Thou Preparest a Table Before Me

Mighty God,
You could demand…
Anything.
You need nothing.
You are worthy of
Endless adoration.

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Yet You prepare a table–
Lavish with blessings,
Personalized to the last detail–
For me.

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You, who could reserve all the
Wonders of nature for your own pleasure;
Cause the sun to rise, the birds to sing
For me.

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You lay the plates,
Polish the silver,
Serve out the banquet with
Flourishes, garnishes– All the best
For an unworthy beggar–for me.

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You pour the wine,
Wash my feet,
Break the bread
(Even give your body and blood),

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All for me.

Merciful and gracious God,
Humble and victorious Savior,
Mysterious and mighty Spirit–
I am undone by Your invitation to
This eternal banquet.

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“Do This in Remembrance of ME”
Remember My Creation.
Remember My Life.
Remember My Humble service.
Remember My Death and Resurrection.
Remember My Victory.
Remember I am Coming Soon!

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!

Prayers for Harvest

I love the autumn harvest season, and I believe it has many lessons for us about prayer:

  • There is a time and season for harvest. We cannot harvest at our convenience; neither should we expect God’s answers and our circumstances to arrange themselves around our wishes. Instead, as we pray, we should watch and wait, ready to do what is necessary in the meantime, and ready when the time is right for harvest. Too soon or too late, and we will miss the best of the crop, or lose it altogether. If we pray for a harvest, we must be willing to wait on God’s timing.
  • Harvest is a season among other seasons– not a single event. If I pick apples this fall, that is not the end of apples. There will be more apples to harvest next autumn, and the following year. Sometimes, we must wait through several seasons to see the harvest; seasons of rain, sun, even snow and cold dark days. We must be faithful to keep praying for the next harvest, and the next…
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  • The harvest bears little resemblance to what we planted. If I plant an ugly bulb in the ground this fall, I may see a beautiful tulip next spring–unless I plant an onion bulb! If I plant some tiny black seeds in the spring, I may harvest a large orange carrot later in the summer. If I plant kernels of corn, I will get new kernels, but they will be on an ear on a tall stalk. If we are praying for a harvest, it may come in ways and shapes and circumstances that will surprise, or even mystify us. Often, we pray for what we imagine we could do– instead, we need to learn to ask for what only God can do!
  • We cannot control the harvest– we can plant the seeds, fertilize them, tend them, weed them, water them, prune them–but we cannot predict or guarantee the results. But if we do nothing, we will not see any harvest at all. Similarly, we do not control God’s answers to our prayers, but we will see no growth, no harvest, if we do not pray at all, or if we give up.
  • Harvest is gathering the crop (and the seeds for a new crop). We need to gather prayer requests, thanksgiving lists, areas of conviction, songs of praise; we need to present a bountiful harvest of prayer–an offering and a fragrant sacrifice to the giver of all good things!
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God Gave…


For God So Loved the World
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


John 3:16 English Standard Version (ESV)
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From the very beginning, God has been a giver of good gifts.  He created a beautiful world, teeming with life and joy.  He gave mankind dominion over this beautiful creation, and even when we rebelled and fell short of our calling, God gave us promises of restoration and renewal.  He gave His words and demonstrations of His character and goodness as He interacted with His chosen people.  He took a childless man and promised to make him the father of many nations.  He took His people through the wilderness and provided for their every need– from their heads to their sandal-shod toes.

God’s greatest gift was himself– and He gave everything He had to give.

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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 1:14 New International Version (NIV)


In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8
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Many of us are celebrating Thanksgiving today– but there is great reason to give thanks every day for this indescribable gift!

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Thanksgiving is so much more than turkey dinners or football on TV or shopping.  It is a lifestyle and an attitude that recognizes the God who gives lavishly, lovingly, eternally, and to the very last measure.

God Created…


For the Beauty of the Earth
The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092
Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint 
Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk 
Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77

1. For the beauty of the earth, 
for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 
over and around us lies; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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2. For the beauty of each hour 
of the day and of the night, 
hill and vale, and tree and flower, 
sun and moon, and stars of light; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 




3. For the joy of ear and eye, 
for the heart and mind’s delight, 
for the mystic harmony, 
linking sense to sound and sight; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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4. For the joy of human love, 
brother, sister, parent, child, 
friends on earth and friends above, 
for all gentle thoughts and mild; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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5. For thy church, that evermore 
lifteth holy hands above, 
offering up on every shore 
her pure sacrifice of love; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, 
to the world so freely given, 
for that great, great love of thine, 
peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him. 

