Designed for Prayer: the pause of a praying mantis

 

The first time I found him he was lying upside down on my front porch. His long, spindly legs bicycled through the open air in a concerted effort to turn over.

“Hello, my friend, what a predicament you are in,” I said to him. “Let’s see if together we can make things better.” Grasping him gently around the middle, I turned him right side up and carried him off the porch. I set him carefully back down on the earth. He did not scurry away. Cocking his triangular head to the side and looking at me with bulging eyes, he paused in our stillness as if to say, “thank you and God bless.”

Several days later, he climbed back on the porch, remaining upright this time. My husband and I crouched low for a good look. Upon hearing our voices, he boldly turned and studied us while holding his forearms in a prayerful pose.

Long a symbol of peace, contemplation, and prayer, the word “mantis” in Greek literally means prophet or seer. Although it appears the praying mantis prays, in reality the pose helps him capture prey. Equipped with sharp spikes, his specialized front legs quickly extend and squeeze flies, bees, lizards, frogs, and even birds to eat. The prayers of the praying mantis are actually part of an intricately designed plan for their survival.

In thinking about how God designed the praying mantis to pray, it occurred to me that he designed us in a similar way. Not with spiky arms and an odd diet, of course, but with an appetite for prayer. Like the praying mantis, our prayers feed us. They nourish us with faith, hope, and love. Spiritually, optimal human functioning comes through a relationship with God. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. -C.S. Lewis

Many of us would agree prayer has benefits, but few pause long enough to reap them. My new friend, the praying mantis, held a prayerful pose for what seemed like an eternity to me this week. In fact, he was still praying as I walked away. What if we paused, prayed, and waited with such intense patience? What nourishment might our spirits gain?

How Prayer Feeds our Spirits:

Prayer opens the door to a relationship with God.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Faith assures us we can be confident in God’s plans for us even when we feel uncertain of what lies ahead. Because we have hope in those plans, our hearts urge us to reach out to him in prayer. Like any other relationship, a close relationship with God requires consistent time and effort. As we draw closer to God through prayer, the meanings and instructions his promises speak to us become clearer.   

Prayer keeps us humble and reminds us who is in control.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV

Humility helps us remember we cannot control everything in our lives. While we may boldly ask for what we want, we remember God decides what is best. We may not like what is happening now, but we cannot predict the ways God may use it to impact our life or the lives of others in the future. Even as we pray to exit a difficult season, God gives us strength and equips us to endure through it. He sends people and circumstances which help us. He lights our path and can show us how to find purpose in our pain. Humbly yielding to God’s will opens windows of wisdom in our hearts and minds.   

Prayer puts plans in motion.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV

In this Scripture, Jesus encourages deeper faith in the disciples who doubt their given authority to heal. Jesus tells them even the tiniest amount of faith in tandem with God’s power can move mountains. As believers trusting in God’s abilities, we too, can move mountains with prayers.

God certainly can get things done without us, but in some situations he calls for prayer. He chooses to use our prayers; he makes them a part of the plan to accomplish his will. Prayer can put God’s plans in motion. He uses prayer to help us believe in his power instead of merely our own abilities. 

 

Prayer battles darkness.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corninthians 10:4 NIV

As believers we have an arsenal of spiritual weapons at the ready. God arms us with weapons like his Word, the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, love, and prayer. With these, we are equipped well beyond the confines of mere physical strength and human intelligence. Prayers help battle the world’s darkness by calling upon God’s power to work within us — shining light on our spiritual gifts and inspiring us to serve him and others. The loving actions which flow from our prayers in dark times strengthen the bonds of faith between believers and ignite faith in those who lack it.   

Prayer grants peace.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:28-29 NIV

Once we have done what we can in our trouble, prayers allow us to rest and trust the work of God’s hands. Because we know God, we know he will help us. He will help us think through our problems and alert us when we need to move. He will prod us to seek forgiveness, fill us with faith, and restore what is broken in our lives. As we seek him in our struggles, we learn about his lovingkindness and mature in our faith. Prayer grants peace by asking God to take the lead in situations we cannot change.  

 

 

Our prayers do not have to be fancy, or long, or even full of requests. Sometimes prayers simply tell God how much we love and appreciate him. When harder days come and life unexpectedly flips us upside down, fear will not overcome us. Because we know we have a trusted friend who rescues us time and time again. He gently turns us right side up and places our feet back down on solid ground. As creatures designed to pray, our faith encourages us to pause and to thank him. Press on in faith, my friends!

 

 

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2 NLT

 

Related Posts:

 

Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Neibuhr

 

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.


