Is This a Good Time To Pray?

“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

I keep bumping into people these days who are suffering. Or at least, for some reason, our conversations seem to turn to this subject. Probably because I’m not doing a good job of hiding my grief. I’m working on it.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis,

The truth is that we are all going to experience times of suffering. Even very religious people. Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton has a quote in his book Half-Truths that makes a lot of sense:

  • Suffering is not God’s desire for us, but it occurs in the process of life.
  • Suffering is not given to teach us something, but through it we may learn.
  • Suffering is not given to punish us, but sometimes it is the consequence of our sin or poor judgement.
  • Suffering does not occur because our faith is weak, but through it our faith may be strengthened.
  • God does not depend upon human suffering to achieve his purposes, but sometimes through suffering his purposes are achieved.
  • Suffering can either destroy us or it can add meaning to our life.

This helps me as I frame my own experiences and try to help others with their own hard road.

“It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.” ― Santa Teresa of Avila

When on the topic of suffering it always leads to more conversations about praying.  American Christianity has too often reduced praying into something small and practical, like a pocket knife. You only use it every now and then and after a while you even come to forget it’s even there in your pocket.

Praying gets reduced to something that’s too small when we only think of it as a means to get our problems solved. Maybe it’s not a pocket knife but a fire extinguisher? Here’s a third metaphor I often use for prayer, a drive up fast food window. When we pray, we place our order, do our duty (pay at the first window), and expect results at the second window. Sounds very transactional, very practical. I’m not sure that’s really the point of praying.

Why do think God wants us to talk with him?

We studied religion in one of my classes this past summer. Sociologist Christian Smith has formulated a definition that fits all religion:

Humans are religious because they hope for superhuman powers to help them realize human goods and avoid bads, especially to grant them blessings, prevent misfortunes and aid them in crises; and because they wish to enjoy the various forms of identity, community, meaning, expression, aesthetics, ecstasy, control and legitimacy that practicing religions offer.

What I think sets Christianity apart from religion is that its central focus is about a relationship between God and humankind. Certainly all the other elements of Smith’s definition are a part of Christianity, but the relationship seems essential. The story of Adam and Eve paints us a picture of this first relationship. Of course at this point they’ve been eating on an apple…

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”  (Genesis 3:8-9) 

Could it be that at the heart of our prayers is an answer to that very question? Is God desiring to walk with you and asking “where are you right now?”

I think we pray mostly out of our broken experience. If we will keep on praying, just like working on any relationship, we will build something, something essential. There is much that praying can accomplish. Here are just a few examples:

  1. Praying can help you turn loose of problems. When you pray and share them with God, you are no longer the only one to carry each one. As you talk through what’s heavy on your heart, you will notice that each problem seems to loosen and even grow more distant.

    “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.” ― Earl Wilson

  2. Praying can remind you of God’s eternal presence. He doesn’t go to sleep or ignore you to tend to other business. The conversation that is prayer can start and stop at any time. He is present during all of  your feelings as well. Your mood is not going to chase him away.

    “Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.” ― J.C. Ryle

  3. Praying can help you to care and love others more. Remember, your own problems begin to fade as you pray, you then have room to attend to others. When you pray you can be strengthened and encouraged to help with the burdens of others.  You can even be used by God as an answer to prayers.
  4. Praying enables you to process what’s happening right now and in the past. Don’t keep it all bottled up inside. Talk it out with God. Let your feelings and frustrations even your fears flow out in a stream of conversation with God. Believe that you are being heard. Believe that God desires to get involved in your life, right now. That includes all the baggage you’ve been hauling around.
  5. Praying helps you to grow up in your perspective. It really isn’t all about you. But sometimes, when everything is crashing in, it can seem like it. Praying, over time, can help to remind you of the long road you’ve already marched on. This long view will enable you to keep life in perspective, to remind you that this world is not your home and that what’s eternal is what really matters.

