I saw someone’s prayer request on line– I’ll pray when I get the time. I had a wonderful day, and I feel fine– I’ll praise God, when I get the time.
When I get the time, I’ll kneel down and pour out my heart. When I get the time, I’ll lift up my hands in worship. When I get the time, I’ll really dig in to God’s Word. When I get the time…
I have to find the time to read that new novel, Make another batch of cookies, Call my friend, Look at my Facebook feed, Watch the news, Do a couple of crossword puzzles, And write my blog about prayer…
Lord, forgive me for putting you first in print, but not in deed. Thank you that you offer me a chance to use my time more wisely. Thank you for the opportunities to spend time with you– and with those you love so much. Help me to count my days (Psalm 90:12), that I may apply my heart to wisdom, and not just busy-ness.
..but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3b-5 ESV via biblegateway.com
I once had to drop out of a thread on social media. (Actually, I’ve had to drop out of a number of threads, but that is neither here nor there…) The thread was about parenting, and priorities. The main thrust was that, as a parent, one’s top priority was to make one’s children “happy.” If your child wanted a particular toy for her/his birthday, you would certainly do whatever you could to get “that” toy. If your child wanted the latest fashion in shoes, you would certainly try to buy them. If your child wanted to be successful, you would do whatever you could to see that he/she got into the “best” schools and had the “best” opportunities in life. And if they wanted to do something of which you disapproved, you would still encourage them to follow their dream– if it would make them happy. Of course, this didn’t include letting your child abuse drugs or become a criminal. But in general, it meant sacrificing and taking a back seat to your child’s emotional well-being.
On the surface, this seems like good parenting. Of course, I don’t “want” my child to be miserable, or unsuccessful, or “left out.” And I don’t want to impose my dreams and wishes onto my child, or live my life through him/her. I would not wish hardship and suffering to come to anyone, especially those I love. Except…I want them to develop endurance, and character, and hope, and compassion, and wisdom, and humility, and faith. And all these things come from suffering, losing, and learning from difficult experiences.
I dropped out of the thread for a couple of reasons: I have learned that whenever the subject of parenting comes up, my experience (or lack thereof) makes my opinion “invalid” to those who disagree. “You’ve never had children. You don’t know what it’s like.” But I know what it was like to BE a child, and to have parents. I’ve observed the results of parenting by others, both good and bad. I know that even good parenting can’t guarantee “happy” teenagers! And even “bad” parenting can produce children who break the cycle and become adults of integrity and joy. The other reason I held back was that, in my experience, those who post such threads only want their own opinions confirmed. The people posting on this thread were not “bad” parents–in fact, they probably would agree with me if we had the time to sit down and talk through the issue. But one of the downfalls of social media is that we want short, pithy advice, instead of long and serious discussions. We don’t want nuances; we want comfortable “likes.”
I don’t want my family members– my step-children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and cousins, etc.–to be defeated by suffering. I don’t want them to be overwhelmed by depression and anxiety. I don’t pray for them to be hurt or frustrated, because “it’s for their own good.” But I do pray that they will learn strength and courage, faith and trust, hope and joy as they overcome struggles, conquer fears, fight life’s battles, and walk in obedience to the One who has won the final victory. I don’t “just” want them to be happy. I want them to find the lasting joy that comes from developing a Godly character. That may bring me to tears when I see them fighting illness and hardship, persecution, depression, and other setbacks. But it also keeps me on my knees and reaching out as they understand that I’m there whether they’re sad, or angry, or hurting– and so is the God who loves them forever!
What’s the most “important” prayer you can pray today? Sometimes, we think it is the prayer we pray in a moment of crisis. Or maybe the one we are asked to lead in front of a congregation. But the setting or the situation doesn’t make one prayer more important than any other.
It’s almost a trick question, really. Jesus never taught that some prayers were more “important” than others. But He did teach the some prayers were more effective than others. And His answers may be surprising to some.
The prayers Jesus praised were prayers of humble confession and needy request. God doesn’t judge our prayers– He judges the heart of the Pray-er. Jesus praised the prayer of the Tax Collector over that of the self-righteous Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14). While others might have been impressed by the Pharisee’s words and confidence, Jesus heard the desperation and the dependence of the Tax Collector. Just before this exchange, Jesus told the parable of a persistent widow, whose constant nagging resulted in getting justice from corrupt judge (Luke 18:1-8). It’s a strange parable–the woman is not meekly accepting of her situation; the judge is corrupt, initially refusing to do the right thing. Yet Jesus prefaces the story by telling his followers to “always pray and not lose heart.” (v. 1) So, the very prayers we dismiss– the nightly prayers for our loved ones, the “unspoken” request we lift up on behalf of a friend, or the seemingly unanswered requests–are no less important than any others.
