Holy Terror

It’s the end of October, and tomorrow will be Halloween. Stores and houses around the neighborhood are decorated with frightening figures of skeletons, witches, ghosts, and gravestones. Some of my friends love this time of year, and they look forward to binge-watching movies about zombies or vampires– anything scary, spooky, or terrifying.

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I don’t like Halloween. I don’t like scary movies. But I believe in the value of fright. Life is filled with things–natural and supernatural– that fill us with real fear. And that is as it must be in a fallen world. Sin and death, evil and darkness, fires, earthquakes, violence and plague–they are real and should produce both fear and caution. The Bible is not silent or dismissive of such things. God’s laws warn against evil spirits, calling on the dead, consulting with witches, fortune telling, even giving in to anger, envy, and hatred. God’s laws also provide for hygienic practices to ward off disease and plague.

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And yet, the Bible also gives hundreds of warnings against giving in to fear and letting it control our lives. We are to be cautious and wise where fear is concerned. Over all, we are to remember that God is bigger and more powerful than our fears. God can calm storms, put out fires, even conquer disease and death! There is no power, no force, no terror, that can overwhelm God, or touch those under His protection.

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Terror holds no power in God’s presence. Therefore, if we know God, we can experience no true terror. But where there is no God, terror will reign. It’s like the saying: “No God; No Peace–Know God; Know Peace”. Terror comes with darkness, with chaos, with lawlessness and loneliness.

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There is only one other kind of terror– a Holy Terror. We can be terrified by the awesome Holiness of God. It is altogether more powerful and alien than anything we can even imagine. Even for those who know God, there is the knowledge that God is GOD, and we are not worthy to look on His face or enter into His presence on our own. Normally, when we think of terror, we think of things that are very unholy–evil things; supernatural forces of darkness. Yet Holiness can also inspire terror because it causes us to see our own unworthiness; our own sin and failure. I am reminded of the “face-melt” scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark– Nazis, who have been fearlessly and relentlessly pursuing the Ark of the Covenant, believing that it holds supernatural powers they can use to gain power over life and death, are suddenly and horrifically destroyed when they gaze inside–as they come in contact with the very Glory of God, their terror is absolute, and they are destroyed by its presence.

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This season, may we celebrate that God, in His awesome and mighty power, constantly reminds us that we can “Know” Him without fear; instead of running, cowering, or melting, we can come to Him with confidence and joy! And in doing so, we can face any other terror, knowing that God is with us, and for us, and even filling us with His peace! We need not be filled with Holy Terror– instead, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit!

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How Can You?!

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14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV) via biblegateway.com
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I was approached years ago by an angry non-believer, who asked me in disdainful tones how I could possibly believe in God, Jesus Christ, heaven and hell, and other Biblical tenets. At the time, I was taken aback by the vehemence and anger. I stammered an answer, heart-felt and, I hoped, theologically “correct”–I think I quoted scripture and gave a short version of my personal testimony. The other person was not impressed or convinced. I felt like I had failed. The other person sneered at my belief–and at God!

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I spent weeks going over in my mind what else I might have said. I came up with clever arguments, gripping counter-questions, self-deprecating “homey” zingers, I read books on apologetics, and studied the words of great thinkers…I would be ready next time. I would not be left looking or sounding naive and unprepared. I would have the tools to “win” the argument, and God would be proud of me.

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But in the years since, I have done more thinking (and reading, and praying!) And this past month, as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament prophets, I have found a new perspective. Prophets like Isaiah, Habakkuk, Amos, and Malachi spoke the very words of God to people around them. They spoke to ordinary people, and to the religious and political leaders of their day. And almost none of them listened! In fact, the prophets were hated, sneered at, smeared, imprisoned– some of them were even killed.

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These prophets were prepared. They were not being ambushed with “gotcha” questions, because they were the ones presenting and challenging people with the truth. The truths they spoke were often harsh and offensive. They were truths about coming judgment and destruction, followed by restoration and revival. There was nothing “welcoming” or attractive about their message. But the people remained stubborn, sinful, and unimpressed.

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We live in the post-Resurrection age. Our message contains warnings about judgment and destruction– but unlike the prophets of old, we have a message of immediate and eternal Hope and Salvation. We have centuries of prophecies that have been fulfilled; of testimonies to the power of a risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yet even Jesus warned us that “..in the world (you) will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b ESV)

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We often feel that if we cannot “win over” those who challenge us–if we cannot prove to their satisfaction that we are “right” in our beliefs–that we have failed. Yet we have so many examples of faithful witnesses who suffered and died without seeing the results of their faithfulness. God does not ask us to “win” every battle in convincing and decisive fashion. That’s HIS job! What He does ask is that we should be prepared to give an answer– and that we do it with gentleness and respect.

