From February 14 through the 28, a 24.7 prayer movement was held in a building on my campus. In 2013, two University of Oklahoma sophomores started the movement after discovering the importance of prayer, especially for their school. In its first year, the movement lasted three weeks. Its founders rented office space off campus where students could go and pray all day and all night. Since I’m only a freshman, I didn’t hear about the movement until January through a campus ministry that I’m involved in. I was intrigued by the idea and wanted to give it a try. I signed up for a one-hour timeslot after class one day and used Maps walking directions to get to the building where the prayer room was. When I opened the door, I was wonderfully surprised by what I saw. Brown paper lined the walls and people had written lyrics, verses, and encouragement all over them. There were some bean bags, chairs, and rugs around the room for people to sit on. There was even a speaker in the corner where you could plug in your phone and listen to music. The atmosphere was very calming, homey, and conducive to prayer. Near the door, there was a large chalkboard that said what day it was of the two weeks and what the theme of the day was. That day’s theme was unity. I spent the hour praying, and I learned a lot about prayer. I learned that I often pray selfishly, as evidenced by the difficulty I had praying for others and for unity on our campus. I also learned that the right environment can really impact how I pray. I was reminded of the movie War Room and the closet the lady used as a prayer room. It’s like the prayer room I was in, but on a smaller, more individual scale. As much as I would like to have my own little prayer room, my dorm doesn’t have that kind of space. I have this problem where I want my relationship with God to be super formal. I set aside a certain time for prayer, I pray in a certain way and place, and my quiet times don’t go as well unless I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee. I’m working on it. My point in writing this is to give you some context for the pictures. All these things were written on the paper on the walls. They stood out to me. I’ll explain why for some of them. “Come near to God & He will come near to you.” Maybe it’s the way it’s written or the Bible verse it brings to mind, but it’s just such a beautiful phrase. It’s especially fitting in this room dedicated to drawing near to God in prayer. “Praise Him who relentlessly pursues our hearts!” I love the way it is written, but I also love what it says. God relentlessly pursues our hearts. He doesn’t stop or give up or take a break; He is relentless. “I can see the ivy growing through the wall, ‘cuz you would stop at nothing to heal my broken soul.” This, combined with the ivy vine next to it, sends a strong message: God heals even when it seems impossible. “In my deepest wound, I saw your glory and it astounded me.” It took me a moment to figure out what this said, but once I did I loved it. Astounding is a strong word that is perfect for describing God’s glory. My favorite one, the one that my eye was constantly drawn to amongst everything else, is “Lord, take me to Ninevah.” I’ve never heard anything quite like that before. I’ve heard of people being willing to go wherever God leads them but referring to Ninevah, the place where Jonah was terrified to go, reveals a strong desire in that person to follow God’s will no matter where it leads them. They didn’t just say, “I’ll go to Ninevah.” They took it a step further. They said, “Take me there. I want to go. I want to bring your glory to this unreached place. I don’t care about all the bad things I’ve heard about it, that’s where I want to be. I don’t care that it’s unlikely that anybody will listen to me because I have faith in your power and your influence.” It made me think of how I’m going to Israel this fall (more on that later) and how it is my Ninevah. I’m scared but I’m also excited. I know it might feel like I’m talking to a wall (no pun intended), but I trust in God’s power to use me for His glory while I’m there. I say all this to remind you of the importance of prayer, and to inspire you to take a look at your prayer life and think about how you can improve it. Feel free to comment on what these pictures mean to you and how prayer is important in your life. To learn more about the 24.7 Prayer Movement, you can read the article I wrote for my school newspaper here.
Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, I start thinking of ways that I can get into the Christmas spirit. I love Christmas. Family, gifts, lights, music, it’s all so wonderful. Last year Christmas came so suddenly. I was so caught up in the stress of senior year that Christmas snuck up on me and, well, didn’t feel much like Christmas. This year, I told myself I wouldn’t let that happen again. So, despite the stress of freshman year, I started getting into the Christmas spirit when I returned to school after Thanksgiving break. I made a Christmas playlist on Spotify and participated in a Secret Santa and ornament decorating event on my dorm floor. I went to a Christmas party and watched Elf for the first time. There were Christmas decorations around campus that served as reminders that Christmas was on its way. I even paid $1.99 for She Reads Truth’s 2016 Advent devotions. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.
