Praying the Perimeter

I love puzzles–jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Sudoku, logic puzzles, etc.

This may seem like a strange way to begin a blog on prayer, but stick with me…

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Puzzles can be fun, but they can also be very frustrating, especially if you approach them with no strategy. If you dump 1,000 pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a table, and begin by trying to find any two pieces that fit, you may be able to eventually solve the puzzle, but it makes more sense to look for the “edge” and “corner” pieces first, and build a framework. Depending on the puzzle picture, you may also be able to work on colors or patterns that stand out– sky/clouds, a patch of red or blue, a dog in the foreground, etc.

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The same is true of word and logic puzzles. There is usually a strategy when you approach each puzzle that can help make it easier and more rewarding. Words have patterns of letters– vowels and consonants; logic puzzles depend on deduction– narrowing down the possible by eliminating the impossible. Sudoku, and its cousin, Kakuro, involve simple math and numbers 1-9 in changing patterns. Start with the strategy, and you will find even the most challenging puzzles a little less challenging.

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Some puzzles seem impossible; and some are beyond my ability to solve, even with the best of strategies. That’s life. We don’t know all the answers, and we can’t always “see” the solution, or make all the pieces fit.

Sometimes, our lives seem like a challenging puzzle. Nothing seems to “fit” a pattern or make sense, and we end up lost and frustrated. Our most basic need is to trust God. But God does not leave us without a strategy. Prayer (along with reading God’s word and keeping in fellowship with other Christians) is part of an excellent strategy. Just like putting the “edge” pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle, praying “the perimeter” of our problems can put them in the proper frame.

What does that mean? Jesus gave us a perfect example in “The Lord’s Prayer.” When His disciples asked Him how they should pray, He started with the “frame.” “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.” God should be at the center of our life and trust, but He also needs to be the “edge” and framework of our life. There is no problem or worry that is outside of His control and awareness, no need that He cannot meet, and no problem that can take Him by surprise or leave Him frustrated and “stumped.”

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“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven.” God already has the right strategy, and solution for our need. We can’t see it; we may not have a clue how to pay our bills, or deal with that devastating diagnosis, or make peace with our enemy–we may never find “the solution” on our own or in our short lifetime. But God sees the entire picture, and He has the power to make all the pieces “fit”– in His time and in His perfect will.

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“Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Sometimes our “puzzles” seem too big because we try to tackle everything at once, or we try to tackle things from the wrong end. God’s strategy is to rest in Him daily, letting tomorrow’s troubles wait for tomorrow, and letting go of yesterday’s struggles. That doesn’t mean that we don’t make plans or budgets, or that we don’t take responsibility for our health, or the mistakes we’ve made. But it means that we stop focusing on what we can’t control, and focus on the present. Instead of worrying, I can be thankful for what I have right now. Instead of focusing on what others think of me, or the threat they pose, I can concentrate on my own attitude and actions, making sure that I am practicing trust and obedience. Instead of getting angry when things don’t make sense, I can rest, knowing that God knows the end from the beginning.

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“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God is our “Good Shepherd” (See Psalm 23 and John 10). He “leads us beside the still waters” and “makes us lie down in green pastures.” “He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:3a) If we let God determine our “edges” and boundaries, we will still have to travel through troubled times and valleys “of the shadow of death.” But we need not fear evil, when we trust that God will deliver us. We need not fear the shadows and uncertainties within the boundaries of God’s will. And even when we have taken the wrong path, and “messed up” the puzzle we are in, God is in the business of redemption and restoration! He will deliver us– if we confess and seek His solution. He will wipe away the “wrong” answers and rearrange the pieces of our life, so that we can find wholeness.

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When we develop the pursuit of prayer– daily meeting with God, acknowledging who He is, and seeking His wisdom and grace– we will meet the challenges of life with the right strategy. We will still face the frustration of not knowing all the answers, or not seeing the whole picture. We will still have to deal with struggles, shadows, grief, and pain. But we will have a stronger “framework” and a God-given strategy to help.

Praying in Perspective

I love optical illusions and “trompe l’oeil” drawings and paintings– artwork that either forces the eye to see things as though they are three-dimensional, or fools the eye into seeing something completely different if you look at it from a different angle or perspective. A duck turns into a rabbit, or a hairy face turns into an ape, or a vase turns into two faces…it is not enough to take a quick glance– you are “drawn” into looking deeper, and studying the art from many angles.

What if we approached prayer this way? Sometimes, I pray from a very fixed perspective– my own desires or in my own wisdom– instead of giving my thoughts and worries entirely over to an all-knowing and all-wise God. What if God wants me to see the situation from a different perspective– HIS?!

