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.
I got to spend the day with my granddaughter earlier this week. She’s three, and has all the energy of a firecracker, and the curiosity of a kitten. She is learning to discern what things and which people are trustworthy (or not). Having worked with children from infants to teens over the years, I have seen this progression in others– sometimes with good results, and sometimes ending in disaster.
We hear about “childlike” faith–Jesus spoke of it; even praised it. Yet we see examples of people whose simple faith puts them in danger from predators, bullies, scam artists, and other perils. Is this really what Christ wants from us? No! Jesus didn’t commend foolishness; he told dozens of parables warning of foolishness and simple-mindedness. The Apostle Paul also talks of “babies” in the faith needing to grow wiser and stronger. There is a difference between having the faith of a child, and having the brain of a child. Jesus doesn’t want us to be ignorant, gullible, or bratty, but He loved the willingness of children to ask questions, seek out answers, and listen with open minds and hearts.
Most people become cynical over the years– some far earlier than others. They trust no one and nothing but themselves, thinking they know best, or frightened to find out what they don’t know. In many ways, they are as vulnerable (or even more so) as those who trust everyone.
My granddaughter is still at the stage where she trusts her parents and grandparents to watch out for her, give her good advice, and answer all her many questions. As she learns new skills, she often “consults” with us; asking our approval, wanting our input–as she meets new people, she will also take many of her cues from us. Should she be polite, informal, respectful, quiet, reserved, loud, assertive? She is still learning, but she still trusts us more than, say, her brothers or peers. There will come a time when she will develop the habit of either following the examples we have set for manners, traditions, habits, and such, or looking to other models.
Watching her, I was reminded of two very important questions I need to ask myself?
What does she see and hear from me? Am I trustworthy in the way I talk to (and about!) others? About her? Am I giving her solid advice and good examples that will help her develop good habits and relationships? Am I “present”– not being distracted or half-hearted in responding to her needs? Am I teaching her wisdom about the dangers she must face in this world? Or do I pretend they don’t exist or won’t touch her?
Who am I trusting? The obvious “right” answer is Jesus Christ, but is that the reality? Do I lean on my own understanding, or consult with “experts” without asking for God’s wisdom or seeking His approval? Am I seeking to learn from Him how to navigate the dangers of this world, or pretending they won’t touch me?
Having childlike faith is not the same as having a childish faith; it’s not the same as being foolish or ignoring facts. Smart children ask questions– lots of them! But they listen to the answers. Foolish children (and foolish adults) claim to know all the answers, and refuse to listen to advice.
Disneyland! Niagara Falls! Tokyo! Paris! Dallas! Machu Piccu! Sydney! Kilmanjaro! Stonehenge! NYC! Souvenirs remind us, and declare to others, where we’ve been. T-shirts, knickknacks, photos, post cards, and more call us to remember places we’ve visited, or even lived. There are apps that allow you to tag, city by city, all the places you’ve ever been (if you can remember them all). Metropolises to tiny hamlets, all can be recorded and seen by anyone else with the app.
Most of the time, when we think of souvenirs, we think of pleasant memories and planned visits. But there is another kind of souvenir–scars, traumas, sickness, crime– that can taint our memory of a place. It’s one thing for my husband and I to visit battlefields from the American Revolution or the American Civil War– it is quite another for a veteran to visit a battlefield where he took a shell to the stomach and had to be carried out still under enemy fire, or for someone to return to a war-torn village they once called home.
As humans, we can only be in one geographic location at any one time. We can watch live footage of events around the world, but we cannot participate in or experience them in the same way. But there is one way we can “be there” from miles away, any time. We can pray. I can pray for people I’ve never met; I can pray for many people at once. And I can feel the power of others’ prayers even when I am otherwise alone.
More importantly, we can be reassured that God is ALWAYS there–He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He needs no jet or GPS, no visa or key, to reach us wherever we are. And he needs no souvenirs to remind Him of His visits with us, or of the beauty (or disaster) in which we live.
I love looking at souvenirs, but far more, I love the memories that can’t be captured by a keyring, or a T-shirt, or a small statuette. I love the memories of smiles, and warm hugs, meals shared, and tears spilled. And I love the stories that remind me that even if I’ve never set foot in a particular village or city, through prayer, I was There!
16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.
Romans 3:10-11Modern English Version (MEV)
10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.
