Out of the Same Mouth

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 

James 3:5-10 NIV via biblegateway.com (emphasis added)
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‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’

Epictetus (Greek philosopher)
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Have you ever made a tape of you speaking, and played it back to listen to yourself? Or have you had someone remind you of what you said earlier in the day or week? Have you been astonished to hear what came out of your mouth (or how someone else interpreted your words)? James, the brother of Jesus, had much to say about the dangerous power of an untamed tongue. “Fire”, “poison”, “corrupt”, “restless”, “evil”, and “deadly” are harsh words, but we should heed James’ warning.

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Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing…
Out of the same mouth come worship and complaining…
Out of the same mouth come encouragement and gossip…
Out of the same mouth come blessings and bitterness…
Out of the same mouth come hymns of heaven and threats of hell…

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And it’s not just our mouths, anymore. I see (and have seen it in my own feeds) posts on social media that make me wonder if the person posting is aware of what they posted just minutes or hours before–rants and boasts, complaints and smug condemnation sprinkled with Bible verses about Peace and Love, and pictures of puppies. We copy and paste, write and speak “in the moment” out of the emotions and thoughts that we allow to govern us. And while we may forget our momentary outbursts and random sarcastic comments, others do not. God does not ignore them, either. He can and will forgive them, but He isn’t “fooled” by our gracious cover-ups and flowery quote boxes.

When I pray today, I need to “listen” to what I’ve been saying lately. Do I need to deal with hidden anger or resentment? Do I need to confess (both to God and to someone else) about gossip? Do I need to reconsider the way I speak about my relationships and my achievements (and failures!)?

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The same mouth that praises God should be speaking life, peace, healing, and hope to those around me. The same mouth that promises to follow Christ, should promise to reach out to those for whom He died. The same mouth that gives thanks for Salvation should be eager to share the Good News.

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The tongue is powerful–whether as a weapon or a tool; whether controlled or out of control. God wants to teach us to use it as a tool for good. Not just when we pray, or worship, but every time we use it!

Untie?

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I once saw a cartoon involving a person holding a sign that read, “Bad spellers of the world: UNTIE!” Part of what makes the joke funny (at least to a pun-lover like me) is that all the correct letters are there–just two letters are transposed–but the meanings are completely different. And, of course, the bad speller misspelled the most important word. Instead of asking for unity, the sign invites potential destruction and chaos!

There is a serious side to this cartoon, however. Just like the sign-bearer, we often carry a message that is vastly different from what we mean to project– it may look similar or close to what we intend; it may even go unnoticed at first–but eventually, it will make us look foolish and actually call more attention to our faults and failures.

As Christians, we often pray for unity– we talk about it, we long for it, and we call out for it. But what are we DOING to promote unity and love within the Church? I recently ended my subscription to an on-line forum with articles about Christian Living. I wanted to support discussion, encouragement, and even constructive criticism among the Christian community. But more and more, I found the articles and discussions were not constructive; they were divisive, sarcastic, boastful, and condescending to other believers based on how they worshiped– the kind of songs they sang, or the lighting and seating in their sanctuary, whether they wore suits and dresses or ripped jeans and flip flops, whether they collected offerings or had a diverse worship team. There was no effort to listen or present Biblical principals that might help congregations find a balanced way to discuss differences in worship styles. There was no invitation for consensus or inclusion; no discussion of doctrinal principles or lasting truths that must be upheld. It was a forum for bickering, snide commentary, complaints, and virtue-signaling from self-righteous people taking pot-shots at other self-righteous people. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not unsubscribe earlier–I sent in my own snide comments, my own self-justifying judgments of others.

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The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) includes Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control– it doesn’t include cleverness, arrogance, criticism, or divisiveness!

