You’ll Never Pray Alone!

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

Laundry List Prayers

Do you ever feel like your prayer life has become an endless pile of laundry lists?

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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Today, I want to put aside the “laundry list” and just spend time conversing with my Savior. I hope you will, too.

Praying for Bahrain

I have never been to Bahrain. I know very little about Bahrain. All I know is that it is a small country in the Middle East, located on a series of islands in the Persian Gulf. But I prayed for Bahrain the other day. It’s on my prayer calendar/journal. Every day of the year, I have a nation, city, or geographic region (desert, ocean, continent) to pray for. It’s somewhat random, and personal–many of the “cities” are really local small towns or places close to my heart–and it doesn’t make my prayers virtuous or important. My prayers can’t “save” the world, or any corner of it, from natural disaster or political corruption, disease, or any other malady common to our fallen world. So why do it?

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First, because God loves and cares about the whole world. It’s easy for me to focus on my surrounding community; my state; my country. I know the people and language and culture here. But there is nothing exclusive about God’s love. Throughout the Bible, it is clear that our God is a global God. Sure, God “chose” Abraham and the nation of Israel to display His Holiness. But He also raised up other nations and leaders– Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the Queen of Sheba, Caesar Augustus–and sent prophetic warnings to Babylon, Edom, Assyria, Egypt, and many other nations who neither knew Him nor worshipped Him. I don’t know enough to know how many of the people of Bahrain are Christians, Muslims, Atheists, or any other religion. I don’t know how many of them are suffering from depression, domestic abuse, or disease. But I know that God knows– and cares. Even though I am praying “blind,” I am making an effort to “see” God’s heart for others.

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Second, as I pray for various nations, I become more interested in them. I learn more about them. I recognize them when they are mentioned in the news, or when I hear about people who live or visit there. Again, this doesn’t make me a better person, or my prayers better than anyone else’s–but it helps me be a more informed (and hopefully more compassionate) person than I was yesterday or last year.

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Praying for others reminds me of two important truths: I am very small in the scheme of things– one of more than 8 billion people on the planet! I cannot know them all; I cannot care for them all or influence them, or change their situations. But God can! I serve a God who not only knows all 8 billion individuals; He knows their thoughts, their pasts and their futures–He even knows the number of hairs on each head! The second truth that arises from that is that, small as I am, I am known by God. He cares about ME, just as He cares about each person that breathes. HE can change the small circumstances of my life, and the lives of those I know and love; AND He can raise up kingdoms and break down empires!

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Pursuing prayer is about following God. Part of that is learning discipline. God isn’t “grading” me on whether or not I pray for Bahrain, or Belarus, or Boston, or the tiny local town of Baroda. He isn’t going to turn His back on me if I don’t pray for any of these places. And He won’t love me more if I do. But I will get better insight into His character as I learn to pray faithfully, consistently, and compassionately for others– wherever they are.

Lord of All, Large or Small

I’ve written a number of times about my prayer journal. In it, I pray for individuals and individual requests, as well as praying for communities and regions each day of the year. I also use what I call “Prayer Points” for each day of the week. These are broad topics– The Church, Family and Friends, Government and Politics, Community and Services, Global Health (Healthcare, Diseases, Ecology, etc.), Business and Economy, and Cultural Issues. Often, these broad topics will lend themselves to specific needs or requests (which may overlap items in my prayer journal), but there are also times when the topics seem generic and almost overly broad. I use them anyway.

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Why?

It isn’t because I have any influence over such broad categories– but because God does! And I need to be reminded of that every day. God loves to hear our specific requests– heart cries and urgent needs–even bad hair days and misplaced keys. But He also loves to hear us acknowledge that “all the world” belongs to Him; that He is sovereign over our nations, our culture, His Church, our families, etc. He has authority over world economies, including all the factors we worry about– drought and famine, production, distribution, wealth (or lack thereof). He has the power to overthrow corrupt governments and bring justice. He has the power to defeat disease, and restore forests and rivers; to meet our financial needs, and to save marriages.

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Moreover, He knows best in all these situations– even when I know next to nothing! My efforts to change society or fix the planet will be puny, and based on my limited knowledge and experience. Even my outlook on my own small community is limited– I don’t know all the individual people, organizations, or companies that make up my small town. I trust that God, however, knows each teacher, garbage collector, city worker, police officer, fire fighter, mail carrier, nurse’s aid, day care provider, physical therapist, food service worker, accountant, paralegal, banker, and shopkeeper (and all the other valuable members of my community)– AND He knows the number of hairs on each of their heads! It revolutionizes the way I think and the way I pray each day.

