Personal Worship: An Approach to Life


“Good morning, Lord,” I whisper, after easing my eyes open and taking a much-needed stretch. I raise a hand heavenward to offer God my day and voice a prayer comprised of snippets of scripture as well as phrases I’ve heard from fellow believers.

“Lord, this day is yours, and so am I. My times are in your hands.” Snuggling down again for my last few seconds of rest, I continue to pray. “Help me today to be a blessing to you and a blessing to others. Protect me, Father, from the evil one. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so surround me with your peace and protection. May my life, oh Lord, be an overflow of my love for you. Lead and guide me through the day.”

And so my morning begins. These moments of worship are not only an offering to God but a time of renewal for me as well. Far more than just an item on my to-do list, personal worship is an approach to life, a way of starting each day that keeps me in closer communion with the Father.

The ways I’ve worshiped have changed over the years. When growing up, my Dad led my sisters and me in singing “The Doxology” as he took us to school on his way to work. Fast forward to my early days as a mother when the term prayer closet  took on new meaning for me. Trying to avoid detection by my early-rising daughter, I knelt in the light of an open coat closet to read the Word and pray. And now that the nest is empty? I’ve experienced new freedom in my communion with the Lord.

Even though our methods for personal worship must change at times because of circumstances, I’ve discovered that worship is possible each day, if only in the sanctuary of our hearts and minds before the rest of the world knows we are awake. With a mindset of snatching quiet moments for ourselves or for including family members or coworkers in a worshipful moment, we can bring God joy through our praise and be personally refreshed in his presence.

Since I love to worship the Lord in song, what better way to start my day than to sing his praises as I move through my morning routine? The words of “The Doxology” still flow from my lips while other praise choruses soon follow. Whether doing make-up or starting laundry, I can commune with the Father as well.

Stepping out into God’s sanctuary, into the beauty of his world, also inspires me to worship. It takes no longer than a minute to connect with my Creator and give him the praise he is due. My senses come alive as I take in his handiwork. Once again I voice my praise. Once again my soul is nourished as I worship my Lord.

As time allows, I spend a few more minutes in focused worship, taking time to bow before the Father. In her Bible study Stepping Up, Beth Moore suggests going facedown before the Lord. I’ve found that even just being on my knees helps me truly worship and stay more focused on him when wandering thoughts distract me.

Sometimes I’m compelled by simply being in God’s all powerful presence to present heavy burdens to him. What starts as a time of adoration turns to pleading for a need that is particularly pressing, that needs his intervention. Is this not also worship as I cry out to him, acknowledging my desperate need for his help?

And what about the days I struggle? The times I just don’t feel a connection, when my songs and words seem to fall flat around me? I sing anyway. I press on and pray, knowing that my emotions are unreliable but my God is ever faithful. He will hear me and be touched as I try to honor him when my feelings confuse me.

At other times I fall into a performance trap and battle nagging worries. Am I worshipping right? Spending enough time? Too much time? Do I sing the same songs too often? What flawed thinking and subtly twisted motives! God wants our worship to be pure, an overflow of our love for him—not a duty or an effort to gain his favor or stay in his good graces. He has already, in his great love, granted us those things because of Jesus’s work on the cross.

Worship is not about rules. God is not looking at styles of worship; He’s looking at our hearts. And I’ve found that as I give him the praise and adoration he so richly deserves, he always out-gives me. He pours into my life the joy of fellowshipping with him and the mindset and strength I need for the day.

*Appeared in Evangel (Dec. 12, 2010)

Living to Tell About It

DSC01814Some folks hit the lake on a three-day weekend, but our family heads for the hills—the hills of Missouri to be exact. They’ve become our regular destination since my parents moved there over twenty years ago. While others are boating and water skiing, we get back to nature by trekking through the Ozark Mountains.

One year we ended up with a little too much of the great outdoors. What started as a fun family outing down a nature trail near Mom and Dad’s house soon spiraled out of control into a wilderness family fiasco. Dad had inspected the trail in the weeks prior and found it to be in good shape. Unfortunately, that was no longer true.

The first clue should have been the fallen tree blocking the path just past the trail head. Someone even said, “This doesn’t look too good”. But, determined to have our own holiday weekend adventure, we forged ahead. After playing limbo with the tree trunk while avoiding other maverick undergrowth, we fell into single file as we snaked along, attempting to follow in Dad’s footsteps.

The unrelenting rains of the preceding weeks contributed not only to the runaway growth of the woodland floor but also to the tricky path we found underfoot. All of a sudden our little jaunt into the woods morphed into a task fraught with unexpected perils.

We concentrated on every step, so as not to twist our ankles, and even though most of us had made sure to use insect repellent before starting the hike, talk of ticks and poison ivy soon surfaced. Dad began calling out alerts. “Poison ivy right here! Everyone stay clear!” That’s all it took for my sister Janice. She said, “I’m outta here,” and then darted back the way we came.

Seconds later, someone in front of me trumpeted another discovery. “I just found a tick on my arm!” Answering cries of “Oh, good grief!” and “That’s just great!” rang out. We all tried to avoid the nasty things but to no avail. One by one, we called out in disgust with our own findings of the dreaded enemies. Complaints began to flow freely. I hate to admit it, but more than once I grumbled, “This is the most stupid thing we’ve ever done.”

