The Journal Journeys Excerpt #3 – Does Prayer Make a Difference?

Ever wondered if your prayers make a difference? Does it matter if you pray at all? Why does it seem that there are so many unanswered prayers? Is prayer even necessary?

Over the years, I have come to believe that all prayer is answered prayer.

woman-rock-beach

Often in prayer, we ask for a specific resolution to a problem, plead for a circumstance to alter or a person to change. We wish to be quickly rescued from discomfort, airlifted out of a trial, and have peace in our relationships.

But God is after the best. The trouble is that his idea of best doesn’t always match ours.

God is present in every situation we face. He says he never leaves us or forsakes us (Deut 31:6), and we can be sure he hears all our prayers. We may misinterpret answers when a situation fails to improve as rapidly as we’d like, appears to fail altogether, or we don’t see a specific answer to our supplication. At such times, I choose to believe that God loves us too much to give us all we pray for, exactly when we pray for it if he knows it isn’t his best or isn’t best for us.

nothern-road-nature-walk
Over the past six weeks, I’ve been enjoying prayer walks in nature.

Perhaps other times God remains quiet, or delays answering, in order to produce something of great value within us—increased faith and trust, perseverance, repentance, deep inner healing, and a character that reflects his.

What if the no’s are really delayed yes’s for something far greater and more beautiful than we could have asked for or imagined? A more complete work? At times it appears God holds back and allows something to die so he can beautifully resurrect it (see John 11:1-44). Though we may regard this as silence or unanswered prayer, it is an incredibly loving act on God’s behalf that allows room for the miraculous and God to be glorified. Though he’d rather we trust him, God can handle our disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and fear for his greater purposes.

family-kids-mom
Our family in 2016, the year this week’s prayer journal entry was written.

Could the no’s also be God’s loving protection, keeping us safe from sure disaster? God knows the beginning from the end, knows every detail about us, our hearts, and the situation. He alone knows whether or not our desires will cause us to prosper, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m sure there are times he lovingly withholds what we think is good for our own good.

The no’s, or delayed answers, also give us the opportunity to align our will with his and gain a Godly perspective. They give us time to adjust our hearts to a posture of thankfulness.

There are also times when our troubles reflect our choices, and God allows the natural progression of cause and effect as a result of our sin. He also shows mercy and comes to our aid when we repent and pray. To hear the story of how God answered my prayers when I was in physical pain see Moving Mountains.

It’s easy to forget that prayer isn’t just asking things of God. In prayer, we seek God and acknowledge his presence like we would anyone we desire to spend time with. Since he is holy, we praise him and declare him worthy. We acknowledge our failings and ask for forgiveness. We trust him with our troubles knowing he is all-powerful and in control of all that appears chaotic. We hand over our fears and concerns to him for safekeeping.

When I first became a Christian, I learned a helpful acronym—ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Though I don’t always follow this guide, it can be a useful tool to aid prayer.

Over the years, I added meditation, which for me is a time of quiet, a chance to rest with God and listen. Perhaps I should change the acronym to ACTS+M. This part of prayer allows silent space for God to awaken me to his spirit, whisper into my own spirit, refuel me with his joy, spark an idea, enliven or a verse, or alter my perspective or my heart.

All prayer is answered prayer. It may not arrive in the form we imagined, but it will be in the form God desires.

This week in the Journal Journeys, I read a few thoughts on prayer from my prayer journal. Click here for a video of this week’s excerpt. You can also read an abbreviated version below.

jounal-excerpt
Excerpt from my prayer journal from February 28, 2016

Feb 28, 2016

“At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved…” (Daniel 9:23)

“Then he said to me, ‘Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.'” (Daniel 10:12)

Lord, 

This is such a beautiful segment of scripture, reminding us that God hears our prayers, and is working on our behalf. Our prayers—our words—are powerful. God hears them. 

Some may wonder, as I have at times, why pray? God will do what he wants anyway. But here (Daniel 9:20-23 & 10:12) we see illustrated that prayer makes a difference. Daniel is confessing his sin, has a repentant heart, and is asking God to forgive them. These kinds of prayers shift things. 

The angel was caused to fly swiftly and the command went out at the beginning of his supplications. And notice that the angel says, “I have come to tell you, for you are greatly loved.” It is a beautiful affirmation to know that we are loved, even though we grapple with sin. Our sin may distance us from God, but it does not change the truth that we are greatly loved by him.

