I love visiting old churches and cathedrals, with their vaulted ceilings and solid stone walls infused with centuries of incense and the echoed prayers. And I love being outdoors surrounded by the glorious beauty of creation. These spaces seem infused with a special sense of the sacred. It is easy to feel close to God is such spaces.
But God is omnipresent. A crowded bus is no farther from God’s presence than a majestic mesa. The hush of a hospital ward is just as close to His heart as the swelling choir in a cathedral. In fact, when Jesus lived among us on earth, He spent much of His time walking dusty roads, talking and working miracles among the noisy “rabble” of ordinary people. He did not seek out “sacred spaces;” instead, He took the “sacred” into the dark and dirty streets where it was often ignored or dismissed.
Sometimes, Jesus would go off by Himself into the wilderness or into the hills to pray, as well. It is important to make a time or space to do this. But there is nothing especially sacred about particular spaces– even ones designed to be places of worship. It may not be easy to find a physical space for prayer and worship, but we can make a mental “space”– close off distractions, move or turn away from others for a few precious minutes–focus on God’s presence. Remember, His presence is always with us; we just need to acknowledge it!
Prayer connects us to God– wherever and whenever we pray. That doesn’t mean that we should not seek out special times and places to be alone with God. But we needn’t wait for a certain moment or location or position in which to meet with God. He is eternally, immediately available to listen. Are we?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5; 14
Emmanuel– God WITH us. The Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus on the Cross; the same Jesus who was involved in the Creation of the universe.
We love seeing the Baby Jesus in the manger. We like the idea of Jesus, the good teacher and friend. We even bow our heads to honor the Jesus of the cross. We pray to Jesus, acknowledging that He is the God-Man who came to save us from Sin. But sometimes, we get so comfortable seeing Jesus lying peacefully in the manger or serenely enduring the pain of the Cross, that we ignore His absolute Holiness and Power.
Jesus was fully human– he ate, slept, cried, felt cold, and felt pain. But He is also God– fully Divine; fully Sovereign. He doesn’t force us to worship Him– not now, anyway. Someday, though, every knee will bow, and every tongue compelled to confess that Jesus is the Ultimate Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Philippians 2:10-11). Larger than life; more permanent than history; eternally Sovereign.
We pray to a God who is so awesome and glorious that no person can see His face and live. And yet, we pray to a God who so loved mankind that He came and walked among us, lived among us, and died among us. We look at Baby Jesus in the manger– we see the face of God. And when we look at our neighbors and friends, we look at those made in the image of God– we see those beloved of God; those Jesus came to save.
This is not new theology. This is basic Christianity. But sometimes, in the bustle of the “Season, ” we forget the wonder and the miracle that is the very reason for it all. God is NOT distant. He is not looking for reasons to reject or condemn us. He reaches out to us EXACTLY like a baby reaches out– seeking to be held close. He is as close as the person sitting next to you at the dinner table, or sharing a seat on the bus. GOD! Not a theology; not a list of do’s and don’t’s. Not an esoteric idea. A Presence; a living Christmas Present! An eternal Gift of Love! One with arms and legs; a twinkling eye and infectious smile.
In this season of Advent and Christmas, may we let the Glory of God fill us with awe and wonder. And may we let the Love of God fill us with hope and joy. May our prayers be like the sweet singing of the Angels on that Holy Night so long ago. “Glory to God in the Highest! And, on earth, Peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-14 (Authorized KJV)
We celebrate Christmas as the “birth” of Christ. Yet, the Bible tells us that Jesus (Christ) was in the beginning with God: Jesus had no beginning and no end. He is eternal with the Father and Spirit. We call this season before Christmas “Advent”– we await and celebrate, not the birth of a new being, but the advent of His coming from Heaven to earth.
Jesus came to Earth for many reasons– some of which are given in the Bible, and some of which are likely beyond our comprehension. He came to live among us as a man of flesh and bone (John 1:14); He came to bring life and light (vv.4-9); He came to live a sinless life, which He sacrificed as a ransom for the sins of the those who repent: and He came to serve others–to model the kind of service that God desires from us (Matthew 20:28). Jesus came in obedience to the Father (John 6:38). Finally, Jesus (as a member of the Triune Godhead) came because “God so Loved the World” (John 3:16) –He Wanted to come! The Advent was part of God’s perfect plan. It was not Plan B, developed after the fall of man. It was so “from the beginning.” It was foretold and prophesied. It was planned down to the tiniest detail.
