How to Create a Prayer Closet

On the floor of a closet for 30 minutes a day for 30 days in a row: that’s how I’m starting this new year.

If you’re thinking that a half-hour of God-time per day ought to be part of my life already, you’re right. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: abiding in the Lord’s presence continually ought to be second nature to me after several decades of Christianity.

But there’s something different about being in a closet—a literal, dark, slightly dusty prayer closet.

IMG_0605Long ago, I created my first PC. It was back in the 90s, and I needed a place to escape the chaos in my life and just be with God, so I designated a small bedroom closet. I didn’t even need to clean it out, since we’d just built the house. I simply threw a blanket and pillow on the floor, along with a CD player (this was back when they were bulky and ugly), a journal, a tiny lamp… Voila! Finished.

I remember the first time I crawled inside that closet. It was so small I couldn’t stretch out, so I sat down on the floor, cross-legged. Then I switched on the tiny lamp and hit the power button on the CD player and waited to see what would happen.

WHOOSH.

The presence of God swept in so quickly and so completely that I started to cry. I was dumbfounded at the difference between sitting in that little closet in the near-darkness versus just a few feet away, on the other side of the door, in the bedroom itself. There was something about those four walls, which served as a boundary between myself and everything else. The sounds from the rest of the house were muffled; in fact, with the music playing I couldn’t hear a thing. And nothing was “pulling on me,” like the pile of laundry waiting to be folded or the stack of bills on the dresser, because I couldn’t see any of that. And even though I hadn’t instructed the other human beings in my home to leave me alone while I was in my closet, and even though they probably thought I was a little daft, they didn’t interrupt. If I’d been sitting in chair in some other room in the house, Bible in hand, they wouldn’t have hesitated to vie for my attention, but there was something different about the PC from day one, and they sensed it.

In the years since, there have been seasons when I’ve had no prayer closet (though this has little to do with lack of space because I’ve discovered that if you want a PC desperately enough, you’ll find somewhere to put it). There have also been sweet seasons of frequent and consistent PC time. What does a person do in a prayer closet, exactly? Sometimes, absolutely nothing. In our society and culture, doing nothing is a spiritual discipline, so I’d just lie there in the Lord’s company. Many times, I wrote. Often, I prayed or read my Bible. Occasionally, I ate lunch or drank a cup of hot tea. Sometimes I read a devotional. More times than I can count, I just chatted with Jesus and let the music speak to my heart. Frequently, I crawled into the PC with the intention of staying just 30 minutes, but the atmosphere was so yummy I wouldn’t come out for an hour and a half.

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Annie the Wonder Dog wonders what I’m doing.

Anyway, since we moved a year ago, I’ve been (let’s be honest) lazy about the whole PC thing, and my spirit has been aching for it. So a week ago, I cleared out the guestroom closet floor, added a miniature lamp and some blankets, and committed to never using that space for storage again. I still have Kenny’s suits and a few of my dresses hanging on the rod, but that’s no big deal since there’s still enough room to lie down (albeit barely).

If you could see my house, you might wonder why I need a PC at all. This place has plenty of space for the two of us, including half a dozen cozy spots to curl up with God. Not to mention that since I work from home and my husband doesn’t, I’m here alone virtually every weekday, all day. There’s no chaos in my home like there was in the 90s, so I’m not escaping anything … yet I still need those four walls to set me apart from everything else. I need it to be impossible to see my desk, the laundry, the sink full of dishes. I need all sounds to be muffled except the rhythm of my own breathing or the music playing on my tablet. And I need the darkness.

 

Yesterday was Day One of the 30 days. As I suspected, the Presence rolled in immediately, creating an atmosphere of peace and deep contentment. Today, when the 30 minutes were up, I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving. So I stayed.

How can you create your own PC? It’s easy:

Decide that the presence of God is worth more than storage space.
Take everything out of a closet and stash it elsewhere (or just clear a space if you’re lucky enough to have walk-ins).
Vacuum up the cobwebs and mouse droppings.
Add a chair or a few blankets, a tiny lamp or lantern, your journal, Bible, etc.
Here’s the most important step: climb in and shut the door.

 

 

 

 

 

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When the Cloud Moves Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

IMG_1808Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

When the Cloud Moves—Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

 

An Encounter with Swamp Monsters

In the late 90s and early 2000s, my friend Debbie and I went camping about twice a year. We’d load her car with everything from the basics (like tent and lanterns) to totally useless stuff (like whitener strips and a welcome mat) and spend a few days cooking pancakes over a butane burner, hiking until we hobbled, and pulling ticks off our ankles. At the time, I was almost two decades into a 23-year marriage that was void of everything that makes a marriage tolerable, much less meaningful. Anxiety played a daily role in my marriage and in life as a whole, but a few days at Fall Creek Falls always reminded me how to breathe again.

