While shepherds kept their watching O’er silent flocks by night, Behold throughout the heavens There shone a holy light
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
The shepherds feared and trembled When lo above the earth Rang out the angel chorus That hailed our Savior’s birth;
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
Down in a lowly manger The humble Christ was born; And God sent out salvation That blessed Christmas morn.
When I was a seeker I sought both night and day I sought the Lord to help me And He showed me the way.
He made me a watchman Upon the city wall And If I am a Christian I am the least of all.
Go, tell it on the mountain Over the hills and everywhere Go, tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born.
During the Christmas season, we often focus on giving. And it’s certainly appropriate. But there is another aspect of Christmas that sometimes gets overlooked– Telling.
Christ came to earth humbly, but he didn’t come secretly. Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds; stars aligned and shone brightly as a signal to the wise men. Prophets had foretold his coming for centuries. John the Baptist even went ahead of Jesus, baptizing and preparing his hearers for the good news yet to come. The earliest followers of Christ were eager to tell of his words, his deeds, and his glorious resurrection. Many lost their lives doing so.
If the birth of Christ was reason to fill the night sky with songs and wonders, reason enough to send angels and stars, prophets and messengers; what about the news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension? Why do we allow this amazing news to sit on a dusty shelf, unopened and unshared? Or treat it like a secret, good news for only the few, the righteous?
We have the greatest news in all of history– more important than any political scandal, more amazing than the latest technology, more joyous than any other announcement imaginable. Emmanuel– God WITH US–He came, he lived, worked, spoke, laughed, shared, loved, cried, ate, slept, and died, WITH US. And he died and rose so that we could continue to live WITH HIM!
God didn’t send all the signs and wonders– he didn’t come into the world to be a guilty secret. And though there is still a risk involved in proclaiming the gospel, it is no less good, and no less NEWS now than it was nearly 2000 years ago. Let’s TELL it! SHOW it! POST it! SING it out!– Everywhere!
Father, Thank you for this wonderful news. Thank you for the Greatest Gift–Yourself. Give us hearts filled with joy and courage, and lips eager to share your grace and love with those we meet. Help us to be faithful messengers of that grace and love; transparent and true in word and deed. May every mountain and valley, forest, meadow, desert and ocean ring with the hope and glory of your nativity, your ministry, and your death and resurrection.
For God So Loved the World 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 English Standard Version (ESV)
From the very beginning, God has been a giver of good gifts. He created a beautiful world, teeming with life and joy. He gave mankind dominion over this beautiful creation, and even when we rebelled and fell short of our calling, God gave us promises of restoration and renewal. He gave His words and demonstrations of His character and goodness as He interacted with His chosen people. He took a childless man and promised to make him the father of many nations. He took His people through the wilderness and provided for their every need– from their heads to their sandal-shod toes.
God’s greatest gift was himself– and He gave everything He had to give.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 New International Version (NIV)
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving today– but there is great reason to give thanks every day for this indescribable gift!
Thanksgiving is so much more than turkey dinners or football on TV or shopping. It is a lifestyle and an attitude that recognizes the God who gives lavishly, lovingly, eternally, and to the very last measure.
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.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you ask most people what they need, you will not hear the items listed in this passage of scripture. Most people view needs in very personal and concrete terms– food, water, shelter, safety, air…we need these to exist during our life on earth. God cares about our physical and most basic needs. But most people have other “needs” that they try to meet with what the Apostle Peter refers to here as “evil desires”. We “need” to feel loved– but we end up in unhealthy relationships, or fleeting relationships that don’t meet our need. We “need” to feel secure and worthwhile– but we end up feeling fearful and ashamed. We “need” to achieve; to find fulfillment and worth in our actions, words, relationships, and legacy–but, too often, our efforts lead us to compromise the very dreams and ambitions we started with, leading us to mediocrity or even disaster.
Jesus, through His divine power, has given us everything we need–everything! His death and resurrection provided the way for us to find true forgiveness and new life. We won’t find it in any of the things we think we “need”– a new job, or a new relationship; a new car or a new cause.
Over the years, I have returned to this passage many times. There is a lot to unpack in just a few verses. One of the things that always “gets” me about this passage is that I want to just leap from Faith to Love without the steps in-between. The world needs love– I need love– and I want to spread love, reflect love, and be known for loving others. God is Love, and showed His love through Christ– I believe in God and trust Christ. Voila!– He has given me everything I need, so I should be loving. But Peter writes what he knows very well. Following Jesus, learning from Him, growing to be more like Him–it begins with Faith, but it grows through discipleship. I “loved” people before I had Faith in Christ. I may “feel” love for others, but if my thoughts and actions are not being transformed by His Spirit; or if I continue to act out of habit or selfish impulse, my “love” will be corrupted and compromised by the world. It will be “my” love and not God’s love working through me. For that to happen, I need to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and all the rest.