Ephesians 4:1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=NIV

It is not difficult to let our thoughts and emotions lead us to react badly– to untie, rather than unite. Here are several handy questions to ask BEFORE we grab up our “misspelled” sign and march around spreading dis-unity and chaos:

  • If Jesus were listening to me or reading my posts– and He IS!–would He agree? Would He “like” or “share” this? Would I send it to Him? Would I say this to His face?
  • Have I really thought about what this says to my family? My friends? My neighbors? My enemies? My Pastor? My co-workers? Strangers? Will it bring people together? Or will it force people to take sides? (There are times when we all need to be challenged to take sides on important issues, but is this one of them?)
  • There are some great posters in elementary schools that use the acronym to evaluate social media, but it works equally well for gossip, news articles, or any information or opinion that we wish to pass along– THINK–T: is it True? Have you checked the facts, dates, assertions, etc., to see if they are valid? H–is it Helpful? Is this good information? Am I helping people find a solution to a problem, or offering encouragement? I–is it Inspiring/Important? Am I wasting time passing on information or opinion just because I find it clever or entertaining? Or will this information inspire and build people up?Are lives in jeopardy if I don’t pass this information along or if I don’t comment? N–is it Necessary? Does this information or opinion need to be shared? With everyone? By me? Now? Finally, K–is it Kind? Even if it is “true” and “helpful”, etc., it can be abrasive, hurtful, or condescending in tone. Being “right” can still be “wrong” when it comes to unity and encouragement.
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Lord, help me to speak and act in ways that bring unity. Help me reflect the Grace and Peace that comes from You. Let my words and deeds produce Spiritual Fruit that lasts. May I seek to build up others, not tear them down or “untie” relationships that You want to flourish.

Good Christians of the world– UNITE!

Praying in Anger

Ephesians 4:25-32 English Standard Version (ESV)

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I grew up hearing that anger is a sin.  Yet God experiences anger and wrath.  And the Apostle Paul says in this passage that we are to “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26a).

Anger is an emotion; feeding on anger, wallowing in it, stewing and screaming and acting out under the control of our anger– that is sin.  That is why Paul goes on to say that we should “not let the sun go down on your anger ” (4:26b).  Anger is not a “bad” emotion, but it is a bad master.  We need to take control over our anger to resolve it, and let it go.  In Genesis, God spoke to Cain about this very thing–Cain and his brother Abel had brought sacrifices to God; Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, but Cain’s sacrifice did not find God’s favor.  The sacrifices were voluntary– Cain and Abel were not in competition to see who could bring the “best” sacrifice.  God had not ordered them to bring a sacrifice only to find fault with Cain’s efforts or the way he chose to present the sacrifice.  The scriptures don’t even say that God rebuked Cain or pointed out a flaw in his offering.   He simply found favor with Abel’s offering– Abel had brought the best he had; the firstborn of his flocks.  Cain had brought “some” of his crops.  The difference in the sacrifices had nothing to do with the content or the manner of offering, but in the intent to worship God halfheartedly, instead of wholeheartedly.  God saw that Cain was angry (as well as proud and envious of his brother).  Instead of rebuke, God offered grace and wisdom:

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Genesis 4:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

God doesn’t want us to deny our anger or pretend we are never angry.  But He does want us to acknowledge it, and deal with it.  Why am I angry?  What should I do about it?  Anger can motivate us to do the wrong things, but it can also spur us to change our course, and do something good.  Righteous anger can spur us to speak out about injustice, and seek to correct wrongs.  Anger can lead us to our knees, asking God for direction, strength, or His intervention and justice.  King David often prayed angry prayers asking God to strike down the people who were plotting against him, or those who were doing evil or mocking God’s people.

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I wish I could say that I had mastered this area, but I’m writing as much for my own instruction today as anything else.  Here are some wonderful steps we can and SHOULD take to deal with anger:

  • Pray!  Anger can strangle us, or it can sneak up and suffocate us, but the worst it can do is drive us away from our source of help and hope.  God WANTS us to come to him.  He reached out to Cain in his anger, wanting to draw him near and help him overcome it; He offers us the same help.  God can handle our anger– he can give us the power to let it go, and direct our feelings appropriately.
  • Own it–Angry people tend to deflect responsibility.  Yes, other people can say or do things that make you angry, but they can’t make you say or do sinful things in response to their actions.  You still bear the responsibility for what you do with your anger– even “righteous indignation.”
  • Question it!–This is something I have found helpful.  Just as God asked Cain, ask yourself, “Why am I angry?  Why am I downcast?”  And then, answer them honestly.  Many times, the root of my anger isn’t justified–instead it’s “just a lie”.  I have no right to be angry with someone else when I chose to waste time, cut corners, or neglect to do what was necessary.  I have no right to be angry or outraged because someone else feels differently or sees a different side of an issue.  In fact, if I keep listening instead of exploding, I might find compassion overriding the anger.  I might even learn something new!  Or I might better understand why I feel or think as I do, and be better able to explain it to others, instead of just yelling the same thing over again.

