When do you pray each day? Do you have a time set aside in the morning and/or evening? Do you say grace at meal time? Do you stop during the day to pray for a certain period of time? Do you wait for “the right moment?” Do you miss precious time spent in prayer?
Most of us have a “regular” prayer time– even if it’s just a short burst of prayer in the morning or tucked into the period just after Bible study, or even a quick “Thank you” at meal times. But, for some reason, it often feels like we’re praying on “borrowed” time– time when we are planning to do other things, but a situation or feeling overwhelms us and causes us to pause for “unexpected” prayer.
Sometimes, we feel awkward, stopping to pray in the middle of some other activity; sometimes it feels forced or rushed somehow. Yet we are encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to be “constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
We can be grateful for the privilege to coming to God in prayer– anytime, anywhere, for any reason! Imagine if we only had one opportunity every day to “catch up” with God. Imagine if we actually had to “borrow” time to be in His presence. What a wonderful gift– the omnipresence of God. What a marvelous comfort to be able to pause and know that God is always listening and always available.
In one sense, however, we are praying on “borrowed” time. Our lifetime is a gift. And our Spirit is eternal. But our physical earthly life is finite. Our ability to call on God is immediate and ever-present. But our ability to live in peace and harmony with Him depends on our acknowledgement of His Sovereignty and acceptance of His Salvation and Reconciliation. God is gracious and loving– every moment we are alive we have the opportunity to seek His face. But for those who choose to ignore or reject His invitation, there will be a moment that is “too late.” There will be no borrowing, begging, or buying another opportunity.
Today–right now!– is a perfect time to accept, claim, celebrate, and utilize the precious gift of God’s loving presence, and His desire to share all that is on our hearts and minds. Even on “borrowed” time!
8 In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. 2 I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. 3 He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. 4 And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain. 5 Then he said to me, “Son of man, look toward the north.” So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” 7 Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. 8 He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there.9 And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” 10 So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and unclean animals and all the idols of Israel. 11 In front of them stood seventy elders of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. 12 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land.’” 13 Again, he said, “You will see them doing things that are even more detestable.” 14 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. 15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this.” 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. 17 He said to me, “Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! 18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them.”
Ezekiel 8 (NIV) via biblegateway.com
We make a big fuss in our culture about privacy. What I do in my own home, with my own life, in my own time, is private. And, for many of us, our privacy is sacred. We rage and fight and panic about who may be invading our privacy– listening in or watching us when we least expect it.
I must admit, I don’t like the idea of anyone spying on me or listening in on my private moments. I especially don’t like the thought of someone manipulating or using my private words, images, or ideas without my knowledge or consent.
But there is a danger in our quest for privacy– we are inclined to believe that anything we do in private CANNOT ever be discovered; that we are safe to do whatever we please, regardless of the consequences. The internet has made this idea even more dangerous–we can be private and anonymous behind the screen. We can say things we know we shouldn’t; we can view things we would be ashamed to acknowledge watching; we can explore fantasies, mask our inadequacies, pretend to be who and what we are not; all behind the “safety” of the screen.
And this is nothing new. In Ezekiel’s day, the moral, legal, political, and religious leaders of the day thought they were “safe” to indulge in idol worship behind closed doors. But more than that, they believed that God would never see as they practiced divination, witchcraft, ritual prostitution, violent orgies, even child sacrifice! They had built hidden rooms where they practiced vile rites and indulged in the very behaviors they taught others to avoid. Worse, they condemned and vilified others when they “got caught” doing the same things they practiced with impunity. And when prophets came to them with warnings–the very words of God– they had them ruined, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
In the eighth chapter of Ezekiel, God shows his prophet a vision. He allows Ezekiel to “go behind closed doors” and see the priests and leaders at their worst–over and over again–secret rituals, detestable practices, flagrant disobedience, arrogant rebellion…And all of this was happening as the nations of Israel and Judah had collapsed, and many thousands had died from war, disease, and starvation. People had been sent into exile– defeated, starving, enslaved. Yet their leaders were keeping up an image of righteousness and proud endurance, instead of turning to God for help and hope.
God was very clear–Jerusalem WOULD be captured and destroyed. Babylon WOULD take God’s people captive and send most of them to the sword or to exile. Defiance and pride– especially relying on the great victories of the past– would not save them. Rebellion and violence would not hold back God’s judgment.