 

Bucket lists, God’s Plans, and the Redwood Forest

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

When is the last time you checked something BIG off your bucket list? This month, after years of dreaming about walking through the redwood forest in California, I finally did it. It was awesome.

Did you know California’s North Coast redwoods are THE tallest trees in the world? They are also some of the very oldest living things — some species are over 3,000 years old! Just let that sink in a minute…

The forest I visited was part of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. Wandering through this forest of towering green giants certainly provides a real life perspective on our small size in this big world.

On my trip, I learned some interesting facts about redwoods to share with you. These facts helped me think about God’s plans, not only for these redwoods, but for each of us. Come along, walk with me.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. 

Coastal redwoods are hardy trees. They can grow just about anywhere. But, they only grow into their massive potential along the California coastline. Why? In California, the cool, wet, and foggy conditions allow the tree’s needles to draw in necessary nutrients from the air’s moisture which nurtures the tree to grow up, up, up. In other climates, these redwoods can only get nourishment through their roots. Tree circulation systems cannot pump high enough to sustain a huge coastal redwood elsewhere. Nutrients must also come from the environment to grow that tall.

Like the redwoods, God also places us in conditions for ideal growth. If we think back upon the events of our life, we can see how relationships, opportunities, and challenges occurred to strengthen us. We are different from trees because we can choose whether we soak up the nourishment around us — whether we look for and pursue God’s direction in our days. God provides the climate for us to grow into the tallest plans he has for us. He puts us in places that can help us reach our true potential. 

They are plans for good and not for disaster

With bark up to a foot thick on some trees, the coastal redwood is strong and tough. The denseness of its bark is just one trait among many which make this tree so unusual. When exposed to fire, the outer layer chars into a barrier or heat shield, protecting the tree from destruction. Pests, like ants and termites, find redwoods unappealing or poisonous, so they do not harm it. Even damaging floodwaters and creek beds are no match for this wood’s survival. Redwood resists water-related rotting; wood that is thousands of years old is found underwater by well drillers in sturdy shape.

California’s redwoods face enemies of fire, pests, and water, but they thrive regardless. Their natural composition allows them to survive and grow into the world’s tallest trees. Similarly, our lives are full of difficult conditions. But our God, the God who equips the redwoods for their good destiny, equips us to withstand this world’s trouble as well.

God does not wish disasters upon us. In this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). But, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God created us out of love and for a relationship with him. The strength of this relationship comes from faith in him. Faith gives us sure hope and prods us to seek God’s good through everything that happens to us.

To give you a future and a hope. 

Okay, so here’s the clincher: when a live coast redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens species) falls in the forest it can regenerate itself into new life. The fallen tree can keep growing through its limbs or branches. The upright limbs eventually turn into a new row of trees. Similarly, circular groups of new trees can grow out of redwood stumps. The genetic information in the cells of a new tree is identical to each of the others, and to the tree they sprang from. The fallen tree truly has everlasting life.

If God’s plans for the redwoods are good and full of hope, how could they be anything less for us? He has plans for our future, and he is never unsure about how to get us there. We can trust him.

As we grow in faith, the care and guidance he provides become more clear. He stays beside us when we muddle along, when we celebrate, when we endure, and when we mourn. God delivers hope through all conditions and ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice, he promises us an eternal life.

Do you think maybe the things we write on our bucket lists arise from inside us for reasons greater than we can imagine? I went to the redwood forest to see the tall, beautiful trees. I left inspired to think about God’s plans and the way he cares for us. He delivers messages in the most amazing ways.

I think God must smile big when we check something off our bucket list. Like he is checking something off too. Perhaps he planned it that way? He is so good. Press on in faith, my friends!

Dear God,

Thank you for the plans you have for us and for the many blessings you give. You place us in the best conditions for maximum growth. The people, events, and opportunities you place in our path encourage us to keep moving ahead. Help us stand tall, strong, and steady as we grow in relationship with you. Give us the courage to do what we need to and the patience to hope in your ways. Grant us wisdom to see how you are always working good, even through hard things. May we live our days here full of your peace, and forevermore in the glory of your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Note:

I would love to hear about something on your bucket list. If you have checked something off recently, were there ways you felt God was there with you? Write me a note in the comments or on my “Contact Me” page.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Where Joy Flows From

Inspiring Resources:

treesofmystery.net

Embracing God’s Plan

 

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Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am working on accepting this as a good thing. Like many of you, I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with meeting deadlines and crossing items off to-do lists. I get frustrated and negative when my accomplishments fall short of my goals. Then, it takes awhile for my motivation to rebound and to get back up to speed.

But, life interferes with the best laid plans and the strongest of ambitions. Unanticipated problems occur, accidents happen, people need our help, the weather changes, income declines, health issues arise…and so it goes.