Debbie and I always took full advantage of those outings to work on our issues. Mine included codependence, unhealthy boundaries, a victim mentality, and—of course—fear. One of our approaches to helping me overcome fear was to take night hikes. We’d wait until nine or ten at night, when all was deathly still and dark, grab our flashlights, and venture down a trail, away from the safety of neighboring campsites and the reassuring flicker of our campfire. Into the deep woods we’d go, armed with nothing but my can of pepper spray and her husband’s buck knife.

Usually we’d walk for ten or twelve minutes, congratulate ourselves, then turn around and walk back. But on this particular night, we either took an unfamiliar path or went a little farther than usual—I don’t recall the exact circumstances—but the point is that our surroundings seemed especially eerie and unfamiliar.

Just a few minutes into our walk, we both shrieked as a deer, startled from its bed in the underbrush, shot to its feet and darted away. The forest was so dark that, even with flashlights, we couldn’t tell if it was a buck or doe, but it sounded massive, cracking tree limbs as it retreated into the blackness. Hearts pounding, we pressed on, determined to go a little further.

Suddenly, we stepped out of the thick woods and onto a peninsula of sorts. The area looked like a swamp. In front of us was a stretch of land or water—the shadows made it impossible to tell which—interrupted by clumps of tall grass that shuddered in the breeze and created peculiar shadows. The place screamed of swamp monsters and unnamable creatures with jagged teeth.

For a long, icy moment, we both stood motionless. Then, as if on cue, we pivoted as fear propelled us into a dead run—down the dirt path, through the brush and the inky darkness we sprinted, tripping over one another, flapping our arms like birds caught in a snare, laughing one moment and screaming the next.

When we burst out of the trees, back into the fire-lit circle of our cozy campsite, we collapsed to our knees, choking with laughter and trembling with lingering fear.

We were appalled at how miserably we’d botched our night hike. But today I have to wonder: Was our experiment in fearlessness a complete failure? I don’t think so. Granted, we bolted, but not before we’d completed the task we’d set out to do. In spite of all the screaming and flailing, by golly, we did it.

Sometimes God will ask you to jump through a ring of fire and you’ll say yes even though you’re terrified of fire. Sometimes you’ll jump while shrieking and flapping your arms. In the end, the fact remains that you said yes… and you jumped.. and you cleared the ring without being burnt to a crisp…

and that is victory.

Sneak Peek at Fearlessness

Man pushing a giant, heavy stone, rock over the mountain.Here’s a sneak peek at the book I’m currently writing, Seven Days of Fearlessness. My goal is to finish it by the end of this month. My plate is less full than normal right now, and I’ve set aside a week to hide and write at a cabin in the woods owned by some friends of ours (thank you S and T, I love you), so finishing is actually feasible. However (if this isn’t the most ironic thing I’ve said all year, I don’t know what is), the whole idea of finishing this book about fearlessness is giving me anxiety: What if, when I’m finally done, I realize I’ve written nothing more than a 30,000-word collection of drivel and slop? Or what if I leave out something crucial, or—worst of all—say something that’s not doctrinally sound? What if I not only fail to find a publishing company who wants it, but they send me rejection emails full of LOL emoticons?

And that’s when I remember that I’m doing the very thing this book addresses: fretting. Spending my energy on worry. Wasting precious time on ridiculous, exhausting thought processes. In other words, the truth the Lord gave me, and which I’m attempting to put down on paper in this book, needs to be said. So let’s get on with it.

When Jesus called His disciples, He expected immediate obedience, and they gave Him just that. The moment He said, “Follow Me,” they dropped what they were doing and walked away from their old lives. There was no time to second-guess Jesus’ command, work out the details, overthink the situation, or even say goodbye to their friends and family. Imagine if Peter, Andrew, and the rest had said, “We want to follow You, Jesus, but it’s scary to abandon everything we’ve known to go who-knows-where and do who-knows-what as Your disciples. As soon as we muster up the courage and work out the details, we’ll give You a call.” No doubt Jesus would have moved on and found other disciples who were willing to obey before they possessed full understanding, unwavering faith, or unflappable courage. 

Sometimes, faith and fortitude arise in our heart, followed by obedience. But more often, obedience must happen while faith, understanding, and courage are in short supply. Don’t wait for the courage to follow Jesus unreservedly, or one day you’ll be eighty years old and wondering why He never gave you the wherewithal to change your corner of the world. The original command—”Follow Me”—is all you need to obey. Courage and clarity will be released in the obeying. 

