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.


 

Encourage and Build Each Other Up

Tucked away in an alcove of pine in Door County, Wisconsin, there is what many consider a treasure. Towers of precariously stacked stones populate this short stretch of shoreline at Lake Michigan’s Cave Point County Park.

Some towers are short and dainty looking, assembled quickly by someone passing through. Other structures clearly showcase much time, effort, and of course, patience. They are miracles of height and structure, balancing at six feet or more.

I visited this shoreline on a cold and windy autumn day. There were no builders in sight, just this evidence that many had been here and worked with their hands. Carefully, I made my way around the towers and down the shore. I wondered what inspires the visitors here to stack stones? What do they gain from building? Could this process of stacking represent anything similar in our own lives? Consider this verse:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

Therefore encourage one another…

In this passage of Scripture “encourage” translates to mean comfort. The apostle Paul wrote this verse in a letter to the Thessalonians who were persecuted for their new Christian faith. Their loved ones were punished and killed daily for their beliefs. In his letter, Paul reminds them to comfort one another and to live knowing their future is secure with those they have lost.

Our problems may not be as dire as the Thessalonians, but we still understand hardship. Everyone has problems, even the people who visited this rocky beach. Perhaps they walked next to the water like I did and tried skipping stones. Maybe seeing the towers around them calmed their spirits or inspired them to build too.

Whatever issues we face, knowing we are not alone helps us cope. Our faith comforts us and helps us comfort others. As companions in faith, our presence can encourage (comfort) others through hardship with compassion, hope, and thoughtfulness.  

and build each other up,…

Throughout his letter, Paul likens the members of the church to the parts of a body. Each person or part contributes to the welfare of the whole. His request to “build each other up” means to edify or improve each other intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Our faith is always growing and in need of tending. We build each other up by praying together, discussing the Bible, and sharing how God touches our lives.

When we work with others, whether it is on faith…or stacking rocks, we soon learn people think and do things differently than we do. Comparing ourselves to others or judging them limits the learning and growth we can gain from them.

In the relaxed setting of these open waters, I imagine strangers building towers side by side. They learn from each other, share balancing tips, laugh, and cheer each other on as yet another huge rock remains in place.

It is not our job to fix or change people, but to build each other up (edify) as a community growing in a faith which benefits us all.     

just as in fact you are doing.

In this last part of the Scripture, Paul recognizes the Thessalonians for their supportive efforts. He gives them praise for holding on tightly to faith in the midst of tragic and challenging circumstances.

In today’s stressful and troubled world, confidence in our faith and purpose can become wobbly as well. We question if we are doing the right things for God and struggle to keep our balance.

Taking time to slow down and giving ourselves space to think about how we show up to love others brings meaning and purpose to our lives. For some understanding may come while on a walk, studying the Bible, or looking at the stars. For others, it may come stacking stones on a desolate shore. Paul’s words travel to all those places and more, imploring us to go a little higher.

Stacking Stones
by Jamie Trunnel

Wandering souls sometimes stack stones.
Marks of patience,
Balance,
And time free from phones.

Expressing their bliss
With careful luck.
Escaping from problems,
Or calamities which have struck.

What if each placed rock
Represented a problem someone had?
And, the stacking process made him feel…
Not so bad.

Standing back and taking a look
Put things in perspective;
Told him he had what it took.

Life could be organized
And balanced as such.
See all these other souls
Who thought just as much?

We all have problems.
We all struggle.
If we saw others’ towers,
Maybe ours would not crumble.

Standing vulnerably tall
With our problems on display,
Maybe we could all find
Peace,
Hope,
And a little less judgement along the way.

Stacking Stones is a poem from my new book Simple Wishes which releases in early September. Be sure to join my email subscriber list to receive upcoming sneak peeks of the book and other special offers!

Related Posts:

Love on Ordinary Days

A New Kind of Resolution

Judged Instead of Loved

Some Clowns Showed Me How to “BE” the Church

And Just a Note: Some outdoor enthusiasts consider rock stacks like these an unwelcome reminder of humanity. There are concerns about the natural erosion process and the habitat of insects or mammals which burrow under the rocks. This blog post is not intended to support or discourage rock stacking. 🙂

Prayer Walking in the Wilderness

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I am walking. I am looking. I am looking for your light, oh God, in a world where darkness seeps through. My heart is heavy, like lead in my chest. My thoughts, they weep. They weep from my eyes as my mind makes no sense of their pain…

I typed these words into my iPhone notes last week while I was walking and praying for Orlando (i.e. prayer walking). Even with the summer sun shining, I am finding it difficult to feel warm inside. You too?