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I don’t have to silence the critics. I don’t have to have “mic-drop” moments. I don’t have to “win” every debate. God calls me to be faithful, honest, and humble. My words may not change someone else’s mind. But my changed life and God-honoring attitude may plant a seed that someone else’s words and life, and the power of the Holy Spirit will cause to grow into faith– even if I never live to see it!

In answer to the question, “How can you believe?” The answer often lies, not only in what we say about our belief, but how we live it out!

When I Don’t Know How to Pray

Prayer is both simple and complex. Anyone can pray. There is no single correct “formula” for prayer. God is always listening and hears the prayers of those who sincerely seek Him. I can pray to God in formal words, songs, groans, and scattered thoughts.

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But there are times when I don’t know how to pray. More precisely, I don’t know WHAT to pray. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, or a chronic illness, my first instinct is to pray for healing– immediate and total healing. When I hear of a mass shooting, or a blatant injustice, or a natural disaster, I want to pray for all the pain and loss and evil to disappear or be reversed. I want all those things that I know to be “good”– health, happiness, healing, hope, unity, righteousness, and wholeness.

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Still, God’s ways are not my ways. God’s “goodness” is not measured in comfort and quick resolutions. I may not understand the goodness of struggle and pain in the short term. I think of disaster as total and irredeemable, and my prayers often come out of my own short-sighted thinking and my own discomfort at the realization of others’ (and my own) weakness and mortality.

There are a few Biblical principles that I find very helpful when I don’t know “how” to pray:

  • God knows –REALLY KNOWS– all my inner thoughts and feelings. Even more, He KNOWS what will happen, what should happen, and what is best in every situation. I can pour out my desire to see my friend restored to health, or a community re-united in hope, knowing that God is a God of healing and restoration; but also knowing that God’s timing and purposes may involve temporary suffering–even for those I love. Moreover, God knows why I am confused. He knows why I struggle to know how to pray. He doesn’t ask me to always know the “right” answer– He does ask that I trust Him to know and act in His sovereign strength and wisdom. No matter the circumstances, God is still on His throne. And I am not!
  • Jesus gave us simple but powerful examples of “how” to pray. In “The Lord’s Prayer,” He prayed for simple, personal things– daily bread, forgiveness, guidance–as well as big and overarching things–“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done..” His trust in the Father’s ability to accomplish all things was absolute, and His relationship was firmly established– “Father…Hallowed by Thy Name.” In the garden, Jesus was clearly suffering, and asked that the “cup” of suffering– the torture of the cross and the inconceivable horror of being rejected as He bore our sins and carried them through death and the grave– be removed. Yet, He submitted His desire, His fears, His anguish, to His Father– “Not My will, but Thine..”
  • There are other wonderful examples throughout the Psalms, the Gospels, the Epistles, and hundreds of years of Church leaders and saints: their prayers can teach us, encourage us, and embolden us.
  • Jesus promised that we would have an advocate–the Holy Spirit– who would intercede for us. When we don’t know how or what to pray, the Apostle Paul says that the Spirit makes intercession for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26 KJV). The Spirit also speaks to our own spirit to help us understand more clearly God’s ways and plans.
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I may not always know how to pray, or what to pray. But I can be confident that God hears my prayers. I can come before Him with the assurance that my prayers– and all my thoughts and emotions–are precious to Him because I am His child, redeemed by His sacrifice. My heart may not know all things, but as He continues faithfully completing the work He began in me (Philippians 1:6), my prayers will come more fully into alignment with His will.

Our Father…

I have known some excellent fathers– including my own father and my husband. Fathers who do their best to provide for, pray for, protect, and prepare their families. Fathers who show patience, perseverance, wisdom, and selflessness.

But I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have also known some wicked fathers– fathers who are physically, verbally, and mentally abusive toward their wives and children. Fathers who abandon their responsibilities, and leave behind a legacy of need, chaos, anger, and despair.

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Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a Father. Not as a “man”– Jesus took on flesh and became a man– but the Triune God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. God has all the characteristics of a perfect father. God also embodies all the characteristics of a good mother. But there is something about Fatherhood that God particularly wants us to learn and understand.

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When God chose Abram for His special covenant, Abram’s name meant “exalted father.” But Abram was childless. God chose someone whose name had no meaning (or an ironic meaning), and changed it– not a lot–he added an “ah”, so that Abraham’s name meant “father of many” or “father of multitudes.” I don’t think it was any accident that God chose a man named “Abram,” or that He changed his name only slightly. God chose Abraham, not because he was a father, but so that he could become a father– to many! It was as a father (to Isaac, but also to Ishmael and all his other sons and descendants) that Abraham was exalted and revered.