At first, I thought I’d post on my blog whatever stood out to me in each day’s devotion. Then I decided to just write it down and keep it to myself. I wish I hadn’t because I came across some great stuff. Today, for example, I was reading about the foretelling of Jesus’ birth. Typically I’ll copy and paste a few phrases that strike me into the notes on my iPad and write them in my journal. But today, I found myself writing down half the devotion. Allow me to share some of it with you. An angel comes to Mary and tells her she is going to give birth to the Savior of the world. She says she doesn’t see how that’s possible since she’s a virgin.
“The angel’s response to Mary’s doubt points her to the answer: It’s not up to her. It’s not up to us. ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ - Luke 1:35 Friends, all may not be calm or bright in our broken world, but all is His. May Christ overshadow our expectations and understanding with His presence. May we hear and receive the same good news delivered to Mary: Hope is born within us through Christ. Hallelujah.”
Good stuff, right? Nothing in there explicitly says “Don’t forget that Jesus is the true reason for Christmas,” yet that’s what I took from it. It’s easy to get caught up in the pretty lights and familiar songs and think that Christmas is about a cozy feeling that you get when you’re with your family opening presents. But that’s not what it’s about. In order to get into the Christmas spirit, you have to focus on the Spirit of Christmas: Jesus. The best gift any of us has ever received was given to us on Christmas Day thousands of years ago, and is a gift that keeps on giving. That is Jesus Christ, who wrapped His divinity in flesh and came to seek and to save the lost. He loved us while we were still sinners and was obedient even to death on a cross.
It’s not a bad thing to want that cozy feeling, but there’s a feeling that’s so much better: knowing that Jesus left Heaven because He didn’t want to be there if you weren’t. Christmas is a mere 5 days away, but I implore you to not forget its true meaning. You don’t have to buy a birthday cake for Jesus or set up a Nativity to show that you’ve received God’s gift to us. I simply ask you to keep Jesus at the front of your mind when you’re opening your gifts on Christmas morning. If you can, go to church and celebrate Jesus’ birth with fellow believers. Mix O Holy Night and Away in a Manger in with your playlist of Jingle Bells and White Christmas. Just don’t let yourself forget to keep the Christ in Christmas.
God isn’t a mystical figure in the heavens who plays a mischievous game of hide-and-seek. He is a personal God who invades your life through the person of the Holy Spirit. He longs for you to feed the life of Christ in you with his Word and with prayer and then allow the results to reach out into other people’s lives. When we surrender our will to God, seek his heart, hear his voice, and respond to his nudges, we thrive. Life becomes radically different and we no longer hang on just to survive. Suddenly, life resonates with a deep-seeded—almost inexplicable—joy and peace that flows from a Father who is well pleased. When you let Jesus have all of you, he will fulfill his purposes for you and show you exactly why he created you for himself. You will experience a contentment that comes from an assurance that God is right there with you and that he’ll never leave you. And it comes from knowing you are his and that your life thrives because it demonstrates just how much you love him.
Part of the thriving life is to share the gospel—the reason we thrive. The world doesn’t want to hear about rules. Deep down, most people know they’re bad and can’t stop themselves from doing what they don’t want to do. Yet the gospel requires change. The gospel is the good news of a God who makes all things new. Love earns the right to speak the truth. When we love others, they know we’re sharing with them because we love them. Our willingness to share the truth of Scripture proves we really love, and if we’re not telling them the truth, we really don’t love them. We just love our friendship. When we give truth in love, we are ambassadors for Christ. It’s not a reflection on us personally. It doesn’t matter if the other person rolls her eyes or yells at us or says, “That’s cool, but that’s not really for me.” She still realizes you did it in love, and in quiet moments to come, she will remember it. And some day it may take root. Just like it did in you.
There is no secret to learning how to thrive. God spelled it out in his Word, and the only way we’ll thrive is if we know his Word and live his Word. Money and fame do not equate to thriving, nor does a rewarding job. Our job is what we do. If it is who we are, we’re in for a miserable ride. Jesus came to give us life, and not just mundane life. He came to give us thriving life. But he is the door. He’s the way. We have to walk through the door and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to him. We can’t stand with one foot inside the door and the other foot out in the world and expect to have abundant, thriving life. The thriving life means going all in with Jesus. But going all in with Jesus means being willing to minister how, where, and to whom he wants us to minister. We don’t get to pick and choose. It can be scary and even feel uncertain, but it makes for a great adventure and it thrills the heart of Jesus to no end.