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  • Deal with it–This is a difficult one for me.  I don’t like confrontation.  If someone hurts me, I just want to walk away and lick my wounds.  And we shouldn’t confront others WITH our anger, striking out at them and seeking to hurt them.  But I have found that a lot of anger and hurt that I have harbored is not only unjustified, but is based on misunderstandings and pride.  It takes humility, but it also takes courage to seek out someone to offer an apology you don’t want to give, or to ask for clarification instead of harboring hurt.

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  • Don’t spread it!  “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath”  is not permission to “vent” to seven (or seven hundred) friends by spreading your hurt and outrage  until you feel calmer.  This is particularly true in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  In the short-term, this may seem right– “they need to know what is happening”– but it is just the opposite.  Anger often leads to rash judgments, and hasty actions that we can’t undo or call back.  If you are not talking with the object of resolving a misunderstanding, apologizing, or offering a positive solution, you are engaging in sin.  The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, say nothing at all” applies here.  And it applies about situations and circumstances, too.  I am angry about various practices and policies by governments, companies, even churches; what I need to spread is not my anger about them, but awareness of how God can change them, and why we should be seeking His justice, His righteousness, and His grace toward those who have been impacted by them.

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  • Repent of any anger-related sin.  Remember, anger itself is an emotion.  God experiences it; we are made in His image, so we experience it, too.  The only people who never experience anger are those who have lost their conscience.

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The Weight of Words

Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others.  Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze.  They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away.  Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets.  Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred.  And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.

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One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt.  Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.

 

 

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And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence.  When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.

 

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Our words have weight in prayer.  And our words to others have weight, as well.  Today, I want to weigh my words carefully.  Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care?  If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride?  What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion?  What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?pexels-photo-210012.jpeg

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“This Should Not Be…”

James 3:9-10 New International Version (NIV)

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

I was caught off guard last night, when an acquaintance of ours stopped my husband and me to warn us about one of our new neighbors.  “You know (person x) has been to jail twice for (X crime).”  Our acquaintance then spewed out hateful curses and fears about all the evil that might/could happen now that this new person has come to the neighborhood, and how they don’t “deserve” to live here.  I hope the fears and curses are unfounded or exaggerated.  I didn’t know how to respond–the anger and fear were palpable, and even understandable.  No one wants to live in an area noted for crime.  But…

What caught me off guard about the encounter was not the possibility that we have a neighbor with a criminal history, or that uncovering a person’s criminal past would make someone fearful or angry.  What got to me was the level of spite and viciousness, and the expectation that our reaction would be immediate and profound.

What got to me even more was my actual reaction.  It wasn’t anger at the new neighbor, but suspicion toward my acquaintance.  Why the urgency in spreading this “news”– why the visceral hatred? (The crime in question wasn’t murder, and no details of the crime were related.)  Following close on the heels of this was the thought that this was very much like some of the posts I see on social media or in my e-mail–sensational reports of crimes, and Hate Speech, and scandals–vicious stories, often exaggerated or even untrue, about everyone from people I know or used to know from my hometown, all the way up to heads of state and “respected” celebrities falling from grace.

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And how do I react to those pieces of cyber gossip and internet sensations, and “fake” news reports?  Do I eagerly spread the word, sparing little thought of the worthiness of the information or the consequences to both the guilty and innocent people involved?  Do I ever wonder what would happen if I were the subject of such wildfire rumors or smear campaigns?

