Answered Prayers

Like a lot of people, I have often asked others for prayers for a particular situation, but I can’t say that I have been very good about following up and letting people know that their prayers, or my own, have been answered. I privately thank God for what He has done, and I am truly grateful, but I don’t always publicly acknowledge or praise God for answered prayers. So, I wanted to take a minute to do that today.

On March 31st, I published a post “Seeking Prayers Today” as I had been stressing quite a bit over a work project. It was not something I felt equipped to do (even with years of editorial experience), as the client had very unrealistic expectations and requirements. While I recognized that situations like this can create an opportunity for God to shine through and pull off a miracle, it didn’t feel like this was one of those cases, as the actual work would still have to be done through me. I told God that I trusted Him no matter which way the situation went, but if he wanted to know my heart, I preferred that the project would simply go away. Within the next month, there were several delays, and then we were told that we would start at the beginning of May but the project would run through October (where originally they wanted everything done in a couple of months). I felt better about the additional time, but prayed that somehow it would still end up being cancelled (which is not very common once contracts have been signed) as it continued to feel very overwhelming and almost impossible to me.

At this point, I am pretty sure that several other vendors had already walked away from the project, but I knew that the company I am working for did not want to walk away from their commitment. They have a very strong work ethic and moral code, and I understood where they were coming from in remaining ready to press on. About a week before we were to begin, we heard from the client that they no longer had the resources necessary and were going to be unable to complete the whole project. At first, they wanted us to write one small portion of the project, which we would have been happy to do, but within a couple more weeks, the entire job was cancelled. Now, obviously, I can’t say all this happened because of me as I don’t have any pull or control in a situation like this … but God does … and he cares about the things that matter to us.

Granted, the downside of this was that we lost a large contract and the money that would have come in from it eventually. However, I feel it was a major plus in that the company I work for was able to save face and not walk out like other vendors had; the editors (me especially) felt a great sense of relief as this “monster job” was slain; and the time we would have spent on this crazy project was opened up for us to be able to take on better jobs with more realistic expectations and time frames. [Since then, I have added a prayer to my prayer board (more on that later) to deal with the aftermath, and new projects are beginning to come in.]
Composure prayer

So, thank you God particularly for this answered prayer! And thank you for the other prayers you have answered recently as well – like Bart’s new job, which he is really enjoying and we feel will offer him success as well as an opportunity to make a difference for others [he sold his first house today!]; and my sister’s health, which is finally better [at least for now … it’s always something with her 😉 ]; and so many other things you have come through for us on.

Book

Read this!

I have so much more to share with you, my readers, on prayer, including the new prayer board I made, but if I try to write about it all now, I will never get this post published. So, I’m going to end with some words from The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and promise to share more with you later.

“God is infinitely bigger than your biggest problem or biggest dream. … There is nothing God cannot do. Yet many of us pray as if our problems are bigger than God.”

“100% of the prayers [we] don’t pray won’t get answered.”

“Our most powerful prayers are hyperlinked to the promises of God [in Scripture].”

“Scripture is God’s way of initiating a conversation; prayer is our response.”

“The Bible is a promise book and a prayer book. … Reading is the way you get through the Bible; prayer is the way you get the Bible through you.”

If you have not yet read this book – I highly recommend it. In fact, I borrowed it from my sister-in-law and took tons of notes, but I plan to get my own copy sometime. If you want to change/strengthen your prayer life, you really should check it out.

Meanwhile, pray BIG, worry small, and TRUST GOD.

My Conversation with God

Today, I want to share with you a partial guest post by my husband, Bart. Having experienced various times in our lives when money has been tight, we have struggled with the concept of tithing (regularly, generously, and biblically). We have often been so concerned with meeting our own needs that we have clung too tightly to what was in our hands rather than trusting God and releasing what we had in order to open up our hands to receive greater blessings.

In fact, I remember having a conversation with my aunt once about what I thought of giving 10% to the church. I told her I felt like the money I donated or gave to various places or causes added up to 10% and it didn’t matter if it went specifically to a church. Giving was giving, right?