The same is true today. It is easy to write about praying and walking closely with God–I’m hidden behind a screen. I can sound righteous and Godly for a few minutes three times a week. And it is easy to point fingers and call out the bad behavior of others behind the anonymity of a computer screen. We need to speak up, speak out, and defend the cause of those who are oppressed, abused, enslaved, and silenced. But we also need to beware that we are not crying, “Shame on you!” from a locked closet, while waving banners or buying merchandise supporting the abusers.
And God sees all of it. What we may find shocking and reprehensible, God has already seen through to its conclusion! God WILL bring judgment and punishment for those who shed blood and bring violence and injustice. But God also sees what I do in the watches of the night; when I’m alone with my thoughts; when I’m not on my guard against what I view on Facebook or YouTube. God knows what celebrity gossip I crave, or what I’m “watching” on eBay. He knows if I am ignoring or justifying evil happening all around me. He watches over my shoulder when I’m reading that new novel, or I’m driving down the road (hopefully not at the same time!), or when I’m wallowing in self-pity or jealousy or anger.
When I read about Ezekiel weeping over the behavior of Israel’s leaders, I am convicted. How often do I weep and seek God’s mercy over the behavior of our leaders–all of them, and not just the ones I voted for? Or do I just fume and post about how awful “they” are (whoever “they” my be) and how “they” need to be punished? How often do I ignore my own bad behavior? I may not have a “hidden room” filled with detestable images and idols, but God is still watching how I react to challenging times. He knows if I am obeying His voice or merely pretending to follow Him while leaning on my own understanding or my own image of self-righteousness. He knows if I have made money, politics, status, safety, health, or even “religion” into idols, hoping that one or more of them will carry me through tough times. He knows if I am condemning others for their bad behavior, while hiding or justifying my own.
I want everyone to see me when I am noble and righteous–but I need to see myself as He sees me every day–His much-loved, and ever-needy, child.
Father, may I be quick to remember that You ALWAYS see me– and that You ALWAYS want me to see You as well. Help me to see You in the middle of challenging times. Help me to see You when I interact with others. Help me to obey You in the private moments when no one else is watching.
I sat down to pray this morning. My phone rang. Somewhere a dog barked. I suddenly remembered I had to swap out the laundry. I got distracted by the breakfast dishes…
My call was from someone I love– someone I was going to pray for anyway. The dog probably belonged to my neighbor– someone else to lift up in prayer. Which reminds me of the woman at church who just lost her beloved pet… I hung up my new sweater; a gift from my husband. How blessed I am! Our dryer is old, but it still works– another blessing. And the dishes–well, we had food to eat this morning. But they can wait until I finish spending time on my knees.
Prayers, like life, get interrupted. But we can see those interruptions as excuses or opportunities.
I saw someone’s prayer request on line– I’ll pray when I get the time. I had a wonderful day, and I feel fine– I’ll praise God, when I get the time.
When I get the time, I’ll kneel down and pour out my heart. When I get the time, I’ll lift up my hands in worship. When I get the time, I’ll really dig in to God’s Word. When I get the time…
I have to find the time to read that new novel, Make another batch of cookies, Call my friend, Look at my Facebook feed, Watch the news, Do a couple of crossword puzzles, And write my blog about prayer…
Lord, forgive me for putting you first in print, but not in deed. Thank you that you offer me a chance to use my time more wisely. Thank you for the opportunities to spend time with you– and with those you love so much. Help me to count my days (Psalm 90:12), that I may apply my heart to wisdom, and not just busy-ness.
In the U.S. and Canada, it is “Groundhog” Day: on this day, tradition says that if a groundhog (a rodent also known as a woodchuck) comes out of its burrow and sees its shadow, we will have six more weeks of winter. (If it doesn’t see its shadow, we’re supposed to have an earlier spring, but I have never known this to be the case.) Supposedly, the groundhog is frightened of its shadow and returns to hibernate for six weeks. It seems sort of counter-intuitive: a sunny day should indicate that spring is just around the corner. Seeing its shadow should be a “good” sign for the groundhog.
Today is also a special day in the global Church calendar. Known as “Candlemas” or Presentation Day, it represents the day that Jesus was presented in the Temple and Mary went through the purification rites required for Jewish women after the birth of a son. (see Leviticus 12:1-8; Luke 2:22-40) The gospel writer includes two other encounters that took place in the Temple courts. A man named Simeon, and a woman named Anna both offer praises for this child– the fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecy, dating back to the Mosaic Laws. And Simeon also offers a warning to Mary– a “shadow” of things to come and prophecies yet to be fulfilled (v. 35).