Romans 3:13-18 (NIV)

13 Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit. 
The poison of vipers is on their lips.
14     Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.
18  There is no fear of God before their eyes

Is that me?  Do I, with the same mouth that praises and prays to God, curse and spread poison about people made in His image?  People I don’t even know or never have met?  Do I delight in pointing out the worst in others?  Do I rush to shed blood (figuratively) and destroy the lives of other people from the safety and anonymity of my computer or phone?  Do I play judge, jury, and executioner because it makes me feel clever or self-righteous?

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This should not be.

Lord, search me and know my thoughts and words.  Give me the strength to tame my tongue and the fingers that itch to “share” poison and lies and misery.  Help me to know the way of peace, and to speak truth about your grace and your holiness, not what I imagine my own to be.

The “Fake” Good News

I keep hearing about, and seeing reports of “Fake” News.  Even the term “Fake” News is somewhat misleading–is it news?  Is it False News?  Is it “fake” because it never happened, or because it has been exaggerated or taken out of context?  Or because it doesn’t say what I want it to say?  How do I know what is “real” news anymore?

The biggest problem with “Fake” news is that it “feels” real, true, and important.  In reality, it may be none of those things.  Yet there if often a kernel of fact, or a dusting of truth that makes it hard to disprove or dispel.  And, if it had already been accepted as legitimate news by thousands, it’s even harder to stop it from being spread.

But the more insidious problem with “fake” news is the time wasted trying to sort truth from fiction, and plain fact from exaggeration and distortion.  If my friend sends me an article, or a video, or a photo, I may accept it as true on the strength of my friendship.  But what if they’re just passing it on from another source?  What if I see it from a recognized news source?  Do I dare question it?  And if so, where do I turn to verify it?  There are several fact-checking websites, but even they have biases that cause them to weigh facts differently in various situations.  Whatever assumptions we used to hold about “neutral” reporting have been proved wrong.  We are being conditioned to trust none of what we hear and less than half of what we see!

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What about the “Good” News that Christians carry into the world?  Is it like the “Fake” news we see on TV or read about on our tablets?  And if someone challenges our faith in God’s word, how can we prove that the Gospel is not “Fake”, and that our Faith is not just more hype with smoke and mirrors?  If we are pursuing prayer, shouldn’t we be confident that our prayers are not in vain and that our faith is sound?

The claim of “Fake” news makes an assumption that there is such a thing as “True” news.  Similarly, saying the Gospel is “Fake” assumes that there is an alternate truth.  But the real burden of proof is on those who want to push for the alternative.  The truths of the Bible have been time-tested, and shown to be real.  The challenges I hear most often are to the exceptions, not the rule.  I don’t hear anyone saying that “Thou shalt not steal” is a “fake” morality.  Instead, I hear that, “Christianity is fake because I know Christians who cheat and steal.”  I don’t hear people claim that “it is not morally wrong to kill.”  Instead I hear them justify exceptions.  “I’m not promoting abortion as a good thing.  I don’t think it’s right to kill another human being, but this is just a fetus, and anyway, I’m just protecting a woman’s right to her own body.”  “I don’t think it’s ethical to force someone to stay alive if they are in pain and they want to die.”  “You can’t go around just killing anybody, but I think it would be better for everyone else if ___________________ (insert the name of a group– Down’s Syndrome children, Jews, Sunnis, Hutu/Tutsi) didn’t exist.”  “I don’t believe the morals found in the Bible are wrong.  I just don’t think you need to believe the rest of it to “be moral.”

People point to single passages, single verses, even single words to “prove” that the Bible is racist, sexist,  intolerant, and promotes violence.  The Bible includes many examples of people NOT following God’s laws, and yes, the results are grisly.  And there are difficult passages when God calls for a wicked city to be destroyed completely.  Critics are not wrong to point out that the Bible is not about perfect people behaving perfectly.  And the same Loving God who frees the slaves from Egypt is the God who destroys Jericho, and Sodom and Gomorrah.  Taken out of context, these few examples may seem to cast doubt on the authority of God’s word.  Yet the same critics who pound away at the same few examples in the Bible discount hundreds of instances of  historical events that highlight human sacrifice, genocide, mass infanticide, slavery, torture, and all sorts of other evil that occurred without the Bible’s influence.  Moreover, I hear a lot about claims against “Christians” who fought in the Crusades or owned slaves–I hear a lot less about Christians who worked to end slavery and the slave trade, or Christians who founded universities, charitable institutions, or brought revivals that sparked decades of social progress throughout countries and continents.