Colossians 1:16


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

St. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

The Seven-Layer Prayer

Growing up, I loved going to pot-luck meals at our little country church.  Neighbors, family, and friends would bring large dishes of home-cooked deliciousness for all to feast on as we chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another.  There were certain dishes we all could count on–homemade yeast rolls, courtesy of Lulu M.  Jello with fruit was my mom’s standard.  Another lady almost always brought meat loaf.  Baked beans, candied carrots, fried chicken, chocolate cake, scalloped potatoes– my mouth still waters just from the memories!  The wonderful woman who has since become my mother-in-law brought her famous cookies, and often, a seven-layer salad.

Bethelchurch

I love Mom’s seven layer salad, and I have learned to make my own variation.  It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthful, and it travels well.  I’ve seen other recipes that use different vegetables, don’t use eggs or meat or mayo–I’m sure they’re ok, but I’m happy to stick with the basic outline that follows below.

I was thinking about the seven-layer salad the other day– it’s a wonderful dish for this time of year– chilled and utilizing fresh produce, and I realized that you can use a similar “recipe” for prayer.  So here’s my modified “Seven-Layer Prayer” recipe:

 

  • First, start with a layer of “Let Us”
    • Prayer doesn’t happen without an act of the will.  We must be deliberate about setting aside time and thought for prayer every day.  We should “leaf” the busyness and chaos of the day and “romaine” in fellowship with the Father!

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  • Next, add a layer of “Care”-rots (shredded).
    • 1 Peter 5:7 New King James Version (NKJV)
      casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
    • Give your worries and cares over to the One who cares most about you and all those you love.
  • Now you can add the “Peas” that passes all understanding
    • Trust that God hears and answers prayer.
    • Trust that God is in control.
    • Trust that God is Good, Wise, and Loving.
    • Rest in the knowledge that “God’s Got This!”

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  • Here’s where I like to add some “Meet” (usually bacon!, sometimes ham or chicken)
    • While it’s vital that we spend time in personal, private prayer, God also wants us to meet regularly with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement, accountability, PRAYER, and guidance.
  • Now it gets a little dicey–diced onion (sometimes I substitute green onions or sliced or diced mushrooms)
    • Time to peel back the layers, and cut through to the root of anything that is getting in the way of a closer walk with God–confess it and give it over to Him.
    • Sometimes, this process may cause tears, or involve a little dirt– clean it up before you proceed!
  • Time for some dressing– mayonnaise or salad dressing.  Annoint your salad, and your prayer, with oil.  Remember, God has annointed you to spread His love and grace to others.  Don’t forget to add this to your prayer life.  Just as the dressing will coat all the elements of the salad, so God’s Spirit will surround and influence your words and actions done for Him!
  • “Cheese!”  It’s a “gouda” idea to round out prayer with a time of joyful thanksgiving.  Pile it on– God’s given us a LOT for which to be “grate”-ful!

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  • Finally, the garnish– Hard-boiled eggs.  These remind me of the new life we have in Christ, the Triune nature of God (we used to have lessons in Sunday School about the egg having three parts but being a single egg.  We don’t use the shell in the salad, of course, but you can’t make a boiled egg without all three parts…), and also, the yolk reminds me of Heaven’s streets of gold.  In prayer, we should remember God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, and the hope we have in Him.

That’s the basic recipe for a seven layer salad– enough of each ingredient for a healthy “layer”.  I’ve added extra layers a couple of times–diced tomatoes or peppers are good if you are planning to eat the salad quickly, but they will cause sogginess  if you let the salad sit.  (Also, if you use peas, use fresh if you can– drain canned peas, or get rid of any ice crystals if using frozen peas. )

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A good seven-layer prayer should also be presented fresh, and savored.  It’s delicious, it’s good for you, it feeds others, and it travels well!  Try some!