Our church has recently been sharing “generosity talks” at each service through members of the church. These personal stories have been very encouraging and motivating. Giving is up and so are personal accounts of blessings received. Following is Bart’s story, which he emailed to Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Plano, last month after sharing it with me:

My Conversation with God

I just had a conversation with God. Well, let me back up and give you some background.
Over the last couple of months, when I have woken up early in the morning, before the sun, I have begun praying. Now, I know praying is a good thing. But one of the things I got from reading the Left Behind series (for the third time) is that praying should also be about listening.
This morning, before I woke up, I was dreaming about taking a test in school or somewhere. Someone walked into the room and called my name. I woke up instantly. I was wide awake. I started my usual prayers, thanking God for my beautiful wife and then just stopped. Hey, why don’t I try listening this morning and see if God talks to me.
In church this past Sunday, there was “another presentation” about giving to the church.  What stood out to me about that presentation was the phrase: “90% of God’s math will go further than 100% of mine.”
Church Note
Being that I can’t just clear my head and think of nothing, I was smiling to myself, feeling pretty proud that my wife and I had recently been having conversations about giving to God. We had decided that we would give 10% of our earnings, but rather than tithing it all to the church, we wanted to have some control over where our money went. We felt like we would give more joyfully if we got to choose who we were giving to. So, we thought we’d give some to the church but the majority of our tithe would go to other missions of our choice like E3 and to people we knew personally who have been called to missions. I smiled as I thought about the different people we had been helping over the years go on missions throughout the world. And then I felt and literally heard, “How many of those has your tithe funded completely? Ask Jack [pastor of Prestonwood] how many my church has funded completely.” He was standing in my bedroom looking at me. My smile was gone. Our tithe is nowhere near enough to fund anything completely. “Give my church the 10% and I will bless you so that you will be able to continue giving to the other missions.”
I hear you God. I hear you.
I was so excited, I rolled over to wake my wife and share with her my conversation with God. She was sleeping peacefully though, so I thought that might not actually be the best way to start the morning. So, I decided that I should type up my conversation and share it with you, Jack (especially since God called you by name). God used your sermon, and the recent focus of the church on giving, to reach out and shake me out of my need to control my tithing. I will be obedient to God … joyfully.
God Bless,
Bart Fuller

Chris Kouba, the pastor of our church, wrote back about 15 minutes later:

Bart,
This is such a great email. Thank you for sharing. We continue to hear similar feedback from people who have been challenged by the generosity talks and hearing about their personal journey of obedience and blessing as a result of giving. I pray God shows you so much more of himself as you take this step of obedience and release control over your tithe. In my personal experience, I have found that God always supplies what I intended to give and supplies even more to give above and beyond what I originally intended. The key is being willing to trust him for everything instead of trying to do only enough. Thanks for sharing and if I can help you in anyway in the days ahead, please let me know. 

Chris Kouba, Lead Pastor North Campus

In the past, I am sad to say, we have often given out of what was left rather than from our “first fruits.” Since Bart and I talked about his conversation with God, we have decided that we will be giving 10% of our checks as soon as they arrive, before we even pay a single bill. It has not even been a month since Bart’s encounter and our change of heart accompanied by a change in action, yet we are already experiencing blessings and a hope for a more fulfilling future.

I pray the same blessing on all of you.


“…return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord … You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. … Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” Malachi 3:7, 8, 10 (New Living Translation)

Evening Sky

20 Minutes a Day …

Twenty minutes may not really seem like a lot of time to accomplish something important, but, if you think about it, what kinds of things do you or can you accomplish in 20- to 30-minute chunks of time throughout your day?