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Instead of instant healing from an injury, what if God wants me to work harder to maintain my overall health as I recover? Instead of mission work in East Asia, maybe God needs me to work in East L.A. (or vice versa). Instead of my child having the “perfect” job, what if God’s plan is for her to be challenged and unsettled for years before finding the most fulfilling career?

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Jesus gave us excellent examples of praying with the proper perspective. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:10-12) “..yet not my will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

I tend to pray “two-dimensional” prayers. Lord, help me to pray with Your eternal perspective!

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.

Our Father…

I have known some excellent fathers– including my own father and my husband. Fathers who do their best to provide for, pray for, protect, and prepare their families. Fathers who show patience, perseverance, wisdom, and selflessness.

But I know this isn’t the case for everyone. I have also known some wicked fathers– fathers who are physically, verbally, and mentally abusive toward their wives and children. Fathers who abandon their responsibilities, and leave behind a legacy of need, chaos, anger, and despair.

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Throughout the Bible, God is portrayed as a Father. Not as a “man”– Jesus took on flesh and became a man– but the Triune God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit. God has all the characteristics of a perfect father. God also embodies all the characteristics of a good mother. But there is something about Fatherhood that God particularly wants us to learn and understand.

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When God chose Abram for His special covenant, Abram’s name meant “exalted father.” But Abram was childless. God chose someone whose name had no meaning (or an ironic meaning), and changed it– not a lot–he added an “ah”, so that Abraham’s name meant “father of many” or “father of multitudes.” I don’t think it was any accident that God chose a man named “Abram,” or that He changed his name only slightly. God chose Abraham, not because he was a father, but so that he could become a father– to many! It was as a father (to Isaac, but also to Ishmael and all his other sons and descendants) that Abraham was exalted and revered.

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But Abraham was not a perfect father– far from it! God gave us the story of Abraham, and drew attention to Abraham to help us learn the importance of GOD as our Father. Abraham was willing to give up his heir– the son of God’s promise– because Abraham was a “son” of God before he was a father to Isaac. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=NIV

Even though I have known some excellent fathers, I know of only one who is perfect. And He isn’t someone else’s father, that I should be envious, or discouraged. He isn’t only “my” father, that I should be smug. He isn’t my father by birth, that I should make little of His sacrifices or His promises– they are not given out of duty or a sense of genetic obligation. He is OUR Father– He invites all of us to become His children. He lavishes love and grace, sheds tears and aches, sacrifices and pursues, rejoices and grieves– for and with every soul.

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When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He wasn’t giving them a rote prayer to memorize, but a pattern. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/the-lords-prayer-be-encouraged-and-strengthened.html If you look through the Gospels at Jesus’ other prayers you will see it–He always begins by addressing His Father. For the group of disciples, He began with “Our Father.” Jesus, who could have claimed sole son-ship, made it clear that He (as Son with the Father and Spirit) desires this amazing relationship– more than power, more than honor, more than life! And God the Father is not a man or a mere mortal– He is Holy, Perfect, Eternally Loving and Eternally Sovereign!

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What a wonderful thought for Father’s Day this year– no matter what kind of earthly father(s) we have known!

To Boldly Come…

Opening monologue from Star Trek

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For anyone familiar with the Star Trek series, the phrase, “To boldly go…” conjures up pictures of galactic travel at warp speed, with haunting soprano voices, uniforms in mustard yellow, red, and black, and the voices of actors William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy (or Patrick Stewart, et al.)  It probably does not make anyone think of The Lord’s Prayer, or the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.  I hope to change that today!

There is a running theme throughout scripture of God asking people– from Abraham to Moses to Mary and Joseph to the Disciples and Apostles and on to all of us– to COME, and to GO.  BOLDLY!  Abraham left all that he knew to follow God’s prompting to the promised land.  Moses was told to Go and confront Pharaoh, Mary and Joseph were to Go– to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Galilee.  The Disciples were to Go into all the world!  We are to continue this Great Commission.

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But Jesus, in His teaching on Prayer, also told His Disciples to Come to the Father with boldness:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’  Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed.  I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So I say to you: 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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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As Christians, we often quote the Beatitudes, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek..”  We should not be pushy, arrogant, or selfish in our actions or our prayers; but we should be bold, confidant, and eager.  God doesn’t want us to be timid, coy, or “fake” in asking for wisdom, power, and basic needs– He wants to give us good gifts.  He also wants us to trust Him enough to ask forthrightly and boldly.

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So let us pursue the “Enterprise” of prayer by “boldly” going before God’s throne, and then “boldly” going forth in the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

Praying in the Present

I don’t know about anyone else reading this, but I need a reminder every so often about living in the present (including keeping my prayer life centered in the present).  It is very tempting sometimes to wallow in the past or dream of the future.  There’s nothing wrong with learning from past mistakes or making future goals, but we are not to waste our time or our energies pursuing what isn’t, while ignoring what is happening around us.

