Panic, Prayer, Praise, Peace!

Philippians 4:6 New International Version (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+4%3A6&version=NIV

I hope that today will be filled with peace, joy, and blessing for anyone reading this. But I know that today will bring bad news for some, pain for others, and hardship for many. Life is filled with struggle, disappointment, failures, and loss. Our first reaction is often to worry, which can lead to more worry, and a sense of urgency, even panic. In many cases, we have neither the resources nor the wisdom to overcome our struggles–even sustained effort or a “lucky break” may leave us without much hope. And the more we worry, the less we accomplish. But telling ourselves (or others) to simply “stop worrying” doesn’t banish worry; sometimes it increases it! Now we worry about worrying too much, or we find new things to worry about.

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But there is a time-honored and proven pattern that can help. Jesus spoke of it in His “Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 6, He gives us this advice:

“So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
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The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Philippian believers. He told them to be anxious for nothing–that regardless of our situation or circumstances, we should not panic, but pray (seek God’s grace, righteousness, wisdom, and help). But more than that, we should present all of our prayers, petitions, and requests with thanksgiving and praise!

This is not the same as pretending that our struggles don’t exist, or that they are not important, or that we are glad about the pain, uncertainty, or hardship that they bring. Instead it is lifting our eyes to Heaven and finding that God is bigger than it all; that His grace, His strength, His wisdom is sufficient for the next step– for today’s worries–for today’s battles and burdens.

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This doesn’t happen naturally or automatically–we must seek, pray, pursue righteousness, ask for help, and continue to stand firm. There are some who point to the words of Jesus, or of Paul as a kind of “magic formula.” If we repeat a few promises from the Bible, or if we pray certain prayers, or convince ourselves and others that we have “enough” faith, God is obligated to change our circumstances and give us the resolution or relief we want. God is not primarily interested in our relief– He is interested in our redemption, our renewal, and our eternal reality. In following this pattern of turning our panic into prayer, and our prayer into praise, He promises that we will experience His peace. Our panic will be transformed–even if our situation stays the same; even if it gets worse before it gets better!

So how do we practice this pattern; how do we train for this transformation?

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Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Start by seeking God with abandon–pursue Him with your whole heart– thank Him for who He is, and for all He has done. It can be helpful to review some of the names of God–I AM, Almighty, Creator, Lord, King of Kings.. Or read a Psalm or find a song that reminds you of God’s character and power. Think of the times when God has been faithful in your own past.
  • Find something about your situation for which you can be thankful– genuinely thankful. Years ago, when I was young and single, I was laid off from my first full-time job after nine months. Was I worried? Yes! Where would I find another job? How would I pay my bills? But I resolved to start being thankful about all I had learned on the job– I had met new people, learned new skills, purchased a car…God knew my needs for the future, and even though I had to wait another eight months before I found a full-time job, I was able to find temporary work and interview for other jobs in the meantime. And I had friends and family who offered good advice and encouragement along the way. I know some situations are more painful and perplexing than the loss of a job. When I my father died, nothing made the pain less, but I could thank God for Dad’s life and the time we had with him. This is NOT easy, nor is it meant to be…It may not happen for days, or weeks–don’t give up!
  • Cry out to God– in praise, but also in petition, pain, confusion, confession, and raw emotion. God wants a real relationship with us, and that includes walking with us in the “valley of the shadow of death.” We don’t have to fear evil, or worry about the future, not because it holds no danger or dread, but because we never have to walk alone and defenseless!
  • Remember this is a pattern to follow, not a pill to swallow–none of this comes easy, and God’s peace is not an instant “fix.” Instead, it is a growing conviction that God is who He says He is– faithful, loving, victorious, eternal, and sovereign. Such peace defies our panic and erodes our worry, leaving us ready to face the battles before us, and move forward through the struggles.
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It is not will power or a change of circumstances that brings incomprehensible peace. It is not magic– it is Majesty!

The Prayers of the Righteous

James 5:16 Modern English Version (MEV)

16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.

 

Romans 3:10-11 Modern English Version (MEV)

10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.

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Anyone can pray.  God hears our prayers.  God answers prayer.  But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally.  That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust.  It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires.  He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.

James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.”  But this is putting the cart before the horse.  The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal).  The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit.  If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.