Finally, Jesus praised (and prayed!) prayers that were “real.” He poured out His heart to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane; He lifted up His friends’ needs at the Last Supper (John 13-17); He said simple grace before feeding the crowds.
So often, we judge our efforts when we pray– did we say the “right” thing? Did we say it the “right” way? Did we leave something out? Forget to say something? But God knows what is on our heart and in our mind. He knows what we “meant to say.” He knows everything we need– and all the needs of everyone else we could mention! He already knows all His names and attributes! And though He loves to hear us speak words of praise, He also listens to our heart, and–26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV via biblegateway.com)
There is one caveat– because God knows our heart, He also “sees through” prayers that are insincere, proud, self-centered, and thoughtless. Some of the most “important-sounding” prayers fall short of touching God’s ears. He will not listen to the prayers of those who wish to “strike a bargain” with Him, or convince Him of their own self-worth. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t value each one of us– after all, He became Sin who knew no sin, so that we could become the Righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). But God’s love is a gift–when we try to bargain for His gifts and earn His Grace with our eloquence, we lose sight of Who He Is.
Many centuries before Jesus walked the earth, Hannah poured out her heart in tears, wordless anguish, and groaning. (1 Samuel 1). Her prayer was such a mess, the priest, Eli, accused her of being drunk! But God heard her heart, and answered her prayer, and because of her great faith, her son, Samuel led Israel through some of its most trying times. Hers was a very “important” prayer.
What if our stumbling effort to pour out whatever is on our hearts and lift it up to Almighty God–our praise, our failings, our grief, our desperate need–is be the most important prayer we can pray today?
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me; But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room For Thy holy nativity. (Refrain 1-4): O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee. Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang, Proclaiming Thy royal degree; But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth, And in great humility. The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest In the shade of the forest tree; But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God, In the deserts of Galilee. Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word, That should set Thy people free; But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn, They bore Thee to Calvary. When the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing, At Thy coming to victory, Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room, There is room at My side for thee.” Refrain 5: My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, When Thou comest and callest for me.
Christmas is a time of gathering: with friends or family, co-workers or congregations. But, as we gather, we must make room– room for a tree; room for decorations; room for tables laden with food and drink; room for guests; room for gifts; “room” in our schedules–for shopping, programs and parties, travel time, etc.
We spend a large part of the holiday season making room for all these things. We plan ahead, and rearrange our lives and rooms for all the trappings of Christmas. Do we make room for the Christ?
God planned from the beginning for the incarnation. He sent word through the patriarchs and prophets that He would come, but He made no reservations or detailed plans for His arrival in the humble town of Bethlehem. And while the Christ child received gifts from the Wise Men (see yesterday’s post), He asked for none. He asked for no great halls filled with feasting and merriment. All He asked for was room–and there was none. Bethlehem was flooded with visitors. Everyone was busy with the census, pre-occupied with annoyances, worries, taxes, paperwork, registrations, and more. The residents of the town, who might otherwise have shown great concern and even generosity toward a visiting young couple expecting their first child, could not be bothered to find help for this family.
At its heart, Christmas is all about making room– but not just for the glitter and comforts and the expected guests– we have the opportunity to make room for the wonder that arrives unannounced, and even inconvenient; for the realization that God often arrives as an unexpected guest.
We don’t often celebrate Las Posadas in the bitter cold of Michigan, but it’s a wonderful tradition that reminds us of this very truth. For nine nights before Christmas, people throughout neighborhoods in Mexico and Guatemala parade through the streets re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. A couple representing the expectant parents go door to door, asking for shelter. Door after door is closed to them, until they arrive at a house that has been designated as La Posada (the lodging), where the entire group will be welcomed in to warmth and celebration. Click here to see a more detailed description: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/las-posadas-a-mexican-christmas-tradition/
I pray that we will always have room in our hearts for the Christ– and for all those whom He loves. As we make room for all the trappings of Christmas, let’s not fill the space and time with so much that we crowd out the real reason for the season!
I would have taken the scenic route
Stopped to smell the new-mown grass,
Or the languid marshy odors
Drifting through the open window of my car.
I might have stopped off to see my old friend
Whose house I have passed a hundred times
On my way from somewhere to somewhere else–
Stayed awhile, relived memories or made new ones.
I would have let the others speak
Drinking in their words, tasting them, weighing their wisdom
And nodding, or not, let them take the spotlight a little longer
While I held my own cleverness in check.
I would have prayed with more reflection, and
Less impatience. I would have used fewer words,
And chosen them with more care. I would have shown
More gratitude and less “attitude.”
