Anywhere, Anytime, Anyway

I used to think that worship was something that was done exclusively in church. I thought it was just another part of Sunday morning – wake up, go to church, worship, listen to a sermon, go home.

Then as I got older, I started to understand what worship actually is. It’s more than just singing along to a song. It’s more than lifting up one or both hands. While we can do both of those in church and in moments of personal, private worship, that’s not it.

What makes it worship is the thought and emotion behind it. Just because words of praise are coming out of my mouth doesn’t mean I’m worshiping God. If I know a song well enough, I can sing every single word perfectly without even thinking about it. Seriously, I can just go on autopilot. My mind could be somewhere completely different and I’d never miss a note. But if I feel overwhelmed by God’s love and my desire is just to honor Him for a moment, that is worship.

Not only can we worship outside of church, but we should. When you think about it, if the only time we feel the need to love and honor God is once or twice a week, something’s off anyway.

When I think about God, it’s not hard for me to be blown away by Him. He’s done so much for me, He’s stuck by me, and He’s head over heels in love with me. To be honest, if anyone has tried and tested God’s love, it’s me. My flimsy faith, my wavering devotion, my questioning, my spiritual mood swings would’ve frustrated any other being to the point of them ditching me. But not God.

You see, I have a desire to worship God when I focus on God.

And what happens when I don’t?

I know we talked about this a lot during the Idols series, but I’m going to touch on it again as it is relevant here and worthy of repeating. The thing about the human heart is that it always feels the need to cling to something. The object that receives most of our attention and affection is what we worship. It could be anything – a sports team, a singer, success, your spouse, your job. Many things make up our personalities and our lives, and that’s great. We should hold the aspects that make us happy close to us. But none of them should mean more to us than God.

Ultimately, nothing can make us happier than God. The love and grace of God goes deeper than something as circumstantial as mere happiness. It’s a source of joy. Joy, at its simplest, is substantial, long-lasting happiness. It isn’t moved by your situation or present state of mind. It’s a sense of peace and contentment that is rather difficult to take away.

Sounds like God’s kind of thing anyway, yeah?

Alan said Sunday, “Unconditional joy leads to unconditional worship.” If the joy we find in God is unconditional – meaning that He is our first and constant source of peace, love, and fulfillment through everything – then we will be able to worship Him no matter what.

If you still turn to God to get you through when you’re:

  • battling depression,
  • sitting at the bedside of a sick loved one,
  • filing for bankruptcy,
  • heading to the unemployment office,
  • going through a divorce,
  • repairing a relationship,
  • feeling like your world’s falling apart,

then chances are that you have that unconditional joy and are capable of unconditional worship.

You’ll get down and out. You won’t always be happy with God or what’s going on in your life. Having joy doesn’t always mean that you feel like you’re floating in the clouds. It just means that you have something there to pick you up and hold you when you don’t want to go on anymore.

“Carrie, that’s great, but I don’t really know how to worship. Like, what do I do?”

That’s an important question.

I once read this book by the lead singer of Casting Crowns, Mark Hall. In it, he talked about this woman who would look at him with a mad face when he led worship on Sunday mornings at church. I mean, she would just mean mug him week after week. Then one day after service, after keeping that exact same look on her face during worship, she told him how she was really touched by the music that morning. It kind of shocked him. He never would’ve guessed it based off of her actions and reaction to the music.

Did she sing along? No.
Did she raise a hand? No.
Did she smile? No.
Did she worship? Yes.

It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do. It certainly doesn’t matter how it looks. If you’re not a good dancer but you want to dance, move to your heart’s content. Feel more comfortable standing and clapping? Feel free to do so.

And to worship in your private life? Read the Word of God. Talk to God. Talk about God. Do everything to glorify God. That’s what it means to worship God with your life: realizing it’s all about God and acting on that realization.

Do you like to paint? Play sports? Play an instrument? Write? Whatever it is that you do, reflect God through it and point it all back to Him – the compliments, the awards, the smiles people have on their faces because of it. When you glorify or magnify God in any way, that’s a form of worship.

Your worship is as unique as you are and as personal as your relationship with God is. No one is directly involved in your worship but you and God. It doesn’t matter how or when you worship. All that truly matters is that you do worship and that God is the recipient of your worship.

By Carrie Prevette

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With Honesty and Thanksgiving

My favorite person to hear pray is a lady by the name of Nancy Mullins.

