we wish to change).
  3. There may be a financial implication. This may impact our lifestyle in that we can no longer afford to do some of the things we enjoy.

There are a number of other considerations before we start. How will it affect those around me? Are they happy to change their lifestyle to accommodate me? As example, if we want to eat fat-free meals but we are not the person that usually prepares the meals, we will first need to talk about it with them.  Do we have the space or place – especially if we are starting an exercise regime? Are there transport implications – getting to the gym or therapy sessions?

Having planned the above, we now have to set a start date. It would be ineffective to start a diet when we are going on a luxury holiday, or sign up for an exercise class when we are going to be away on business. It is recommended that we plan ahead for at least 3 months. What we are trying to achieve is a new habit to replace the old. It is considered that to establish a habit or have a long-term memory regarding something, it requires repeating it daily for 3 months.

Now we are at the stage to get up and do it. Next week we will talk about maintaining the plan of change.

 

Understanding our habits

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To break the cycle of our bad habits it is useful to understand how they are formed and what keeps them in place. If we understand what caused them, then we can apply the right actions to change them.

Poor habits may be caused by any number of different events but what is important is that we ‘learnt’ them somewhere. As we grow up we experience a number of events; we are taught how live and we observe how things are done. As this happens, we interpret the information to create an understanding of how to live. For example, when dad is in a bad mood we learn to keep out of his way. As we grow older we may apply this to people who are angry or authority figures. This may have further impact upon our character in that we may become timid, fearful or angry because we perceive it as being unfair. When we experience these negative emotions we begin to look for comfort or release. The problem lies in what we find comforting and how we release the tension inside.

Here is a possible example:

The mouth is an area of comfort. The baby learns this as he/she latches onto the nipple of the mother. Later the nipple is replaced by a dummy, or as they say in the USA, a pacifier. Later when the pacifier is not available, it can be replaced with the thumb. Now whenever the child feels fearful, anxious or in need of comfort it will look for something to suck. At school it may be replaced with a pen or pencil and in later years with a cigarette.

As adults we may use cigarettes the moment we feel we are under pressure. This now becomes an instinctive habit. Unfortunately there is a side effect. We become addicted to nicotine and as our body become use to the nicotine it requires more to give a feeling of physical comfort.

Now, when we try to stop smoking, we concentrate mainly on the addiction side but forget about our deep-seated need for emotional comfort. In our effort to break the habit of ‘sucking on a cigarette’, we replace it with ‘sucking on sweets’. The result is that we may start putting on more weight. All we have managed to do is transfer the habit into another area.

Where do we start?

We need to enquire what is the ‘thing’ below the surface that is driving the habit. We need to deal with that at the same time applying all the aids to break the habit. We need to apply the tips that were outlined in the previous blog ‘Changing our habits’.

We must always bear in mind there was a time before the ‘habit’ took shape. We ‘learnt’ the habit somewhere, now we need to ‘unlearn’ it.

Handling the challenges of meaningful conversation

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There is a natural tendency in all human beings to become defensive if challenged. Nothing is more threatening than when we are challenged on an emotional level. We can easily feel hurt or angry when our internal emotional opinion on a concept is criticized or challenged. A good example of this is teenagers and their music. Deep meaningful conversation often can leave us feeling exposed and emotional. As we engage in meaningful conversation, we need to watch how we respond and process our responses correctly.

When we have meaningful communication we will be expressing our own attitudes, feelings and conclusions regarding a topic. We need to understand that our opinion is not who we are. Our opinion is the current conclusion we have reach though our experiences, what we have learned and the conclusions we have come to. We need to allow our opinions and conclusion to be challenged if we are to grow. Ernest Renan put it this way; ‘Our opinions become fixed at the point we stop thinking.’ We need to keep a clear distinction between who we are and how we view things.

Here are a few pointers to help us guard our heart, not become wounded and withdraw from meaningful communication.