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But Abraham was not a perfect father– far from it! God gave us the story of Abraham, and drew attention to Abraham to help us learn the importance of GOD as our Father. Abraham was willing to give up his heir– the son of God’s promise– because Abraham was a “son” of God before he was a father to Isaac. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=NIV

Even though I have known some excellent fathers, I know of only one who is perfect. And He isn’t someone else’s father, that I should be envious, or discouraged. He isn’t only “my” father, that I should be smug. He isn’t my father by birth, that I should make little of His sacrifices or His promises– they are not given out of duty or a sense of genetic obligation. He is OUR Father– He invites all of us to become His children. He lavishes love and grace, sheds tears and aches, sacrifices and pursues, rejoices and grieves– for and with every soul.

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When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He wasn’t giving them a rote prayer to memorize, but a pattern. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/the-lords-prayer-be-encouraged-and-strengthened.html If you look through the Gospels at Jesus’ other prayers you will see it–He always begins by addressing His Father. For the group of disciples, He began with “Our Father.” Jesus, who could have claimed sole son-ship, made it clear that He (as Son with the Father and Spirit) desires this amazing relationship– more than power, more than honor, more than life! And God the Father is not a man or a mere mortal– He is Holy, Perfect, Eternally Loving and Eternally Sovereign!

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What a wonderful thought for Father’s Day this year– no matter what kind of earthly father(s) we have known!

Thou Preparest a Table Before Me

Mighty God,
You could demand…
Anything.
You need nothing.
You are worthy of
Endless adoration.

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Yet You prepare a table–
Lavish with blessings,
Personalized to the last detail–
For me.

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You, who could reserve all the
Wonders of nature for your own pleasure;
Cause the sun to rise, the birds to sing
For me.

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You lay the plates,
Polish the silver,
Serve out the banquet with
Flourishes, garnishes– All the best
For an unworthy beggar–for me.

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You pour the wine,
Wash my feet,
Break the bread
(Even give your body and blood),

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All for me.

Merciful and gracious God,
Humble and victorious Savior,
Mysterious and mighty Spirit–
I am undone by Your invitation to
This eternal banquet.

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“Do This in Remembrance of ME”
Remember My Creation.
Remember My Life.
Remember My Humble service.
Remember My Death and Resurrection.
Remember My Victory.
Remember I am Coming Soon!

He Already Knows..

Prayer is a wonderful thing; sometimes it’s also a curious thing. Why do we pray to a God who is omniscient? If He already knows our needs, why do we bother to ask? If He already knows everything we’ve done, why do we need to confess? If He already knows about my neighbor’s cancer, why do I start a prayer chain?

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Prayer is much more than sharing information with God. It is sharing my heart with God. What I pray, who I pray for, how and when and even where I pray– all come from my heart. God knows the information. He knows my heart, too. But He longs for me to take the time and effort to share it with Him (and to listen to His response!). God doesn’t want to be the one I turn to when I’ve tried all the other options. He is my Father, and He wants me to come to Him at every opportunity.

Moreover, when I pray, God is not surprised by anything I say, but sometimes I am! I find that one confession often leads to another– God already knew all that I had done and all about my attitude, but I lied to myself about my motive or about a small act or comment. Only in prayer does God have my full attention, and His Spirit uses that opportunity to help me see myself better, and clean the slate. Sometimes, I ask God for something I want, and God’s Spirit causes me to see what I really need, instead. Often, when I pray for someone I know, the Spirit will remind me of other ways I can pray for them, or bring another person to my thoughts. I may not know the other person’s need– but God already knows!

Finally, I find it a great comfort to pray to the one who holds everything together– the one who knows the end from the beginning, and everything in between. I don’t pray to a God who is kind, but ineffective. I don’t pray to a God who knows, but doesn’t care. God is the maker and sustainer of the universe; He is the lover of my soul, and the Almighty and Eternal One.

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Today may be full of surprises– some good, some disappointing, some even overwhelming. God already knows. He knows our anguish, our hopes, our faults, and our triumphs (even the tiny ones). Many things about my life are difficult to understand or anticipate. I don’t have to know all the answers. I don’t even have to know all the “right” questions. God already knows!

20/20 Vision, Blind Faith, and Prayer

As we approach the arrival of a new year, there is a lot of talk about vision–20/20 vision, that is. For the past few years, I’ve heard of companies, community groups, even churches using the year 2020 as a target date for planning, and using the phrase “2020 Vision” in their mission statements, fund-raising drives, and talking points.