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Imagine what can happen when we pray this way collectively! Imagine the way it can change our outlook, and our actions. I can be saddened by the state of our culture or the breakdown of families. But I have a Mighty Father who has both the wisdom and the power to redeem them! I know I can trust God with everything– large and small. But it is easy to take that for granted, or to “know” it only in the abstract. Keeping prayer points where I can see them and use them daily helps me to live out the truth that I already know.

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So this morning, instead of worrying about our business or the larger economy, I will lift them up into the arms of One who can really make a difference! And I will pray for smaller and more personal requests– those in the hospital or grieving a recent loss; those who are discouraged; those who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, promotions or new opportunities; those who are lost, and those who have misplaced their keys (again).

Because God is the Lord of ALL. AMEN!

Why I Keep a Prayer Journal

I keep a journal of my daily prayer life. I have found it useful, and I recommend it as you pursue a lifestyle of prayer. Why?

  • It helps me keep organized and disciplined as I pray. Not everyone needs help in these areas, but I find that I do, and keeping a journal helps. It helps remind me to pray specifically for certain people, issues, locations, etc. That doesn’t mean that I don’t pray “in the moment.” But it means I have a focus when I sit down to start the day or finish the day in prayer.
  • It provides a place to document God’s answers to prayer. I leave space in my journal, and I go back through and note the ways God has answered prayers for various needs. It is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness and even His attention to detail!
  • It reminds me how BIG God is–I am amazed at how many different items end up in my journal. I pray for a lot of people each day, and a lot of different situations– needs, praises, confessions, worship, “unspoken” items, continuing issues…God hears them all. He knows them all before I even pray! Yet He delights in hearing them on my lips or in my mind.
  • It helps me focus on others. Life can be full of “self” distractions–“my” finances, or aches and pains, scattered thoughts, etc.. A prayer journal reminds me that others need prayer, that our lives are intertwined and impact each other, and also that others are praying for me. In that sense, it makes prayer a very unifying and “communal” activity.
  • It also makes my prayer very personal–conversely, using a journal means that my private thoughts and goals and relationships are in a journal for my eyes (and God’s!) only. I may write down a poem or someone else’s written prayers as well, but I’m not praying someone else’s heart-cry or someone else’s thoughts in place of my own.
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Keeping a prayer journal doesn’t make me a “better” prayer than anyone else. It doesn’t impress God or bring me closer to Him because I have a journal of my prayer life. And I don’t recommend it for any of those reasons. But I have found it easier to be more consistent and more confident as I pray. I am not journaling just my words or even my thoughts– I am journaling a relationship.

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How can you develop a prayer journal?

  • Do what works best for you–this is YOUR journal, not mine. I keep mine in four simple notebooks– one for each season, one page for each day of the year. But you could use index cards, or a calendar, or your smartphone or computer calendar. Use whatever works– it may take a few tries before you find what works best.
  • Pray! Ask God to give you wisdom about what to include or how to organize your journal. I use birthdays and anniversaries to remind me to pray for certain people, but I leave plenty of space for “spur of the moment” requests and ongoing issues. I also pray for various geographic regions, but you can organize it around cultural issues, family members, etc. There are even websites and books that can help you learn about various topics or people groups to pray for..
  • Start simple. You don’t need to have a year-long journal to begin the process. Try journaling for a month first, if that will help you keep with it.
  • Don’t let the journal become bigger than your prayer life. This is a pitfall I landed in early on. I had the ambition to have a “perfect” prayer journal– and it ended up so convoluted that I wasn’t actually praying! Starting small allows you to build the habit first, and add the discipline of journaling in a more natural way.
  • Ask for help– just remember that you don’t have to do it “just like” anyone else, and you shouldn’t do it just to impress someone else.
  • See the attached pages on keeping a prayer journal on this blog..

Pursuing a lifestyle of prayer is a great way to start a new year. And continuing is a great way to look forward in the new year!

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s not actually midwinter just now. In fact, “winter” won’t officially begin for another few days. But it has been bleak around here.

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I suffer from seasonal depression. In spite of the joy I know I should feel during this season; in spite of all the reasons I have to BE joyful, I have been in a funk. I’ve been physically ill, but even more, I’ve been mentally drained and emotionally overwhelmed for over a week. I’ve missed posting a couple of days recently, because I feel hypocritical writing about Christmas.

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But I choose to write tonight about the enduring power of prayer. There are people praying for me, not because I’ve said anything about my condition, but because they are faithful in praying for people, and I happen to be one of them. The clouds are beginning to lift and I’m finding it easier to feel what I already know– that God is in control; that He cares; that He has a purpose beyond the sadness. It’s why I’m so passionate about praying and keeping a prayer log or prayer journal. I am one of those who pray for others, and I am one of those who are being prayed for–we lift each other up, even when–especially when–we don’t fully understand why.

