On the Pause Renew Next Podcast, we’re in a new series, focusing on slowing down and renewing our minds. These are short episodes, 10 minutes or less, and will help give you an encouraging reset in your day. Each episode is made up of three sections:
Pause: We will use grounding tools to calm our minds and bodies.
Renew: We will meditate and reflect on Scripture, share a story, or practice a spiritual exercise together.
Next: We’ll end each episode with a benediction as you prepare for the next part of you day.
In today’s episode, I’m sharing a prayer exercise that I absolutely love. This prayer practice was adapted and learned from Richard Foster, and it is a great avenue for practicing embodied faith. Join me as we release worries and cares and prepare our hearts and minds to receive good gifts from our Heavenly Father.
It seems I was always meant to be a boy mom. As a little girl, I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls. You would more likely have found me making mud pies, floating boats through overflowing ditches, or catching bugs and small, unsuspecting animals. Even as an adult, I enjoy finding and exploring wildlife. I love plants and animals of all sorts!
Naturally, when we filled our pond last summer, the first thing I did was buy goldfish. I found great joy in feeding them and watching them swim around their new home. However, goldfish were not the only wildlife that took up residence in our pond. It’s as if a sonic blast sent the message to amphibians in the area to come make themselves at home too. We began finding frogs sitting nonchalantly on the lily pads. At first it was one, then two, and by the end of last summer, we were counting six frogs at a time!
Although I didn’t plan to stock my pond with frogs, this addition did not phase me one bit. In fact, I was almost as excited to have frogs as my 8-year-old son who is passionately in love with amphibians. I curiously set about trying to discover what kind of frogs we had living in our pond. Soon, I had narrowed it down to two types: the American bullfrog or the green frog.
Stubbornly, I have been trying to figure which type of frogs we have for months. It’s trickier than it seems. Apparently, bullfrogs and green frogs are very similar and easily mistaken for one another. It turns out there are two main ways to tell them apart. For one thing, bullfrogs grow to be a lot bigger than green frogs. The juveniles however, look very similar. The other distinguishing factor are the lateral ridges behind their eyes. Getting a good look at those ridges is easier said than done, because those stubborn frogs like to hide under the water whenever I get close enough to look!
Truthfully, I have an opinion on the matter. I am hoping for green frogs. Bullfrogs tend to be bullies, and they eat smaller animals, including other frogs. If bullfrogs are around, not a lot of other small animal life will be. Plus, they’re big and ugly. I like frogs, but I tend to like them on the smaller side. The bigger they are, the more disgusting they become.
Recently, I was sitting by the pond, trying to get a good look at those sneaky frogs, praying that they were green frogs. (Yes, really praying. God cares about all of our thoughts and feelings, even if they’re silly.) While thinking about this, it occurred to me that whether they were bullfrogs or green frogs didn’t matter. My 8-year-old and I were still blessed with frogs. They might not turn out to be the kind of frogs I wanted, but they are still frogs nonetheless.
Now here is where I’m going to take a turn from the ridiculous to the serious. Buckle up while we switch gears. Frogs aren’t the only gift I’ve been given that didn’t turn out like I’d hoped.
Isn’t it true that while we pray for good gifts, when they arrive differently than we expected, we often feel immense disappointment, discouragement, or frustration. Somehow though, when the cloud of disappointment lifts, hindsight shows us that our prayers were answered anyway, and the gifts we received were beautiful in their own way.
For me, this principle has taken on many forms: from praying for a pregnancy and being given the gift of adoption instead, to praying for healing and being given the gifts of endurance and compassion through suffering I didn’t want. In each circumstance we face, the Lord is faithful to give the best gift of all: Himself. He walks with us, reassures us that His ways really are good, and reminds us that He will never leave us.
The apostle Peter learned this lesson firsthand. I love Peter. Like him, I live passionately and often find that my mouth gets me into trouble. I have a lot of compassion for his spiritual foibles. In John 21, we find Peter carrying on a conversation with Jesus, soon after He had risen from the dead. Graciously, Jesus forgives Peter for denying him in the hours before his death and reinstates him with a spiritual calling. He then gives him a vision for his future which will include not only leadership in caring for the church but also suffering and death. I guess Peter didn’t like this vision too much, because he turned to Jesus and asked about John’s future. Jesus directly responded to Peter’s question, answering:
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
John 21:22 NIV
I can imagine that this was not exactly the answer Peter was hoping for. I’m sure that if Peter had written out his own future plans, he would have wanted it to look a little more optimistic and pain-free. Still, God’s plans for him were unique and tailored to his gifts. His wisdom and leadership were fundamental to the early church. Even his suffering was used to encourage and inspire his fellow believers. He wrote eloquent and important letters to instruct them about how to suffer well. Those instructions, found in I Peter 4, still influence and teach us today.
So, what about you? What prayers have you prayed lately that turned out differently than you’d hoped? Can you trust that God’s plans and gifts for you will be good anyway? If no sparrow falls without Him knowing (Matthew 10) and if He knows every hair on your head, then you can bank on the fact that He will give you just what you need…even when it doesn’t look like what you want.
Pause: Breathe in slowly and fill up your belly with air. Now, slowly exhale. Find a quiet place and read John 21: 15-23. What stands out to you in this passage? How was Jesus offering grace to Peter?
Renew: Reflect on gifts the Lord has given you in the past year. Were those gifts exactly what you prayed for? If not, how are you learning to appreciate what you’ve been given?
Next: Be on the lookout for how you can encourage your neighbors (literal or figurative neighbors) who are in a season of not receiving the gifts they’ve prayed for. You don’t necessarily need to offer words: maybe just support in the form of a hug, a listening ear, or an encouraging verse. Sometimes gifts come in the form of comfort and friendship too.
May you be given good gifts and receive grace to appreciate them, even when they come in the form of bullfrogs!