When I Don’t Know How to Pray

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Renew

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.

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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. 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.

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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!

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)

Once For All…

Hebrews 9:11-15 World English Bible (WEB)

11 But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, 12 nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without defect to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

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Some chores just never end– laundry, trash, sweeping, making the bed, doing up the dishes, mowing the lawn/shoveling the drive or sidewalk– the list goes on.  Simple chores, but repetitive and sometimes annoying.  And they are all necessary– if someone doesn’t do them, the whole family (sometimes the whole neighborhood!) suffers.

Today, I’m so grateful for the promise that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient– He redeemed us completely and forever through the shedding of His blood.  It’s a done deal!  It is FINISHED!  All that the ancient sacrifices represented has been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Messiah.  Atonement and reconciliation are available for the asking.  We still need to seek His face; to turn from our sin and humble our hearts before our maker.  But the Holy Spirit makes it possible to lay the guilt and burden of sin at the foot of the cross and walk away free and unencumbered.

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Someday, even the mundane chores of this world will come to an end.  Many of the tasks we do every day involve maintenance– maintenance of our earthly bodies (hygiene, eating and/or dieting, dressing, etc.), maintenance of our earthly homes (dusting, sweeping, washing, painting), and maintenance of the earth around us (lawn care, neighborhood beautification, trash pick-up, caring for trees, pets, gardens, etc.).  But better by far, the “chore” of cleaning up after our sins and mistakes and emotional scars will be forgotten in the joy of our eternal restoration.

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We live in this knowledge and hope even now– one day we will live in the full reality.  Every reminder, every vestige and speck of sin will be banished, never to be dug up or brought to mind.  Relationships won’t just be patched up– they will be fully restored.  Consequences will be expunged; hurts and damages erased and completely healed.

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Once for all–for all time, for all who place their trust in Messiah, for all the breadth and depth of words, actions, thoughts, deeds, consequences, injuries–Once for ALL!

Where Am I?

Smack-dab in the center of Sin and Pride;
You could find me in Peril, Intrigue and Rebellion–
Guilt surrounded me, pain and despair held me fast.
But I was not in Repentance, Mercy, or Grace.

I had die to “I”– let it go and let the Son redeem the Sin
Trade Pride for Prayer, and Hype for Hope.

But I am no longer lost or dead– and no longer a slave to sin or pride.
I can now be found in Faith, and Charity;
I thrive in Fellowship, I have a Friend in Jesus,
A Spirit to guide me, and a vision for Eternity.
It is not “I” who lives, but “I AM” who lives in me.
Salvation, forgiveness, life, and victory are all mine;
Alive in Him, I am found in Christ– sanctified,
And never alone.

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Romans 8:1-5 King James Version (KJV)

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

 

1 Corinthians 15:57 New International Version (NIV)

57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

  • A brief note about Scripture references and quotes:  I try to give scripture references and quotes in various translations, though I give most in the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV) or the King James or New King James versions (KJV or NKJV).  I don’t intend to cause confusion by doing this.  There are several excellent translations/versions available, and for a good comparison, there are several wonderful Bible study websites (two of my favorites are Bible Gateway and Bible Hub  ).  I simply find that there are some nuances that make for easier reading or use in the blog.  Often, one translation will have notes and cross references that are wonderful for further study, but confusing to include as part of the blog quote.  I encourage anyone to read the verses in whatever translation they have available, feel most comfortable using, or feel is most trustworthy.  I also welcome comments or corrections.

Make Every Effort…

2 Peter 1:3-9 New International Version (NIV) (Biblegateway.com)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind,forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

There are a great number of Christians who face discouragement and frustration in their daily life.  Sometimes, this is because they are busy looking at their circumstances and feeling overwhelmed by them.  But sometimes, there is a general discontent; a malaise of lukewarm commitment and lackluster results that can cause once fruitful Christians to wander away from the faith and even disparage their former churches.  “I wasn’t being ‘fed'”… “It just wasn’t working for me”…”I got tired of the persecution (not genuine persecution, but the feeling of being mocked and unpopular at parties and reunions)”…”the church just isn’t relevant anymore.”  These are a few of the excuses I have heard from people  who were once joyful and eager to share their faith.  I don’t doubt that they experienced Salvation– but they are missing out on sanctification– they have done little to build on the solid rock.  They blame the church, their pastor, other Christians, even God for their lack of spiritual growth.

