This is an experiment–in my own pursuit of a deeper, richer prayer life, I want to share some of the struggles and triumphs I have had in and through prayer. I would also like to share (and gather) suggestions to enrich how we can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to becoming more Christlike in our daily walk.
When we look around at all the beauty God created (see yesterday’s post:https://pursuingprayerblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1206&action=edit ), we also see the ugliness of a fallen world. What God created, he proclaimed “Good.” That goodness still exists, but it is tainted and polluted by sin. God has the authority and the right to destroy it all (and us along with it!); instead, he chose to redeem it. God’s promise to do this has been playing out from the very beginning.
God did not strike Adam and Eve– He allowed them to age, and reproduce, and live out their lifespan–but He did keep his promise that they would have to die (see Genesis 3). God kept his promise to Noah, to save his family from a worldwide flood (Gensis 6-9). He kept his promise to Abraham, to bring him to a new land and give it to his descendants– though the promise was made when Abraham as childless and wandering in the wilderness (Genesis 12-25). God kept his promise to Abraham’s descendants, to bring them back to the land he had promised them (Exodus–Joshua).
God kept his promises to Israel– promises of blessings and of curses, of retribution and revival. God chose King David, and kept many promises to him about his dynasty, the building of the temple, and the coming of a kingly redeemer in David’s line of ancestry (2 Samuel-1 Kings). He kept his promises given through the prophets concerning the exile and return to Jerusalem.
In this season, we celebrate all the many promises God made and kept regarding the coming of our Savior (Matthew-John). Just as God’s creation is “good,” so too are His promises– they are sure and true. God’s promises reveal His nature–He is Just, He is Kind, and He is Omnipotent. What He says, He can and will accomplish.
Today, I am grateful for God’s promises– for all the ones He has already fulfilled, and for all He will bring to pass!
For the Beauty of the Earth The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092 Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77 1. For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
2. For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
3. For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
4. For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
5. For thy church, that evermore lifteth holy hands above, offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, to the world so freely given, for that great, great love of thine, peace on earth, and joy in heaven: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine! Now hear me while I pray, Take all my guilt away, Oh, let me from this day Be wholly Thine! May Thy rich grace impart Strength to my fainting heart, My zeal inspire! As Thou hast died for me, Oh, may my love to Thee Pure, warm, and changeless be, A living fire! While life’s dark maze I tread, And griefs around me spread, Be Thou my guide; Bid darkness turn to day, Wipe sorrow’s tears away, Nor let me ever stray From Thee aside. When ends life’s transient dream, When death’s cold, sullen stream Shall o’er me roll; Blest Savior, then in love, Fear and distrust remove; Oh, bear me safe above, A ransomed soul!
Hymn lyrics by Ray Palmer 1830
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)
When was the last time you spent a little time sky-gazing? Looking up at the stars? Or even looking up at ceiling tiles or roof lines?
It turns out that the very act of looking up is good for your body, mind, and soul. Looking down, on the other hand, can, over time, lead to neck and back problems, and contribute to depression. (for more info, use a search engine to look up “health benefits of looking up” or click here: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck )
The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as we run the “race marked out for us”. This is more than just watching the road ahead or looking up at the sky. We look up at Jesus because:
He is the Author and Finisher (the pioneer and perfecter) of our Faith. Faith must be anchored…we will believe in something, or we’ll fall for anything, someone has said, and if we don’t make a choice to fix our eyes on Jesus, we will end up looking around or down for something else.
He is our guide. Like a highway sign keeping us on the right road and keeping us from taking a wrong turn, we look to Him to stay on track.
He is our example. In looking up to him, we are also learning how to live and endure and overcome.
He is our advocate and encouragement! How much better will we run when we look up to see Him cheering us on!
He is our goal. We run to Him, so we look up to see how close we are to running into His loving arms.
Have you ever been to a conference for work, or a large meeting or convention, where you were required to wear a temporary name badge? It might be a simple sticker with a space to write your name, or it might be a pre-printed card set inside a clear plastic pouch attached to a lanyard or a safety pin. It may have a stripe or box in a bright color, and/or an introductory word or phrase, such as “Hello..” or “My name is…” Perhaps you’ve had to wear a name tag for work on a daily basis, or you have to carry an ID tag pinned to your shirt, lapel, or around your neck or waist.
