Just a Minute…

I stumbled upon a site that promotes a concerted minute of prayer for our nation.  In the light of upcoming mid-term elections, recent violent outbreaks in some of our cities, and other urgent issues, there are movements afoot to unite American Christians in our prayer efforts.

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National Minute of Prayer Home

The National Minute of Prayer is based on an effort carried out in England during World War II.  I want to be careful in promoting this idea– I DO NOT believe that God is swayed solely by people praying to Him in large numbers or at certain times– God sees our hearts and knows our minds.  He wants hearts that are sincere, humble, and attuned to His will, and He will act, not on our desires, but on His own knowledge of what is truly best for our individual lives, for our nation(s), and for our world.

Still, I think this is a good idea, even though I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas and aspects of the blog.  I don’t believe there is anything magical or super spiritual about any given minute or hour of the day, so if the chosen hour of 9 p.m. (ET/8 p.m.CT, etc.) doesn’t work for you, or you can’t commit to a single minute during the day, just commit to pray for a solid minute at least once each day.  I think the value of a project like this is in the commitment and the community–even as individuals search for a closet or a quiet corner to seek God’s face, the knowledge that others are doing the same adds to our commitment and our courage.

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There are dozens of websites, blogs, and videos with similar programs and suggestions.  Find one and consider following or joining!

And this doesn’t just apply to a particular nation facing a particular time of crisis.  Christians living in Australia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji, Greenland, Haiti… you get the idea– can set aside one minute every day to pray for their nation and its leaders.

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Think what it would mean to the heart of God to hear His children praying in unison for healing and justice to be done around the world in our home nations!  Think what would happen if we set aside just one more minute to pray for the Church universal!

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Passport Prayers

I get to travel every day.  I journal my prayers in a daily notebook.  Prayer Journal  (click here to get ideas or learn more)  Each day has a heading and four sections– one for birthdays or other “memory days”; one for thematic prayers (generalized themes like “family”, “community”, “global concerns”, “culture”, etc.); one for urgent requests, and one for a region of the world–nations, major cities, local communities.  On busy days, I send a short prayer and try to remember what I know, or imagine what I’d like to know, about that area.  Some days, I have the luxury of time to look up information or history about that area– what is the language, capital city, literacy rate, average age, major religion, geography, economy, etc.

Our world is full of wonder, variety, crisis, and opportunity–I want to add all of this to my pursuit of prayer. It reminds me of several things:

  • I am not the center of the universe– my issues and problems are not unique or exceptional.
  • God has placed me here to interact with others–I can’t reach out and connect with 6 billion others, but I can become more aware of their needs and way of life.
  • The world is a big place–seeing it on the screen via the internet sometimes causes me to forget that.  And as I see how big the world is, I also need to remember that God is even bigger!
  • The world is full of variety.  Not everyone lives or thinks or worships as I do.  Not everyone faces the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same struggles.  Yet God sees and hears each one who calls on him.  He doesn’t have trouble understanding languages and dialects– he doesn’t get culture shock.  He is not an American Jesus, or a Brazilian Jesus, or a Korean Jesus.  He’s not an urban Jesus or a remote mountain village Jesus, or a gated community Jesus.  When we enter eternity, we will share it with amazing brothers and sisters from every corner of creation.  He’s got the whole world in his hands!

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  • Many millions of people around the globe have never heard the Gospel– or they’ve heard lies and misrepresentations.  Millions of other believers are being persecuted for believing in Jesus or for sharing the good news of Salvation in His Name. People in every nation, every community, are suffering.
  • We are commanded, as Christians, to “go into all the world” and preach the gospel.  I may not be able to travel to “all the world”, but I can “go” in prayer, sharing on-line, and  learning about needs, as well as in sending out and praying for those who can travel.
  • I am grateful for the opportunities God has given me– to learn about him and worship him in freedom; to travel and participate on short-term mission opportunities; to meet and share with missionaries, travelers, students, foreign workers, and others who share their culture and knowledge and perspectives; and for the global work of the Savior, and my privilege to share in it.

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Time to pack my bags– I’m heading to Germany tomorrow!

Puzzling Prayers

Have you ever had one of those days where things just don’t seem to make sense?  It doesn’t have to be a “bad” day, necessarily–just a day when things don’t seem to “fit.”  I had one of those days yesterday.

I journal my prayer life– I have notebooks with names and places for each day of the year.  Yesterday, my notebook included the city where my daughter lives and the names of three people celebrating birthdays, among other needs.  One of the names was a complete mystery to me.  I couldn’t remember who this person was, or how I knew either her or her name…I was drawing a blank and didn’t know how I should pray for her.  Was she a former classmate? Was she a daughter or mother or sister of someone I knew better?  I ended up praying a very general prayer– for her health, her family, etc., but it bothered me.

