Learning to Listen in Prayer, Pt. 1

“Why doesn’t Jesus answer my prayers?”

I looked at the little girl in front of me. If you’ve ever worked with children, you know they can and will ask whatever is on their minds. I’m used to the unexpected questions, but for some reason, this one seemed harder to answer.

Maybe because I’ve asked it so many times myself.

Many of us have heard the typical and truthful responses to this question. Sometimes, God answers our prayers yes, no, or wait. Perhaps He is protecting us or has something far better in mind. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “God’s refusals are His mercies.”

All of the above are true, and yet there is something inside us that still aches.

Perhaps the reason is that we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking why God doesn’t answer our prayers, we should be asking: God, what do you have to say to me?

Seriously. When is the last time we asked God to speak to us and then actually took the time to listen for His answer?

But, Kristen, God doesn’t speak—not anymore.

Oh yes, He does.

He speaks through His Word.

God may not speak audibly today, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t speaking.

After all, do we not have the Bible, God’s Word? It is as relevant now as it ever has been.

Instead of accusing God of not speaking, we should honestly examine ourselves. Are we spending time in His Word? Are we seeking to hear what He has to say to us? Do we want to know His truth, or are we too comfortable with our “little sins” that separate us from Him?

Nothing is more important than your relationship with God. If some sin in your life is keeping you from Him, forsake it, and get right with Him.

Pray this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24: 

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (KJV).

***

This post first appeared in full in the Girlz 4 Christ fall issue. To learn more about Girlz 4 Christ or subscribe to this free Ezine, click here.

Next week, we’ll look at two more ways God speaks today. In the meantime, how will you listen to God this week?

~ Kristen

 

Tweetables

Learning to Listen in Prayer, Pt. 1 – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

The question we should ask in prayer – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

When God Turns Up the Heat

One of my least favorite chores is ironing. Yes, I would rather scrub the bathroom than iron. As a result, some of my favorite blouses tend to be cotton/poly blends which, if you don’t already know, require almost no ironing. That’s today’s free tip, and you’re welcome.🙂

I’m much more friendly with the flat iron for my hair, which is a good thing, because the 70s happened before I was born.

What do regular irons and flat irons have in common? They use heat to smooth out wrinkles or straighten stubborn waves.

Sometimes, I think God turns up the “heat” in our personal lives to work out some spiritual wrinkles or use the pressure to mature us. Many times in the Bible, we see fire associated with testing or purification, and I want to look at two of those examples today.

Molding Clay

When I was in middle school, my brothers and I did 4-H for several years. I was even elected to the enviable role of Refreshment Committee member, which essentially meant nothing. Our moms organized everything.

One craft was to shape clay, apply a color coating of choice, and then place our creations in the oven to “set.” Going into the oven, my clay design was rather bland. When it came out of the oven, it was still unimpressive–but it was pretty. The heat had transformed the outer shell’s coating into a deep, glossy blue that was smooth and shiny.

I’m thankful God is a much more skilled Sculptor than I am! He’s at work in your life and mine, molding us to be who He wants us to be. He might have to work out some lumps, and the heat might hurt, but in the end, we will come out vessels for the finer.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand. (Isaiah 64:8 NKJV)

Refining Gold

I know little about metallurgy, the science of working or heating metals, but this basic concept I understand: The way to refine metals is to heat them. The heat purifies the metal, burning off the “dross,” or waste product, and leaving behind the metal.

Solomon, the wisest king who ever lived, observed this truth in Proverbs 25:4.

Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. (KJV)

On a spiritual level, God often refines His children. To remove things that don’t belong in our lives, He puts us through the fire. Or sometimes, He simply wants to make us more like Himself. Conforming to His image doesn’t come naturally but takes some fire and time, as a gospel song says.

Molding and refining aren’t processes we wish upon ourselves, but they deepen our character if we respond to them with a humble heart.

Heat Sensitive

Maybe you’re going through a trial right now, and you wish God would turn off the iron for a while. Perhaps life feels just fine at the moment, but you can look back at a time when God brought you through a tough experience.

Either way, remember this: If God didn’t care about us, He wouldn’t turn up the heat. His hand at work in our lives, even in the tough times, is evidence of His unfailing love.

I like what the Apostle Peter wrote in I Peter 1:7:

… that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (NKJV)

Wow! Our faith is more precious than gold.