 

From: Seven Days of Fearlessness

The Contemplative Life

I’ve always been intrigued by the writings of monks and priests—Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence. Manning used to spend months alone in a cave, with no companion except God, and though part of me cringes at the idea of such solitude, another part of me understands it. I live continually with a relentless longing to be with God every day, all day—to “splash around in His heart,” as a friend who now lives in heaven described it. I can think of no better way to spend a minute or an hour, a day or week or lifetime, than in connection with God—sometimes talking, sometimes silent, but always in His Presence, always listening, always aware of His nearness.

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I thank the Lord for a husband who’s more than happy to take second place in my life, who doesn’t doubt my absolute love for him while also making ample room for my madness for God. Kenny doesn’t blink an eye when I crawl into my prayer closet or pull on my running shoes and head to the park because I can’t go another minute without getting alone with God. He takes it in stride when I talk aloud to Jesus, though sometimes he has to ask, “Who are you talking to?”—knowing the answer could go either way.

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I used to find the verse “Pray without ceasing” confusing: How could a person possibly get anything done if all she did all day was clasp her hands together, close her eyes, and intercede for the sick? But there’s nothing impossible about that verse at all! To pray without ceasing is simply to cultivate a constant awareness of Jesus, to converse with Him with the ease of one who talks to a best friend, to develop the ability to see Him everywhere. There’s no striving in this kind of life; in fact, if you’re trying to white-knuckle your way into His presence, give it up. You need only to lean back into Him because He’s already there, within you and around you. Dare to see, taste, and hear Him right where you are, right now. Practice His presence, and one day soon you’ll realize you’ve spent the whole day tuned into the heartbeat of Jesus.

That is the contemplative life.

Brown Bag Sunday

Ever since May of 2016, my husband Kenny and I have been pastoring a little church that meets in a coffee shop. We call it Brown Bag Sunday, and it’s made up of all sorts of people. Roughly 70 percent of them are homeless. Few things have brought me as much joy as this little gathering. We tell people to come as they are, and they do. We tell them they don’t even have to be sober to show up as long as they “behave.” Is that bad? Is that too permissive? I don’t think so. What do you do when you’re tormented by alcoholism or drug addiction but you also know that you need God? You come to Brown Bag Sunday.

Don’t misunderstand me. Not everyone who attends Brown Bag Sunday is homeless, or an addict, or an alcoholic. BBS has its share of hard-working, God-fearing congregants, some of whom are clean as freshly fallen snow (and others of whom are also homeless or addicted. You can’t be saved and addicted at the same time, you say? Puuulleeeeeeesee). Anyway, we’re a motley bunch of ragamuffins— to varying degrees flawed, homeless, employed, unemployed, addicted, straight, gay, victorious, depressed, hungry, full, fat, thin, sober, drunk, and so on. You get the picture.

I do know that we have a pretty high percentage of folks who would never walk into the typical church.

I love the local church. I have such respect for the local church! But one day, years ago, I brought some friends (a married couple) with me to church on Sunday. They didn’t smell very good, and their clothes were ragged. As soon as we walked into the building, one of the deacons offered the husband a clean jacket to put on. My friends were utterly humiliated, and I was appalled. They’d been deemed “not good enough” to be in that building, to be part of the Body of Christ. They were both Christians, both hungry for God, and both deserving of a little hospitality.

But their clothes weren’t fancy enough.

I never forgot that incident.

A handful of years later, around 2002, I was finally part of a church that loved the homeless. One morning, a certain homeless man named Paul walked into the building during the Sunday service and grabbed one of the big cornbread muffins that someone had laid out for anyone who needed a snack. As my pastor preached, Paul stood in the middle of the aisle and rubbed his thumb back and forth across that muffin, watching the crumbs fall to the floor. He didn’t stop till he’d destroyed the whole muffin. And what did the rest of us do? Nothing. We all knew that Paul just did this sort of thing. It was no big deal. Sometimes he talked to himself, but he was never belligerent. If he wanted to butcher a muffin, no one minded. If he talked to himself a little, fine.

As I watched Paul and the rest of my church family, I thought, This is church. This is IT. I knew I’d never again settle for being part of a congregation that didn’t accept the Pauls of this world. Never again would I be satisfied to call myself part of a so-called church that had no room for the mentally unstable, the addicted, the homeless, the “least of these.”

The fact that God is allowing Kenny and me to love, teach, and feed fifty people, some of them just like Paul, is an honor I don’t deserve.