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It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much.  Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others.  Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?

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If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:

Who am I praying for today?  What am I praying for myself?  For others?  For the Glory of God?  Am I praying fervently?  Diligently?  Righteously?  In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?

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Next, consider what it means to be “effective.”  Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely?  God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect.  God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering.  He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.

 

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Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation.  Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word?  Are you harboring a grudge against someone?  Do you need to make things right with someone?  With God?

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine.  What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?

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Seek…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I work at a small retail shop, and I have come to recognize at least three different types of shoppers.  There are the browsers– they have no clear idea of what they are looking for, and they spend their time looking at items and chatting.  They may end up buying items, but they are just as likely to pick up an item, consider it, and then cast it aside if something else catches their eye, or their friends are ready to leave.

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Then, there are the lookers.  They pick up certain items, look at the price, look at the color and size, hold it up, try it on (if it can be worn); they may even ask their friends’ advice.  They have a particular need, and they are looking for an item that “fits” that need.

But the seekers– look out!  They march in, come right up to the counter and ask me a host of specific questions.  Do you have_______________?  They have a description of the item they’re seeking– size, color, brand or label–often very specific and they insist that nothing else will do.  If I assure them that I do not have that item in stock, they turn tail and walk away.  If I say that I have something similar, they may reluctantly let me bring it out for inspection, but one glance is all it takes for them to make up their minds.  If I suggest something else, they are likely to shake their head(s) and walk away.  They may come back in a week or month, or even next year, looking for the same item, or something else, but they come with the same pulsing energy, and excitement.  Price is generally no object.  The fact that I don’t have the item they’re looking for does not diminish their excitement or desire to find “that one item” that brought them through my door.

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We live in a world of browsers– in fact, our search engines/internet information-gathering applications are called “browsers”.  We enter a keyword, the application brings back dozens or thousands of possible sites, and we “browse” through our options until we find one that seems to give us the information we want or need.  This is fine if we are looking for general information.  It becomes frustrating if we are looking for an exact website, unless we know its domain name or URL.

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In pursuing prayer, and “seeking” a closer relationship with God, sometimes, I stoop to browsing– I’m not really seeking His face, just looking around for encouragement or validation or a vague warm, fuzzy “feeling”.  God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Earnestly, diligently, fervently.  We are not called to browse idly, but to seek boldly.

I used to work with teens.  Sometimes I would organize a scavenger hunt, or a treasure hunt.  Teams would form, clues or lists would be given, along with a time limit.  Students would run, climb, dig, crawl, scamper, push, sweep, turn things over, and under, and all around–all in the pursuit of a clue or an item for a game.  How much more might we see God’s response if we brought this kind of energy and passion to our prayer life?

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I think I have some seeking to do…

Treetop Prayers

There is a zoo, about an hour from my house, where you can climb up on a platform at certain times of the day, and feed giraffes.  Since giraffes are not native to the American Midwest, this is probably the closest I ever have come, or ever will come, to a live giraffe, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to interact with this unique member of God’s creation.

Giraffes are grazers, but their unique bodies are not best designed for munching on grass or other low-lying plants.  Instead, their focus is on the tops of trees and tall bushes.  For me to feed a giraffe, I need to be at the level of the tree branches.  And it changes my perspective.  I’m no longer paying attention to ants and blades of grass.  I can see landscapes and clouds for miles stretching out around me.  Not a bad view at all!

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Yet giraffes are still grounded–they do not soar like eagles, above all the clouds and unattached to the earth.  Giraffes must still be on guard and prepared to flee danger from predators or grass fires.  But their unique height and perspective give them a better view to see the danger from far off, and act accordingly.

Sometimes, I think we are called to pray with a giraffe’s perspective–to look up and out and pray from the treetops–a little closer to God and leaving behind the small things of the world.  Lofty prayers of gratitude and praise; prayers that recognize that there is a big world of wonder all around us.  Prayers that look ahead and can see trouble on the horizon; to seek God’s face early and prepare for hard times ahead.

Sometimes, we need to pray from the depths. God will still here us, no matter where we may be.  But the Bible reminds us often that we should look up, ascend, raise our eyes, and change our perspective.

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I plan to take some time today for treetop prayer.  Will you?

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