Anyone can pray. God hears our prayers. God answers prayer. But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally. That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust. It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires. He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.
James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.” But this is putting the cart before the horse. The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal). The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit. If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.
It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much. Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others. Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?
If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:
Who am I praying for today? What am I praying for myself? For others? For the Glory of God? Am I praying fervently? Diligently? Righteously? In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?
Next, consider what it means to be “effective.” Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely? God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect. God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering. He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.
Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation. Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word? Are you harboring a grudge against someone? Do you need to make things right with someone? With God?
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine. What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?
Two women, so alike in some ways–
Both attractive and energetic,
Both young and vivacious.
One has prepared a table; the other has prepared her bed,
One talks of virtue and honor; the other whispers secrets.
One requires commitment; the other promises no strings.
To enter either door is to be changed.
A man entered the door of the wise woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but noble heart.
He ate at her table, put his boots outside the door–
Carried her over the threshold.
Time passed, children came.
They added on to the house.
Put in a garden; got a dog.
Others took note.
There were gatherings–
Holidays, barbecues, reunions.
The house was a home.
He never looked back.
Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and family all spoke
Of his honesty, integrity, and wisdom.
His wife mourned, and was comforted.
He was the father of three,
The grandfather of seventeen.
Another man entered the door of the foolish woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but a yearning heart.
He ate her food and drank her wine; slept in her bed–
Wallowed in her perfumed sheets.
He laughed at her coarse jokes,
Reveled in her cat-fights with the other girls,
And the stares of other men.
He bought her jewelry. She bought him a car.
They lived the dream: parties and vacations;
Dancing ’til dawn and no responsibilities.
They forgot to pay the bills; they wrecked the car.
Others took note and shook their heads.
She moved in with someone else.
He moved into a hotel.
There were other women
And other hotels.
There were neighbors, friends–
Cars, jobs, maybe even children
Along the way.
But he was never the same.
Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and friends
Spoke of the loss
In passing or over a beer.
The woman didn’t hear of his passing.
When someone brought up his name,
She said, “Such a simple, stupid man.
I wonder what ever happened to him.”
I’m getting a double whammy this week–two Bible study groups; one studying Daniel and the other Job. Some of you will groan just reading the first sentence. Along with the book of Revelations, these are two of the most difficult and misunderstood books in the Bible. And for good reason. The book of Daniel doesn’t just contain the favorite stories of Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it also contains prophetic visions that seem to foreshadow two distinct sets of events– one set that happened in the time between Daniel’s life and the birth of Christ, and another set of events yet to come.
The book of Job is puzzling– there are no good clues as to when it took place, or exactly where, or even if it is real or a parable. There is a curious interchange between God and Satan that is unlike any other passage in scripture. Finally, it is filled with difficult dialogues from Job and his friends, as they try to make sense of his suffering as God stays silent. When God finally speaks, He doesn’t directly answer Job’s questions or his friends’ misleading statements.
What happens when I don’t understand what God is doing (or seemingly NOT doing) in my life or the lives of others? What happens when the world doesn’t make sense, and the Bible doesn’t seem to shed any light? What happens when I pray, but God seems silent?
I think the answer has a lot to do with where I am in my relationship with Christ:
I can panic, lose faith, or become angry and insolent. If I don’t know God or don’t trust him; if I doubt his goodness or wisdom or power, I may run from his word and his presence.
I can lean on my own understanding. I can substitute my own limited wisdom for God’s, and try to “explain away” all the things I don’t quite understand. I may ignore the Bible passages I don’t understand, in favor of doubling down on the ones I think I know. I can insist on my own interpretations of difficult or disturbing passages, even if someone points out inconsistencies in my logic, or context clues that disagree with my view.
I can lean on someone else’s understanding, listening to their views without question or without reading and praying through it myself. If someone else has an answer, shouldn’t that be enough? Even if I still don’t fully understand, at least I have an answer…
I can ignore the question–after all, do I really need to know about God? Isn’t it enough that He exists and He is good? If I say it loud enough and often enough, won’t that make the questions go away?
It seems that there is a better way– God never promises us easy answers or complete answers to all the questions in this life. We can be angry or grateful for that truth, but most of all we must accept it. God will answer many of our questions–maybe not in the time and manner we expect. And some of them we won’t understand this side of heaven. But the Bible is clear in calling us to pursue answers, and be honest when we don’t understand. God may not give us a simple answer, but He promises to give us wisdom– wisdom to seek, and wisdom to wait; wisdom to trust, and wisdom to keep knocking.