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Hours later, speaking with someone on the phone, another name came up, along with a prayer request– a man suffering with an illness who happened to have the same surname.  Coincidence?  Possibly, but the name stood out, and I prayed again– for both.  Now I was really curious.  I did some digging.  The first person WAS the sister of someone I knew, and their father is the one suffering from an illness.

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God is amazing, and one way is how he gives us the opportunity for “a-ha!” moments like the one I had yesterday.  I have spoken to several Christians who are sometimes separated by several time zones from those they normally call on for help or advice.  In crisis moments, they have cried out to God.  Thousands of miles away, someone will be awakened from a sound sleep with a sudden urge to pray for their distant friend, or another will be stopped in their tracks and send up a random prayer as their mind wanders.  Often, this will be in the exact moment of the crisis, and God will intervene with a miraculous healing or rescue or provision.  Days later, the two parties will connect and be astonished at the timing.

What used to puzzle me about such prayers was this– if God already knows the need, and plans to act, why involve the second (or third) party?  Because stories like this, while impressive and inspiring for those who believe, rarely cause a skeptic to come to faith, and aren’t necessary for those who already believe.

I think God has many answers, and I know I don’t have all of them, but here are three things I believe God is doing through such puzzling circumstances and outcomes:

  • While it doesn’t turn a skeptic into a believer, it DOES give the skeptic something to explain away– one such instance might be ignored as coincidence, but five?  two hundred?  And we have a Biblical precedent in the book of Acts, chapter 12, when Peter is rescued from prison and shows up at the very house where believers are praying for his release!  Even they didn’t believe at first, and left Peter out in the cold!
  • It IS an inspiration and an encouragement as a follower of Christ to know that he not only hears our prayers, but he recruits others to think about us, bear our burdens, and share in our trials.
  • Last (on my short list; I’m sure God has many other wonderful answers I haven’t imagined yet), I believe that God’s purpose for us involves communion– eternally living, sharing, and loving together with Him and with each other.  It is one of the highest honors and greatest privileges to be involved in God’s work through prayer…it is something we all can do, anywhere, anytime, but it requires being humble and willing to stop what we’re doing, commit our moments and our hearts in prayer for others (sometimes without knowing why!), and trust God to do all that we cannot.

Prayer sometimes seems puzzling, but that’s because we don’t see all the answers– yet.  Someday, what a marvelous and miraculous picture will unfold– and we have the opportunity to fill in the gap; to be the answer to 34-down; to be the missing piece of the pine tree in the upper right corner– to answer the call and finish the puzzle!

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Praying for Peace

A few years ago, I was introduced to a man from South Sudan, who had come to the U.S. for a missions conference.  Earlier in the evening, he had shared a report on conditions in his region– all the horrible details you dread hearing–displaced families, homeless refugees, orphaned children, shortages of food, clothing, shelter, blankets, and medicine, constant fear of being attacked by one side or another in the ongoing conflict.  Throughout his report, he emphasized the sovereignty of God, and his hope that he and his team could continue to help those most in need.  As I got a chance to speak directly to “Robert” *, I told him that I would pray for peace to come to his region.  I was shocked when he stopped me.  “Please don’t pray for peace,” he told me.  “Pray instead that God would give us the resources and the strength to be faithful and to keep helping.”

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Then he explained.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want peace to come, but he wanted me to pray for whatever God willed for his region.  The Kingdom of God, not earthly peace, was his highest priority and his greatest urgency.  Because of the circumstances of war, people were desperate.  Their world had been turned upside-down, and they were in great need.  But war had also opened up opportunities– not only opportunities to help those in need, but opportunities to show the Love of Christ as it had never been known to the people there.  The people who were coming to refugee camps were meeting, sometimes for the very first time, people from other villages, other cultures, and other faiths– people they had considered enemies.  Suddenly, they were seeing these enemies as fellow sufferers, fellow human beings with the same injuries and losses, needs and longings as themselves.  They were also “seeing through” some of the lies they had believed about “the others” in their midst.  Their circumstances were desperate, but their biggest need was for hope and help.  Help was coming from around the world– United Nations’ agencies, The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and several Christian relief and medical organizations.  These groups had been kept out during peacetime and even in the early stages of fighting.  Not only were they able to help with immediate relief; they were able to provide medical care for victims of AIDS, and childhood diseases, care that had long been denied.  Along with practical help, though, these groups were providing hope– hope to rebuild, hope in the midst of despair and chaos, hope of eternal life and a relationship with God.

“Robert” was not saying that he didn’t long for peace, or that peace would be a bad thing for the people of South Sudan.  Of course not.  But the greatest need was not for an immediate end to fighting– it was for the kind of peace that only God can bring.  As far as I know “Robert” is still working with refugees and displaced families in South Sudan.  The work is difficult and often heartbreaking.  Resources are stretched, and chaos still haunts the land.  But progress is coming– slowly, but surely.  Lives are being changed, reclaimed, and renewed.   And I pray that he and his team are being strengthened and encouraged even as their circumstances continue to be desperate.