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The phrase comes from 20/20 vision, considered clear or “good” vision. Someone with 20/20 vision has no need of corrective lenses or surgery to improve their reading, or correct their sight. Figuratively, 20/20 vision suggests good planning or foresight. So it is desirable to plan with clear “vision” and forethought, rather than jumping into a project, or from one unmet goal to another.

But, while it’s clever to borrow the idea of 20/20 vision and tie it to the coming year, it doesn’t guarantee that our future plans will be wise or successful just because the calendar says 2020. In the same way, just because we have 20/20 vision, it doesn’t mean that we can see everything around us perfectly. We will see clearly those things on which we focus– those things that are right in front of us and not obstructed. Even with “good” vision, we cannot see things that are hidden from sight or things that are outside our scope of vision.

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Even the old phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision,” doesn’t mean that we will always gain clarity with time. Sometimes we understand past experiences in a different light after time has passed. But sometimes, we are still left wondering and asking about events from our past; no wiser or less damaged by setbacks or failures, and no better prepared for future trials and pains.

If vision, even good vision and planning, is no guarantee of future success, perhaps it would be better to trust to “blind faith.” After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “walk by faith, not by sight?” Except the Bible doesn’t exactly say that. Instead it says:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NKJV via http://www.biblegateway.com)

This verse often gets taken out of context and twisted to suggest that “faith” is opposed to “sight,” and therefore faith must be “blind” to reason, experience, or reality. Many good articles and sermons have been written to clarify the concept (see one example here:
https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/theologically-driven/walk-by-faith-a-misused-verse.html). Faith is not blind–or should not be blind. Rather, it utilizes the ability and practice of seeing what is hidden or indistinct in the present. If our faith is based on empty myth, rumor, conjecture, or cloud dreams, it is not faith at all–it is nothing more than a mirage. Faith is seeing beyond the obvious, the blatantly visible, and trusting more than just what we can immediately see. We don’t walk through life ignoring reality, or dancing across a superhighway full of speeding cars. But we see our circumstances as having hidden elements; our lives have unseen depths, and are lived on both physical and metaphysical spheres. There is more to life than meets the eye– and while faith may not always show us a clear picture of what lies beyond our sight, it causes us to know that something beyond our “20/20 vision” exists and matters.

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The great old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” speaks to this as well. No matter what our circumstances look like, we can have confidence that “It is well, it is well, with my soul!” “And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight..” We look forward, even as we look around, and look back to the finished work of Jesus our Savior. We see the present, but we walk in the knowledge that there is more than what our eyes behold.

Faith doesn’t negate the need to use our senses and common sense to navigate life. And using planning and vision for the future doesn’t negate the need for faith. Rather, they work together. And they work together best in prayer.

When we pray, we are exercising our faith– speaking to the One we do not see, though we know Him and trust Him. And we bring to Him our plans and visions and hopes and dreams. We lay them in His Hands, trusting that where our vision is “good,” He will empower and bless us; where our own vision is lacking, His Spirit will help us to refocus and see enough of what lies beyond to keep walking forward.

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As we walk into a new year, may we have more than just 2020 vision– may we have faith and hope in the One who has perfect vision!

Faith and Faithfulness

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible… And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:1-3; 6 (NIV) taken from http://www.biblegateway.com

Faith is essential to prayer. Not only is it essential that we know the truth, we must depend on it. Those who lift up general prayers to some unknown “force” in the universe have no real hope that their prayers will be heard, instead of bouncing around among the planets in silent expectation. We pray to a God who sees, hears, loves, and works among us. And He will answer our prayers– in His way, in His time, and to our ultimate benefit.

That does’t mean that we must blindly believe everything we hear about God, or that we must agree exactly with everyone else who claims to believe. None of us has ever seen God face-to-face, nor can we claim perfect knowledge. But there are certain truths that do not change– God is GOD; creator, ruler, unchanging and Holy. God is who He says He is, not who someone speculates or imagines Him to be. God is mysterious, but He is “Knowable”–we see His character in the natural world, and we can see His reflection in the people around us who are all created in His image. Most of all, we have the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all who have followed Him and been transformed by Him. To all who earnestly seek Him, He has given us His Word, and His Spirit to guide us. And God is Good. Even though nature (and human nature) has been tainted and twisted by sin, God remains true to His own goodness. Even in the hard times, when God seems distant–especially when He seems distant–faith looks beyond our present circumstances, and the taunts of our enemies, to remind us of God’s providence, His Power, and His promises. Our present trials and calamities are not beyond His ability or His willingness to turn to good purpose, and they do not compare to the promises God has given.