Deep into the trail by this time, our daughter Kristin began feeling the onslaught of yet another enemy—out-of-control allergies. Growing more stuffed up by the minute and already creeped out by the ticks, she and her husband Shawn hightailed it out next.

Moments later, I looked at my sister Carolyn and said, “Why are we doing this? We’re crazy to stay in this tick jungle any longer than absolutely necessary.”

“You’re right,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.” Propelled by our desire to escape, we turned back and caught up with Kristin and Shawn in no time.

The others continued on but a short while later ended up retracing their steps when they encountered water. Some might say nature kicked our butts that day, but I’d rather say, “We lived to tell about it.”

Traversing the trails of our spiritual lives is not so different from our infamous tick hike, as our family later laughingly dubbed it. The enemy of our souls keeps our paths strewn with traps to avoid and foes to battle. The Word of God warns us about it. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9a).

Instead of arming ourselves with insect repellent, we can arm ourselves with the Word of God and prayer. We can train our eyes to detect the poisons that threaten to do us harm. We can pull off the enemies that try to attach themselves to our minds and souls. And sometimes we may even need to hightail it out of certain situations.

Just as our family ignored the warning sign of the fallen tree near the trailhead, many times we fail to heed the cautionary flags the Lord places along our paths. He wants us to avoid the traps of immorality and deceit. He wants us to recognize and root out the destructive forces of bitterness and pride. Like any good father, He longs to spare us from the heartache of falling prey to these and other sins.

I’m so glad God hasn’t left us defenseless against the evil one. In Ephesians 6:10-18, we’re told how we can put the armor of God on each day as we take our stand against the devil’s schemes. Let’s put on the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness. Let’s fit our feet with readiness and take up the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit—the Word of God. Let’s pray and be alert. And keep on praying.

Let’s live to tell about it.

*Appeared in The Lutheran Digest (Summer 2012)

The Country Takes Me Back

Grandpa swinging me - mediumBack when kids still thought a text was a school book, I grew up double-dosing on a genuine country heritage.

Picture it with me: two sets of grandparents with their farmhouses separated only by a few trees, a field, and a country road. Not only did I get to see both sets of grandparents every time we made the trip, I got to soak up the atmosphere of two different farms as well. What I didn’t experience at one place, I often did at the other. What more could a kid from town ask for?

Certain images will stay with me forever. Wash day at Grandma Barnes’s found my sisters and me in the cellar helping Grandma operate her old wringer-washer, an adventure for us but hard work for her. Across the field, the other farmhouse basement housed a large supply of coal which Grandpa Hoy fed to a pretty scary looking furnace several times a day. Sparks popped and flew as he shoveled coal into its always hungry belly.

I can also still picture Grandpa walking the barnyard fence and then offering us a quarter if we could do the same. Next his daring spirit had him climbing trees to knock down pecans while Dad and Grandma tried to holler him down.

Some scenes claim a spot in my memory for even more obvious reasons. I’ll never forget the times I had to run for my life while being chased by an angry mama cow or a turkey on the warpath. Other snapshot images, though, have taken up permanent residence as well—the barns, the henhouses, the baby chicks, the cattle, the timber, the orchard, Grandma’s flower garden, the tractors, the fields, the smokehouse. The list is endless. And perfect.

Not to be outdone by the sights of farm life, the smells of country life linger in my memory even more vividly perhaps. As we pulled off the highway to head to the farms, the scent of dusty gravel roads along with that of wildflowers, hay bales, barnyards, and crops all mingled together to produce the distinct country air which filled our lungs with its healing balm.

Indoors, mudroom smells greeted us—soap mixed with the outdoor scents that clung to the jackets that hung there. As we walked through the kitchen door, a new set of aromas beckoned us onward. Fresh-baked pies, homemade rolls, and chicken and noodles on the stove provided the final perfect touch to the satisfying fragrances that awaited us in the country.

Just as the farms exposed me to a wide variety of country experiences, my grandparents themselves also provided different styles and tastes of country life. Grandma Barnes’s sewing skills and love for flowers decorated our lives in many ways each year while Grandma Hoy invited us to kneel with her for bedtime prayers or hear her sing with the choir at the country church not far from their farm. Even now if I listen closely, I can almost hear the congregation singing, “Just Ohhh-ver in the Glory Land…”

As for my grandfathers, one was quiet, but when we went to town, he splurged on us with restaurant meals, soda fountain drinks, and candy counter purchases. He enjoyed spoiling us a little, but he also made sure to pick up some peanut clusters, orange slices, or other goodies to replenish the candy drawer back at the farmhouse, too.

My other grandpa spoiled us in another way. Even though he had to be more frugal with his money, he showered us with his time. He played with us and laughed with us every time we visited.

In good weather, he’d take us out to the barn to make forts out of hay bales, or sometimes we’d go to the timber where he’d concoct all kinds of games and challenges for us to attempt. If the weather was rainy or cold, he just brought the fun inside.  “Mother, May I?”, “Simon Says”, and “I Spy” were all specialties of his. He even had a little John Deere tractor we could take turns riding on in the basement.

The country will forever hold a special place in my heart. Why? Because the the country takes me back. Back to my grandparents. Back to the warmest of memories.

*Appeared in Home Times Family Newspaper (Oct. 2010)