You could:

  • fold a load of laundry
  • watch a recorded episode of a TV show
  • straighten up your desk/file some paperwork
  • read an online article or a chapter of a book
  • scroll through Facebook/Instagram posts
  • make a phone call to a family member or friend
  • check/respond to emails
  • take a walk to clear your head
  • empty the dishwasher
  • play with the dogs
  • stretch or exercise
  • plan a meal/find a new recipe
  • build an intimate relationship with God

Wait! What was that last point? Build a relationship with God? In 20 minutes? That’s not on my “to do” list.

No? Well, perhaps it should be. We all have the same amount of time allotted to us each and every day. And yet, so often the days just seem to slip away from us. Things we never intended or planned for steal our days away, minute by minute. We find ourselves wishing we had more time, but, more likely, what we really want is more peace, more joy, more connectedness … more real-life moments that matter.

Many of us use the lack of time as an excuse for not accomplishing certain things in our days or in our lives. In her blog post on things to do with 30 minutes or less, Courtney Carver shares:

… the real excuse, even if we are really busy, isn’t lack of time. It’s lack of priority. …

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Author Laura Vanderkam says, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.”

2016-09-11-22-53-472016-09-11-22-54-45Two weeks ago, I chose to take time away from my work (which I spend a lot of time doing) to attend a Women’s Ministry Kick-off Dinner with my sister-in-law, Jena, and my niece-in-law, Brittany. It was a dinner put on by their church to introduce their upcoming Bible studies for the fall, and I was thrilled to hear that Debbie Stuart (who used to be the Director of Women’s Ministry at a church I attended in the past) was going to be the guest speaker that evening. Debbie is currently Director of Ministry Initiatives at Hope for the Heart.

Well, as usual, Debbie did not disappoint. I had done a study with Debbie in the past and though I knew she was good, I had forgotten just how good of a speaker and connector she was. She shares personal stories (funny as well as heart-wrenching) and Scripture in such a way as to touch the lives of those around her and to infuse in them a desire to know and serve the Lord as she does.

I have to be honest here. Even though my thoughts are not biblical, I envy her heart for Jesus. I want what she has. Not her life or the things she has accomplished or acquired in her lifetime … but I want a relationship with God where I seek Him and hear from Him daily, and He is obviously at work in my life the way He is in hers. Debbie reminded us:

The truth is: It is absolutely essential to spend time with the Lord. No excuses. You will not know Him, His will or His way apart from His Word, the Bible.

So simple, and yet so true. The thi2016-09-17-09-19-39ng is – I have been reading the Bible lately. I do this from time to time but not on a regular, daily basis, and not always in a way that I feel I am getting much out of it. In fact, sometimes I don’t really feel like I understand what I read (although when I take the time to use my MacArthur Bible Commentary and/or compare passages to those in The Message [which is very reader friendly], it does help).

20-minutes-a-dayThe night Debbie spoke, she brought with her a book she co-wrote titled, 20 Minutes a Day for the Rest of Your Life. She explains it this way:

This resource is an excellent guide to studying God’s word for practical application. It teaches various Bible study techniques, dynamics and methods to learning how to apply God’s Word to everyday life. It’s not enough to ask, “What does the Bible say, we must discover what does it say TO ME!” It’s not enough to know what the Bible means, we must know what it means TO ME! It is my prayer that you will develop a deeper walk with the Lord and come to know Him better by spending time in His Word.

If you know what you need to do, but you don’t know exactly how to go about doing it, this book might be the guide for you. You can purchase this helpful resource for $6 (plus $2 shipping). They are currently available through this eBay link. Proceeds go to support Prison Ministry for women!

I started using my book the very next day, a2016-09-14-13-09-06fter the dinner. The first method demonstrates studying and praying through the Psalms. Each “session” ends with you asking God for a verse for the day that you can carry with you or post where you will see it and can meditate on it. I put mine up on a little clothesline in my study area.

The following Sunday, I just knew I was on the right track when, in church, the preacher had chosen to focus his time in the pulpit on teaching us all on “How to Meditate on God’s Word.” He used Psalm 1 and walked us all through some methods to 1) Read God’s Word; 2) Study God’s Word (observe, interpret, apply); and 3) Memorize God’s Word. One of the main points I got out of his sermon was the importance of having a plan to follow. There are a lot of books and online sources available to help you set one up; two he suggested were youversion.com (a bible app) and esvbible.org.