She attends a church that I used to go to, and she is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Whenever she would pray for me, I would just sit and listen to her. Nothing but loving words and genuine feelings came out. I felt comforted. I felt so much love. And it felt like God was standing or sitting right there with us, hanging on to her every word. She wasn’t worried about impressing me or God. She didn’t sound like a thesaurus or a grand guest speaker in a packed arena. She sounded like someone who cared about me and who knew how to get in touch with God.

Honestly, that’s all I care about when someone prays for me. If you want to sound eloquent and poetic, that’s cool. Go for it. The English major in me will love it. But your prayer, regardless of how it sounds, has to be honest and genuine. It won’t move me if it’s not, and most importantly, it won’t move God if it’s not.

I find it odd how people have an issue with being honest with God. I don’t really understand the hesitation. Do you think you’re going to tell God something He doesn’t know and shock Him? Do you think you’re going to ruin the way He sees you? Do you think you’re going to hurt His feelings? Let me tell you something that God has shown me recently: if God didn’t want you to be honest about it, you wouldn’t be going through it. When you talk to God, you’re just telling Him things He already knows. He’s glad to hear it though. It’s like when you know your friend is going through a hard time and then they open up to you about it. You’re not surprised at what you’re hearing, but you’re glad they’re telling you about it. They’re confiding in you, they’re showing they value you, and they’re acknowledging that they know you care about them. That’s exactly how it is when we pray honestly to God.

And if you’re concerned with your honesty causing God to love you less, you’re wrong. God and I both love you, but you’re just wrong. There is nothing, not anything, not a single thing in this universe that you could do to make God love you less. Sometimes that’s hard to remember or even accept, but it’s the truth.

We have some outdoor cats at my house, and one of them is a little odd and very spastic. The other cats like human contact; he does not. He doesn’t really hang around much. (He could live a double life for all we know. He could be an agent like Perry the Platypus.) But when he’s around, he cracks me up, so I love this cat. Plus, I tend to have a special place in my heart for weird beings and things.

Some of you may think I’m making this up, and some of you will fully believe what I’m about to tell you, but I looked at this cat one day and said, “My love is like the love of Jesus. It’s there whether you want it or not.”

And it’s true that the love of God is there whether we want it or not. Whether we feel we deserve it or not and whether we accept it or not.

So why is it so hard for us to communicate with God? Because that’s exactly what prayer is – communication between us and God.

I will be the very first person to admit that I don’t pray as much as I should. It’s a terrible truth, but a truth nonetheless. I guess at the end of the day, as I lay in bed and feel happy as sleep comes to greet me (For those of you who don’t know, I love to sleep, and I’m very good at it.), praying just feels like a chore. A little superfluous almost. God knows what’s happening in my life and I’m tired, so why tell Him when I could just go to sleep already? And I’ll chat with God whenever I need something, but it seems like I hardly ever pray just to be talking to Him.

That sounds lame, and it is. How ridiculous is that? The Creator wants to talk to me and listen to me, and I won’t give Him the time of day (or night, obviously). I have the chance to converse with, vent to, hear from, and receive advice from the One who loves me most, more than anyone or anything else in this world loves me, and I repeatedly refuse it.

It’s just that simple – talking to God. People have this remarkable ability to take the simplest notions and concepts and turn them into something more complicated. God wants to hear from you. It doesn’t matter how big or small the subject is. It doesn’t matter how fancily you speak. It doesn’t matter if you think it or say it aloud. God just wants you to come to Him.

Imagine if you were in a room full of people, including your very best friend. You go up to them and say hi. They respond with a hello and ask if you could get them some punch. You gladly go get it and bring it to them. They mumble a quick thank you then walk off. You see them interact with awful people. You see them talk to people you know only want to hurt them and their heart. You see them talking to other friends of theirs and yours. But they don’t talk to you for the rest of the night and just leave like you were never there.

I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me, I would cry. Really. I would be so depressed and wonder why they didn’t like me anymore and try to remember what I could’ve possibly done to make them hate me. I would be a mess.

But that scenario isn’t dissimilar to what we put God through when we don’t pray, especially for extended periods of time. While He doesn’t have a meltdown like I would, it doesn’t exactly put a smile on His face.

Often when we do pray, it’s purely us asking God for things. That isn’t always bad. If you have problems, God wants you to turn to Him. He encourages it. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” But if the biggest problem you have is that you’re not driving your dream car, you might want to change your tune and your prayer a little bit.

Colossians 4:2 (NLT) says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” When you pray, is your heart one of “God, give me this,” or “God, I know You’ve done so much for me already, but please let me ask for one more favor”? It makes a world of difference in your prayers and in your life.