Looking Back

In my pursuit of prayer, I have found it helpful to keep a Prayer Journal.  One of the reasons is that I can look back and see what prayer concerns and issues I prayed for weeks, months, or even years ago.  I also save space in my journal to go back and fill in how God answered those requests, or what the progress has been in those areas of concern.  see also: Proactive Prayer Points

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The Bible warns us to be very careful about looking back…the most famous example is the tragedy of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19).  In looking back, she lost her chance to rebuild a life after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was turned into a pillar of salt.  In the book of Exodus, the newly freed Israelites grumbled about their circumstances and looked back with fondness on their lives in Egypt, forgetting their oppression in their homesickness for certain foods (Exodus 16).  Spending too much time and energy on the past leaves us with little motivation and energy for the present or future.  The past should never become more important to us than moving forward.  If we long for the past, if we romanticize it or cling to it, fearing the changes and opportunities to come, we can stagnate, and miss the blessings playing out right before our eyes.

But we should take some time periodically to look back in order to gain perspective.  The same Children of Israel who grumbled about leaving Egypt, once they arrived in the Promised Land, were commanded to remember their wandering in the wilderness, and told to teach their children about the past (Deuteronomy 8).  Holidays and religious rites were instituted as reminders of the past.  But this kind of looking back gives us renewed encouragement, incentive, and momentum to keep going by showing us how far we’ve come, and reminding us of God’s faithfulness.

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I am especially encouraged when I see how God has answered prayer–so often, I’ve forgotten about trials and struggles that have come my way–issues that seemed huge in the moment, but in hindsight look insignificant.  Sometimes, God’s answers were immediate and breath-taking.  Sometimes, they were subtle and were revealed in several stages.  Sometimes, the answers revealed how God was working beyond anything I imagined!  Often, the requests reveal how I have grown (or not!) to trust him more or to listen better to those around me.

And, just like that, I have material to add to today’s prayers– gratitude for prayers answered, hope for new growth, praise for God’s faithfulness, and confession for times I have doubted or looked back in envy or regret.

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In Everything Give Thanks

So many times my prayers do not reflect a grateful heart, but a needy one.  Giving thanks is easy in those miraculous moments, and those special times of reflection and rejoicing.  It is not so easy during times of stress, suffering, and waiting.

God blesses those who are “poor in spirit”; he is close to the broken-hearted, the weary, and the afflicted.  Yet he asks us to give thanks always and in all circumstances.  Many people see this as unreasonable, egotistical, and tyrannical on the part of God– that somehow, he needs our constant and abject praise.  But what if this command is for OUR benefit?

IN everything– Not for everything.  We don’t thank God FOR the death of a loved one, or the loss of a home, or an injustice done to us.  But we can and should thank God for being sovereign throughout all the circumstances of life; for conquering death, for providing help and hope in our times of need; for promising both justice when we have been wronged, and grace when we have been unjust in our turn. There is never a time when we CANNOT be thankful–though there are many times when it is difficult, or when we choose not look beyond our pain.
EVERYTHING–Not just the “big” things– everything.  We can be thankful for teeth, for dishes to wash, for traffic, for the way the moon hangs in the misty darkness, for a puppy’s eager greeting, for finally understanding our math homework, for the memory of a loved one, for the song that keeps playing in our head.  Sometimes it’s not the actual thing, but what it represents that causes gratitude to well up and turn our hearts back to God.  If we wait for “something to be thankful for”, we’ll often miss those things right in front of us.
GIVE– Giving thanks is an action, not just a reaction.  It is a choice; a mindset.  We learn to say “Thank you” as children.  Our parents pound it into our training as “etiquette” or “manners”, but everyone can tell when a thank you is genuine.  Saying “Thanks” is not  the same as giving Thanks.  Actions speak much louder than mere words, and our choices in the moment are a reflection of our true character and not just “good training.”

THANKS– not just the word, but the concept.  Even in my neediest moments, as I pour out a suffering, exhausted, wounded, and broken heart, I do so because I have a God who is THERE– a God who listens, who cares, who never leaves me alone and hopeless.  I may feel overwhelmed, abandoned, even battered in those moments.  But those awful moments do not define my life, nor do they characterize my walk with God.