Jesus has always been. He has always been The Word of God. Jesus speaks. Jesus listens. When we pray, it is natural to speak words to The Word. Jesus created us to communicate. Unlike any other creature on earth, mankind chooses to communicate through complex and subtle language, as well as through art, music, dance, architecture…even food! We chatter about trivia; we choose to wear certain colors to express our moods; we make silly faces at infants and delight in their own facial contortions.
Prayer is so important, because it is the essence of expressing our hearts and minds to the very one who created us to BE communicators. God listens through all the words of all the languages we use (or the non-verbalized thoughts, groanings, etc.) to hear our true heart-cry.
This season, we take time to reflect on just what it means that Jesus was “In the Beginning…” as well as in the manger. We reflect that “before Abraham was”–He IS (John 8:58). We glory in the knowledge that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever! (Hebrews 13:8). These “words” give us life and hope and joy– not just now, but throughout all the years of our lives.
What a reason to say just a few words today in prayer!
I attend a mid-week prayer meeting. Sometimes we have a dozen or two in attendance. The other day, we had just five. But God shows up every week! There is a mystical, spiritual quality in communal prayer– voices raised in praise, thanksgiving, and intercession; voices raised in agreement, in harmony, and in support. We spend nearly an hour in prayer; some stay after to pray longer, some stay silent for most or all of the hour, just listening and giving spiritual support by their presence. We also spend some time reading scripture, sharing updates on missionaries and community outreach programs, or updates on requests from previous weeks. And, in listening to others pray, we can “hear” their hearts and get to know them a little better. But this is not meant as a social hour. We are there for one purpose– to pray. It is a commitment to pray faithfully, to pray consistently, and to pray humbly and gratefully.
We are blessed to have the opportunity to gather publicly and freely to pray. But what about those who cannot? Not everyone has the freedom in their weekly schedule to attend our prayer meeting (or other meetings that might be scheduled throughout the community). Not everyone lives in an area where public prayer is safe and encouraged. Some people are shut in. Some face persecution for their faith– public gatherings increase the risk of violence and arrest.
Most prayers happen in seclusion and isolation. And sometimes, this can lead us to believe that personal prayer is a small thing. One silent prayer in a room somewhere in Michigan may seem tiny and frail. It can seem puny and ineffective. And praying in isolation or under threat can feel even smaller and lonelier. We trust that God hears us, but we can feel so weak, so ineffectual. We long for support and communion. Praying in a group “feels” stronger, and more “important,” surrounded by fellow believers and hearing the voices chiming in with praise and heartfelt requests.
I value and appreciate meeting and praying with other believers, but most of my prayers are personal– said in silence in my own home. I pray by myself, often with my Prayer Journal in front of me; sometimes, just lying in bed, or sitting at my workspace. Yet, I never pray alone! Jesus, in The Lord’s Prayer, taught His disciples to pray to “Our Father.” But He must have known that they would also pray personal prayers. He did not teach them to say “My Father,” or “My God.” Surely, when we are alone, we can use those terms (as Jesus Himself did in the Garden of Gethsemane). But I think Jesus was acknowledging that God “inhabits the praise of His people” (Psalm 22:3)– and that when we pray, we are mystically and spiritually joined with God– Father, Son, and Spirit– and also with the family of other believers. And their prayers join with ours. When I pray, alone in a darkened room or closet, I may be physically separated from believers in Pakistan or Colombia, but I am spiritually linked with them (and they with me) in ways I don’t fully comprehend. I can’t hear their prayers; I can’t understand their language, and I don’t know their needs. Nor do they know mine. But God knows them all, and knits them all together in ways that bring Glory and Honor to Him! Praying with our Wednesday group (or any time I pray with other believers) helps me better feel this connection, but it goes beyond what we experience in corporate prayer. None of my “puny” prayers is lost in the fugue of a hundred thousand other prayers prayed in that moment– instead, they blend in with other silent cries and unspoken expressions of praise from all over the globe. They rise up like the notes of a never-ending symphony!