And prayers of nothing but thanksgiving should also be a part of our prayer lives. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but one thing I love about the book of Psalms is it covers such a range of emotions and actions. The psalmists weren’t afraid to ask God where He was or why things weren’t going their way. But there are also psalms that just magnify and glorify God and psalms of praise. If there can be entire psalms dedicated to praising and thanking God, some coming from a man after God’s own heart, surely we can send up a few prayers of the same nature. It’s not all about us; it’s about God, and only asking Him to give us things without thanking Him for them seems a bit skewed.

I’ll close by expanding on some advice that a nice lady at an antiques store gave me a couple of years ago. Two friends of mine and I walked into this little shop in Maggie Valley, and we were just browsing. While we were in there, we chatted with the lady who was working there. She was very sweet, and I think it made her happy to see such young girls interested in such old things. As we were leaving, she said, “Bye, girls! Remember to say your prayers at night.”

It was a refreshing reminder. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received, especially from a stranger. I would like to encourage you to not only say your prayers at night, but to say your prayers anywhere and anytime you feel compelled to. When you wake up, while you’re driving to work (just please don’t pray with your eyes closed), on your break, during halftime of the basketball game. It’ll make a world of difference, and you may not even really know why. Maybe just the act of communicating with God does a soul good.

By Carrie Prevette

Inconsistencies and Sacrifices

It was when Alan ordered a side of bacon in a little diner in Pennsylvania that God gave a new life to this series. Despite what Alan was anticipating, the bacon tasted just as good as it would have had he ordered it for breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, or a normally-timed dinner. Then he started thinking about how consistent he is in his walk with God. The answer he arrived at is the one I think we’ll all come to as well.

“I’d love to say yes, but no.”

I’m only consistent in my inconsistencies. I don’t really see how God can put up with my spiritual mood swings. I’m not even talking about the differences I show between the crises in my life; I mean within the span of one problem.

Let me demonstrate. One of my favorite bands is The 1975. I discovered them in early September of 2013, and I basically fell in love with them instantaneously. They announced a North American tour in early 2014 (January, I think), and they were scheduled to play two shows in North Carolina. Tickets were, in my opinion, astoundingly cheap. By this point, it was on my bucket list to see them live, and here was this perfect opportunity. It was May 14th in Charlotte – after graduation and not far from home. I called home, asked my sister if she cared to go with me, and decided that this concert would be a well-deserved graduation gift to myself.

After impatiently waiting, I finally got to order the tickets, and at the end of the checkout, I was ready for the whole, “Thank you! Your order has been submitted. Your order number is blah, blah, blah,” page to pop up. I was prepared to be so happy. Instead of that page, I got one that said my order could not be completed, and I was told to start over. It wasn’t the moment I’d waited for, and I went through the process again, this time equally annoyed as I was nervous. Finally, it said my order was placed, gave my order number, and said that I would receive a confirmation email. Wanting to bask in my gladness, I checked my email. There I saw not one but two confirmations. I had a total of four tickets and had spent almost $100.

To understand why I thought my heart was going to stop, you should know that at the time, I only had about $200 to my name, a sum which had just been cut in half, and wasn’t going to get any more money for two or three weeks. For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, college life isn’t cheap, and an extra $50 will always make a big difference to any college kid. CrowdSurge, the company I ordered the tickets through, has a relatively strict no-refund policy. Plus, I didn’t know a single other person who listened to The 1975, so I couldn’t just give someone the excess tickets and have them pay me back.

I emailed CrowdSurge and explained what happened. Then I got an email saying my refund request had been submitted and that someone would get back to me in the next few days.

The days between then and the day I received confirmation that I would be refunded for one of my orders were not fun. I would be stressed about it and then I would pray and feel better. I would think about it again and begin to freak out then stop and remind myself to trust in God. One day I’d be all, “I’m not going to worry. God’s got this.” The next, I’d be thinking of how I would design the flyer to hang on my door regarding the extra tickets I would be stuck with. I was budgeting in my mind and worrying that I wasn’t going to make it. Then I’d think about how God had provided before and feel a little comforted.

I was so up and down that I was making myself dizzy, and it’s one of those times that I look back upon and wonder why God puts up with me. I wonder that a lot because my inconsistency is still an issue.

Sunday’s topic was sacrifice, and when I think of the sacrifices I constantly make for God, I realize there aren’t that many and they’re not that big. I volunteer at church and I tithe, but neither of them really drain me in any way. My sacrifices aren’t big because they aren’t making me uncomfortable at all.