And adding these virtues requires that I humble myself to admit that I am not “good”, that I don’t already “know” everything…that I “need” to depend on God for any goodness, wisdom, discipline, strength to persevere, etc.
God is Good– He has already made provision for me to have everything I really need. He will guide me every step of the way; giving me all that I need when and how I need it most. I don’t “need” to worry or run myself ragged trying to earn God’s approval or favor. But I do “need” to trust that God will continue to work in me and through me for His Glory. And I need to come daily before His throne to listen and learn from Him, and reach out daily to go through the steps of turning Faith into Love in action.
In this blog, I try to focus on three basic aspects of prayer:
The purpose of prayer
The power of prayer and
The practical pursuit of prayer.
Today, I’d like to just put in a plug for journals as a very practical way to pursue a better prayer life. For a more detailed list of ideas to get started, please see this page: Prayer Journal
Journals are as individual as the people who create them, but the very practice of writing and keeping a journal has certain universal benefits.
It develops discipline. Prayer should be a daily practice, but having a journal can provide structure, accountability, and motivation. Writing down requests, answers to prayer, questions I want to bring before God, even feelings or events of the day, can help establish a routine and a reason to come back to the same place (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) each day.
It serves as a focus for each day’s prayers. There are times when prayer is difficult–maybe the stresses of the day are distracting; maybe I just can’t think how to begin because there are so many thoughts running through my head or needs that I want to bring up. If I begin with items in my journal, and add others to a list, it can be easier to bring order, focus, and steadiness.
It serves as a witness and testimony. One of the values of writing things down is that it gives me a chance to look back and review. Sitting down every few weeks or months can reveal how many times God has answered prayers that I’ve already forgotten about. It can also show how my ongoing prayers for certain situations may reveal changes God has made in my own heart and my own thinking, which sometimes helps me see why God didn’t “answer” my prayer when or how I imagined.
It serves as a reminder of God’s general faithfulness. In times of doubt or pain, it can be encouraging to see and remember how God has helped or healed so many others around me. Even if it brings up questions, like “Why did you heal that person, and not me”, in the end, there are mountains of examples of God’s care and faithfulness that allow me to see that He works “All things” together for good. All of which can be written in and added to the journal as a further reminder!
It serves as a reminder of God’s specific faithfulness. If I look at the list of people and situations in the past and present, I am often overwhelmed at the amount of love that God has showered on me in the form of friends, family, opportunities to meet and be inspired, or share and give kindness. In big ways and small ways, God has brought in and through my life miracles, amazement, and blessings– so very many. It is tragic that I can so easily dismiss such blessings, or be distracted by the same worries and fears that God has brought me through in the past. The journal sparks powerful memories of God’s enduring love for each one of us.
It convicts. As I mentioned above, it is tragic to think that I can so easily be dissuaded and discouraged by present troubles, when there is so much clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in the past. But the journal can also show times when I have been unfaithful or lacking in faith. This is important, not to beat myself up or become despondent, but to turn me back from such behavior and help me get back on track.
It inspires. As mentioned above, each person’s journal is unique and personal. God has given each of us passions and interests that can be brought into our prayer journal. If I have a heart for missions, I can include prayer requests from missionaries of my acquaintance, or from web sites. I can research cities and nations and people groups being reached by missions organizations. If I have a passion for art, I can include drawings and sketches that flow out of my worship time. My journal (and yours) can be filled with unique expressions of our heart for God– our deepest questions, hopes, worries, aspirations, and worship.
If you don’t already keep a prayer journal, I hope you will consider starting one. It’s never too late or “the wrong time” to start one, and it can be as personalized as you wish– keep a notebook, a sketch pad, index cards, a electronic journal, a calendar– whatever works best for your resources, your personality, and your needs.
Everything I thought I wanted
Was more important than
Spending time in prayer that day.
The noise of the radio in the background;
The daydreams and worries in my head-
That still small voice.
As the day passed by
My thoughts and actions
Nowhere to be found.
My worries and fears
UNTIL– I saw Your power in someone else’s life, giving ever increasing
My worries and fears–
(Nowhere to be found).
My thoughts and actions
As the day passed by.
That still small voice
The daydreams and worries in my head;
The noise of the radio in the background.
Spending time in prayer that day
Was more important than
Everything I thought I wanted.
Last Friday, I attended a high school football game in my home town. It was homecoming, complete with floats and balloons, face paint, and screaming fans (myself included).
My hometown team is having a fantastic season so far– their record is 6 and 0, and they are winning by wide margins each week. I’m a little biased, not only since this is my home town, but because I have a nephew and a cousin on the team! They have already qualified for a spot in the playoffs for their division, and they have dreams of becoming state champions.