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I don’t hear many people claim that there was no such person as Abraham, or King David, or Solomon, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Pontius Pilate or Caesar Augustus.  But they want to deny the historical reality of Adam and Eve, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Apostle Paul, who are found in the same Bible.  Why?  Because if Adam and Eve are real, there must be a creation and a creator.  If Jesus really lived and said the things that are attributed to him, we must deal with the claim that he was Messiah.  If the Apostle Paul really lived and wrote his letters to the churches of Asia Minor, we must deal with his claim that he encountered the risen Christ and his life was dramatically and eternally changed.

However, there is a “Fake” gospel– Good news that doesn’t match the Biblical account–a “Fake” Christ that only said or did or “would do” what we want him to say or do; a Christ that isn’t holy or righteous, but just loves us because it’s the “zen” thing to do; a Christ who is without power to save or to sanctify; a Christ who is without mercy and loves only those who look the part or say the right things.  How do you spot a “Fake” Christ and a “Fake” Gospel?  Get to know the real ones of the Bible.  You’ll soon be able to spot an “imposter.”

“Fake” News will always fail the test of time and the challenges of real evidence.  Good News will transcend the test of time and the challenges of faulty evidence.

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Christ Has Died, Christ Is Risen, Christ Will Come Again!  THAT’s the Good News!

 

 

Coming Out of the Closet

For anyone who is reading this expecting a big announcement or a shocking confession– please don’t read too much into the title…this is a blog about a lifestyle of prayer, not about gender identity or sexual orientation.  I want to talk about the benefits of communal prayer as opposed to prayer that is deeply personal, and takes place in isolation.

There is a time and place for solitary meditation and prayer, and it should become our habit and practice to meet with God daily.  But we are told that we should also meet with and interact with others– and this includes sharing our prayer life.  Many people have a small group of friends, or even one special friend that they pray with on a regular basis.  Others (like me) are “lone rangers.”  We rarely meet with others specifically to pray or even share prayer concerns.  I get notices on FB or e-mail, or in the church’s weekly newsletter, but it isn’t the same.  Just as God wants to hear our hearts and share communication and communion with us, he wants us to share closeness with others.

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Why isn’t it enough to just go into the closet (or other quiet space) to pray?  What are the benefits of praying with a small group?  Here are some:

  • we need social interaction– FACE-TO-FACE interaction.  We need to have eye contact, hear inflections and tones of voice from others, and to have others listen to ours.  We need to share more than just stories on a screen– we need to share laughter, tears, and common ground.  We make deeper friendships when we share concerns (not gossip), struggles, and triumphs (not bragging).  And we can share burdens, recipes!, helpful tips, jokes, and more
  • meeting with others helps us keep our perspective–when we are alone, our problems become bigger; our joys fade, and our talents waste away.  Meeting together helps shrink our worry and pride, ignite our hope, and drive our confidence.  It also opens up our world to the experiences and concerns of others and teaches us about differences and commonalities
  • it strengthens our faith to hear from others who are “in the same” place in their walk; it encourages us to hear from others who have been “through the fire”; it reminds us to be grateful, and gives us an opportunity to build someone up if we have been in their shoes; and it amazes us to hear again what a mighty God we serve, and how he has been faithful
  • it creates a time to break us out of our routine– whether that routine is zooming or “glooming”– we need to mix things up and get out of our rut
  • God commands us to meet together, to live in unity, and to lift each other up

Can you think of other benefits?  Are you in the habit of praying with others?  If not, you may be wondering– how do I find others?  What are the ground rules (if any)?  Are there issues I should be aware of?