Lord, thank you for showing me this. It is a poignant reminder that you hear my prayers. And though I may not ever see the spiritual forces acting behind the scenes, I can rest assured that you are working all things for good.

Thank you.

Amen

For more reading on prayer, see Un)Answered Prayers

 

The Journal Journeys Excerpt #2: God Restores

This week, I’ve taken an excerpt from my prayer journal that refers to a lengthy trial in our lives where we were praying for God’s help and intervention. The prayer records my thankfulness to God.

Through this struggle and many others, God deepened my faith and trust in him. So often He has been my only hope. I have faced countless situations that rose before me like an impenetrable mountain, but God, my great navigator, forged a path and lead me as he has time and time again.

So often I marvel at the way he does this. In the thick of the trial, I cannot fathom the outcome. My emotions bully my outlook. My circumstances appear hopeless. I clutch at my fragile faith attempting to hang on to the truth. Doubts descend, yet God promises to be with me and never forsake me, so why do I fear? And why am I surprised when he works the miraculous?

When I jump for joy and praise God at his answered prayers, is he disappointed with my lack of faith or does he take pleasure in my wonder and thanksgiving? Whichever the case, his love is greater than my fears and faithlessness. His arms are always open. I have full assurance of his unfailing love no matter in which state I come to him.

prayerjounal2

And so I keep showing up, keep writing and speaking prayers to the One who wraps me safely in his arms and makes all things not only possible but beautiful in their time. The same God can do likewise in your difficulties.

Bring your impossibilities to God. Release them to him, and watch what he will do.

“With God nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

Click here to hear me read excerpt #2 “God Restores”

January 31, 2016

Lord,

You are greatly to be praised. You have done marvelous, mighty works on our behalf, so surprized us—I am still trying to absorb how thoroughly you have restored things. Despite all the odds, you alone can be praised for this complete turn of events. It is a miracle—something only you could do.

Thank you for your gentle, lovingkindness, so sweet towards us. Despite my deep disappointment, you remain the same. You don’t change. Your love is not dependant on our behavior. You can handle us being disappointed or doubtful because you were up to something better and know I don’t fully understand your ways.

I’m sorry. Please forgive me for all of that. I thought I had faith, but I suppose it was on my terms, as in, as long as my prayers are answered and things go my way, I’m good. But again I see that you lead us to deeper faith. You ask us to trust you when we cannot see any way before us. Look how you provided so entirely and completely! At every turn, every bleak moment. You gave us all we needed.

“You have done great things; O God, who is like you?” Psalm 71:19

Thank you, Father, for all you have done, the many ways you have tenderly cared for and carried us. You are greatly to be praised! I love and trust you. Thy will be done.

Amen.

Listen to song: Yes I Will

fam2020
Our family together on Mother’s Day 2020

Click here to purchase my 31-day devotional Soul Focus

Journal Journeys Excerpt #1 – Greatly Helped

Each of us is on a journey.

Most of the time we don’t know exactly where we’re headed and even if we do, we’re often unsure of how to get there. We often feel lost, lonely, and labeled. Discouraged, disqualified, and disappointed. Worried, weary, and winey. We suffer sadness, setbacks, and sabotage. 

Yet we keep going despite uncertainty. Falling forward. Learning and leaning in, hurting and healing. Holding steady through storms. Yanking back the clouds to eagerly absorb the sun-soaked, brilliant moments. 

Our lives, our journeys, are composed of both the breathtaking and the breaking.

Since becoming a Christ-follower at age 18, I have kept a prayer journal to scribe such travels. The pages have provided me with a secondary outlet to pour out prayers alongside my spoken utterances.

As the years have unfolded, the journal pages provide proof of God’s handiwork, documentation of God’s faithfulness in my life, and in the lives of others, and provide a tangible way to see the countless occasions God has answered prayers.

Even when circumstances seemed utterly hopeless, and when his seeming silence was bewildering, God was still there. Scanning the pages, I see that the no’s were merely delayed yes’s—a hold-out for his best when I would have happily settled for good. 

My current prayer journal

The written wrestlings within these pages—sometimes through tears, often amid doubts and questions as I struggled to know God and understand his ways—don’t declare me faithless or damaged. Rather, they offer assurance that I am a beloved child of God attempting to understand her Father’s ways, to grow closer to him, and to trust and love him more deeply. Thanksgiving prayers soak the pages too, recording the times I’ve been surprised and delighted with the extravagant love of God.