I hope they make it. I pray that they will play their best; that they will stay safe and healthy, too. I want them to win, and I think they have a good chance. But the season’s not over yet. They still have to play a couple of tough teams in the regular season, and they will face stiff competition in the playoffs.
As good as they have been so far, the teammates and coaches will still drill, train, and learn how to adjust the way they play based on whatever the next game throw at them. Next week’s team may be better at passing, or rushing. Their players may be bigger, or more agile, or more experienced than others. The weather conditions may play a bigger role next week.
All that to say that we all go through seasons– sometimes even “winning” seasons– and each one requires that we prepare, work, train, and persevere until the season is over. Some of us are facing a season of trials and losses–we’re waiting and hoping for the season to end. And it will. But the season’s not over yet. Stay in the game– keep praying, keep training, and keep believing that there will be a new season of hope. Some of us are in a season of victory! That’s great, but the season’s not over yet. Stay focused– keep training and preparing, and learning, knowing that there will come a season of trial. Some of us are watching others in their success–but the season’s not over yet. Stop comparing– reach out and connect. Show respect; show compassion.
This is true in all areas of life– there are seasons in our education, seasons in parenting and relationships, seasons in our careers and service, seasons in politics, economics, and even in our faith walk. And in every season, God is there. Like a proud parent or an ardent fan, He is cheering you on; like a great coach, He gives guidance and instruction; like a cherished teammate, He has your back. In all of this, God roots for all His children– not that some will “win” and others will “lose”, but that all will learn to play their very best and become “victors”.
No matter what kind of season we are in, or where we are in our season, we should remember a few things:
Life is both an individual and a team activity. None of us can “win” on our own, nor can we expect the team to “carry” us to victory without any effort on our part.
We can’t see the end from the beginning (or even the middle). But God can. And we can trust His guidance and His timing, even if we don’t see the whole picture.
God goes not see “winning” and “losing” in the same way the world judges it. What looks like “winning” to us may be superficial and false. What feels like losing may be building a Godly character that will overshadow the temporary struggles of this season.
Seasons come and go, but not everyone experiences them the same way or at the same time. In other words, don’t compare your winning swim season to someone else’s losing soccer season, or your dry summer to someone else’s monsoon season. Instead, focus on your own season and your own growth. Don’t close yourself off to others– you may have an opportunity to give or accept help, advice, training, and encouragement along the way–but don’t let others become more powerful (or less worthy of respect) than they really are.
At the end of the “season”, if we know Jesus Christ, we will share in the ultimate victory. The celebration that occurs over each person who comes to Christ makes any celebration here on earth seem dull and timid–no amount of parade floats, lights, fireworks, screaming fans, balloons, or other excitement can compare to the joy of welcoming a lost soul into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system. It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings! It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear. It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna. Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings. Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.
Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.” Most people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.” I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection. But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly). It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here. Still wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time. It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good. In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day. We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking. I rely on it for this blog.
When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi and Wi-Fi . Both are important, but they are not the same.
High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer. Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face. Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers. Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime. Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day. Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week. To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group? It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.
High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune. And they depend on being “plugged in” to our power source!
Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer. It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate. In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason. Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”. It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!) It can happen alone or with a group. It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news. It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.
But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted. Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do. We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning. “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.” There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean? Isn’t Jesus always with us? Why is protection always a “hedge”? Which promises are you claiming? Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning. But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator. There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter. We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke. Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!
Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.
On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN! There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to hear from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy. God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next. There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history. But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. How? Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation. The one caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.
We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!
It’s homecoming season–in small towns around the area, high school football stadiums are being turned into parade grounds as students decorate floats, dress up, rally, and prepare for a chilly Friday night game. Hot cider, coffee, or cocoa, hot dogs, caramel apples, donuts; hats, scarves, and sweatshirts with team logos; scores of alumni in the stands to cheer on the home team and share memories of years gone by. Young and old will cheer themselves hoarse hoping for a victory, and the band will play fight songs, as the cheerleaders jump and shout with all their might. Fans will argue the calls of the refs, and discuss the plays and players. Some eyes will be glued to the action on the field, while others will be looking around for familiar faces, and greeting old friends.
Some people are more “into” sports than others, but there is a contagious excitement on Homecoming night for almost anyone. People are stirred up; pulses are racing, hope and anticipation run high.
What happens on Friday night should be what happens on Sunday mornings…
Do we “come home” to church with an air of excitement and anticipation? Do we expect victory? Are we eagerly looking for faces in the crowd? Discussing the “action on the field” of spiritual warfare? Do we pray with the same enthusiasm as we use to cheer on a high school football team? Do we even know the other members of our team? Or have we stopped showing up for the game, expecting defeat and shame, or shrugging our shoulders– “After all, it’s just a game…”