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Faith is essential to prayer, but so is faithfulness. Prayer is part of a growing relationship with our Maker. And like any relationship, it must be maintained. God is eternally faithful, but we are not–not in our own power or in our own will. And our faith, without faithfulness (in prayer, in devotion, in our everyday thoughts and actions) will wither and die. The same thirst we have for prayer in the valleys of life should be present when we reach the mountaintops. The same need we have to cry out for help should be the need we feel to cry out in praise. This will not happen without discipline, developed by daily seeking His face.

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As we approach a new year, we can make many plans and resolutions– let one of them be to strive for faithfulness, especially in our pursuit of prayer. We know it is the right thing to do. And our faithfulness is not just for us. It blesses the heart of the One who was faithful even unto death. And it shines as an example to those around us– inspiring some to faith, and others to renewed faithfulness.

I Surrender All?

I have been revisiting old hymns lately as I write about my pursuit of prayer. This is partly because I believe that prayer is a form of worship, and is closely tied to other forms of worship– meditation, singing, etc.. Sometimes, it can be helpful to pray songs or to sing prayers– look at the entire book of Psalms!

Our church has recently been involved in revival services– two weeks of time set aside to evaluate our daily walk with Christ. We need periods of revival and refreshment, conviction and confession, repentance and reflection. Without them, we will wander; without them we will wither and grow cold, and lose sight of our first love.

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One of the first nights, we explored the idea of surrender. We say that we trust God; that Jesus is Lord, that we are followers of Christ…but do we really demonstrate those truths by the way we live? Have we really surrendered our will, our lives, our futures to God? We claim that He is sovereign over big things– all of creation, world affairs, and such–but is He Lord over the little things? Do I trust Him with my reputation when someone misrepresents me to others? Do I trust Him with my diet when I am tempted to overeat? Do I trust Him with my time when someone asks me to help them on my day off?

One of the keys to this hymn (and to prayer) is in the first verse– “..in His presence daily live.” There are times when I feel the need to surrender; times when I feel wholly surrendered and devoted. But there will be other days when the feeling just isn’t there. My surrender needs to happen daily– in the “good” times and in the “difficult” times. Sometimes, I just need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower me to recognize and surrender those areas that I have tried to “take back” from Him.

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And then, I need to be intentional about letting go–one piece at a time, if necessary–each day saying, “Yes” to God instead of “Yes” to those things that pull me away. It’s not always easy to say, “I surrender all.” It’s even harder to actually follow through. We want to hang on to things that are comfortable, familiar, even “good.” We want to hang on to things that seem to promise safety, success, or fulfillment– even when God offers more.

I’m not writing this because I have mastered the discipline of surrender– I need to learn to let go, to trust God more, to risk what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose (paraphrasing from Jim Elliot–https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jim_elliot_189244.
That is my prayer today, for myself, and for others.

The Company We Keep

Do your friends pray? Do you pray for your friends and neighbors? Do you pray with your friends? Prayer is often seen as a private and very isolated activity– just you talking to God. But prayer is much more. Prayer can bind people together in a common purpose. It can encourage and embolden others as we pray together, share burdens and blessings, and seek God’s wisdom on their behalf.

Conversely, when our friends don’t pray, or discourage us from spending time in prayer, we can become weak and lose the fullness of joy that comes from a rich prayer life. When Jesus walked among us, He spent time with people– sinners, self-righteous religious leaders, friends, and strangers alike. And He often went away and alone to spend time in prayer. But He also made a habit of taking a few key friends with Him; friends who would “watch and pray” when others might have distracted Him with their questions or doubts. Throughout the Bible, there are numerous examples of others who sought out friends and companions to join them in prayer.

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There is a lot more I could write about this concept today, but I think it is more important to act on it. I have a journal full of names, places, and situations that require prayerful attention– people battling cancer or depression; cities facing riots and economic upheaval; families in the midst of divorce or other crises. And I have friends who share my concerns and who can join me in praying (even remotely) for them.

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If you have friends who pray– connect with them and pray for and/or with them today. If you don’t– pray that you will find companions who will come alongside you as you make this journey to pursue a life of prayer. Look for opportunities to join a group– in person, or on-line–that shares prayer requests (and answers to prayer!) Best of all, pray to and with Our Father, who will never leave us or forsake us, who always listens, and who has given us the constant companion of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and encourage each of us.

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For on-line prayer groups, check here ( https://www.google.com/search?q=online+prayer+groups+free&rlz=1C1GYPO_enUS768US769&oq=online+prayer+groups&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.7234j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 ) and elsewhere.

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