For the next few weeks, I’ve decided to share some entries from my prayer journal in hopes the sentiments may offer solidarity, reverberate inside your own heart, provide a way to express some of your own pleas and desires, and kindle hope. I’m calling this series, The Journal Journeys, and I hope you will enjoy traveling through the pages with me.

I’m certain that reading these prayers aloud will be a vulnerable, intimate, and emotional experience. But I’m hoping they will offer a measure of comfort and encouragement if you are grappling as hard as I am to lay hold of hope and process faith in your journey with God.

The first excerpt I have chosen refers to a season of struggle in our life but seems appropriate to begin with as it speaks to our current situation with COVID-19. You can watch the video or read the entry below. At the bottom of this page, I have included a song for you to meditate on. So looking forward to journeying with you!

Click here to watch The Journal Journal – Excerpt #1

January 5, 2016

Dear Lord,

We have been greatly helped by you. You have not forgotten us. You have made the impossible possible, and have brought us through the hardship of this very difficult time. 

We have not been privy to an explanation as to why. No understanding as to what to do next. No future knowledge except to live each day at a time, one foot in front of the other, moment by moment. 

“You have also given me the shield of your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me, so my feet did not slip.” Psalm 18:35-36

journal entry 1
My prayer journal – today’s excerpt

I like the verse above because not only have you saved me, but it shows your continued help in my life. Through great disappointment and disillusionment, your right hand has held me up. You dealt gently with me.

When the way was dangerous, like a precipitous path, you enlarged the path under me so my feet did not slip. You kept me safe. You didn’t whisk me off the path. No, I still had to pass through, but you made a way—you made it possible to pass through. 

And maybe we have passed through now. Maybe we are just coming out on the other side. I can’t pretend to have much of a clue what you are doing, but I feel as though a change may come. 

So now, because you tell us to ask (Matthew 7:7), I ask you to help us—as you have continued to do—to find our way. Help us to be wise, to know what to do, to make wise choices. 

Your will be done,

Amen.

Listen to song: Goodness of God

journal pic

 

The Beaver Dam Chats

On a hike around our property this week, I found a beautiful, sheltered spot overlooking a beaver dam—a sun trap, cushioned with pine needles and moss and soil, inviting me to sit, encouraging me to stay awhile.

I accepted the invitation and reclined on the earthen mattress beside the water, still from my seemingly hopeless wandering. For once, I had no need to hurry. Nowhere I needed to be, like the summers of my youth. A child again, still under the sky, water lapping the mud barricade, breeze flickering last year’s leaves, the sun warming all that had grown cold.

Reclining on a pine needle mattress beside the beaver dam.

If I stopped here, you might believe everything was absolutely idyllic, like the social media newsfeeds offering snippets of perfect. The truth is that trudging to and from that quiet spot, I was pouring out my heart to God, unloading until empty all my disappointment, loss, and pain. The sole purpose of this hike was to have a conversation with the only One able to offer true comfort for the kind of soul ache that settles in dark & deep, lodging in your throat and then your heart, attempting to suffocate joy.

But with God, nothing is impossible, and joy in the midst of pain is no exception. The same is true of peace. I don’t know how he does it, only that I’ve experienced it time and time again since our proper introduction thirty years ago. His love is like the sun-infused spot I found, a sheltered place of comfort, peace, and rest for the weary soul. A place to just be no matter what state.  

My view from the sunny spot beside the beaver dam.

Every time I’ve let him, he has done the impossible. From healing me from the giants like depression and chronic back pain to pulling me out of lesser pain and struggles of various kinds. I’ve found him trustworthy, fully able to handle any words I’ve spilled to describe my tears and hollow aches and to heal my ailing soul. Sometimes instantly, sometimes through a long journey of the soul. This time was no exception.

Maybe you’re familiar with the kind of pain, loss, and disappointment I’m describing. Maybe you’re experiencing it right now. If so, know that I am praying for those who might read this blog and find themselves in a dark or painful place right now. It is my deepest hope that you too would cry out to God amid all the pain you can barely speak of, the disappointment you can hardly articulate, and the loss from which you fear you will never recover. In doing so, that you too would experience his peace that cannot be understood but that is undeniable.