I may never grow fond of ironing, but I recognize its purpose and place. And I may never be especially eager for God’s refining work in my life, but I know He has my best interests in mind.

Dear Father, thank you for caring more about our character than our comfort. Help us trust you in the fires of life, and may you be pleased with the work of your hands. May our faith be found for your glory. Amen.

~ Kristen

 

Tweetables

When God Turns Up the Heat – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

If God didn’t care about us, He wouldn’t turn up the heat. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

All That Glitters

I’ll never forget the year I went to Nicaragua on a mission trip. My team and I organized a week of Vacation Bible School for some village children and helped tear down a parsonage so the next team could rebuild it.

When you think of VBS, you probably imagine your church’s annual summer ministry, complete with Bible stories, memory verses, silly songs, and craft activities.

We translated those components in a third world country—and improvised. I quickly learned that our craft expectations were a little unrealistic. Okay, way unrealistic. For the story of Noah’s ark, we had construction paper, glitter, and glue so the children could design their own rainbows.

To keep this story short, let’s just say that very little glitter ended up glued to the paper. Glitter fights (all friendly) broke out. In one sense, the craft was a brilliant success, because the children loved it. On the other hand, some of us were still picking glitter from our hair when we returned home.

Let’s face it: Children aren’t the only ones who find irresistible things that glitter. Teens and adults migrate toward the flashy phones, the latest toys, and the bling that keeps jewelry stores in business. We like to look our best and have the best.

What’s on the inside?

There’s nothing wrong with looking pretty and enjoying nice things unless these practices distract us from what’s most important: what’s inside.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. (I Peter 3:3-4 NKJV)

Incorruptible beauty. I love that expression. Time and wear can’t touch this type of beauty. So much that glitters fades.

William Shakespeare eloquently described this truth in The Merchant of Venice, my favorite of all his plays.

All that glisters is not gold,
Often have you heard that told;
Many a man his life has sold
But my outside to behold.
Gilded [tombs] do worms infold. (Act II, Scene VII)

“Gilded” tombs were covered with gold. Sure, from the outside, they glittered in the sunlight, but inside was nothing but decay and bones.

Jesus Himself criticized the Pharisees for putting too much emphasis on their outward shows. By their standards, these religious leaders appeared to keep the law, but they missed the point of true worship.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  (Matthew 23:27 NKJV)

Harsh? Sometimes the truth is.

There’s a warning here for us today. If we worry most about our appearances and what others think about us, we’re wasting our time. What matters more is our character, “the hidden person of the heart.”

Where’s our focus?

After Saul chose disobedience over God’s way, God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s home to anoint a new king. Now Jesse had eight sons, and Samuel wasn’t sure at first whom God had chosen.

Then, he saw Jesse’s oldest boy, Eliab. He was tall, handsome, and kingly in appearance.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7 NKJV)

In fact, God said “no” to all of Jesse’s sons except the very youngest, a shepherd boy named David. Though David seemed the least likely choice, God saw in him the makings of a man after His own heart.

I’m so glad God cares more about our character than our cosmetics. If you like things that glitter, you don’t have to toss your lip gloss and ruby red slippers.

Just remember the issue that matters most: Does your heart sparkle for Jesus?

~ Kristen

 

Tweetables

All that Glitters – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

So much that glitters fades. Desire incorruptible beauty. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

God cares more about our character than our cosmetics. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

Rest and Be Thankful this Labor Day

Labor Day is a day set aside to recognize the hard work that has helped build America.

The Department of Labor explains the holiday this way:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

We know that God commands hard work (Colossians 3:23), rewards hard work (Proverbs 13:4), and equips us “both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Sometimes, the temptation can be to boast in our accomplishments, yet the Bible makes clear we are not to boast in our works themselves but in the power of Christ that works within us.

Although I realize some of you will spend the day working (your job) or catching up on personal work or house chores, I hope you find time to rest and relax with family and friends.

Perhaps the best advice for the day are the words of William Wordsworth:

Rest and be thankful.

Thankful to Whom? James 1:17 reminds us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights … (ESV)

Blessings to you this Labor Day,

~ Kristen

 

Tweetable

Rest and be thankful this Labor Day – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

Keep Your Shoes Sparkly, and Spread Joy

My mom is always shopping good deals for her grandchildren. The other day, she found a bright, glittery pair of shoes for my one-year-old niece.