Ask, Seek, Knock, Wrestle, Search, Pray, Plead, Study, and Learn.
I’m revisiting Jonah today. The book of Jonah is a fascinating study–it’s just four short chapters, but they are packed with messages that inspire, convict, and encourage. More about Jonah here…
At the beginning of the book, Jonah is sent by God to preach disaster to a city steeped in evil and violence. Nineveh was an ancient metropolis of the Assyrian empire, located near modern-day Mosul, Iraq. The people of Nineveh had been responsible for attacks against Israel, and it is believed that Jonah may have lost family members in these attacks. Now God is sending him into the “belly of the beast” to preach judgment and doom. Instead of following God’s command, Jonah tries to run away and gets swallowed by a big fish.
This is the part of the story with which most people are familiar– Jonah and the “Whale”. But this covers only the first quarter of the story! Inside the fish, Jonah prays. It is a beautiful prayer of praise and acknowledgement of God’s might and power to save. This is not the sniveling coward of chapter one, but the great prophet he could have, should have been. God gives him another chance and this time, Jonah is faithful to preach the message God sends– forty more days and He will wipe out Nineveh.
But something unexpected happens. The people of Nineveh hear Jonah’s dire warning– a lone voice calling in the streets with a gloomy message– and they repent. From the least to the greatest, they cry out for mercy, they fast and mourn and do a complete about-face. Just as God saved Jonah from the fish, He relents and saves Nineveh from destruction. Jonah’s enemies get to live to see a new day!
The Ninevites repented, God relented, and Jonah resented. The last chapter tells of Jonah’s temper tantrum in the light of God’s mercy. God even sends him an object lesson in the form of a gourd vine. The book of Jonah ends abruptly with God’s last statement. We never read Jonah’s response; we never find out if he learned his lesson a second time or not.
Even with its abrupt end, the book of Jonah teaches about three important responses:
The people of Nineveh repented. When faced with judgment, they humbled themselves and called for mercy. They received it. In spite of their former violence, idolatry, and wickedness, God sent them a warning, and He extended the grace and mercy they did not deserve.
Two words of warning here:
1) Their response was immediate, sincere, and dramatic. That makes for an exciting story, but repentance sometimes comes over time and quietly. God knows if our repentance is real. It is not our place to judge someone else’s conversion or apology.
2) In the case of Nineveh, their repentance was short-lived. God eventually destroyed the city and the Assyrian empire. Just because we have a moment of sincere regret or keenly feel a need for mercy doesn’t mean that God has an obligation to extend mercy or to withhold judgment indefinitely. Grace is a gift, not a negotiation!
God relented. God listens, ready to extend His grace. He does not punish us as we deserve. He does not mete out immediate judgment without hope of redemption. God sent Jonah with a message of potential doom to Israel’s sworn enemy in the knowledge that they (EVEN THEY) would repent. God sent dozens of prophets to the nation of Israel warning of doom and exile, and they mocked and even killed the messengers! God is patient, loving, and kind. But He is also just– evil will not be forgotten or left unpunished. God will relent, but He won’t retreat, back down, or surrender.
Jonah resented. We don’t know if he stayed resentful, or rediscovered gratitude for God’s grace to Nineveh or to himself, but we are left with a picture that Jesus echoes in the story of the prodigal son. Jonah is like the older brother who worries more about his brother’s misdeeds than his brother’s soul. How many of us who have experienced grace sulk and pout when we see others enjoying their first delightful taste of it? Do we stamp our feet at God when he sends us to bring the Gospel to people we have written off as uninterested in or unworthy of it? Do we resent being corrected and humbled by a loving God? Do we worry and fret over our creature comforts as Jonah worried over his gourd vine, while others live without hope, food, or shelter?
Three words, so similar in spelling and sound, but so very different in impact!
Lord, I pray that my repentance would always be immediate and sincere; that I would see others, and their need for your grace, through your eyes of compassion; and that I would not resent your goodness and patience toward others. Thank you for your patience and mercy toward me, and may I give the same to those who need to see Your face. Give me the wisdom to trust you and obey, even when my flesh would run away. May I see the gourd vines and big fish in my life as your gifts.