One last thing. At first sight, beaver dams don’t look very pretty or organized, in fact, they look a little messy and half-hazard. But they are a picture of strength, hard work, perseverance, and maintenance serving to hold back a tremendous flow of water. Maybe our lives are a bit like that. They may look messy, disorganized, all the stuff cut and piled on half-hazard. But maybe, despite that random pile-up, they end up a marvel of strength, perseverance, and beauty, able to hold tight against any pressure applied.

beaver dam
The beaver dam on April 1st.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

~ Philippians 4:6-7

I invite you to join me for “The Beaver Dam Chats”. Starting tomorrow, for the next seven days, I plan to hike over to the spot I found on our property beside the beaver dam and read aloud from my devotional book Soul Focus – Trials. I’ll be posting the readings on instagram at melaniestevensonauthor. Look forward to seeing you there!

Click here to order your copy of Soul Focus – Trials

 

Our Easter

This Easter is unlike any Easter I have experienced in my lifetime. Most people living at this point in history have never had their lives disrupted by a pandemic and had to celebrate without loved ones. Many I know have lived comfortable, predictable, safe lives. Now, many of us are figuring out first-hand what it feels like to not feel in control (we were never really in control) and not feel safe.

It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy. And we aren’t accustomed to it.

Despite how difficult the COVID-19 adjustment has been, I am inspired by the myriad of ways those around me are helping others during this crisis. Some of you are making meals for the sick, some are shopping for neighbors, family, or friends in need, others are keeping us well-informed. Some are sending encouraging text messages or emails, others are setting up prayer meetings or zoom calls, and others are checking in on their friends on the daily.

Our medical staff is using their training to care for and heal the sick, and the teachers have pivoted to teach and support our children online. Neighboring children are writing colorful chalk messages of hope on the pavements. My son’s in-laws are making fabric masks and helping collect items for the food bank.

As unique as we are wired, we will also uniquely go through this time. We will use our various giftings in individual ways, and it will be marvelous to witness humanity rising to the call. But let’s also remind ourselves that just because one person isn’t doing what you’re doing, or what I’m doing, it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing what they should be—or need to be—doing right now.

This is a collective hardship and we will each approach it differently. What appears a looming mountain for one may look like a rolling meadow for another. That might mean that doing a load of laundry and making dinner was what they could do today. If another is highly productive during this time, for them, keeping busy may be their way of coping.

For some, this break may feel like a much-needed vacation—a wonderful improvement from their former harried pace. For others, it may seem like not much has changed. For others, this may stir up feelings of unease and anxiety.

Let’s not judge one another based on our own ideas of what we deem right but accept and help one another. Let’s celebrate the myriad of ways we will traverse through this and the limitless creativity that will be exhibited by our fellow humans in the process. Let’s be kind and patient with each other’s shortcomings, and the ways we find we can—or cannot—cope. Let’s ramp up the love and care for one another and overlook the rest.

Mariana, Kiki and Monty at Cottage
We have been blessed to have my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson with us during this time.

This Easter, and this week, as we care for those around us, I hope we will also take some time to pause and reflect on the One who taught us how to love and who offers hope. One who came to heal us both on the outside but more importantly on the inside. One who gave his life to give us life. Who conquered death and rose from the grave to give us a fresh start. And though the way we celebrate may look a bit different, the reason we do so remains unchanged.

Ting
Cozy, quiet morning reflections.

“And walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” John 15:13

 

 

25 Benefits of Trials

It’s easy to grow fearful in times of uncertainty. It’s easy to lose hope as we suffer through lengthy hardships. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how fragile our lives really are.

Like any trial, we often cannot see an end in sight and this one is no exception. When we are staying at home, social-distancing, viewing reports of daily escalating numbers, suffering through mandatory business closures and potential loss of livelihood, we worry we won’t manage.

My mum used to say of trials, “This too shall pass.” And it will. When it does, things won’t be the same. We will have a new framework out of which to operate. I imagine we will have a more thankful mindset, a greater appreciation for others as we joyfully reconnect and fully embrace our renewed freedom. Trials arrive unexpectedly and loom large, but we can move through them with grace, peace, and even joy.

Monty at the cottage
Cuddling my grandson – one of the ways I’m savoring this slowed pace.

Continue reading “25 Benefits of Trials”

What a Difference a Week Can Make

It’s staggering how much change can occur in one week.