“Mom, those are Dorothy slippers!” I said, admiring how adorable they were.

If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you probably would think the same thing I did when I saw them.

I wonder: If a trivial object like red slippers can trigger an immediate response, how much more powerful are our words and actions? What do people think when they see us coming?

Isaiah 52:7 describes the type of “shoes” we should want to have:

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation … (ESV)

Do we spread good news or gossip? Are we quick to encourage or tell others about Jesus? Remember, the “preparation of the gospel of peace” should be part of our Every Day Carry (Ephesians 6) that we learned about last week on Lindsey’s site.

But I’ll be the first to admit. Some days, I’m not bubbling over with joy or enjoying the overwhelming peace of God’s presence. I get tired and weary just like the next person.

How do we keep our shoes “polished” when our souls feel less than sparkly?

  1. Spend time daily with God, rain or shine. Like any relationship, our relationship with Him requires work. He’s always ready to meet with us when we lay aside the “stuff” that weighs us down (Hebrews 12:1).
  2. Thank God for your blessings (I Thessalonians 5:18). Ask Him to use you, and be prepared to do what He says.
  3. Praise God even when you don’t feel especially joyful. Open a hymnbook, and meditate on the words. Or, sing along to Rend Collective’s “Joy of the Lord” until the truth sinks in. The joy of the Lord, not the things that bring temporary happiness, is your strength.

How do you keep your shoes “polished” and prepared to share God’s joy and good news? Please leave a comment below, and be an encouragement to someone else today.

~ Kristen

Tweetable

Keep Your Shoes Sparkly, and Spread Joy – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

6 Items You Won’t Find on a Supply List

Some of you have already started school and said goodbye to the snooze button. Others are soaking in the last of summer break sunshine before hitting the books again.

Either way, the most important gear for a successful school year won’t be something you checked off a supply list.

Click over to LindseyPBracket.com to read my full post 6 Items You Won’t Find on a Supply List. I had the privilege of meeting Lindsey at a writer’s conference in February. Despite the busy conference schedule, we found time over lunch to learn about each other’s writing projects and personal passions. When she asked if I would guest blog on her site about back-to-school, of course I said yes.

Her site Just Write Life is a beautiful journey of finding meaning and God’s hand in the “messy mundane magnificence” that makes up this crazy journey of life.

So again, I encourage you to click over to her site and learn about the most important supplies you’ll need to succeed this year in school. Your biggest hurdles won’t be mental or physical. They’ll be spiritual, so you can’t afford not to have these items.

~ Kristen

Tweetables

6 Items You Won’t Find on a Supply List – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

The most important gear for a successful school year – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Every Day Carry for Success – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

2 Spiritual Allergies We Should Develop

I know people can develop allergies in their adult years, but I never thought much about this reality—until this weekend when I had the unexpected and uncomfortable experience of a food reaction. Apparently, I’m now allergic to either pineapple or kiwi (and despite the helpful suggestions I’ve received, have no desire to determine which one).

The good news is I didn’t need an EpiPen®. Benedryl® worked well enough to decrease the swelling of my supermodel-sized lips and constricted throat.

The experience left me wondering two things: 1) Why would ANYONE pay to have bigger lips, and 2) What can I learn from this?

The advice to avoid Botox® is free, and you’re welcome.

But if you’re up for a more difficult challenge, then read on to consider two spiritual allergies we believers would do well to develop (despite the discomfort they may bring).

Allergy #1: Gossip

Do you know if Julie is dating that boy any more? Is something wrong with that student? Why did so and so get fired?

These all seem like harmless questions, and all of us are probably guilty of asking them. Many people find the juicy details of others’ lives irresistible.

We can tell ourselves that we have “good intentions” and just want “to know how to pray better.”

Hogwash. We’re just being nosy, and it’s none of our business. (Now if someone has entrusted you with a prayer request, the only responsibility you have is to tell Jesus and no one else about it.)

Proverbs 16:28 warns about the danger of gossip. It can destroy friendships and divide families and churches.

A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.

The next time you hear gossip, sneeze and excuse yourself from the conversation. Don’t listen to it, and don’t spread it. Treat it like an allergy, and avoid any stimuli or situation that will cause a reaction.