The past few weeks have sucker punched us with bad news. A truly gifted, rising young star was murdered while signing autographs for fans. A beloved zoo gorilla was killed in order to save a boy who had fallen into an enclosure. Two young promising lives, and the lives of those who love them, were forever changed by a rape on Stanford’s campus. Infants have died, forgotten in hot cars. A sweet toddler was unmercifully swept away by an alligator at the most magical place on Earth. And, a staggering forty-nine innocent lives were callously discarded without hesitation by one individual in Orlando.

It keeps coming; all the news is numbing. Over and over it plays, as my heart aches and my mind works at interpreting what to do with all the information. Frankly, I do not want to learn from such terrible things. And, I am saddened by the blame and judgement trailing nastily behind each incident.

Emotions, undoubtedly, run high with these types of events. With each horrific story, we imagine how we would feel in the victim’s shoes. Certainly, it is a struggle to remain calm, rational, and full of faith. Is there a way to keep ourselves at peace so we inspire change through compassion instead of hostility?

I think so. Jesus called it prayer.

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:16 New Living Translation (NLT)

Throughout the Bible, Scripture notes that Jesus often exited chaotic and heated situations to center himself and pray alone. In fact, whether things were crazy or not, he made it a habit to look and listen for God daily.

In referencing this Scripture, the New Living Translation Bible describes “wilderness” as the quiet, solitary places one goes to pray. Isolating ourselves for regular meetings with God can be tricky. There are always people and matters competing for our attention. Getting outside away from distractions to walk in prayer is a routine that works for many people.

Are you familiar with the term prayer walking? I have been “prayer walking” for awhile now without knowing what it was called. Prayer walking has probably been around for quite some time. Walking was the primary method of travel in Biblical times. So, surely people walked and prayed at the same time. The Bible just doesn’t specifically mention people “prayer walking” their way to the well.

One common definition of prayer walking today is “praying on-site with insight”. This type of prayer walk occurs when a person or group walks around the area they want to pray for (e.g. a neighborhood, church, school, or city). The thought is that the person praying feels closer to the designated place, thus drawing greater insights from God.

Prayer walks, however, can also occur off-site, wherever a person chooses to walk, while setting their heart and mind on meeting with God. Obviously, we cannot pack up and travel to places like Orlando every time something needing prayer happens. We can, however, always intentionally focus our prayers on those specific places no matter where our steps begin. 

Both on-site and off-site prayer walks are intercessory in nature, meaning that you pray on behalf of others. Keep in mind though, there are no hard and fast rules here. We can also use prayer walking to communicate our own personal concerns to God.

 

I spent some time this week researching prayer walking. Because most prayer walks take place outside, they are very sensory-oriented. If you want to give it a try, here are some things to keep in mind:

Look – Ask God to show up and meet with you on your walk. Then, be aware of your surroundings and watch what is happening. Smile at any faces you meet, feel the sun and the wind on your skin, and pause to notice the living things around you. If you’d like, slow down to take photos documenting your walk.

As you move, visualize the place or people you are praying for, and then give God a mental picture of your prayers for them (e.g. blanket Orlando with peace, hold them close).

Listen – Tune in to the sounds you hear. Are the birds singing? Is the wind blowing or the water running? Feel the rise and fall of your chest as you listen to life happening right now. Our breath reminds us that every living thing was created on purpose and for a purpose.

Express to God your questions, your hopes, and your confidence in his plans to work everything for good (e.g. Why is there so much hatred? Please soften hearts. Bring me opportunities which build trust in your plans).

Rest – Take a break from walking. Thank God for all the blessings you see and hear. Feel your gratitude. Read a piece of Scripture or a devotional message.

Reflect on the people or place you are intentionally praying for. Sit quietly and listen for any instruction God may place on your heart. Ask him how your gifts or talents can help (e.g. continued prayers, influencing change, victim support). Watch expectantly each day for answers with patience, hope, and discernment.

God Meets Me There
by Jamie Trunnel

I find peace outside my door. It’s a walk and a prayer. God meets me there. 

I look up in the clouds and down in the dirt. Smiling at faces, to God’s call I’m alert.

I listen to the birds sing and feel the wind blow. Sometimes I see a fawn, wobbly legs land has yet to know.