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Yet, in this passage, the Apostle Peter tells us that Christ has given us EVERYTHING we need to live a godly life– not the church, not other Christians, not the experience we get from a worship service– all we need has been given to us through Christ; his death and resurrection; his promises and his example of holy living.

But, like any gift, it must be used to be effective.  A lamp may look good sitting on a table, but if it isn’t plugged in and turned on (or filled with oil and lit), it does little more than gather dust.  Similarly, if I don’t maintain tools or appliances, I can’t expect them to continue to be useful– they will get corroded, filthy, worn, and broken.

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Peter urges us to USE the gifts we have been given.  This is not a call to base our salvation on works, or to make a checklist of “good things” to make us a “better” person.  Rather, it is a blue print of building on the gifts we have to become more productive, more secure, more established in our Christian walk– to become the mature people God means for us to be. When we don’t follow this blueprint, Peter warns, something awful happens.  We become nearsighted–we narrow our focus on our own experience and our own resources, rather than utilizing the wonderful gifts God has made available to us.

  • Faith–it starts here.  If we don’t trust in God’s provision, His mercy, and His power, we won’t build on the right foundation.
  • Goodness–Such a deceptively simple word, but it is packed with power.  Post-modernists like to sneer at the idea of goodness.  It seems dull, meek, bland, and insufficient.  At the same time, we want to assure ourselves (and everyone else) that we are, in our own daily life, good…good enough to earn respect, better than someone else down the street, “good” just because…we are not “bad”.  It is difficult to concede that, left to our own devices, we will not achieve goodness automatically– it takes effort to deny our own desires and whims to do the right thing, the just thing, the “good” thing.
  • Knowledge–Sure, I “know” what the Bible says…right?  I already “know” what Jesus would do– that’s why I wear the WWJD bracelet– to remind me of what I already know…How many Christians actually make a daily effort to learn more about Christ?  How many blindly stumble along, confident that what little we know is more than enough?
  • Self Control– Not going around pointing out everyone else’s fault, but working to keep our own anger, bitterness, selfishness, envy, etc., in check.  Actually making the effort and not adopting a false humility that says, “I know I still struggle with ________, but God’s not finished with me yet!”
  • Perseverance–Staying the course, even when it doesn’t “feel” good, or effective.  Trusting that God IS still at work, instead of just using that as an excuse for not making a genuine effort to improve our relationship with Him.  How many of us have missed out on blessings and miracles because we simply threw in the towel one day early, or didn’t climb that last step.
  • Godliness, Mutual Affection, Love–I’ve put these three together, not because they are the same, or because there is nothing to say about each one, but because I think this is where many Christians want to be, without going through the previous steps.  We want to think that we are not only Godly, but God-like in our habits, words, thoughts, etc.  We want to think that because we have a close-knit group of friends at church (our Holy Huddle) that we have mastered Mutual Affection.  And we think that if we love at least the idea of people who are different from us, people who are oppressed or hurting, that we are not “hateful”–we deserve a crown of glory.

arrogant

Unfortunately, I have fallen into the trap of wanting the results and the benefits of Christ’s gifts without the “every effort” they deserve.  Saying “hello” to neighbors on the street or defending “morality” on FB is not the same as taking up my cross.  And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with being friendly or standing up for what’s right– it’s a start.  But like the lamp that isn’t turned on, I’m not sending out light– I’m not fulfilling my purpose.  And until I make “every effort”, not just the ones that look good or feel good, or seem easiest or most important, I can’t shine in the darkness around me.

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