Allergy #2: Critical Spirit

Unfortunately, human nature is to criticize. The pastor’s sermon was boring. I don’t like the new order of worship. My teacher dresses as if the 1980s were yesterday.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism (which is what I want from my editor and what students need from their teachers). Constructive criticism is designed for our good. Yes, it might wound our pride, but in the end, we’re stronger and better for it.

A critical spirit is different. There’s nothing beneficial about it. In many ways, it is similar to gossip, because it tears people down.

The Bible has much to say about our words. Its definitions leave little room for complaining, criticizing, and malice.

  • “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)
  • “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)

If someone does need correction, the Bible provides guidelines for restoring that person “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 1:6). But for the grace of God, we ourselves could be guilty of the same sin.

When someone does something we don’t like, our knee-jerk reaction is to criticize. The truth is, we rarely know all the details or circumstances. Maybe the teacher doesn’t buy new clothes so she can pay for her father’s cancer treatments. Maybe the “boring sermon” was exactly what someone in the congregation needed to hear.

Unless someone’s actions violate Scripture, be slow to criticize. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Be kind.

This week

Some of us are more sensitive or susceptible to certain spiritual pitfalls. Maybe you don’t struggle with gossip, but you have a hard time saying anything nice about the girl who sits next to you in Spanish class.

Perhaps you’re weak in another area. Maybe you struggle with a low self-image or fall prey to the comparison trap.

I challenge you to ask God to show you spiritual areas where you’re susceptible. Then, make these areas a matter of daily prayer. Find verses in Scripture that speak to your weakness, and memorize them.

I won’t guarantee immediate victory. More than likely, you will struggle with the same spiritual battle throughout your life, but remember this: We can be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Romans 8:37).

This week, go out, and conquer. Before you do, arm yourself with God’s Word and a box of tissues; keep the Benadryl handy, and avoid situations that will bring you into direct conflict with stimuli.

Oh, and no pineapple or kiwi for me, please.

~ Kristen

Tweetables

2 Spiritual Allergies We Should Develop – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

The next time you hear gossip, sneeze and excuse yourself from the conversation. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Annual Physicals but Daily Thought Checks

For many, school has started or will be starting in the next few weeks. Schedules are changing. Last year’s gym shoes no longer fit. The new teacher doesn’t seem to like you. Maybe you had to wait at every bus stop during your morning drive.

Do you find yourself needing a thought check?

After all, students and many adults schedule annual physicals. They’re routine, part of the checklist of things to do before school or a new year starts.

So why not take thought checks? Only, we’re going to need these more than once a year.

Try multiple times a day.

A word of caution: They sound easier than they are, but I challenge you to give them a try. Throughout the day, be intentional about checking your thoughts. Am I letting negativity steal my joy? Am I complaining more than giving thanks for what I have? 

The best “thought life” filter I’ve found is Philippians 4:8. (That’s our theme verse here at ThinkTrueThoughts.com for a reason.)

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (NKJV)

I certainly hope your annual physical goes well, but more than that, I hope you keep your thoughts accountable every day.

Do you pause during the day to focus on what’s true? How do you look past the interruptions and little problems that threaten to steal your joy?

Until next time, live in abundance.

Kristen

 

Tweetables

Annual Physicals but Daily Thought Checks – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet) 

Back to School Thought Checks – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

The Philippians 4:8 Thought Life Filter – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

 

 

Olympic Dreams, Baby Steps

I always get excited about the Olympics and will probably watch more television this month than I will the rest of the year combined. After all, it’s not every day that I can watch our gymnast teams compete or Kerri Walsh Jennings and her new teammate take on the most intense volleyball players of the world.

As the athletes marched together opening night, their faces revealed so much. Some were screaming with excitement; others were almost bawling.

They’ve worked so hard for a chance at their Olympic dreams. We enjoy the privilege of watching them perform, but we don’t see the countless hours and early mornings that have led up to this moment. These athletes had to be intentional every day to take the steps and make the sacrifices necessary to reach this opportunity.

That made me think. What steps does God want each of us taking to reach the dreams He’s planted in our hearts?

#1: Desire God more

Wait a minute, Kristen. I thought you were going to talk about steps we can take to achieve our goals?

That’s right. If we’re God’s child, then should not He inspire our dreams? Who better to teach us and train us for the journey than the Dream-Giver Himself?

The only way we know God’s best plan for our lives is to spend more time with Him in prayer and in His Word. Seeking His will on a daily basis is essential for walking the path He wants us to travel.

He invites us to do just that.

‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ (Jeremiah 33:3 NKJV)

#2: Be willing to work hard

No one wakes up one day and accidentally becomes an Olympian. If we’re serious about achieving our goals, we need to roll up our sleeves and get busy.

Did you know God’s Word both commands and commends hard work?

Yes, God calls us to give our best.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might … (Ecclesiastes 9:10a NASB)

He also promises to reward our best.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 NKJV)

So why would we give anything less than our all?

#3: Do the next right thing

I’ve probably mentioned before that the next right thing is my daily motto. The reason is simple: I’ve learned that sometimes my long-term plans just don’t go as planned. I can’t control tomorrow, but I can focus on the task at hand.

You know what? That’s okay. Proverbs 16:9 explains why:

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. (NKJV)

I’d rather have God redirect my steps as He sees best than always get my own way.

Parting Challenge

Think about where you were four years ago and where you are now.

What have you done with the dreams God has given you? What baby steps can you take this week to work toward the goals He’s laid upon your heart?

~ Kristen

 

Tweetables

Olympic Dreams, Baby Steps – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

What are you doing with the dreams God’s given you? – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Book Drawing Winner!!

Congrats to Ashley for winning the random drawing for Little’s Know What You Believe. I also want to say a big thank you to all who posted comments and subscribed to my newsletter during the book giveaway. I appreciate you all!

 

A Lesson in Contentment

A few weeks back, I enjoyed spending time with my niece and nephews. They taught me several things:

  1. Sugar rushes are real. When you mix a nine-year-old and a Boston Creme donut, you get off-the-wall energy and contagious laughter.
  2. With a little imagination, you can reinvent board games so that any age can play.
  3. If there are two boys and one has the toy helicopter, the other will want it too—even if he has a whole box of LEGO® blocks. The toy itself isn’t the issue. The fact that the other one has it is.

The truth is that we all tend to want what we don’t have. Maybe we’ve graduated from coveting toy helicopters, but we fall short in many other ways.

  • Why can’t I be more musical like Sarah?
  • I wish I had Pete’s athletic skills.
  • If I could only be smart like Claire, I wouldn’t have to do summer school.
  • I wish I were taller, thinner, prettier, etc.

I imagine that some days, God sees us and wants to shout, Cut it out! 

Stop fighting. Stop envying. Be content. I gave each of you good gifts, so instead of wanting the ones you don’t have, start using the ones you do.

A Special Skill Set

In I Corinthians 12, Paul reminds his readers that the Holy Spirit has equipped each believer with his own skill set. The purpose is not so that we can glory in our gifts, but rather so that we can better serve each another.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (I Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV)

Paul underscores this point by using the body and its parts as a metaphor. What if the ear wished it were an eye, or the hand wished it were a foot? Ridiculous, of course! Yet how ridiculous are we when wish to trade places with Justin, Katie, or Sam?

Never Say Can’t

But, Kristen, I really want to make the team this year. I’m just not as good as my peers. Are you saying I shouldn’t even try?

That’s not what I’m saying at all. Maybe you’re not as naturally athletic as someone else, but if you have a desire to play, go for it. Even if you don’t think you’ll make the team, you ought to try.

Why? Because God uses things we’re not good at to keep us humble, to make us depend on Him more, and to prove that we can do things beyond our natural capabilities in His strength.

There’s a fine line between coveting another’s talents and growing your own.

Here’s my practical, though imperfect, measuring tool:

  1. Thank God for the gifts and talents He’s given you.
  2. Recognize and praise the gifts and talents He’s given others.
  3. Attempt the desires He’s placed on your heart.
  4. Regardless of the outcome, praise Him.
  5. Celebrate others’ successes. One day, if God wills, your turn will come.

The moral I have learned is this: Don’t fight over your gifts. You’ll enjoy life more when you share them with others.

How has God uniquely gifted you for a specific task or job? What is one thing you can do this week to share the talents He’s given you with someone else? 

~ Kristen

If you didn’t have the chance last week to enter the book giveaway for Little’s Know What You Believe, I’m extending the deadline through Sunday. To enter, simply leave a comment below, or subscribe to my newsletter.

Tweetables

A Lesson in Contentment – Such Things as We Have- @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

There’s a fine line between coveting another’s talents and growing your own. – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)

Book Giveaway – a classic that will strengthen your faith – @kjhogrefe (Click to Tweet)