Such tags serve a purpose; they are functional, if boring, and even if they are also annoying, they are temporary. Some of them give a little more information, such as where you are from or what company, or plant, or building you represent. Name tags make it easy to identify someone and put a name to a face. But a name tag cannot reveal much beyond a person’s name. Sometimes, a name tag doesn’t even meet that simple criterion. I have a simple name, Lila, that is commonly misspelled and misspoken. I have had people look right at my name tag and call me, “Lisa,” “Lily,” or “Leah.” Wearing my name on my shirt or hanging from my neck may (or may not) make me identifiable. It does not make me knowable or known.
When we come before the Throne of God, we need no name tag. God not only knows our name, He knows us intimately– our thoughts, our attitude, our fears, our hopes, our weaknesses and strengths. He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and knows the words we will say before they reach our tongues.
This knowledge might cause us apprehension– there can be no hiding from God–even if we can lie to ourselves about our actions, motivations, and feelings, we can’t lie to Him. But this intimate knowledge should also ease our every fear– God knows all about us, and loves us unconditionally.
Prayer can be many things– joyful, contrite, needy– but it never needs to be small talk!
A Psalm of David. 103 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: 3 Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, 4 Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, 5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The Lord executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. 8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. 14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. 16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more. 17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children, 18 To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them. 19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the Lord, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. 21 Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure. 22 Bless the Lord, all His works, In all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Often in our churches, we focus on two factors of our relationship with Christ– worship and obedience. Worship focuses on His majesty and worth. Obedience focuses on His power and authority. But when the Psalmist speaks here, he is actually focusing on another element. Blessing isn’t so much about majesty or authority; it isn’t about obedience or worship. It is about communion. We bless and are blessed, not just by a word or deed, but by the speaker or doer–they bless us by what they say or do, but they ARE a blessing to us for who they are.
God is worthy of our worship and obedience, but he wants us to be a blessing– to come to him in Love and fellowship, and to be blessed by Who He Is as we meet with him.
Today, worship God. Obey Him. But let’s take time to bless Him and be blessed in return as we spend time with the Lover of Our Souls.
It is the shortest verse in the entire Bible– St. John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” Only two words. They are easily memorized; they are also easily overlooked or misrepresented. Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.
Jesus wept–Emmanuel felt deep emotion and showed it. God shed tears over the pain and sadness of a death; Messiah cried for the loss of his good friend. Jesus was no stranger to sadness and loss– God understands the sharp sting of death. God is compassionate, not heartless or cruel. If we are in emotional turmoil, it is not because God doesn’t know our pain or doesn’t care. He hurts WITH us in our times of deepest need.
Jesus wept–People often ask the rhetorical question, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a situation. Here is an example of what Jesus did– he wept. Sometimes, the “thing to do” is to acknowledge the reality of our situation–death hurts. It brings out feelings of anger and even fear. Death is scary. It’s ugly, and it fills us with a sense of injustice, and a desire to wake up and find that death is just a very bad dream. Aching loss, wracking sobs, feeling punched in the gut by circumstances– these are valid feelings and reactions. To pretend otherwise or to deny ourselves or others the right to express those feelings does great harm, just as wallowing in sadness and remaining isolated in our grief can drag us into hopeless depression.
Jesus wept– period. He didn’t punch a wall or point fingers at Mary and Martha for “letting” their brother die. He didn’t try to justify his extra-long stay that kept him from arriving before his friend died. Neither did he justify returning to a region where he was not “safe” from the authorities in order to comfort the sisters (and ultimately raise Lazarus back to life). People often criticize Christians for “not doing enough” to erase hunger, cure diseases, or end poverty in the world. Some even point out that Jesus, being God incarnate, had the power to do all of this during his earthly ministry. But he didn’t. As he was dying, he said, “It is finished.” He wasn’t referring to some social revolution or economic program, or political movement that would abolish the oppression of the Roman Empire, or the corruption of the Pharisees, or end the slave trade. That doesn’t mean that God approves of evil, corruption, and injustice.
But it means that Jesus’s mission was accomplished through what he did in life and through his sacrificial death. He loved freely, healed those who were willing, and taught about the true character of his Heavenly Father. He ate, and laughed, and slept; he burped and sweat, and cried. He prayed and worshiped and worked and gave. Jesus didn’t weep because he had no power to keep Lazarus from dying. He proved that just minutes later.