Prayer is so much more powerful and deeper than we imagine! Today, let’s pray–together–knowing that whatever our situation or circumstance, we will never pray alone!
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 5:44 (ESV)
The obvious answer to the question in the title is that Jesus commands it. But what practical and spiritual reasons are there for such a counter-intuitive action? Jesus himself continues:
43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the supple moves of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
Matthew 5:43-47 (The Message)
If we are following Christ and asking His Spirit to help us grow in Godliness, we should be acting– and reacting– like God. God makes the sun shine and the rain to fall on everyone. He is Mercy and Grace personified. That takes away nothing from His ability to exact justice. But His true desire is to show mercy– and that includes mercy THROUGH us!
But there are other good (and related) reasons to pray for our enemies.
Such prayers put things in perspective. If I focus on the injustices that my enemies have done (or continue to do), they become larger than God’s power to restore and redeem. If I focus on God’s power, the injustices, while still real, take their proper place. God is bigger; God is greater; God is wiser; God is Sovereign.
Such prayers remind me that I am not immune from causing pain and distress to others. It is natural for us to see our enemies as completely different from ourselves. “They” are evil, callous, and deserving of punishment. But, if we are honest– we are also deserving of punishment. We, too, have been callous, careless, selfish, angry, or bitter with someone, somewhere, at some time. God has dealt with us mercifully. How can we be grateful for His mercy and fail to pray for others who need it?
Praying for our enemies may not change them, but it will change US. Praying for my enemies forces me to release my anger and bitterness, so that I don’t become trapped in a cycle of letting my enemy become my obsession or even my role model. I say this from negative experience; NOT praying for someone I considered my enemy led to me say and do things that were unkind and vicious– because I thought she “deserved” the same treatment she had given me and others. One day I woke up and realized that I was slowly becoming like her– letting her behavior determine who I was in return: suspicious, hard-hearted, critical, and vindictive.
Praying for others reminds us that our true enemies are not other people. Once again, it is easy and natural to create a monster out of the person who is our “enemy.” They have often caused very real and very intense pain and suffering– personal, physical, psychological, emotional, financial, and sometimes chronic and catastrophic–sometimes, they show no remorse; sometimes, they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. God knows all this. He sees all this. He aches for our pain– and for their rebellion. But the root cause is not a person– no matter how involved they are in delivering the pain. The real cause is Sin and Brokenness. That’s why WE can’t fix it. That’s why WE don’t have the power or authority to administer righteous judgment over it. And that also means–
Such prayers can free us of the burden of guilt, shame, bitterness, and hurt of the past. That doesn’t mean that we must deny the very real hurt we have felt. But we no longer have to be bound and shackled by it. When we can lift up our enemies and our past, and give them to God– really let go and give them to Him–He will carry that load, and let us run the race before us.
One caveat here. Loving your enemy; praying for them– these are not the same as believing their lies or consenting to their abuse. There may be people in your life that you must pray for– from a distance! You can love someone, and still set clear boundaries to protect yourself and others. God will never abandon us. But He doesn’t call us to enable others in their evil actions. This is especially true in cases of domestic violence. Love your enemy, but get help and healing. And continue to pray!
Do you ever feel like your prayer life has become an endless pile of laundry lists?
I keep a prayer journal, and I have daily “prayer points” that help focus my prayers, but I have to be careful not to let my prayer life become all about “ticking the boxes.” It’s easy to see a list of names or a topic on paper or a screen, and make prayer about what is written in my journal, or making sure I don’t “miss” someone on the list. Prayer is a conversation, and it should flow like one. I would not like to have a conversation with someone who came to me with a long list of requests and nothing else.
That doesn’t mean we can’t bring our requests to God– we should! And sometimes it makes sense to list them out methodically and specifically. But it’s also important to remember that God already knows all the concerns of our heart. He is eager to hear from us— not just our concerns, but our other thoughts, too. He wants to hear our excitement and joy over small triumphs; our questions and ponderings; and all the little things that make us go, “hmmm.”