Last week, I started a Bible study using Beth Moore’s book James: Mercy Triumphs. The five days of homework each week will definitely give me more than 20 minutes a day in the Bible. But I will continue to use my 20 Minutes a Day … book for the other days of the week so that I can become familiar with the other methods of study and eventually determine what works best for me.

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While doing one night’s homework on James, I came across Beth’s discussions on Galatians 2:8: For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my (Paul’s) ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Beth said:

God only knows how many effective ministries have disintegrated into irrelevance over addiction to comparison. We talk as those who believe God is omnipotent and omnipresent, but we often act as if He can only work through one person, one method, or one kind of ministry at a time. …

There’s a big, needy world out there, and God’s way of reaching it is to enlist every one of us to do our parts in love and humility, variety and diversity.

So, there is no need for me to compare myself to others or focus on what I lack. God will use me … and you … wherever we are in life and to the extent that we make ourselves available to Him. Even if it is only 20 minutes a day.

Be strong in the Lord my friends. And be faithful.

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“ … it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes
and showers righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12

“… those who seek Him, find Him.” see Proverbs 8:17

Praying for You

Today, I wanted to take a moment to lift up my family members and friends (and even those of you who I don’t know who happen to be reading this) who are going through some tough times right now. I have shared stories with some of you over the past few weeks or heard about your troubles recently, and my heart aches for many of you while it breaks for still others. But I wanted you to know that, despite how you feel at this moment, you are not alone. You’ve got me … and you’ve got God on your side (even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes).

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Consider this:

Pearls are the outcome of struggle. They are rare and priceless, unique and treasured. They are a product of irritation and are created as defense against something that is hard, something that doesn’t belong.

A pearl is a product of suffering. It is a healed wound.

And it takes perseverance and grit to produce anything.

Life is filled with struggle. But it’s not wasted hardship and trials. Our struggle is irritating and annoying, sometimes it’s heartbreaking and horrible, but it’s producing something good within us.

Kristen Welch, For When You Struggle

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Whatever it is you are going through, it is possible that this situation is refining you, and you will come through it stronger, happier, more determined, more faithful, and a better version of YOU.

Lord, I lift up my personal concerns as well as the various troubles many I know are experiencing and I turn them over to you: financial issues; job concerns; health problems; troubled relationships; infidelity; addiction; the loss of loved ones; feelings of depression, anxiety, emptiness, and loneliness; unfulfilled dreams; and so many other issues of this world. Help us to put aside our tears and our fears, our worrying and obsessing, so that we may draw closer to you, and trust in your divine intervention on our behalf. Heavenly Father, I pray for many individuals today specifically CC, BC, AF, TA, AL, VC, RL, AS, BF, GK, EC, JS, BW, JL, TL, EW, KC, LR, KS. I pray that you will heal them, comfort them, help them, and lead them along the right path, and give them hope for a better future. Lord, you are our strength and our shield. My heart trusts in you, and I am helped. (Ps 28:7) In Jesus’ name, I pray for all of you. Amen. 

02042016_CrystalStine_AllThingsArePossible

 

Defining Relationships

I was looking through old digital files, trying to find examples of some of my past work to create an online portfolio, when I came across a questionnaire on relationships that one of my nieces sent out in 2008. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and the topics of love and relationships so relevant at this time, I thought this would be a great piece to post. I read through it all, and wouldn’t change any of my answers, even today.

shell heart

Did you think you would find your soul mate?  I had doubts early on. In fact, when I was in my 20s, I used to say I would never get married. I had seen too many bad relationships to think it was possible. But then I did marry, and I really loved him. But we never had any deep conversations about life and our beliefs and our future goals. We didn’t communicate and we didn’t spend quality time together; we just sort of drifted, and in the end we drifted apart. Once again, I didn’t believe that I would marry someone else. But God has a way of redirecting your steps when you get off track, and I believe He set the situation up so that Bart and I would meet. And when we did, things started coming together more clearly for both of us. Do I believe he is my soul mate? Yes. I think we make each other better people than we were when we were alone. Do I think that a soul mate will meet your every need in life? No. I think that you cannot expect one person to be everything to you; that’s where your friends and family come in. So you need to always be sure to continue to cultivate your friendships as well as your love relationship and not let one supersede the other.

What does it mean to be in love? That’s a tough one. Many people confuse being in lust with being in love. Or they enjoy that excitement you get when you first meet someone and you can’t stop thinking of them and you want to spend all your time with them. That doesn’t make it love though. In fact, you may feel strong feelings of love or attachment for someone and yet that person is still not who you are meant to spend your life with. I guess being in love means that you begin to realize that life is not all about you and what you can get out of a relationship, but what you can do for that other person to help them grow and know that they are truly special in someone else’s eyes. It’s about wanting to give someone else the bigger piece of pie even if you’d like it for yourself (and knowing that if they were serving, they’d give you the bigger piece).  🙂

16What makes you happiest about your relationship? That I know I am truly loved for who I am and that he would do anything to make me happy (well, not anything horrible).

Do you believe that you will be with this person forever? Yes

Do you believe God has a plan for you? Yes. I have been learning a lot about this through a class I have been taking called “Following God’s Will.” I also found this great passage in a devotional that I wanted to share with you:

“God’s plan for your life is not a written script that you must follow; rather, it is a journey with various important destinations and appointments, but also a great deal of freedom as to the pace and scope of the travel. God’s plan for you will always have a sense of mystery about it, but you can be certain that as you seek his leading, God will guide and direct you on your journey. Most of God’s promises are conditional. In other words, they depend on something that you are asked to do. If you separate yourself from God, you are removing yourself from his plan, his guidance, and his promises. Come back to him, and he will redeem your lost time.”

What do you believe is an unhealthy relationship? One where you find yourself crying more than laughing; one where the other person belittles you or hurts you in some way on a regular basis.

Do you think that people are alone because they make themselves that way? Some people choose to be alone, but I do not believe it is the case for everyone. I have heard a lot of single women talk about how they wish they could find the right person and get married. I feel for those women, but I don’t know how they are living their lives or what they are doing to actually find that right person. But sometimes God has other plans for their lives and they will continue to be unhappy until they are open to God’s will rather than their own.

Should you change for a person? You should be willing to change if that change is actually growth and something positive. But, no, I don’t think you should change in your overall belief system or in a way that is uncomfortable to you simply to keep another person around.

What are grounds to end a relationship?  physical abuse, mental abuse, unfaithfulness, unhappiness that cannot be reconciled, a total disconnect spiritually

What do you think is the biggest mistake you ever made in a relationship?  Not communicating. Also staying in a relationship simply because it was easier than getting out or because I didn’t want to be alone.Heart leaf

Can you be friends with an ex? Yes, I believe that is possible. In fact, it would be a preferable situation than to one of animosity. But it’s not always realistic.

Can girls and guys be [just] friends? Yes. If you are in a serious relationship, and your significant other has a friend of the opposite sex, as long as you have a strong and trusting relationship, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if there is something missing from your relationship and it is not complete, then you (or your mate) may find yourself still in search of that elusive thing, and in that case — opposite sex friends may begin to become more than just friends. In those situations, it’s not possible to keep an innocent friendship. If neither of you has a significant other, then I guess in that case, it depends on how you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and what the friendship provides for you.

What do think the most helpful information is you can give a person about relationships?  I just read a quote the other day that I thought was appropriate for this: “Just because you had a nightmare doesn’t mean you should stop dreaming.” —Jill Scott, Grammy Award-winning singer

You’re probably going to have some bad ones, or at the very least unfulfilling relationships, but you shouldn’t give up on love. Of course, no one’s going to come knocking on your door to find you. You’ve got to go out there and live your life. Do the things you enjoy with people you like to be around. When you’re out there participating in the world, being yourself, that’s when you will be open to the opportunities of finding someone who shares your interests and dreams.