Just over a week ago we were still meeting in-person—albeit cautiously. We stared incredulously at the empty grocery store shelves formerly housing untold brands of toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, and fresh meat. We began to pay closer attention to what the COVID-19 pandemic was going to mean for Canada.

emptytoiletrollaisles
Grocery store shelves void of all toilet paper.

Conversely, this week, when it should have been non-stop hangouts with friends due to March Break, we were diligently social-distancing. Our extroverted nineteen-year-old daughter, Elanna, came home from Toronto to hunker down at our place. Our equally extroverted 11-year-old, Keira, couldn’t fathom why I was mandating a no playdate policy. In an extraordinary act of self-control, I kept myself away from our two-month-old grandson the entire week. Continue reading “What a Difference a Week Can Make”

A Love Like No Other

It’s not like you’ve imagined. Probably unlike anything you’ve been told, taught, or experienced. Being with Jesus isn’t a prescribed program or a series of have-to’s. It’s not a checklist of holy duties or a list of rules to follow. It’s not polishing yourself shiny or hoping you’ve been good enough.

It’s so easy that some find it hard.

Jesus extends his arms, pulls us in, and wraps us in HIS holiness, offering us forgiveness, rest, peace, joy, love—all the things we’ve been striving for but couldn’t manage on our own. His is a put-your-feet-up, cease-striving sort of love that beckons us to just BE. Be ourselves in his company. Be still. Be undone. Be made new. Continue reading “A Love Like No Other”

Fearless in 2020

This year brought numerous new and exciting adventures for my family and me. In September, I released my first novel, One More Tomorrow, and shortly after my devotional, Soul Focus – Trials, launched. In the spring, my son and daughter-in-law announced that they are expecting their first baby which means my husband and I are about to become first-time grandparents! This past summer, my daughter moved out to pursue her acting career, and this fall, I have been busy with other firsts such as book signings, podcasts, radio interviews, and a TV segment on See Hear Love alongside Ann Voskamp. watch episode here

On set at See Hear Love

 

Ann Voskamp and I share a hug on set at See Hear Love.

70677009_942471942768363_6252895968300105728_n
My husband and I at the book launch of my novel One More Tomorrow.

All these changes have brought unknowns and the opportunity to camp out in fear or choose faith. As 2020 dawns, I am determined to dwell in peace. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I chose “Fearless” as my word of the year. To find out why you can read my blog entitled Fearless featured on See Hear Love. read Fearless blog

It is my hope that this year you too will find ways to intentionally live out of God’s peace as you ground yourself in his love, his word, and his presence. May we choose to hand over our fears to the one who offers to carry them for us, to make inroads of peace in our lives and the lives of all those with whom we connect.

Imagine what this year would it look like if our decisions were made by faith, imbedded with peace and hope instead of fear? If the words from our mouths were spoken void of fear? If our actions were not tainted by fear?  I hazard we will live more fully in the abundant life God promised and generously shower the overflow on others.

May you traverse into 2020 fearlessly and be blessed with mountain-moving faith!

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

_________________________________________________

If you are looking for a devotional to start out the New Year, consider Soul Focus – Trials, my 31-day devotional/journal. It offers nuggets of encouragement as you navigate through your unknowns and struggles. buy Soul Focus here

SoulFocus_Book_Trials_071619
Now available ISBN: 978-1-4866-1539-1 8-1 Description: If you’ve picked up Soul Focus, you may be facing significant trials of your own or are well-acquainted with the heartache they bring. It is my prayer that within these pages you’ll find comfort and hope as you face your hardship or tackle the mourning process that comes after. I began writing devotionals after being healed of nearly two years of intense physical pain. Soul Focus is the fruit of that pain. Through various trials, God proved himself faithful, and I discovered that joy and peace can be found during the darkest nights of the soul. Soul Focus offers daily, life-giving encouragement to help remind you that you’re not alone. Journaling pages are included throughout to record personal inspirations and reflections on the path to healing and hope.

You Aren’t the Sum of Your Mistakes

shutterstock_1196187574Maybe you’ve made a few mistakes in your time. Maybe your past has moved in like an unwelcome guest. Perhaps there’s condemnation running through your thoughts—a steady stream of fault-finding reminders. Maybe you’re living under critical words spoken to you in your youth, and, whether they were true or not, you still drag the weight of them along on your journey. If you find yourself living on the outskirts of joy, or even faith, here’s some encouragement.

Continue reading “You Aren’t the Sum of Your Mistakes”