Jesus wept because he was showing us the very heart of God. God’s heart is not to flex his sovereign muscles and demand our instant and abject obedience– though he has the perfect authority and right to do so. His heart is to walk intimately with us, even when that walk goes through the very valley of the shadow of death! God’s love isn’t flinty and cold. It isn’t pushy and arrogant and selfish. It is extravagant and gracious beyond all imagination. It is raw agony and pure joy.
What in your life causes you to weep? What burdens and aches and frustrations and questions drive you to tears? Jesus may not take away what hurts us, but he will never turn us away because we are scarred or scared or broken. He will share our burdens, wipe our eyes, and hold us as we pour out our tears.
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
“How can you believe in a God who lets bad things happen?”
We live in perilous times; dangerous times. Right now, fires are sweeping through the western United States. Earlier this year, the world was shaken by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and typhoons–all natural disasters–as well as gang violence, mass shootings, and political unrest. Often, it seems as if God is absent or powerless–sitting on the sidelines and letting bad things happen. Those of us who claim faith in an omnipotent, loving, and gracious God are mocked and challenged. How can we believe in the face of such evil and injustice? How can we offer the empty comfort of prayers and assurances?
It can be very difficult to face such challenges– there are no easy answers and “mic-drop” moments for us in this world. But that doesn’t mean that there are no answers or that our faith is “blind” or without merit.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who followed God in extraordinary circumstances, often in the face of great evil and with little logical expectation of God’s blessing or help. Abraham traded a wealthy, safe, and honorable life in his native land to live as a stranger and a nomad among foreigners. Even after God seemed to fulfill the promise of a son, he tested Abraham’s faith, asking him to sacrifice his only son Read the complete story here... Many people see this story as a horrific example of injustice and cruelty– and if Abraham had been required to go through with the sacrifice, it might seem even more unjust and cruel. However, there are two points to consider:
God clearly planned to rescue Isaac–there was a ram in the thicket all ready and waiting. Abraham may not have known God’s purpose in asking such a thing, but he had faith that “God will provide for himself the lamb…” God may have been “testing” Abraham, but he already knew the outcome. The “test” was not for God–perhaps not even for Abraham–the test was for Isaac and all who would follow and experience the blessings that came through this amazing act of faith.
The story of Abraham, like so many others, is given to illustrate difficult truths– sometimes about God’s character, or OUR character, or the nature and consequences of Sin. These stories also often form patterns of allegory, foreshadowing, or illustrations of key principles and events. Abraham was told to sacrifice his only and very beloved son– a horrible prospect for any father. But God provided a substitute sacrifice– a lamb– allowing Isaac to live and become the father of many nations. God’s plan for the salvation of the world was built on the same pattern. God sent his only and very beloved “son” to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all mankind– a horrible prospect for a loving Heavenly Father. And this time, the son willingly gave His life to become the fulfillment of the promise acted out in Abraham’s story.
And, of course, there are hundreds of other stories– throughout the Bible, and throughout history– that demonstrate the blessings that come through radical and even tiny acts of faith in God.
Hebrews, chapter 11 lists several examples. And a key verse in the chapter points out:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 KJV)
These great examples of faith died without seeing the end results..but the end results are there for US to see! Faith in humanity– faith in Science– faith in ourselves– these are doomed to end in disappointment. Not because we don’t believe enough; not because these things are “bad”– but because faith needs an unshakeable, immovable, solid, and eternal foundation. Our faith in Christ is not a blind faith, an empty faith, or a desperate faith– it is a Faith that is firmly rooted in history, in observable facts, and in revealed truth. And even in the fiercest storms, the worst of disasters, and the overwhelming flood of hatred and evil in the world, our faith stands firm and sure– not because it is our faith, but because it is built on Him who is before and above all things–yesterday, today, and forevermore.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
I love old hymns– I love music in general, but there is something powerful and “grounding” about old hymns and ancient praises that stick with us through thick and thin.
Martin Luther, author of “A Mighty Fortress”
This ancient (nearly 500 years old!) hymn has been attacked often. I saw an article recently that said it should be kicked out of hymnals and never sung. The author’s reasons: It had “old” words and it was gloomy and aggressive in its tone. True, it has words like “abideth”, “grim”, “kindred”, “battle”, and “doom”. (Although the song has been “rewritten”– not only translated into English, but “modernized” to take out the “old-fashined words”–it’s not like you have to put up with the archaic words you don’t like or understand.) And it isn’t an upbeat anthem about dancing and lifting our hands in celebration. It’s not about daisies and unicorns and good vibes. It was written in a time when worship wasn’t about luxurious auditoriums and customized T-shirts with your church’s logo. Worship wasn’t cool–it was deadly serious.