There are days, weeks, months, and seasons in life when we feel like we can never do enough and we will never be enough. We wonder if God really has a plan for our life and an agenda for each day. How do we accomplish his plan when all these problems keep slowing us down? Why doesn’t he help us out a little more?

Recently, I took these questions to Scripture and found reassurance. When things don’t go according to plan it can be a good thing. It can be a God thing. Here are a handful of truths to help us welcome God’s plan in our days:

  • God is sure of his plan for us.    

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

God made a plan for our lives even before we were born. He continually works in our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit to encourage our faith in his plan to grow. He leads us to try new things, puts teachers in our path, and instills confidence in our abilities. He nudges us to consider how the gifts he gave us might help others find faith and feel loved.

The decisions we make and the paths we take do not surprise God. He is there for us always, through everything that comes our way. He does not promise a life free of suffering, but he fills his believers with hope, and ultimately he brings good from all their hardships.

Of course, our free will allows us to embrace or resist God’s plans for us. But, he never stops pursuing and trying to reach us. His love for every one of his children is unconditional and unrelenting. Our humanity loves shortcuts, but there are no shortcuts to understanding God’s plan. Ultimately, understanding God’s plan requires understanding God.

As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late to invest time in getting to know God. Like any other relationship, we get to know God by spending time with him. This means spending time studying the Bible, reading Biblical interpretations, learning from pastors, and discussing faith questions with others. The more we learn about God, the clearer our role in his story becomes.

Embracing God’s plan means we commit to developing a relationship with him in our daily life.

  • God’s plan differs from our own.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

Oh, how we love the illusion of control. We get so caught up in busily achieving our goals that we can forget God may have an entirely different strategy in mind. He will not conform to our purposes; we need to strive to fit into his.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will cope with a myriad of difficulties perceived as obstacles in the way of achieving our dreams. Maybe these difficulties are not really problems, but possibilities God puts on the agenda to carry out an even bigger plan.

Perhaps God allows difficulty to enter our lives to capture our attention, to encourage us to check our direction, and to build a relationship of trust with him. Once we realize we cannot control our life, we start to contemplate and even anticipate the opportunities God sends our way.

Embracing God’s plan means we work on being flexible, good-natured, and inquisitive when unexpected events change our daily agendas. 

  • God promises to fulfill his plan.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

God’s work for us began when Christ died and offered us eternal life. His work continues within us through the Holy Spirit during our lifetimes, up until the moment we die. As faith grows, God helps his believers discover their talents and gifts which help carry out his plans.

Those slight nudges we get to serve others are also the Holy Spirit’s way of directing us down God’s path. Through our offerings of food, clothing, money, shelter, prayer, talents, friendship, etc. we deepen our faith and help the faith of those around us grow.

When we feel like we are not making any progress, it helps to remember God’s promise to finish his work. By diligently seeking and including him in our lives, we give him the green light to go to work. He will not give up on us.

Embracing God’s plan means remembering each of us is a good work in progress, and God promises to complete every one of his projects.   

  • God will always help us.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Fear and worry are part of our world. There’s no getting around that. God knew this, and thus packed the Bible full of his strength and compassion for us. When we feel stressed, the Bible is the greatest resource for renewal. We can find Scriptures and stories that relate to any situation and bring us guidance.

God also sends help in a multitude of other ways such as people, prayer, intuition, and events. When facing trouble, tuning into the world around us (instead of tuning out) opens up our eyes to the ways God helps us. We naturally start developing the trusting attitude God desires – that he is working all things together for our good, in his own time and way.

There will always be days when we wonder if God knows what he’s doing. Days when we are at the end of our rope and frustrated by our trials. God’s Word tells us time and time again, do not worry. He is always there for us. He loves us, and he holds us up.

Embracing God’s plan means reaching out to him for help and trusting him to follow through.

God makes an agenda for every one of our days. This agenda often will not match what we have planned. But, that’s okay. God’s plans are good and far beyond what we could ever imagine. We can meet each day with an air of expectancy, and be ready to embrace the opportunities God sends. For we know, there is a lot of work to be done in and through us. We fight against fear and worry because we trust God’s promises to help us. Rest assured, one day, he will raise up our hands, victorious in his plans.

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A Prayer for You:

Dear God,

Thank you for creating me with a plan in mind. Help me learn more about your goals for my life as I grow in faith. Teach me to remain flexible in my schedule and to see my problems as your possibilities. Thank you for trusting me with the assignments you have given me, and for your reassurances that I can handle them. Lead me as I work to conquer worries and fears, and as I strive to make you proud. May the first item on my to-do list always be: “whatever God hands me.”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen