"You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall."
(Psalm 18: 28-29)
I am forty days and four chapters in to my Bible in a Year study with Katie, Angie, and Natalie. God has been present in our 6 am Thursday morning discussions and while we often leave with more questions than answers, it's working spiritual muscles I haven't ever worked before. It's also pretty amazing to witness the Holy Spirit activate in other parts of my life because of the ways we are digging into God's word. Everything seems to be more meaningful! I listened to an interview with Kate Merrick on Jamie Ivey's podcast the other day and couldn't believe how it related to our previous morning's discussion on Job. The last two Sunday's messages at church seemed as if they written extensions of some of the big questions we've asked. And what is most powerful to me is when I see His word simply come to life right in front of my face. God is so much closer than we think, we just need to open the door to let Him do His thing.
I also just started If:Equip's newest study called Enjoying Jesus. Each week, we explore one of twelve spiritual disciplines through small verses of scripture, explanation, and short video segments where women from IF hash it out together. I preordered this prior to diving into the entire Bible and was since a little hesitant to bite off more than I could chew. But so far, I've only seen that the daily studies complement each other. The Bible is my scripture, my spiritual food, and the Enjoying Jesus study focuses on the tools I can practice to help me make the most out of the scripture I'm reading. Through disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and solitude, we can remove the distractions of our everyday lives, and feel the lightness and joy that replaces it.
The following is just one snapshot of how God has been working in me through this process. Often, He's less obvious, yet sometimes, it feels like He grabs both of my shoulders, shakes me a little, and says, "I'm here. SEE ME." And it's those moments I want to record, as small, but important opportunities that grow us and make us better versions of ourselves.
Last week, we looked at the spiritual discipline of prayer. One of the more obvious spiritual practices, I have a hard time making prayer a natural part of my day. I get distracted easily, struggle to feel God's presence, and sometimes get caught up in my words and lose sight of what I'm really trying to get across. At the same time, I have also been struggling through the book of Psalms. While I appreciate some of the poetic lines of young David, more often, I see him as prideful and all over the place. It wasn't until I read in my If Equip study that Psalms are mostly prayers David recorded that I began to appreciate them for what they are. They are, in a nutshell, small, sometimes disjointed, prayers from a messed up, deeply loved follower of God. Often similar to my small, sometimes disjointed, prayers from a messed up, deeply loved follower of God.
After this, I started reading my daily Psalm as a prayer and it changed everything. And in fact, I started to remember pieces of the psalms and integrating them into my own prayers. On the way to work the other day, I prayed parts of Psalm 18, specifically that God would light my lamp at work and help me "scale a wall," or be purpose-filled in an otherwise monotonous work day. I was headed to Cedar Falls High School to visit a student first period, monitor progress, and basically check a box and get on with the rest of my day. The class was having a work day on a paper, so I saw it as an opportunity to pull this student out and talk with her one-on-one in the hallway. Forgetting about my prayer by this time, I proceeded to ask how things were going and expected to hear the same responses I'm used to hearing. But then I didn't.
This English teaching major proceeded to tell me that she has been tasked with working one-on-one with a junior in high school who is significantly behind in her work. She told me that up until this point, this student has not been in class more than two days in a row the entire school year, much of the reason she is so behind. Her mentor teacher is not sure what this student's life is like at home, but simply felt it would be good practice for my student to work with her on her writing. Then my student told me that the paper she is helping her with now is an essay about the day this student started following Christ. Tears filled her eyes as she told me it was so powerful to read and also difficult because she, too, loves Jesus but was hesitant to celebrate with her, encourage her, or bring up her faith because of the nature of public education. She asked what my thoughts were on how to encourage this student and also be a light to her through the remainder of her time there.
There, in the hallway at the high school, I sat with my student and shared with her all the ways she can be a light to students, to encourage them and show them love, just the way Jesus did, within a public school setting. I shared units I used to teach that focused on the literary movement of Transcendentalism, where we studied the noise in our society that distracts us from knowing oneself. And then I reminded her that simply showing up and being there for this girl when she comes to school is a statement of God's love for His people. She said she felt so much purpose knowing that she could use her time to invest in this one student, and that she prayed on the way to school that God would encourage her to get up and come to school for what would be her first third day of school in a row. And I'm not kidding, less than ten seconds after she said that, this young girl walked up the steps, around the corner, and smiled at my college student. They exchanged a few words, she walked by and my student looked at me with the biggest tears in her eyes, and mouthed the words, "That's her!" This entire interaction lasted less than ten minutes, but it was all I needed to see the power of prayer and the presence of God. I can count on one hand the number of times I have spoken Jesus' name in a school, yet this day, right after 8:00 in the morning, He surely made His presence known.
I could have soared out of school that day. With wind in my sails, I praised God's timing and thanked Him for showing up so blatantly. The scripture I had been reading, paired with the simple act of prayer, activated God to show up, or me to see Him a lot more clearly in my day. I wondered to myself if the same occurrence would have happened had I not prayed that prayer. I thought about my purpose to mentor, encourage, and challenge this student to be a loving teacher, and smiled to think about the impact she will someday have in the classroom. We miss out when we compartmentalize our faith and fail to see how it weaves in to every part of our day.
And a sidenote? I met with my student yesterday and she told me her student has been coming nearly every day and has been making some huge strides in getting caught up on work. Through their one-on-one work days, she has gotten to know her more, learned about her family, and even has plans to tutor her on the weekends in order to get caught up in some other classes. She's seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, light from a lamp that is loving her a lot like Jesus.
Don't underestimate the power of prayer. Don't neglect to ask God to show up in small ways, and especially, don't neglect to see Him answer! That moment last week allowed me to see God throughout the rest of my day. From the sunshine, to a headache that went away, to time to clear my head and widdle away at my to-do list. To smiling faces and positive interactions, a game of Checkers with Cruz, and a fairly easy bedtime with the kids. God showed his marvelous ways just by showing up in my routine. And I didn't wither away, but felt full of fruit, able to prosper and find much purpose because of it.
"The world needs ordinary people - ordinary men, women, teenagers, and children - who are so consumed with following Jesus and spiritually cultivating their own deep souls, that the environment they inhabit is literally transformed just because of their presence."