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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
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.
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.
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!
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.3 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… 6 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For anyone familiar with the Star Trek series, the phrase, “To boldly go…” conjures up pictures of galactic travel at warp speed, with haunting soprano voices, uniforms in mustard yellow, red, and black, and the voices of actors William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy (or Patrick Stewart, et al.) It probably does not make anyone think of The Lord’s Prayer, or the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ. I hope to change that today!
There is a running theme throughout scripture of God asking people– from Abraham to Moses to Mary and Joseph to the Disciples and Apostles and on to all of us– to COME, and to GO. BOLDLY! Abraham left all that he knew to follow God’s prompting to the promised land. Moses was told to Go and confront Pharaoh, Mary and Joseph were to Go– to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Galilee. The Disciples were to Go into all the world! We are to continue this Great Commission.
But Jesus, in His teaching on Prayer, also told His Disciples to Come to the Father with boldness:
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
As Christians, we often quote the Beatitudes, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek..” We should not be pushy, arrogant, or selfish in our actions or our prayers; but we should be bold, confidant, and eager. God doesn’t want us to be timid, coy, or “fake” in asking for wisdom, power, and basic needs– He wants to give us good gifts. He also wants us to trust Him enough to ask forthrightly and boldly.
So let us pursue the “Enterprise” of prayer by “boldly” going before God’s throne, and then “boldly” going forth in the power of His Holy Spirit.
It’s that time of year again…my birthday is coming up and I will need to visit the Secretary of State’s office to renew my license plate tag; this year, my driver’s license also expires, so I have to renew that as well.
This is not a pleasant process– I will wait in line, answer questions, and have a photo taken. I will write out a check or have money debited from my bank account (ouch). I may have to wait another week or two for the new driver’s license to be sent out, and then I will have to live with the horrible photo for a few years. What a drag! I often hear people complaining about the process–it’s a time-consuming, costly, bureaucratic nightmare, or it’s just an annoyance.
Except I don’t really “have to” do any of those things. Being a licensed driver is not a life or death matter. The law says that I must possess a valid license in order to drive, but thousands of people drive every day with no license, or a suspended or expired license, and “get away with it.” Others choose not to drive, and do not carry a license or state-issued photo ID.
But I choose to go through the annoying process because of the benefits. Driving is a privilege– one denied to many who can’t afford, or can’t operate a vehicle. Renewing my license brings much-needed revenue to the state, so they can (attempt to) maintain the roads, bridges, and traffic-related signs and lights that we use every day. Renewing shows my commitment to obey the laws and authorities that govern (the roads in and around) my city, county, state, and nation. Renewing my license gives me an opportunity to register (or confirm my status) as a voter. It even gives me the opportunity to learn patience and people skills!
All this to talk about another kind of renewal…
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
The Apostle Paul speaks about the “renewing of your mind.” In renewing my license, I am conforming to the laws of the land. This passage is not telling me to break the law; it is calling me to transform the way I view the world, the way I process the world, and the way I allow my thoughts to shape my behavior. Instead of thinking about the license process as an inconvenience– I need to weigh the inconvenience against the benefits I receive from having a valid license. Instead of focusing on the negatives around me– fear, hatred, selfishness, complaining, greed, lying, etc., I need to focus on how I can respond in hope, love, compassion, encouragement, generosity, and truth. And I need to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit to transform the way I think about the world, about myself, and about God.
There is a lot of ugliness in the world, lately; but there is also a lot of beauty. There are urgent needs, but there are also abundant resources in Christ Jesus. There are hardships, but there are also moments of peace, healing, and hope.
It’s time for renewal!
8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8 MEV)
My husband and I own a small retail business. Last winter, we were victimized by shoplifters. They stole several items, worth over $1,000. The same couple stole items from other businesses in the area. The police investigated, compared descriptions of the suspects, traced their movements, and got an arrest warrant. The couple fled, and it took months to find them and bring them into custody. They have been arrested, and we have been to court for a preliminary hearing, with another potential court date in about a month.
The court sent us a long series of papers to fill out, including a victim impact statement, where we were to describe how the suspect’s alleged actions impacted us personally, as well as how our business was damaged. Even though this was not a personal crime (we weren’t physically threatened or harmed, or specifically targeted with an intent to ruin our business), there are still scars–distrust, fear, frustration, and loss, to name a few. Just because a crime isn’t personal, doesn’t mean that no one suffers. It has been an awkward process to write out the victim statement, and to appear in court and recount all that happened that day, but it has also been a good process.
Being a victim is not a pleasant experience. It is frightening, humiliating, maddening, and bewildering. “How could this have happened?” “Why did it happen to me/us?” “What did I/we do wrong?” These are honest questions that go unanswered. But the biggest question may be “Where was God when this happened?” Didn’t he know? Didn’t he care? Why didn’t he act to stop this crime? Why did he allow it to touch us?
In the months since this happened, I’ve learned to ask some other questions of God–
What other “bad” things have you kept from us without our knowledge? What good things have you showered on us that we took for granted?
Who else has suffered the same or worse things– how can I reach out with empathy or understanding?
Where are people suffering without justice? Even though we have had a long wait, we know that the police and court system have been working for us. Where are people living who suffer without hope, in silence, and in fear of seeking help?
What can we learn from this experience? How can we make our store and our community “safer”? How can we heal, and bring justice instead of wallowing in hurt or seeking revenge?
God has a plan, even in times of trial and questioning. We all will be victims at some point in our life–of injustice, of crime, of disease, of poverty, of losses, of disaster, and of sin’s consequences– our own sins and the sins of others. We can also be victors, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can overcome bitterness and addiction; we can triumph through cancer, depression, or heartbreak; we can rise above setbacks and circumstances; we can choose forgiveness and healing over hatred and self-sabotage. We can move from being perpetual victims to eternal victors, through Jesus Christ our Lord!