Winter can be dreary, and filled with shadows– both real and figurative, natural and spiritual. But shadows only appear when there is also light. May we be reminded on this day– whether it is a day of shadows, sunshine, or cloud cover– that Jesus came to be the “Light” of the world. And we should never be “afraid of our own shadow.” Indeed, as we cast our own shadows through our words and actions, may they point others toward the true light. And as we face the shadows that fall in our way, may we remember that they are only that– shadows– Light has overcome the darkness!
When I was a young woman, I prayed for patience. Several well-meaning friends and family tried to tell me that this was a mistake. “Be careful what you pray for,” they said. It was their belief that, if I prayed for patience, God would send situations into my life that would force me to be patient. God doesn’t “give” patience, they warned–He merely teaches us to be patient.
I wanted more patience, in preparation for marriage and children; I wanted to be a patient wife and mother. But I was unprepared for this reaction of others. DON’T ask God for something good? Isn’t patience (long-suffering) one of the attributes listed as the “Fruit of the Spirit?”(Galatians 5:23-24) Why should I hesitate, or fear to ask God for something that will help me serve Him better?
Looking back, I suppose some of those same friends and family might say, “I told you so!” I’m sure they wanted a happy and easy future for me– one that didn’t include some of the challenges that I have had to face. And in their eyes, I was “tempting fate” to draw attention to my lack of patience. On the surface, it probably looks like that’s exactly what happened. I never had any children; I didn’t marry until I was in my mid-40s, and I have learned patience in many areas through many challenges.
But that’s just one perspective. What if I hadn’t prayed that prayer? Would God have let me drift through life without “needing” more patience? Would I have “avoided” the years of loneliness and lack of children? Would I have married and had a family and lived happily ever after without having to learn patience? Would my life have been totally different? Or would my circumstances have been the same, except that I never would have learned patience–never sought to become more patient during the same trials and challenges? What kind of life might I have had WITHOUT patience?
During the years that I was single, I worked full-time in youth-oriented jobs– teaching and serving in the youth department at a library. I learned patience by disciplining teenagers, cleaning up after toddlers, answering the same questions twenty times a day, and dealing with obstinate parents! I suffered with my students when one of their classmates died; and when it happened again the next year. I agonized with my student who chose to keep her baby after those close to her wanted her to have an abortion. And I rejoiced with her when she brought her son to visit me a year later. I suffered the frustration of parents whose children were rebellious, or had learning issues, or had been diagnosed with autism or ADHD. But I also endured the long nights when I had no little ones to tuck in or talk to (and learned to be thankful for the nights I didn’t have to deal with fever and sickness, or arguing–again– about the rules of the house!) But in the course of my work, I connected with hundreds of children and teens. They were never “mine” to hold or scold or say, “I love you”, but they touched my life, and I hope that I touched theirs as well. I didn’t choose my career path knowing that I would never become a “mom.” But I needed (and learned) patience in the process. I learned patience in the years I spent single–and I learned to appreciate my husband in ways I wouldn’t have as a young woman.
There IS some truth to the phrase, “Be careful what you pray for.” When we pray, we should pray for things that align with His will– like wisdom, patience, courage, or peace. We should not pray for things that contradict His will– instant popularity, wealth without work, or relationships or circumstances that dishonor Him. We should also be prepared for God to answer in the way He deems best–which may not look or feel like what we desired. It was His best for me not to marry young or have children of my own. He has since blessed me with a wonderful husband and step-children and grandchildren. But He might have chosen not to. And I would still thank Him for the life I have led. It’s been fantastic. I’ve met amazing people, had amazing opportunities, and traveled to wonderful places. I don’t feel like God ever “punished” me for asking for patience– instead, I feel that He has more than answered my prayer. That doesn’t mean that I have learned to be perfectly patient in every situation (just ask my husband!) But God is eternally good and faithful to give us what is in our best interest– if we ask, AND if we trust His answer more than our expectation. (see Hebrews 11:6; John 17; 1 Peter 5:7)
Don’t be too afraid or too proud to ask God for any good thing. God will not only give you what you need, He will be with you every step of the way as you learn and grow, and develop into the person He wants you to be!
In just a few hours, we will begin a new year. And, while the calendar will change, and some of us will make resolutions to change habits or behaviors, most things around us will stay pretty much the same. I will look in the mirror and see the same wrinkles, find the same clothes in my closet, the same food in my refrigerator, and the same bills waiting to be paid.
But there will come a day when all things will be new–new heaven, new earth– no more bills or wrinkles or failed resolutions. No more calendars! No more regrets or missed deadlines; no unfinished projects waiting to be done; no more dirty laundry waiting to be washed; no leftovers to be eaten; no apologies to make; no pain or sorrow to “deal with” as we go through another day. So many things will be different, and so many wonderful things will be even better–better understanding; better relationships; better bodies; better nature; better “future”– eternity!