Once again, I can list a few that come to mind or that have arisen from experience:

To find others:

  • Join an existing group– a Bible study group that includes prayer time; a weekly or monthly prayer meeting group; a special interest group within a local church– Moms of Pre-schoolers, or a Dorcas group, or a volunteer group that includes prayer
  • Start up a group!  Meet weekly, twice a week, monthly– whenever and whatever works for you and a few others.  Don’t be discouraged if there are only two in your “group”; and don’t feel bad about keeping your group limited– you may find enough interested people to form two or three groups in your neighborhood!
  • Think outside the box– you may stumble on to a group during your commute to work each day; in your child’s play group; at the gym; at a neighborhood church you have never visited (it doesn’t mean you are being “unfaithful” to your church to reach out to fellow brothers or sisters throughout the week!)

Ground rules:

  • Groups should have some structure, leadership, and accountability
  • Participants (including leaders) should be careful not to confuse gossip for “concerns”, or use the group for a sounding board, on-going therapy, or a captive audience for their personal drama or their political or social agenda
  • Group leaders need to create boundaries, so participants feel free to share real burdens and concerns but take responsibility for others’ privacy and vulnerability
  • Groups should be open to visitors, new members, and seekers of all backgrounds

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Issues to watch for–Any group that is made up of humans can fall victim to unhealthy and unwholesome practices.  Just because a group meets with good intentions and calls itself a prayer group doesn’t mean that it is a “safe” place to meet.  Keep your eyes and ears open for the following:

  • Groups that make you feel uncomfortable for showing up, or for sharing (or not sharing every one of) your authentic concerns, your questions, or your feedback.  Sometimes, we can feel uncomfortable sharing about ourselves because we feel shame or guilt about our past or about our lack of knowledge or experience; sometimes we’re defensive or hypersensitive because we’re in a new situation.  But if you are being made to feel ashamed or isolated or patronized, especially if you are being labeled or discriminated against, get out.  LEAVE– shake the dust off of your shoes as you go  (One caveat here– there are groups that meet for specific issues (see below)…if the group is meeting to pray as parents of toddlers, and you aren’t a parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle of a toddler– not only will you feel uncomfortable, but so will the rest of the group.  You should still leave this group, but you can forego the shoe shaking…)
  • Groups that have one or two members who dominate and intimidate the other members.  Leaders need to provide boundaries and structure, but they should not squash authentic dialogue or force everyone to listen to someone else’s “true confessions” (especially if it’s a repeat of the last meeting!)  This is more a “comfort zone” issue than the first one– some groups just have a couple of “talkers” and a couple of “listeners”–the point here is that there needs to be a balance so that all members have a chance to contribute
  • .arrogant
  • Groups that get “taken over” or sidetracked by a single issue– unless that is what you signed up for.  If you are a group whose purpose is prayer, it’s not safe to assume that everyone in your group will also want to go on a protest march or volunteer an entire Saturday at the soup kitchen.  There’s nothing wrong with other activities, but it shouldn’t be a requirement of your prayer group (see above)
  • Groups that are only “token” prayer groups–they may “share” what’s going on in their families as “requests” but they don’t actually take time to pray about them in the group setting.  They talk and eat, and maybe even say “spiritual” things.  There’s nothing wrong with friends getting together, whether they pray or not, but if you’re going to call it a prayer group or a prayer meeting….
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  • That brings me to the group that uses “prayer” as a cover for gossip or grumbling.  Prayer should be constructive and God-centered.  If it isn’t either, it isn’t really prayer.  Even if it sounds positive and holy, if it is centered on how “blessed” you are, or what you know God needs to do in someone else’s life– it isn’t really prayer unless His name is magnified and ours is minimized.
  • Any group that does not honor God’s word, God’s sovereignty, or God’s goodness–Not every group that prays is praying to Almighty God, in the name of Jesus Christ, or for His will to be accomplished.  While prayer groups should be open to all people, and there are wonderful opportunities for ecumenical and all-faith prayer in the public forum, a weekly or monthly prayer group is probably not the best venue.  That being said, I recommend exposure to various Christian prayer styles and practices– formal and ritual prayer, spirit-filled worship prayer, gospel-infused crying out, simple “popcorn” utterances, and eloquent prayers that roll off righteous tongues in an engaging crescendo, punctuated with holy hushes.

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