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Some may ask, “How can you say that prayer works if you are depressed? Doesn’t that just prove that prayer isn’t working?” Some people mock the power of prayer in the face of “bad” circumstances. The recent school shooting in my home state of Michigan, or the recent spate of tornadoes in Kentucky and other states are prime examples. Sincere people of faith are being mocked for saying that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the people who are suffering. Mockers say that thoughts and prayers are meaningless–otherwise, prayers should have prevented the events in question from ever happening. In the aftermath, only actions are of value.

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In the face of disaster, distress, or depression, prayers may seem small and even meaningless. Most prayers don’t pack the power of a tornado, nor elicit such an immediate and dramatic response. My depression didn’t suddenly disappear the moment someone began praying for me; those whose homes and lives have been turned upside-down in the past days and weeks didn’t wake up this morning to find that it was just a bad dream. And prayer should be accompanied by thoughtful and compassionate action. But prayer heals– and healing takes time. God chooses to use the prayers of others to seep into our lives; to fortify us and draw us together. Actions may change the circumstances, but prayer changes the person. Prayer reaches beyond the circumstances and the limitations of our human nature.

So today, I will pray. Through the “funk,” through the pain, through the confusion and chaos of a troubled world, I will choose to pray. For those individuals listed in my journal; for those whose needs are posted online or made known to me some other way; for those whose names and faces come to mind throughout the day. Because it is God’s way. Because others are faithfully doing the same. Because, in the end, it brings joy and peace. Even when–especially when– things seem so bleak.

24-Hour Help Line

My husband and I run a small business. And I am always surprised at the number of people who call us “after hours.” Sundays, early mornings, late at night…they seem to be under the impression that we will be available to answer their questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have a website, which includes frequently asked questions, and a list of our hours, but people still call when we are not available. Some of them even call to complain that we are not open as they stand outside our door–which also has a list of our hours! We just can’t be at our shop all the time, and we can’t anticipate when someone will call or want to stop by.

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God doesn’t have any “after” hours. He’s always available when we need help, have a question, or want to express our feelings and thoughts. There is no busy signal, no “peak” time, and no need to “hold” while waiting for Him to listen to our call.

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We know this, or we ought to, but we often take for granted this incredible gift of access to the Almighty. Suppose God went on vacation for two weeks every year, or took a siesta every afternoon, or had a staff of “receptionists” to screen prayers, so that only certain ones reached His ears? Imagine a God who could only be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, or could only be reached at His “main office” in Peoria, or Lagos?

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God– The Only, Sovereign, Eternal God–is accessible in a way that no one else can ever be. He is our “ever present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46). No matter when, no matter where, God is “on call.” And He is available to anyone and everyone at all times. Hundreds of thousands of prayers rising up at any given moment– ALL reach His ears and capture His attention.

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It is tempting, especially when we expect an instant answer, to interpret God’s seeming silence as inattention or even rejection. We begin to wonder if God has heard us, if He cares, or if He is indifferent to our pleas. One way to keep things in perspective is to journal our prayer life. Not just the requests, but the answers.

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I keep a prayer journal, and periodically, I go back over the requests from last week, last month, or even last year. I am astonished at how many I’ve forgotten in the march of time, and how many of them God has answered– often in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. He never forgets, but He often acts in His own ways and in His own perfect timing.

God is the ultimate 24-hour help line– ALWAYS there to listen; always available; always able; and always compassionate.

Prayers for the Nameless…

I keep a prayer journal. In it, I like to write the names of people I know and pray for– family, friends, neighbors, etc. For every day of the year, I have a list of people who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries (if I know about them). And I also have a space where I list specific requests related to health or suffering, needs, grieving, and more.

But many times, I also get generic or “unspoken” requests–no names or specific details. And for every day of the year, I also have a place or region– a city, state, province, nation, continent, ocean, desert–for which I pray. Sometimes, this can be awkward. I don’t always know for whom I am praying, or for what outcome…should I pray for peace?..prosperity?..courage?..the weather?..the government?..

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So what is the point? Why not stick to more “focused” prayer? Why not pray for those things with which I am most familiar? Most comfortable? Most able to make or see a difference?

Because God calls us to pray. And He calls us to pray both for those people and things we know well, and those we can only hope to trust to Him. I don’t have to know WHY I am praying for Albania (beyond the fact that it is on tomorrow’s page of my prayer journal). I don’t have to know who lives there, or what the needs are. I don’t have to know, because God knows, and I am trusting HIM to know the who and the why, the how and the when.

The other day, I was reading in Genesis– the story of Noah, and the Ark. The Bible introduces Noah by giving us a genealogy: a list of the descendants of Adam through to Noah. And there is a curious side story about Nephilim, and giants, and wickedness. But there is something noticeably missing. The women’s names. Even in the story of Noah that follows, Noah and his sons are named. But not the wives…we know they are there in the Ark. We know they were saved from the flood. We know they were crucial to the survival and future of mankind, but there are no names. At other times throughout the Bible narrative, there are seemingly endless lists of names of people we are likely to forget–names like Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:2), Unni (1 Chronicles 15:18), Shelumiel (Numbers 10:18), Palal (Nehemiah 3:25), Tryphena (Romans 16:12), or Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16).