It can be exciting to imagine what that “all thing new” will be like. And it can be frustrating to look around and see all that remains “wrong” with our current situation. But God is ALREADY making things new– He is working in and around and even through us! When we follow Him, we are already becoming who we are meant to be for eternity.
In this “new” year, we can trust in God’s ability to transform us from the inside-out– to begin changing our outlook, our attitude, and our thinking to align with His. May we look forward to this new vision as we watch the days unfold.
God always finishes what He starts. He always completes His tasks, fulfills His promises, and wraps up the loose ends.
As I look back over the past year, I see many tasks that I wish were “finished.” I would like to know that my days of washing dishes, sweeping floors, folding laundry, returning phone messages, etc., were done! Of course, that would mean that my daily life was also finished here on earth! Some tasks here just don’t “end.” I also see many tasks which should be completed, but aren’t–projects started and abandoned, tasks on pause until I can get the right supplies, or tasks left behind because something unexpected and more urgent came along.
God is faithful in all things. So it is possible for Jesus to say, “It is finished,” as He breathed His last on the cross– even though we still experience life in a fallen world. His word is trustworthy and true, so we know that the work is/will be accomplished and completed. But God is also faithful in the daily tasks that He does– sunrises, seasons, Mercies that are “new every morning.” He does not abandon the work of forgiving, redeeming, sustaining, or transforming lives.
We are NOT God, but we should strive to finish what we start. Part of that is recognizing our human limitations. We may not finish everything we dream of doing today. But we can work to finish each task, and take each step in faith and dependence on the One who does all things well. And we can purpose to run our race with courage and confidence, knowing that God will give us what we need to keep moving ahead.
“Father, today I pray that You would help me to finish those tasks that are necessary– both the daily tasks, and the long-term projects You have for me to do. Help me to be diligent in the things I can do, and to trust You in the things I cannot do on my own. As I look forward to another year, help me to learn from Your example, and to seek Your wisdom each day, from start to “finish!”
My paternal grandmother was born in Shanghai. But not the Shanghai most people think of. Not a great Eastern city of importance, but a tiny settlement called Shanghai (or Shanghai Corners) in southwestern Michigan. It doesn’t have a post office; it’s not even listed on most maps. And it wasn’t named directly after the great Chinese city– it was named after a breed of chicken (most likely the breed now known as Cochin)!
Jesus wasn’t born in Jerusalem. He wasn’t born in Rome or Athens, or New York City or London or Johannesburg or Tokyo. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It wasn’t as small as Shanghai Corners, Michigan, but it wasn’t a city of great importance, wealth, or industry. And yet, it was the place where history would be reshaped. Our modern calendar divides into what happened before that night in Bethlehem and what came after. More than two thousand years later, no event has been able to displace it as the pivotal event of recorded history.
And this division wasn’t caused by a revolution, or a series of wars. It wasn’t shaped by disaster or plague, victory or catastrophe. It came silently with the birth of a single baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed into a makeshift bed. But all the years revolve around that single birth. All the great triumphs of history– the moon landing, the invention of the printing press, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the building of the Sphinx–all are placed in the context of the arrival of God in human form. God stepped into the limits of human history, and the timeline was permanently altered. Before His appearance, prophets and seers looked forward. After His arrival, history looks back. But His birth is the focal point; the period. The end of the Beginning and the beginning of the End.
The hopes of all the ancients–shrouded in mists and wonder– were given flesh and bones. The fears– dark and amorphous– were blinded by the light of His Presence.
What hopes and fears are we carrying today? Our hopes have a name– Jesus; Emmanuel! Our fears have nowhere to hide from His power. And this wondrous gift, while it first arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, reaches around the entire Earth– to Shanghai, and Shanghai Corners; New Delhi, and St. Petersburg; Dallas and Buenos Aires; Cairo and Caraballo; Los Angeles and Lagos; and thousands of small towns in between.
“Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in: Be born in us today.”
4 But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, 5 to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children
6 At just the right time Christ died for ungodly people. He died for us when we had no power of our own.
Romans 5:6 (New International Reader’s Version–emphasis added)
Do you ever wonder at God’s timing throughout the Bible? Why did He take the Israelites up to the edge of the Red Sea and THEN send the entire Egyptian army after them? Why did He allow Haman to trick the king into signing an edict that would wipe out the Jews and THEN send Esther to try to save them? Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus was dead to visit His sick friend? Or God’s timing in our own lives? Why didn’t He make it possible to get the job I wanted when I first applied, instead of nearly a year later? Why is life so stressful all at once? Why does God seem to give me wisdom AFTER I’ve messed up? And yet, God’s timing is perfect. Not that it seems that way–in fact, it often seems like God is not paying attention to timing at all.