  1. It is important to know who we are as a person. Our self-worth and value is important in dealing with how we respond. If we have poor self-worth we will usually respond from feelings of inadequacy.
  2. We need to know we are loved and that our relationship is not threatened because we have differing opinions. If we can believe that their desire is for our good we can deal with differing opinions constructively.
  3. We should feel comfortable about our opinions being challenged. If they say something that is different to our point of view, we can re-evaluate our opinion. If we think our opinion is still valid, we can discard their opinion – we don’t ‘discard’ them. We can agree to disagree. They don’t have to agree with our opinion just as we don’t have to agree with theirs. What we need to be careful of is the feeling that they must agree with us.
  4. We need to nurture a curiosity and a desire to understand our partner. When we can begin to understand the reasoning behind their thinking we are then more able to explain the way we see things in a manner they can understand.
  5. It is helpful to know which are those areas within ourselves that we may find threatening. This helps us firstly to communicate that we find this topic difficult and secondly, we can then begin to explore why we feel vulnerable and threatened. Often we may discover that our fears are unfounded. This cannot happen if we continue to avoid a topic.
  6. It is always helpful to ‘get inside their shoes’, to try and experience emotionally what others are saying. A good example of this is the emotional feelings of women disliking the toilet seat left up. If, we as men could for a moment, experience their feelings of distaste, we would never leave the seat up.
  7. We should never take comments personally nor see them as an insult or an attack on our character. Rather we need to view comments as a platform for personal growth.
  8. By allowing ourselves to be challenged we can develop, learn and discover something new.
  9. It is useful to explore our own opinions and attitudes. We need to discover why we see things from a particular viewpoint. Have we just adopted a position because that is how we grew up? Is that viewpoint still valid today?
  10. One of the tasks of being an adult is to accept that we may have an incorrect or distorted opinion. None of us are perfect and we have all grown up in a broken world and as a result developed distorted viewpoints. Having a distorted viewpoint is not the end of the world but remaining in ignorance can be disastrous.
  11. Lastly, when it comes to differing opinions, we should always ask the following question: ‘How does this impact the future and eternity’. If is has no real consequence, it is not that important. If it does have a consequence, we need to explore it and find a resolution, not matter how difficult.

We need to remember, the one we are communicating with is also experiencing as much as we are. It may be an act of enormous bravery for them to discuss topics that make them feel threatened, so do not miss the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation.

To all my readers, thank you. Have a blessed Christmas and an enjoyable New Year.

Merril.

Conversation killers that destroy relationships

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Good communication is the greatest single factor in keeping our relationships healthy and alive. When we fail to communicate on an intimate level, our important relationships begin to wither. This can lead to boredom. Once we become bored we begin to look elsewhere for stimulation, which is often the beginning point for breakdown of relationships. Boredom also creates ambivalence and when we are unemotionally involved with our partner we stop talking. It is vital for healthy relationships to have good, stimulating and even challenging conversations.

Here are a couple of things we should avoid if we want healthy communication:

  1. When our conversation become one sided, one person doing all the talking and the other just listening, there is no exchange of ideas, thoughts, opinions and emotions. The result will be that our relationships become dull. To avoid this we need to leave room for the listener to respond and this can be achieve by framing a questions.
  2. Our personal relationships are diminished when our conversation express statements that sound final and leave no room for comment, discussion or exploration. It is not wrong to have strong opinions but we need to allow others to express their opinions as well. We need to treat their opinions as valid and be big enough to listen.
  3. At all costs we should avoid talking ‘down’ to people. When we talk down to another person they will tend to withdraw. We will then never learn what they actually are thinking or feeling and as a result we may miss something poignant.
  4. We should never dismiss another person’s point of view if it clashes with our own. We can so easily be just as wrong as them and in our arrogance never grow into something better.
  5. All too often we look at our partner through our experience or understanding of yesterday. We need to look at one another in the present and talk to them where they are today. All of us should be continually growing and changing. Therefore our point of view should accommodate these changes.
  6. Avoid internal dialogues as much as possible. An internal dialogue involves us mulling over our own personal viewpoint and does not allow our point of view to be challenged. To the extent that we are involved in our own internal dialogue we stop listen to what is being said. This is completely different from positive self-talk.
  7. Not finding out or exploring how another person is feeling or experiencing a situation can cause them to feel left out. We should develop an enquiring mind to find out how others see and feel about a topic.
  8. Try not to cross talk, interrupt or answer until they have completed their story. If we do this it can cause our partner to feel we are not hearing them and as a result they could stop sharing.
  9. We should try to hear what they are saying rather than applying our own interpretation. A good conversation skill is to repeat what we think we heard them say before answering.

Good, deep meaningful conversation can take a lot of energy but it is vital if we want to remain healthy. The alternative is emotional stagnation and eventually death to the relationship.

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