Good hymns are not just there to help us celebrate the good times; they are there to remind us to keep going during the struggles and bad times that are sure to come in life. It doesn’t help that many times the hymn gets shortened..if you only read or sing the first and last verses, it can be confusing.
In its entirety, however, the hymn reminds us of a very real spiritual battle being waged for our souls, and the victory that is already ours through Jesus (“that little word!”). Jesus is not just a “crutch” for weak sinners. He is a mighty fortress for battle-scarred and wounded warriors. He is a refuge in the middle of a field of war between good and evil, and the garrison for the army of Goodness. He is the battlefield hospital, providing healing; he is the supply station, offering armor and weapons of war.
The outcome of war is already decided– the victory is sure–but the battles are still raging. Yesterday, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I– the “war to end all wars.” History has left us with few illusions about lasting peace in this world. That doesn’t mean that we should not work to pursue peace in our time. But it does mean that our real peace comes from seeking shelter within the “never failing” bulwark that is Christ Jesus, and drawing power from Him to go back out and fight the battle before us.
George: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are? Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served, dinner… George: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.
James Stewart (as George Bailey) in “It’s a Wonderful Life”
I’ve mentioned before that I love the old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In it, the protagonist, George Bailey, is in despair and considers taking his life. As his family and friends pray, God responds by sending “an angel, second class” named Clarence, who shows George what life would be like if he had never been born (and how much impact his life has had on those around him).
One of the key events in George’s life happens when he is 12 years old. He dives into a freezing river to save his brother from drowning, but in the process, he loses the hearing in his left ear. This hearing loss weaves its way through the rest of the movie. As a young man, George designs an indoor swimming pool under the gym floor for his high school (the movie makes no direct link to the earlier event, but it might be presumed that his experience caused him to think of ways to keep active kids indoors during winter months…) His bad ear (and his need to help his dad at the Bailey Building and Loan) keeps him from playing football in high school. It later keeps him from fighting in the war, but leaves him stuck at home coordinating scrap drives and air-raid drills–“safe” but less-than-honorable positions for a young man of his day.
There are many things George cannot hear, but three things he listens for– Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles! George spends much of the first part of his life longing to leave Bedford Falls (his home town), to travel the globe. While his friends travel to exotic places and build successful careers in big cities, George gets tangled up in financing small houses for ordinary people in his small town. All around him are bitter reminders of the life he dreamed of leading. His brother becomes a pilot– a fate denied to him. His best friend makes a fortune selling plastic parts for fighter planes, and takes cruises and fancy vacations that George cannot afford.
There is a dramatic change, however, when Clarence turns George’s life upside-down. One of the first things George notices after Clarence declares that George has gotten his wish (and never been born) is that the hearing has “returned” to his left ear. He marvels at this simple but profound change, but attributes it to his recent encounter with more freezing cold river water. Soon other changes capture George’s attention–his brother is dead because George wasn’t there to save him; his mother is destitute and care-worn because George wasn’t there to save the Building and Loan after his father’s death; none of the houses he helped finance were ever built, and dozens of families are living in squalor and being over-charged for rent by the evil Mr. Potter. And the peaceful town of Bedford Falls has been transformed into a noisy hotbed of crime and filth, anger and greed.
After George has a change of heart and is “returned” to his wonderful life, the hearing loss is back– this time, George laughs in gratitude as his “disability” confirms that all is back to normal. He no longer listens for plane motors or trains whistles– instead, he eagerly listens for the sound of his kids as he returns home, and the breathless call of his wife as she returns home with help and hope in the form of neighbors and friends. The sirens and screaming of his earlier nightmare are replaced with joyous music and laughter.
One of the last shots of the movie shows a tiny, tinkling bell on the Christmas Tree. Zuzu says that her teacher has told the class that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings, and George, hearing the bell ring, simply says, “Atta boy, Clarence.”
What are we listening for in life? Are we consumed with the sounds of excitement and adventure? Or are we listening for the important sounds of lonely people softly crying, children giggling, birds singing their morning worship song, or raindrops dancing on the sidewalk? Are we listening for the Spirit’s whisper in the wind, or God’s voice in the thunder? Exciting sounds can sometimes deafen us to important sounds. God calls for us to “be still” and know that He is God (see Psalm 46:10)–what we hear in the stillness and silence is rest and peace for our souls. And that is one of the best sounds of all!