This morning, I woke up–a small and underappreciated miracle– I am alive!  I opened my eyes– I can see!  I looked up and saw a roof over my head–I have shelter!  I turned over and got out of bed– I can move!  I have a bed, mattress, pillows, sheets…a bedroom!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face– running water!  Teeth!  A toothbrush!  A  wash cloth! Skin!  A bathroom–indoor plumbing!   I saw a stack of bills on the table– I have electricity! Heat and air conditioning!  A table!  Money to pay bills!…I’m writing this on a computer with wireless internet in my apartment!  All these things are precious gifts from God.  I can be grateful, and give Him the thanks He deserves, or I can choose to ignore the blessings, or take the credit myself.

And what if I wake up tomorrow and I can’t see?  What if my blessings all disappear– no house, no running water, no food or internet; no money, no family?  Giving thanks is still a choice.  I can choose to be thankful for who God is, and for what he has chosen to give me– or I can choose to be angry and envious and bitter.  Some of the most grateful people I have ever met are those who have struggled with difficult circumstances– poverty, pain, loss, injustice–and yet they have chosen to look beyond those circumstances to give praise to God.  Some of the most miserable people I’ve met are those who choose to look at their blessings with contempt; those who deny God’s goodness and choose to see only what they want but don’t have.

Our community experienced flooding recently– some people were inconvenienced by roads washed out or events cancelled.  Others experienced leaky roofs, flooded basements, or soggy yards and drives.  A few lost their homes and cars, or businesses.  In all of this, we’ve seen much to make us sad, scared, and frustrated.  But there is also much for which to be grateful– a caring and generous community willing to pull together to help our neighbors– clothing donated, homes opened up, meals provided, and people rescued.  We don’t ignore the loss and hurt, but we are strengthened in hope when we look up and over the waters to see that God is still in control of our future, and that he is with us in our present struggles.

And in everything, we will give thanks.  And I’m so grateful that we can offer prayers of praise, of petition, of pain; prayers for people and places and priorities; prayers in the flood, in the cleanup, and in the rebuilding.

 

 

What? A Privilege?!

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,  all our sins and griefs to bear!  What a privilege to carry everything to God in Prayer!”

The word “privilege” has taken a beating lately.  A privilege used to be considered a good thing.  Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor.”  A privilege is granted–given as the prerogative of someone in power or authority– to someone else.  It may be given as a reward, or granted for a limited time and under certain conditions.  But a true privilege is a gift–you can’t make your own privilege, and you cannot own or control a privilege– the terms are set by the giver, not the receiver.

In the past generation, the word “privilege” has become charged with political and societal connotations.  Those connotations, and the issues surrounding them, are worthy of discussion and could fill volumes, but I want to talk about a privilege that should be free of undertones and dubious meanings.

Prayer is a pursuit, and a practice.  It is personal, practical, and powerful.  But it is also a privilege.  Often one that we take for granted.

In pursuing prayer, we are not just developing a personal routine or discipline.  We are not just approaching a powerful supernatural entity.  We are fallen creation entering the presence of a Holy Creator; we are rebels entering the throne room of the King of Kings.

We have the right to approach God; to talk to, converse with, ask favors of, plead with, confess to, and expect answers from the One who creates galaxies with a single spoken word, and designs every unique flake of snow.  This same God grants us the right to draw breath, to experience both beauty and wonder, to question and to create.

Prayer in ancient times was almost universally accompanied by sacrifices, and surrounded with ritual– incense, bowing and prostrating oneself, covering or uncovering the head–in recognition of the horrible chasm, the great separation between God and mankind.  Many traditions still use ritual for prayer, and there is nothing wrong in this reminder of God’s Holiness and Sovereignty.  Yet God talks of prayer in intimate terms.  He didn’t impose ritual and sacrifice for his benefit, but for ours.  Several times throughout the Bible, he makes clear that he does not require the blood of bulls and goats–what he wants most is a humble and pure heart.  At the moment Jesus died, the great veil in the Temple was ripped in half from top to bottom–the most holy place laid open to all who might come into God’s presence.  Christ’s death and resurrection were not just means of saving us from Hell, but the means of bringing restoration of the intimacy God designed from the beginning.  God– Almighty, Omnipotent, and completely Holy–wants to give us the privilege to enter his presence and pour out our thoughts, feelings, burdens, and triumphs; to share intimacy with HIM.  We are not just objects of his care (or his wrath), not just creatures in whom he has a certain fond but distant interest.  We are recipients of lavish love and priceless privileges– forgiveness, power over sin, power to become more Christlike, restoration and renewal, and yes,  the pursuit of  prayer.

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