Even in Christ’s birth, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been worse–Joseph and Mary forced to travel far from home, only to find that there was no room anywhere for them to rest. And then– THEN–the labor pains began! It was cold, dark, filthy, lonely, and frightening. And not just that evening: the Romans ruled a significant portion of the world with an iron fist. Jews were not forbidden from worshipping God, but they were heavily taxed, regulated, and watched over by their invaders. This newest census was just another part of the bureaucracy and endless government red tape. It seems like it would be the worst timing ever for Emmanuel to appear.
And yet, Scripture says it was “just the right time” for Christ to come. So what can we discover about this “right time?”
God had been silent for 400 years before this– almost exactly the same amount of time the Israelites had been in captivity in Egypt before God sent Moses to lead them out. Coincidence? I’m not so sure…God uses patterns to illustrate concepts. Just as the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians, so all of us were slaves to Sin and Death. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” John 3:14 (New American Standard Bible)
The prophets made hundreds of statements about where and how Emmanuel would be born– some seemed completely contradictory; yet they were all fulfilled exactly. Again, this wasn’t a coincidence– God orchestrated events over centuries until it was “the right time” for them to all come to pass. Only God could have coordinated it all–the census, the genealogy of Jesus, Joseph’s hometown, Mary’s contractions coming THAT night in THAT cattle shed, instead of on the road somewhere, or in a private room where the shepherds couldn’t visit…
The Jewish people had been in exile off and on throughout the centuries; under Rome, even though they were conquered, most of the Jews who had returned to their homeland were still living there, much as they had centuries before. That wasn’t the case four or five hundred years before– it isn’t even the case today– more Jewish people live outside of Israel than in it!
Rome had established its rule over most of the Western World– and with it, they had established a system of roads, common currency, and a complex legal system. All of this played vital roles in the advent of the Savior– from His birth, through His ministry, and even in His trial, death, and the spreading of the Gospel. Before them, the Greeks had established cities and trading centers that would form the basis of the first missionary trips of the Apostle Paul. And they had created a “common” language in which this Good News was first written and spread. Just a few hundred years earlier, the spread of Christianity through letters and traveling ministers would have been much slower, less efficient, and more dangerous. Just a few hundred years later, the Roman Empire would be in shambles; travel would require going through regions separated by differing languages and governments.
To me, one of the most fascinating things to imagine is what it might be like if Christ had not come until our own time. First, there would be no Christianity, and none of the work of Christians over the centuries would have been done. But even if we imagine that all of history had unfolded and the present was much as it is, Christ’s birth would not have happened in the same way. Bethlehem would not be under the rule of Rome. In fact, Israel might not even exist; as it is, it exists in hot contention between the Jews, the Palestinians, and their close neighbors in the Middle East. There would be no census, and no need for Joseph and Mary to travel– and certainly not by donkey! There might be “no room at the inn,” but Joseph and Mary would be sent to a homeless shelter, filled with other hapless travelers. The shepherds, seeing angels, might still be filled with fright– mistaking them for missiles! Even so, it would only take minutes for a team of journalists to arrive with cameras, microphones, and commentary! The message of the angels would be dubbed “false” information or “fake news”, as would most of the prophecies about His arrival. “Fact checkers” would “kill” the story, and Mary, Joseph, and all the shepherds and wise men would be “cancelled” or receive threats.
Or not–I can only speculate. But I can say with confidence that God’s timing, even when it seems odd or “wrong” by our limited perspective, is perfect and worthy of our praise. All that seems “odd” or “wrong” about Christ’s coming when, where, or how He did, is just our limited perspective, and our tendency to doubt whatever we don’t understand.
Emmanuel came! He came at “just the right time” to fulfill all the promises and complete His ministry on Earth. Everything happened just as God designed it. And over two thousand years later, we still “Rejoice!” We sing songs, celebrate, and worship. We breathe in Hope, we give gifts, and we cherish the story of Christmas in hundreds of different ways.
This same God has a plan for us today. Throughout our lives, He sends blessings, allows struggles, and patiently stands by, offering help and hope to each of us. There is not a single detail of our lives that escapes His notice or is beyond His capacity or willingness to restore, transform, redeem, or renew.