Alan identified the five spiritual sacrifices as: generous and cheerful giving, worship with praise and thanksgiving, prayer, evangelism, and martyrdom.

Unless you’re reading this from the afterlife, martyrdom doesn’t really apply to you in a practical sense here (although your reaction to it potentially becoming your reality is worth considering). Out of the remaining four, I can safely say I need to work on all of them. If you can say you’re consistent in even one of those areas, you’re doing better than me, and I commend you for it.

But you know what? I think that while God wants me to do all that, He’s okay with the fact that I’m not always doing all of those things at once.

At first, I thought this list was a checklist, but then I saw that it wasn’t (and I don’t think that’s how Alan meant it). We don’t have to check all the boxes, just as many as we can, and we always must have at least one checked. So unless you’re an uber-human who’s just always good at everything, I wouldn’t worry about nailing all of these at once.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing. It can be a lot of work, and I’m a pretty lazy person.

It would serve me well when I don’t feel like offering anything up to God to remember the sacrifices Christ made for me.

First, He sacrificed heaven itself. He went from having complete perfection, living in nothing but love and harmony to come walk around on this earth with mankind, a hit-and-miss species at best. If that’s not a sacrifice then I don’t know what is.

Then after growing accustomed to life as a man, Christ sacrificed His life for us. Now, I know that was the plan all along, and Jesus knew that too, but a lot changed between Christ leaving heaven and Christ leaving earth. Jesus knew He loved the people down here, but then He physically met them. Jesus made enemies, friends, and memories. He surely developed a fondness for certain places. He could’ve picked up a hobby or two. He was no longer on the outside looking in at human life. He had experienced it.

He didn’t want to lose it all. Luke 22:39-44 shows us that much. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with the disciples. They’re there to pray, and Jesus steps off a little to pray by Himself. The disciples, as we learn later in the scripture, are tired. Maybe Jesus saw them try to stay awake and pray as He knelt down. Perhaps one poked another as his eyelids slid down to a gentle close. One of them might have said, “No, guys! We can’t sleep now. Jesus needs us,” as prayers became sleepy mumbles.

I imagine Jesus sighed as He watched all this, but He also probably smiled. They didn’t know the soldiers were moments away from taking Jesus. He did, and He was dreading it so much that He started sweating bullets of blood at one point. But maybe right before the storm, He also felt sad. Sad at what would transpire, and sad at what He was leaving.

The only recorded words of Jesus’ prayer here are, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42, NLT).

Maybe that’s all that was said. Maybe that’s just all that was recorded for us to read. Regardless, we know that Jesus wanted to use another plan if God had one, but really and truly, He wanted God’s will done above all else. And it was done. A sacrifice for all mankind was made, but don’t think for a minute that it was easy physically, emotionally, at all.

True sacrificing never is. That’s why it demonstrates love and devotion. If we only give what we don’t really care about or what is easy to give, how much do we really love who or what we’re giving it up for? What we give tells a lot about us and our affection for the one receiving it. Jesus’ immeasurable love and flawless character was shown through His life and Him going to the cross. What exactly are our sacrifices saying about us?

By Carrie Prevette

Your Calling and The World

I love the story of Peter and John healing the man at the Temple gate. If you want to read the story for yourself, you’ll find it at the beginning of Acts 3. Peter and John are on their way to the Temple when a crippled man at the gate (which is called Beautiful) asks for alms. Peter tells the guy, “I don’t have any money, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” So Peter takes the man by the hand, helps him up, and the guy’s feet and ankles are healed and receive strength. Then he jumps up and goes with Peter and John to the Temple, praising God all the while.

Great little story, isn’t it? And everybody wins. The crippled man gets to walk for the first time in his life, Peter and John get a gold star for furthering the Kingdom of God, and God gets all the glory.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it sounds like your standard Bible story.”

Perhaps that’s true. I mean, it’s not unlike other Bible stories. And it’s okay if you find nothing about this story striking. There are plenty of other Bible stories for you to enjoy. But let me tell you why I enjoy this one.

First of all, it involves Peter, and I love Peter. I can relate to him a lot. Second, this takes place post-crucifixion, and it’s a great depiction of how the disciples have grown and developed. They went from being a group of seemingly random, confused men to passionate, empowered leaders. Third, Peter’s words to the man are honest, bold, and kind. It’s probably the first time in the man’s life that a stranger has spoken to him in such a way instead of as an inferior. Fourth, Peter’s example of helping the man up is something we all need to take note of. And finally, it all happens outside of church.