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Names are important to the Lord. He knows each and every person’s name before they are even born. He knows the number of hairs on each person’s head (even the ones that used to be there!). But it is not necessary for US to know every name, every need, or every situation in order to lift it before our omniscient and loving Father.

So I will continue to pray for the nameless and the unknown. I will lift up unspoken and unformed requests to the God I DO know.

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Another reason I continue to pray for the nameless is that it keeps my focus outward. One of the drawbacks of the modern and post-modern world is that the “smaller” our world becomes, the smaller our focus. I can connect, via internet, to people around the globe. I can look up statistics for any country or region; I can see news reports and video uploads in real time from nearly every corner of the world. But it can be frightfully easy to turn my focus on myself and those immediately around me, to the exclusion of those whose names don’t show up on my “friends” list, or those whose faces get lost among the thousands of videos, and Facebook Posts, and Instagram shots. It can be deceptively easy to depend on what I can “know” from a computer screen, and not to depend on what God knows to be true.

Let’s open our hearts and minds to pray for the nameless among us– near and far. They are not nameless to God, and they are precious in His sight. And somewhere, someone may be praying for “nameless” people in our nation, or city, or region– US!

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This Little Light..

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how prayer is like a candle:

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Even a small candle can provide enough light to make a real difference in the darkness. Sometimes, we feel our prayers are small and ineffective, like a single candle in a dark room. But a single candle can pierce the darkness and offer hope and focus and even warmth where there was none before. We are in the season of Advent, and we light candles to mark the weeks of waiting for the One who is the Light of the World to come into the darkness. His light was enough to save the world from the darkness of Sin and Death. And it is This Light who hears our prayers, and intercedes for us. It is This Light who empowers us to share hope and love where it is most needed right now, right where we are.

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We are never a single candle! Not only do we have Christ living in us, and His Holy Spirit empowering us; God’s people around the world, through all places and times, are praying. Imagine seeing a single candle at the end of darkened room. Now, imagine how much brighter to see a long table lined with a row of candles, or a room lit by chandeliers and wall sconces with dozens of candles. Even if they are spread out– especially if they are spread out– they will fill every corner of the room with light and warmth. This is one of the reasons it is so important to pray for believers around the world, and to pray with other believers, through prayer nets, prayer meetings, prayer lists and blogs, and prayer journals.

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Our prayers are powerful. Not because of our “candle”, but because of the light God provides when we pray

Showers of Blessing

One of the things I find amazing about prayer is hearing about and seeing God work globally through the prayers of His people. God is Sovereign–He can choose to work however, whenever, and wherever He chooses. But He gives us the awesome privilege of participating in His work.

I use a prayer journal. In it, I keep names of people, ongoing and urgent prayer requests, and a list of places. Each day, I pray for those who are celebrating their birthdays or anniversaries (if I know them). I also pray for ongoing and urgent requests as I receive them. I pray for world leaders, local officials, and even those who wish me ill (if I know of them). Lastly, I pray for a particular place each day–as I write this, I am on the day reserved for Uganda. I don’t know anyone in Uganda; I’ve never visited, and I know very little about the nation. But God knows. God knows the people, He knows the weather, the land, the economy, and the spiritual needs of Uganda. I don’t have to know any of that. I just need to be faithful to call out to God on behalf of this land that is precious to Him. Some days, I pray for a nation; sometimes a city or a region; sometimes an ocean or desert.

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My prayers rise to God like a mist, but God gathers prayers to form clouds and send a shower of blessing wherever He wills it. I may never see the answer to my prayer for Uganda today. But I trust that God will send blessings like rain– maybe today, maybe next week– to someone in Uganda. Someone I’ve never met. Someone I hope to meet and love in Eternity–my long-lost, never-before-met brother or sister! And as I pray for those with birthdays or urgent needs, I trust that others are doing the same. God may not choose to answer those prayers in the way we expect. But He WILL send out showers of blessing. The rain will fall on the just and the unjust https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+5%3A44-45&version=NIV and it will fall where and when God decides.

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God doesn’t need me to pray for Uganda or any particular person or place. His work will progress with or without me. And if I pray for Moldova or Tokyo or the Arctic Ocean tomorrow, it won’t change God’s plans. But it might change MY outlook. And I will know the joy and glory of joining in God’s work as I watch it unfold. Amazingly, I know that some of those showers will fall on me and my family as other believers– perhaps strangers I have never met– pray today. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+113%3A3&version=NIV

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Pray without ceasing..

1 Thessalonians 5:17

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