There’s a dragonfly with wings so blue, shimmering hope for a world made new.

Circling a fountain by the old folks home, I wave if they’re out watching me roam.

I hear the water flow, and watch the thistles grow.

Finding a seat on a bench that’s green, I spend time asking God to show me the unseen. 

Hold onto your peace. Lighten your heart, he speaks.

I am here with you. My light will always break through. 

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Never stop praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)

 

Inspiring Resources: These photos and more appear on my Instagram account where I document a gift and a thought each day. You can view and follow it right here.

 

A Fit Faith

Dumbbell B&W

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 New International Version (NIV)

Flipping a 150 pound tractor tire fifty times in a workout was never a line item on my bucket list. Surprisingly, however, this feat hijacked the list, and I crossed it off with pride on my fiftieth birthday. Ha, who knew?! This girl does have strength, coordination, and endurance.

A year ago, I considered myself a fairly physically fit person, but certainly not someone people recognized from the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical and I was good to go. I was not concerned about my biceps or my core, and I had no idea what a TRX or a burpee was.

After a great deal of salesmanship, my husband convinced me that strength training would be good for me to try. Strength training exercises use resistance from things like dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, and even your own body weight to cause muscles to contract. Physical benefits include improved muscle strength, tone, mass, and endurance. Starting slow, I worked with a trainer to learn proper technique and combine new exercises.

Gradually, I noticed changes in strength, and other, more unexpected things too. I finally understood how to properly lift heavy objects with my legs, and not my back. More conscious of my posture, I found myself keeping my shoulders back and down. Flipping a huge tire fifty times became a possibility. My body continues learning to speak this challenging new language every week. Stronger and wiser, my muscles thank me for it by surprising me with what they can do.

In much the same way, I never considered writing a blog about applying Scripture to life. A far cry from a biblical scholar, I attended church randomly most of my life. A good person equals a “fairly fit” Christian, right? I was not concerned about my spiritual biceps or strengthening my core beliefs, and Bible study classes intimidated me.

When a health crisis hit our family, I found myself desperately wishing my muscles of faith were stronger. I longed for courage, for answers to serious questions, and for peace of mind. I scrutinized how fit my faith was. I could not honestly say I was dedicated to loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

Perhaps striving to love God that completely would guide me towards a more “fit faith”? Gradually, I am discovering and adding new spiritual exercises into the routines of my life. Some ideas to power up faith:

Learn about prayer and make it a daily practice. Max Lucado’s book, The Power of a Simple Prayer is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about how to talk to God. Prayer does not have to be a formal, scheduled event; it can take place throughout your day like other conversations.

Express gratitude every day. Just becoming aware of the many things to be thankful for can help us think more positively and ease worry. Use a notebook, an app, or an online journal to record blessings each day.

Seek to understand Scripture. Start understanding and applying Scripture by reading devotions, a life-application Bible, or Christian teaching books. Focus on one verse a day and see what you can learn from it.

Join a supportive network of people who also seek a stronger faith. Support can come in many ways such as attending church, discussing a faith inspired book together, using creative talents, or working on a team project for the community.

Be still. Carving out time to simply sit with a quiet mind can be a very difficult task. Taking this break, however, can rejuvenate us for the challenges we face. Solitude eases worries, brings clarity, and reveals inner strength through the Holy Spirit.

As I see it, improving faith fitness is very similar to improving physical fitness. Exercises should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs. A variety of exercises work best to challenge the mind, body, and spirit. Consistent practice is important for long term benefits. And, the results can inspire others.

Like training in the gym, stretching our faith helps us grow stronger and wiser in new ways. Asking God for help no longer seems like an insurmountable task. Blessings become more apparent than ever before, and we feel grateful to see them. Recognizing the needs of others and showing compassion takes precedence over fulfilling our own needs. And, seeking answers to common faith questions is no longer scary and isolating.

Developing a “fit faith” continues to be a work in progress for me. I do not have a formula to follow for success. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am in better shape now to handle the next downturn in life.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for being my patient trainer as I seek a “fit faith”. Guide me in conversation with you and help me understand how to apply your teachings to my life. Fill my heart with gratitude as I count my blessings each day. Remind me to be still in your holy presence and listen for your direction. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)

Romans 4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How fit is my faith? Are my spiritual muscles getting the workouts they need to sustain me through the ups and downs of life? What can I change in my faith routine to strengthen my love for God?