I’m aware that most miracles took place outside of church, but for whatever reason, it really hits me with this one. Maybe it’s because I know that the Temple is their destination, so I also know they aren’t in there when the miracle occurs. But there’s something about these men walking on the street, without Jesus standing right beside them, and performing this act that’s phenomenal to me.

It’s because we let our faith start and stop at the church door more often than not, and that’s clearly not what happened at that gate.

No one does the world a bit of good by only putting their beliefs, faith, and convictions into practice on Sunday mornings. We don’t need people to just sit around and discuss the Bible or listen to other people do so. We need people to actually do as it says.

It’s like when a Christian artist (or as I prefer to think of them, an artist who happens to be Christian) appeals to a secular audience, whether it’s by touring with a secular artist or working on a song with them, and the “Christian” community loses its mind. It makes no sense to me. To start with, it’s just music; calm down. I understand completely and entirely that music can be a place of solace and that it’s powerful and important, but there’s no need to get so bent out of shape about whether a band is playing in a church or a bar. The point is they’re playing, and more importantly they’re playing the very same music they normally play. Secondly, they’re doing more good for the Kingdom by playing to non-Christians. Yes, Christians need encouragement and celebration, but others need the love and grace of God. Tell me, which need is greater? And tell me, why can’t we have both? What’s wrong with a Christian and an Atheist sitting beside each other in an arena and enjoying the same music? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

What good would it have done us if the apostles only spoke to those who believed the very same as they did?

What good would it have done us if Jesus hadn’t gone to places that got His hands and His reputation dirty and spoke to the outcasts, the nonreligious, and the people who were rough around the edges?

What good are we doing by letting our faith sit in a church pew surrounded only by other Christians?

But before you go out into that world all bright-eyed and hopeful, you’ll need to know what exactly you’re supposed to do while you’re out there.

That’s a bit harder to figure out. Some of it you can get from reading the Bible, like loving others and helping those in need. I think we can all get on board with those, and we should actually carry them out. You’ll have to figure out the rest of your calling on your own.

Slightly scary, but the good news is there are elements that guide you to finding your calling.

The biggest clue is found in your talents. Your talents are given to you by God, so it only makes sense that He would want you to use them for His glory.

For example, I’m not a terribly good cook. God would get minimal glory (if any) out of my cooking, especially on a grand scale. And that, my friends, is why I am not a professional chef and why I don’t cook the breakfast Abstract serves on Sundays. (A quick shout out to those who are involved with making and serving the breakfast on Sundays because you’re all great. My stomach and I would be sad without you.)

But really. Don’t play guitar? Don’t try out for the lead guitarist spot in the worship band or any band for that matter. If you get nervous talking in front of crowds, don’t become a preacher or a motivational speaker. If you don’t like teenagers, don’t get involved with the youth ministry and don’t become a high school teacher.

God may not call you to do exactly what you want to do. The Apostle Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, always wanted to travel to Spain and preach there. While theories exist that Paul may have gone to Spain at some point in his life, there’s no evidence that he did actually get to go there. As far as we know, he never got to go where he truly wanted, but you never hear Paul complain about it.

Why is that? God didn’t give Paul exactly what he wanted, but He did give Paul something that would make him happy and fulfill him.

Which is what He’ll do for you. No, He may not call you to be a missionary in the Bahamas, but that doesn’t mean your life won’t be fantastic. As Alan has said the past couple of Sundays, “It may not be perfect to you, but it’s perfect for you.”

And really, if our hearts’ truest desires are to serve God, does it really matter where we are or what we’re doing?

But trust that God won’t call you to do something that doesn’t bring you joy.

I’m actually pretty lucky. I know God’s called me to be writer because not only do I love it, but it’s the only thing I’m really good at. (Well, that and sleeping, but I digress.) It wasn’t that hard for me to find my calling.

You probably have many more talents than I do, so it’ll likely be more difficult for you to figure out your calling. When you do, take it out to the world.

As a fair warning, there will be times when you doubt your calling. It’s sad but true. You’ll be criticized. Your parade will be rained on. Thing won’t always turn out the way you plan. You won’t always get recognition. At times, you won’t feel or see God moving even though He very well could be. Between Satan, people, and your circumstances, there will be times when you think, “Obviously this path isn’t for me.”

Word to the wise, don’t decide that on your own. Stay in touch with God. Don’t shut Him out. Don’t disregard His input. If you’re where you need to be, He’ll tell you that you are, and believe me, God’s confirmation is greater than any obstacle you could ever come up against.

By Carrie Prevette

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