I would have cried more and sighed less.
I would have risked speaking up in those awkward moments:
“I didn’t mean that.” “I’m glad to know you.”
“I’m so sorry.” “I love you.” “Please know that I love you.”
“You have an amazing smile.” “You are important.”
“God loves you with an everlasting, unshakable love!”
I would have watched more sunsets and fewer TV shows.
I would have written more stories and read fewer magazines.
I would have danced like no one was watching.
I would have sung like no one was listening.
I would have invited others to join me.
If I had known that I have five more years;
Or five more months, or five more decades…
Would I live differently? Pray differently?
Love differently? I hope so. I just don’t know.
Our church held a hymn-sing and ice cream social last Sunday. It was an informal evening service, but we heard testimony of the power of hymns to shape our worship, and to help us remember scripture’s promises. We also had the chance to just “call out” a favorite hymn to sing together. We probably sang 15 or 20 hymns that night, and each one had special meaning to many in the congregation. We treasure certain songs, certain verses, certain stories– they feed our soul, encourage our heart, steel our thoughts, and pour balm on our wounds.
One hymn we didn’t sing the other night, though it is a favorite of many, was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Sweet Hour of Prayer– lyrics and much more here In getting ready to post for today, I thought about this hymn. We treasure the thought of prayer being sweet and bringing relief, but do we treasure prayer enough to spend an hour or more at it? If I add up the time spent in morning prayers of devotion, grace at mealtime, evening prayers, and “quick thoughts to heaven” throughout the day, it probably adds up to an hour…but I spend more time writing about prayer each day than I actually spend practicing it. And when was the last time I got so caught up in prayer that I lost track of time and spent over an hour at it in one sitting?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 KJV) This is true of our material treasures, but also our spiritual treasures, our thought treasures, and our time. When I hear “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” one of my first thoughts is always, “That would be nice, but I don’t have an hour to spend praying– I’d never get anything done!” But would I have said that about watching my favorite TV show? Spending an hour on Facebook or shopping at my favorite store?
God is beyond time– he’s not counting the hours, minutes or moments we spend with Him. But he feels our absence and our distraction just the same. He isn’t trying to pull us away from important things to waste our time– he wants to pull us away from the things that weigh us down, worry us, haunt us, and eat up the precious time He has given us.
I have found that when I feel “too busy” to spend time with Jesus, it’s a good time to pause and make time for prayer. When I do (and it’s not as often as I should), three things happen:
I want more! That time refreshes me, calms my spirit, and removes the burden of worries, failures, and frustrations.
I accomplish more–maybe it’s a case of God re-ordering my other priorities; maybe he just gives me the power to work more efficiently; maybe it’s a miracle–but I find that the “time crunch” I worried about seems to melt away.
Jesus becomes “more” to me– I grow closer to Him, and closer to the person He created me to be.
I have a very bad habit of procrastinating. I wait until the last minute to tidy up, make that important phone call, or write my latest blog entry…living alone for so many years, it went mostly unnoticed by others and unchecked by me. My husband is very patient about certain aspects of this habit, but he has taught me much about the value of getting on top of tasks, instead of always playing catch up.
One of the lies I have told myself is that “I just don’t have enough time..” to do certain things. But God has given every one of us the same 24 hours in a day. Some of us have more unstructured time, but no one has more actual time than anyone else. And I will always find time for the things I choose to do first–whether they are more important, more urgent, or just more fun.
Time is a gift. How we spend it shows how much we value it. I can waste time, invest time, spend time, hoard time, share time, or lose time, but I can’t buy, sell, or trade for more of it. I can pray for it– there is a precedent in the Bible. Hezekiah was the king of Judah. God told him that he would die soon, and Hezekiah prayed and wept. God sent the prophet Isaiah to tell the king that he would grant him another 15 years of life, as well as deliverance from his enemy, the king of Assyria ( see II Kings 19 and 20). Hezekiah was generally a good king, but in the extra 15 years that God granted him, he was foolish, and put his nation at risk. Having more time didn’t make Hezekiah a better king, nor did it bring his nation peace and security…all it did was prolong his life and defer Judah’s destruction for a few short years.
What makes time precious is that we don’t know how much of it we have here. Our lives pass in a flash– what we do today in haste or wasted pleasure can’t be recovered. But it can be redeemed. I can learn to use time more wisely. I can pray for good counsel in the stressful days as well as the times of leisure. Rather than ask for more time, I’ve started to ask for more wisdom to USE the time I’ve been given. I’ve been amazed at how much more I can accomplish when I seek God’s counsel about time, rather than worry and work at making “more” of it. And some of the other things that took up so much of my time? I still have time for some of them, too– after the important things get done.