Are you happy? Why or not?  Yes. Life may not be easy and all roses, but despite what the world tells us, I don’t believe that’s the way it is supposed to be anyway. We’re all going to have trials, but it’s how we react to them and what we do with them that moves us along our life path. And it’s who you have beside you, to help you get around the potholes and over the speed bumps, that makes the trip easier — whether that is a spouse, a friend, or a family member. We need other people in our lives and we need a purpose. Those things can help us be happy, but in the end it’s still up to us to choose to be happy. You shouldn’t always be in “pursuit of happiness,” however, but learn to be happy where you are . . . in every moment.

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Think about it. Are you in a fulfilling relationship? Are you happy?
What do you need to do today to get on the right path for YOU?

Slow Down and Trust

Today’s message from Jesus Calling (one of my all-time favorite devotionals) is very appropriate for me, so I thought I’d start out by sharing it with you:

I am with you and for you. When you decide on a course of action that is in line with My will, nothing in heaven or on earth can stop you. You may encounter many obstacles as you move toward your goal, but don’t be discouraged—never give up! With My help, you can overcome any obstacle. Do not expect an easy path as you journey hand in hand with Me, but do remember that I, your very-present Helper, am omnipotent.

Much, much stress results from your wanting to make things happen before their times have come. One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events. If you want to stay close to Me and do things My way, ask Me to show you the path forward moment by moment. Instead of dashing head-long toward your goal, let Me set the pace. Slow down, and enjoy the journey in My Presence.

[Romans 8:31; Psalm 46:1–3 (NKJV): Luke 1:37]

Although the word “trust” is not actually used in that message, I believe it is implied. The closing words could very well be, “Slow down, trust Me, and enjoy the journey.”

Stop Thinking

I am one of those people who gets an idea in her head and then pushes forward full-force, trying to plan out every detail. I feel better when I am actively taking control of a situation. And I get frustrated when things begin to spiral out of my control or they don’t happen as quickly or the way I think they should. But I know that this is not the best way for me to go about my life. In fact, the more I try to control things, the more stressed out I get, and the further I may fall from God’s actual plans for my life. Or by trying to do everything myself, I realize that I may miss out on the opportunity for others to witness the amazing things that God can do despite obvious circumstances.

That’s why my word for 2016 is TRUST. There are many areas of my life where I need to let go of control and just trust God. So, this year, instead of worrying and fretting, I am going to trust. Instead of planning and manipulating, I am going to trust. I will do my very best to slow down and wait for God to reveal the paths He has laid out for me rather than rushing forward on my own.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything
you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

(Proverbs 3:5-6; The Message)

If I trust in God’s plan, and I wait for it, I won’t have to be worried or afraid that things won’t happen according to my plans. And I can be confident that I am taking the right steps for a better future. Is trust an issue that you deal with? Below are some other passages and images that might help you as they have helped me.

Trust in the Father

Although I don’t like to wait, God always has a plan to work things out for my good. So I must trust His “wait” is either to protect me or to prepare me for what’s ahead. (Glynnis Whitwer, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day)

Lead Me and I will follow

God always keeps His word. If He has given you a specific promise, you can be assured that He will fulfill it. It may not be according to your time-table, but it will always be according to what is right in line with His will for your life. (Charles F. Stanley, In Step with God: Understanding His Ways and Plans for Your Life)

Those Who Trust in the Lord

Lord,

May we all become people who pray. May we also learn to leave the burden with You, rather than pick it up and carry it with us after claiming that we’re trusting You. Right now, Lord, take the burden. We cast it upon You, knowing that You’re better able to handle it than we ever will be. (Charles R. Swindoll, Insight for Today: The Importance of Prayer)

I know you heard my prayer

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