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If we look closely at the Lord’s Prayer, we see how centered it is in the present.  There are a couple of forward-looking phrases (Thy kingdom come…lead us not into temptation…For ever and ever..) but most of the prayer is for the present and foreseeable future.

I need to be reminded, through Christ’s example and through scripture, that God wants me to trust Him for my daily needs and follow one step at a time.  If I find myself spending more time asking God for things far out in my future, or continually bringing up things from my past, it may mean (though not always) that I am not fully trusting in the sufficiency of His Grace for today.

God has already seen my past– and loves me unconditionally.  His Grace will not be rescinded each time I face a reminder of my past; He will not change His mind if someone else carries a grudge against me.

God has also seen my future.  He knows my needs, my concerns, my desires.  He wants me to bring my whole heart to Him in prayer–a heart that is ready to trust His provision and plan, even when I don’t know the details.

Think what would happen if every parent-child conversation involved the following themes:

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  1. “Mom, do you remember the time I tipped over your plants when I was five, and you yelled at me.  I just want to tell you I’m so sorry I did that.  I know you said you’ve forgiven me, but I need to ask you again.”  “Dad, I know you were disappointed when I got into a fight with my brother back when I was eight, but I hope you can see how I’ve learned a lot since then.  Please don’t hold that against me today.”
  2. “Hey, Dad, I really want to drive when I turn 16.  Can I ask you for a purple sports car when I turn 16?  I want to be a good driver, and I just know that you want me to be a good driver.  I think a purple sports car would make me a great driver in another seven years.”  “Mom, will you promise to babysit my kids after I have kids?  I just know my kids will want to have a close relationship with you, so will you just promise to be close to my kids when I grow up and have them?”

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There’s nothing essentially wrong with the actual requests– but when we focus on the past or the future at the expense of the present, we miss learning what God has for us TODAY.  We also risk seeing God only for what He gives and what He has done, and not for Who He Is!

Let’s enjoy time with God today (and every day) as it unfolds.

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“Hallowed Be Thy Name…”

Christians have a lot of confusing “jargon”.  If you grew up in the church, there are certain words and phrases that are supposed to be intuitively understood.  If you didn’t grew up in the Bible Belt, or in an old-time church, you may feel like you’ve been dropped into a parallel universe where people speak the King’s English– but it’s King James’ English!  Words that would fit neatly into a Shakespearean monologue are flung at you:  “Thou shalt not,” “graven images”, “begat”, “beseecheth”, “whosoever believeth,” “Hallowed be Thy Name.”

As a child, I used to think the phrase was “hollow-ed be thy name”– it was confusing.  Why would God want his name emptied and hollow?  Why would I do that?  Of course, it was explained to me that “hallowed” meant holy, or honored, or revered.  That made more sense, but I think in some ways we have done more “hollow-ing” and less “hallow-ing” of God’s name in our churches lately.

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And it’s not just the argument I hear a lot about actual language usage.  I hear some people complain about those who pray to “Daddy God” or “Papa God” or those who use “OMG” when they text, or “Jeesh!”  To me, these are “splinter” arguments (another Christian jargon term, referring to Jesus’ example of someone trying to pick a splinter out of someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own!).  The real trend I see is that we are losing our attitude of AWE in God’s presence.  We use words, and carry attitudes that devalue the one who is most worthy of our absolute best.  Or, we try to put ourselves, our own efforts, and our own attitudes in His place.

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God wants a relationship with us; he loves us with an extravagant, boundless, and everlasting love.  He doesn’t want us to run from him in fear or hide from him behind big, empty, but important-sounding words.  In fact, in his time on Earth, Jesus walked side by side with his disciples, he ate with people, embraced his friends and family, danced, burped, wiped his nose,  held children on his lap, laughed, and lived among us.  But he is eternally GOD.  Yahweh– the LORD–I AM.  Almighty, all-powerful, omniscient and completely HOLY.  And his Name is to be revered.

When we say that we follow Christ;  when we call ourselves Christians, we bear that name– we take on that name–we strive to be ambassadors and representatives of that name which is above all names.  This isn’t just about saying his name, “Jesus”, “Father”, “Savior”, “Heavenly Father” in a less-than-honorable fashion.  It’s about how we represent His Name as his ambassadors.

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We’re not perfect; we will not always live up to the Name we carry– that’s part of the Gospel message–Jesus came to show us how we ought to live, and to give us victory over the reality that we can’t do it in our own flawed state.  But in praying “Hallowed be thy Name,” we are not asking for God’s name to become more honorable.  We are asking God to give us the wisdom, the power, and the desire to bring him the honor and worship he so rightly deserves.  And that only happens when we live transparently, humbly, and in a manner worthy of His Name.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…”

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