11 But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, 12 nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without defect to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Some chores just never end– laundry, trash, sweeping, making the bed, doing up the dishes, mowing the lawn/shoveling the drive or sidewalk– the list goes on. Simple chores, but repetitive and sometimes annoying. And they are all necessary– if someone doesn’t do them, the whole family (sometimes the whole neighborhood!) suffers.
Today, I’m so grateful for the promise that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient– He redeemed us completely and forever through the shedding of His blood. It’s a done deal! It is FINISHED! All that the ancient sacrifices represented has been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Atonement and reconciliation are available for the asking. We still need to seek His face; to turn from our sin and humble our hearts before our maker. But the Holy Spirit makes it possible to lay the guilt and burden of sin at the foot of the cross and walk away free and unencumbered.
Someday, even the mundane chores of this world will come to an end. Many of the tasks we do every day involve maintenance– maintenance of our earthly bodies (hygiene, eating and/or dieting, dressing, etc.), maintenance of our earthly homes (dusting, sweeping, washing, painting), and maintenance of the earth around us (lawn care, neighborhood beautification, trash pick-up, caring for trees, pets, gardens, etc.). But better by far, the “chore” of cleaning up after our sins and mistakes and emotional scars will be forgotten in the joy of our eternal restoration.
We live in this knowledge and hope even now– one day we will live in the full reality. Every reminder, every vestige and speck of sin will be banished, never to be dug up or brought to mind. Relationships won’t just be patched up– they will be fully restored. Consequences will be expunged; hurts and damages erased and completely healed.
Once for all–for all time, for all who place their trust in Messiah, for all the breadth and depth of words, actions, thoughts, deeds, consequences, injuries–Once for ALL!
Seventeen years ago today, I was, like many people around the world, glued to a TV watching with horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were spewing fire, ash, paper, and even bodies before collapsing. I sat in shock as I watched footage of the second plane smashing into the south tower. People running away as rescue vehicles rushed toward the panic. And as the towers fell, the smoke rose, filled with the last breaths of those trapped inside, along with the collective breaths of their families, friends, and the world. A silent gray gasp– a frozen moment of silence in the midst of sirens and screams. Time stopped at least twice that day. Motions and emotions were suspended in those columns of smoke– love and memory, hopes and dreams– all drifted silently away from the open wound that was lower Manhattan.
Reports came of further hijackings and an attack at the Pentagon. We were stunned; we were horrified; we were helpless.
And then, amazing things started to happen. Stories of heroism and miraculous rescues. The initial estimates of people killed ranged in the tens of thousands–all morning, they climbed higher– by Wednesday, they began to fall as more people were located. Others were rescued from the debris as thousands of workers poured in to help. Caravans and convoys of supplies– food, water, medical supplies, rescue workers and excavators– rolled, sailed, walked, or were ferried in. In the first years, more stories emerged. As horrific and tragic as the events of 9/11 were, they could have been even worse. The initial panic morphed into resolve. People who wouldn’t have spoken to their neighbors now worked side by side in shelters and clean-up efforts. People who shouldn’t have lived through it did, while others who shouldn’t have cared willingly shared their time, their resources, their skills, their homes, and even their lives to help others.
Ironically, the buildings were designed to withstand a hurricane. Today, the east coast of the U.S., including potentially New York City, is preparing for the arrival of a hurricane. The buildings of the World Trade Center were built with the hope that they would be strong enough to survive high winds and floods; able to provide emergency shelter and protection to thousands in the event of a natural disaster. They were leveled by an unnatural force of evil and hatred meant to destroy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There are no man-made towers that can protect against the force of evil in our world– mighty winds of change, forces of nature, powerful attacks, acts of war, and collapse can occur without warning. There is only one strong tower that can withstand the deadly forces of sin and hate and despair. God stands firm and unshakable, offering to save all who come within His embrace. He may not bring us through without wounds; He may even allow us to go through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t promise perfect weather or days without struggles. He won’t remove us from the storm, but He invites us to take our shelter in Him. He won’t make you take shelter; he won’t make you evacuate your house built on the sand. He may calm the storm or stop the winds and waves. He may ask us to weather them in their full force. We may even lose this mortal life, but He will keep the soul that is stayed on Him. And He won’t leave us to face the storm alone.
Today, I pray for those who are remembering that horrible day in 2001, and those who are facing an uncertain 9/11 today. May each one feel God’s strength, shelter, and comfort in the midst of this life’s storms.