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I share this story because I am still learning that Prayer isn’t about what I want or think is best; it isn’t about getting my way, or asking for the easy “fix” or the happy ending.  It’s about seeking God’s will, His way, His answer, His timing, and His grace.  Suffering, whether we are experiencing it or hearing about it, reminds us that we live in a fallen and dying world.  We long for peace.  We long for healing.   We long for rest and comfort and happiness.  But in this world, there will be trouble and injustice, death and disease, pain, suffering, betrayal, and unanswered questions.  We don’t understand God’s timing, his plan in allowing innocent people to suffer the cruelties of war or poverty.  And if we are living in peace and comfort, it makes us feel guilty and even fearful– why them and not us?  When might we face unexpected hardship?  So we ask God to remove all the discomforts, the struggles, the pain.  It is not wrong to want healing and peace and all the other good things– we should seek justice and mercy and peace and joy.  But we also need to recognize that God may choose to bless us in unexpected ways through our hardships and agonies.  And he may be calling some of us to take action– to be His hands and feet– to reach out with the resources he has given us to help others.  He doesn’t love those others less; he doesn’t love us more– he loves to see us love each other in His name!

God’s ways are not my ways; his timing isn’t the same as mine– it is better.  It is perfect. In the end, there will be peace in South Sudan.  There will be Peace on Earth. There will be healing and justice, and peace and joy.  There will be answers for all the questions, and happy endings.   But in the meantime, may God give all of us the strength and resources to help those in need, the faith and discipline to keep going in the midst of chaos, and the wisdom to make peace and spread love wherever and whenever we can.

 

*Because “Robert” is a Christian worker in an area of intense persecution, his true identity is being protected.  Please pray for all those who are risking their lives and livelihoods to live, work, and worship as Christians throughout the world.  And be thankful if you live in an area where you risk little or nothing to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.

“Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…”

Anyone old enough to remember the old TV show, or anyone who has seen the movies with Tom Cruise, will recognize the title quote from Mission Impossible.  A message, containing details of a top secret mission, would be sent to an agent of the CIA.  After the message had been delivered, it would self-destruct, and the agent would set out to save the world from terrorists or other worldwide threats.  It made for exciting entertainment– speeding trains, double agents, close calls with assassins, death-defying stunts, and lots of explosions– all happening in exotic locations around the world.

Prayer doesn’t usually involve death-defying stunts or explosions, but in can involve a mission, and exotic locations.  As I started keeping a prayer journal, I wanted to pray for people around the world– except I’m not a world traveler.  I’ve never been to Fiji or Burundi, Greenland or the Gobi Desert.  I know some missionaries who have lived or are living overseas, and their newsletters are helpful and personal– I can pray for them, for their fellow workers, and for their neighbors and friends and circumstances across the globe.  But I wondered, couldn’t I do more?  What if I set aside one day for every country on earth– to pray for that country and its people even once a year?  That might seem like an impossible mission.  How can I pray effectively for a country if I don’t even know where it is or how to pronounce its name?  Thankfully, I have a lot of help.  The internet is a great resource for finding out about countries, especially those in the news.  But one of my favorite resources is the CIA!pexels-photo-319968.jpeg

The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America is not just in the spy business.  They collect “intelligence”– facts about our world and every country in it–maps, statistics, flags, forms of government, populations, literacy and mortality rates, and so much more.  /https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
By visiting their site, you can find out more about any country in the world, and use that information to pray for very specific needs–countries that have been ravaged by war, disease, faltering economies; those countries facing turmoil from burgeoning immigration or sectarian violence.  You can find out the official language(s) of any country, the approximate breakdown of religious affiliation, the percentage of the population that suffers from obesity, illiteracy, or poverty– even some of the history and social structure. Are there major rivers or mountain ranges in that country?  What natural resources do they have (or not have).

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I don’t spend hours poring over each country each day– sometimes, I just lift up that country by name, knowing that God already knows the needs and situations in each place better than I ever could (even with the help of drones and spies).  But when I have the time, I like to learn more about the amazing diversity of peoples, languages, cultures, and circumstances around the world.  It reminds me that God has all of them in his hand, on his mind, and in his heart at all times.  It’s a big world out there, though it often seems to be shrinking.   God is Bigger!  There are a lot of tragic circumstances and heartbreaking issues around the world.  God is still Sovereign!  There are millions of people in remote and forgotten corners of the world– God sees and cherishes all of them!

I still have my “first world” problems, and personal issues to bring to the throne of Grace, but what a privilege to be able to lift up others– people I have never met in places I will never be able to visit–knowing that I can have a tiny part in the work God wants to do in their lives, as well as in mine.

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