Originally published Thursday, 21 May 2015.
We have the incredible privilege of hearing from my friend, Kelly O’Dell Stanley, today. Her new book, Praying Upside Down, was released recently, and so I wanted to be sure to introduce her to you all. I pray you are blessed.
One Sunday morning when our son, Bobby, was six, he left our pew and walked straight to the front of the church, up the steps onto the platform, right in the middle of our worship. Pastor Nathan was sitting in a chair off to the side, putting the finishing touches on his sermon notes. Bobby circled around the worship leader, ignored the musicians, and climbed into the seat next to Nathan.
With a sigh, he leaned back and then scooted to the edge of the chair. The big smile and hug Nathan gave him weren’t a surprise—Nathan had taught all the children that they were always welcome to come up front. That day, as I watched through tears, I finally understood the beauty of having direct access to God. Knowing that He welcomes me, and you, with joy. No matter who’s watching.
That’s what the Bible means when it says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)
It’s a perfect picture of how we are to approach God. Boldly, with the faith of a child. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons we—or someone else—might think we’re not worthy to be up there right next to the King. All that matters—the only thing—is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that he has more important things to do. But He doesn’t.
Some people have trouble coming to God because they don’t feel worthy. They quote scriptures like Psalm 22:6 (“But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all!”). Their understanding of mankind’s (general) and their own (specific) sin, paired with an awareness of the holiness of God, cripples them, making them afraid to trust that He really wants them. Because they are convinced they don’t deserve to be there.
Somehow, I didn’t have that same struggle. I knew I couldn’t earn my way to a relationship with God, but like my son, I approached God with confidence. I took the Scriptures at face value: “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Romans 5:8-12)
My mom was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer and I started a three-year roller-coaster ride. I claimed to have faith, but I was as dry and parched as a desert inside. When it came time to pray, I had nothing to say. Bitterness and sorrow and pain replaced any words I might have had. After Mom died, I built the walls even higher—fortifying them, adding a moat filled with alligators, for good measure—to protect myself from being hurt again. I rolled my eyes when someone at church would stand up and testify that they had been healed. Or even that they believed in healing.
I wasn’t sure if God didn’t answer or if He gave me the wrong answer. I began to doubt whether He was able to effect change at all. I hadn’t just lost Mom. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I’d lost everything I believed in. My grief made me incapable of seeing the truth. And the fickleness of my faith filled me with shame.
I had ceased to be the child approaching God without hesitation, or even the temperamental teenager stamping her foot and refusing to look at Him—and turned into that lowly earthworm. Why would God want me back? Once I realized how much I wanted—needed—Him, I didn’t feel like I had the right to ask Him. Because I had rejected Him before.
And then one Sunday morning at church we sang a song that broke through my defenses. “Through it all, through it all… I learned to trust in Jesus, I learned to trust in God.” I felt the walls crumbling as I thought-prayed, “No I didn’t. I failed miserably. Lord, I’m so sorry.”
Immediately I felt His response. “But I got to show you grace!”
Notice, He didn’t say that He had to. Nor that He did it grudgingly. Instead, it was like our magnificent, holy God was a little child Himself, hopping from one foot to the other, giddy with excitement at the gift He was thrilled to give me.
The one I didn’t deserve.
But that didn’t matter to God. All that mattered was that He wanted me back. He allowed me to march right up to that altar and lean into Him, to scoot close to the edge of His chair. To look into His face and see the kindness in His smile.
And to take a deep breath of relief, knowing I was right where I belonged. Filled with, wrapped in, emboldened by, and surrounded by His unfathomable grace.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is a graphic designer, writer, and author of Praying Upside Down: A creative prayer experience to transform your time with God, which releases today. With 25 years of experience in advertising, three kids ranging from 21 to 14, and a husband of 24 years, she’s learned to look at life in unconventional ways—sometimes even upside down. In 2013, she took top honors in Writer’s Digest’s Inspirational Writing Competition. Full of doubt and full of faith, she constantly seeks new ways to see what’s happening all around her in her small-town Indiana home. Download free printables at www.prayingupsidedown.com.
Praying Upside Down: A Creative Prayer Experience to Transform Your Time with God
When you talk to God, do you ever wonder if He hears? Do your prayers feel uninspired or routine? Do you sometimes feel like you don’t even know how to pray?
Let artist and author Kelly O’Dell Stanley show you what white space, sketching, point of view, and other artistic ideas reveal to us about how to pray—and experience a deeper connection with God than ever before. Praying Upside Down will move your prayers away from the preconceived and expected, allowing you to encounter God in a brand new way. It’s a fresh chance to add passion to your prayers and notice answers you never anticipated.
Jesus was known for turning situations upside down . . . and He will do the same in your prayer life. And because God is the ultimate creator and the original artist, when you incorporate this unique approach to prayer, you will encounter more of Him.
Available wherever books are sold.