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He didn’t have a list of names or specific situations. He asked that “Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10). He asked the Father to “give us this day our daily bread,”(v.11) without specifying when or how. And He asked, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,”(v.12) without naming names or reminding God of the debts involved! Sometimes we need to be reminded that that God knows our needs, our neighbors, and our universe far better than we do!
Today, I want to put aside the “laundry list” and just spend time conversing with my Savior. I hope you will, too.
It’s gardening season– many with gardens are reaping an early harvest of tomatoes, peas, beans, and other vegetables. I live in town, and have no space for a garden, but I have memories of working in my mom’s and grandma’s gardens. Gardening takes a lot of work, and involves a lot of elements. A life of prayer also requires a lot of discipline and certain elements:
Plowed ground– we need hearts that are softened and humble, ready to listen and respond.
Seeds of faith– even those as small as a mustard seed!
“Son”-shine–we can follow the examples of the prayers of Jesus, as well as His teachings on prayer.
Living Water–Jesus gives us living water in His words and His life. The more we spend time with Him (through prayer and in His Word), the more we will experience the nourishment He provides!
Cultivation– it is not enough just to plant a seed and leave it. We need to spend time in devotion, worship, prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship daily if we want growth. We also need to “weed out” sinful habits and thoughts that keep us from trusting God’s will and timing.
Workers for the harvest–Our lives should be producing fruit. But fruit that isn’t harvested and shared will go to waste! And we should also be ready to harvest the fruit of others– encouraging and building one another to better growth and adding to the Kingdom.
This is not a great secret or a new discovery, but a reminder that we can “pray” the Scriptures. Sometimes, we do this in corporate prayer, as in a congregation reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” together. But often, it is when we are reading God’s word, or a particular verse haunts our memory that we echo the words in our prayer life. There are so many benefits from this:
We are joining in a great tradition– much of Scripture records the prayers of the patriarchs and of Jesus Himself. When we echo those words, we affirm them–both to God and to ourselves.
We are praying in the light of the truth–God’s own words on our lips can keep us from trying to put our words in God’s voice!
We are deepening our understanding and experience of Scripture– making it personal, rather than just a learning exercise or a daily duty.
We are deepening our experience of Prayer– it is more than just me talking to God. It is me agreeing with God’s Word, and God’s Word literally speaking through me.
We are reminded of what prayer can do– many of the prayers of Scripture are followed by answers, from prophecies to miracles to movements of the Holy Spirit.
We are reminded that God answers prayer that is consistent with His will– not all Biblical prayers were answered in the ways that their petitioners hoped or expected!
The Bible is full of wonderful examples of prayers. Here are just a few to get started:
Abraham’s prayer for God to spare Sodom in Genesis 18 (v. 23-32).
Moses praying for God to forgive Israel’s sin and disbelief in Exodus 32 (v. 31-32)
Moses praying for a successor to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Numbers 27:16-17)
Gideon’s prayer for guidance in Judges 6
Manoah’s prayer for help in raising his son Samson in Judges 13
David’s prayer in 2 Samuel 7 (v.18-29)
Elijah’s prayer for God to send fire from Heaven in 1 Kings 18 (v.36-37)
Several of the Psalms, including 3, 51, 90, 102, 103, 105, and many others.
Hezekiah’s prayer for God to save Israel from their enemies in Isaiah 37 ( v.16-20)
The prayer of Jebez in 1 Chronicles 4:10
Habakkuk’s prayer for revival in Habakkuk 3: 2-19
Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 11:25
Jesus’ prayer for His disciples (John 17)
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39-44)
In addition, Bible passages that describe the Character and Majesty of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can be used as prayers of worship and adoration. Bible stories and events can be lifted up in worship of God’s power and faithfulness through the ages. Jesus’ teachings (such as the Beatitudes) can be lifted up as the desire of our hearts, and as requests for the strength and wisdom to follow Him.
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:10 (NKJV)
Yesterday was Easter (in parts of the world)–the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and victory over Sin and Death. We have much to celebrate. But we also have a mission. We have the assurance of eternity in Heaven, but in THIS world, Jesus warned us, “you will have trouble.” (John 16:33). We will be misunderstood, mocked, and persecuted. We will have to face the temporary consequences of living in a fallen world– anger, greed, abuse, violence, betrayal–even bad weather and natural disasters!
In giving the Beatitudes, Jesus turned common expectations upside-down. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… We don’t consider poverty, powerlessness, suffering and persecution blessings to be desired. Yet Jesus, the One we follow, gladly endured all of these for our sake! Notice that the “blessing” is the same here as in the first of the Beatitudes– “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Kingdom of Heaven is not reserved for those who are victorious in their own power or through force of will or extraordinary effort. But it is reserved for those who persevere in the face of evil–those who lean, and those who rest, and those who stand IN THE POWER of God.
Notice, too, that we are blessed if we are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” There is no blessing for suffering due to our own stubbornness or foolishness. There is no blessing for those who are persecuted for their own pride and judgmental nature and unforgiveness toward themselves or others. (see 1 Peter 3) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+3%3A8-17&version=CEV
We live in a culture that celebrates “victimhood.” Those who suffer injustice– even perceived of implied injustice–are considered to have a special status. Those who claim to have been offended or hurt by individuals or groups often demand recognition for their “bravery” or retribution for their suffering. This happens even among certain Christians, who claim to be “persecuted,” when they are merely suffering the consequences of their own hubris and self-righteous posturing. This is a monstrous injustice to fellow Christians who are truly suffering persecution “for righteousness’ sake.”
My prayer today is that I will emulate the example of Christ– that I will serve, humbly, willingly, sacrificially, enduring any persecution that comes as a result, and lifting up fellow Christians who are suffering, as well as their persecutors! For righteousness’ sake– for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
We live in a time of conflict. Wars, protests, upheaval, domestic violence, gangs, shootings, and more leave us praying for peace.
Today is a reminder of violence. “Good Friday” is filled with reminders of torture, injustice, and brutal death on a cross. There is almost nothing about this day that suggests “Peace.” And yet, it is because of this day, and this cruel and violent death, that WE can have peace with God. Jesus made peace for us by suffering at the hands of corrupt and brutal men. He could have fought back. He could have called down legions of angels to avenge each cut and bruise He suffered. With a breath or a single word, He could have slain the entire Roman Empire, freed the nation of Israel, and claimed victory and “peace.” He could have avoided the violence of beatings and death. He could have appealed to Pilate, who already was inclined to release Him. He could have argued with the Sanhedrin, or said whatever they required to secure His pardon and avoid the cross. He could have run away in the Garden, and stayed hidden and given up His ministry for safety and “peace.” But He didn’t. He didn’t fight back, He didn’t argue, He didn’t plead. He healed the ear of one of His arresting officers. He welcomed one of the thieves crucified next to Him into the Kingdom of God. He made provision for His mother’s well-being. He forgave those who accused Him and crucified Him–even from the Cross!
Jesus said that those who make peace will be called the children of God. Not those who seek peace– those who make peace. There is a difference. We tend to seek peace through avoidance. We isolate, insulate, hibernate and alienate, all in attempting to find peace. We avoid conflict. We avoid attachments that might cause us heartbreak or betrayal. Even in our prayers (and I’m speaking from personal experience), we ask for peace without pain or involvement. We want God to shower us with peace and protection, but we don’t ask for the courage or the strength to “make” peace.
Making peace involves reaching out, taking risks, being willing to suffer misunderstanding, conflict, and injustice. It means that we will “take up our cross” and be willing to die to our own comfort and safety for the sake of Christ. That does not mean that we are to be combative, aggressive, abusive, or contemptuous. But, like Jesus, we are to stand firm, even as we offer open arms to those who disagree with us, mock us, even persecute us. True peace is a gift–first from God, and passed on to others who do not deserve it. It is a gift of Grace and Love. The Children of God should be makers of peace, not avoiders of conflict. We need to meet violence and aggression with strength of purpose and positive action. And that should be reflected in our prayer life as well.
How can I make peace today through prayer and service? What cross can I bear for the sake of Christ, and the Cross He bore for me?