    “Praying demands that you take to the road again and again, leaving your house and looking forward to a new land for yourself and your [fellow human]. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

  6. Praying, over time, builds a long term relationship with God. Any relationship that matters takes time. You know this. How are you supposed to hear back from God in this sort of relationship? Listen to the Holy Spirit that resides in all believers. Read your Bible all the way, all the time. Open your eyes to signs and wonders that might be happening under your nose.
  7. This one is important. You don’t have to be religious to pray. You don’t have to be in a church, have all your sins confessed, be in total agreement with God or quit all your nasty habits first. Praying can happen right this second no matter who, what, where or how you are. God is already listening.

    My favorite lesson about this truth is when Jesus is having a break the rules conversation with a Samaritan woman at the water well. She is not at all on the right track in her life but the Son of God is right there in front of her offering her more than she knows she wants… Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  (John 4:10)

“Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.” ― Phillips Brooks

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Do you remember what we call The Lord’s Prayer?

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

That’s a New Living Translation.
Here it is in the good old King James,

After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

We have been going through a life and death illness for the past five years. When that happens one hears everyone’s ideas about why. Human beings are always searching for reasons why. We just can’t help it.

“The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” ― Charles Spurgeon

In social psychology this human proclivity to look for answers is called attribution. Sometimes…

  • we use our common sense to find explanations
  • we sort out whether something was intentional or accidental
  • actions are based on internal personality
  • other causes are due to external factors (bad traffic!)

I don’t think people would consciously do this with God, assigning him blame for bad news. But sometimes it sounds like it.

We pray our way through every day we have to live. Try to make it count. We thank God and try to walk in joy. Sometimes we feel like old Matisse, sitting in his bed cutting out shapes…

“I didn’t expect to recover from my second operation but since I did, I consider that I’m living on borrowed time. Every day that dawns is a gift to me and I take it in that way. I accept it gratefully without looking beyond it. I completely forget my physical suffering and all the unpleasantness of my present condition and I think only of the joy of seeing the sun rise once more and of being able to work a little bit, even under difficult conditions.” ― Henri Matisse

When I go back and pray the Lord’s Prayer I am instructed to pray for God’s will to be done on earth. This reminds me that I’m not living in a world where God is always running everything. I know he’s not always in charge of my life – I don’t submit to his will every day as I could and should. I still have a free will.

(I’m fully aware this is going to drive my Calvinist friends crazy)

  • I do know that sometimes God intervenes on his own and makes things happen as history and humanity move toward his planned larger purpose for us all. No one stops God from doing what he wants to do!
  • I also know that he answers the prayers of his children. He steps in and acts because of my faith. I can tell you this happens all the time in my life.
  • There isn’t anyone in my Bible who didn’t suffer for one reason or another. It’s the life on earth Adam and Eve chose for all of us and the death that Christ delivered us from.

So, while we live out each day with a dark wolf at our door, we work to make it count. We pray for God’s will to be done in each of our interactions and decisions. We want to be conscious, not oblivious. We want to be aware of opportunities to make suffering count.

“God speaks in a soft voice I can hear better when I resolve to listen and stop putting words in His mouth.” ― Elaine Orabona Foster

Pray for God’s will to be done, in your life, in your thoughts, in your words, in your hopes, in your actions and in every minute of your life right now. Then say yes.

Ready to Listen

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. (John 16:12)

Jesus said this to His disciples as He was preparing them for the end. His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection were coming next. Events they were completely unprepared for.

When I read this short sentence this past week I stopped in my tracks.

When I am reading my Bible, especially the words of Jesus (in red), I am looking for a message, something I need to hear right now. I always want to be careful and not end up talking to myself, hearing what I want to hear. I want to learn more and more to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide me as I read, be still, and listen (John 16:13).

So, when I read this sentence I stopped and had to think and pray about what it meant. I had read this larger story many, many times before. This time, the sentence jumped out for several reasons.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.

  1. What if this is still true about the way God relates to his followers today? Does He still want to communicate and tell me things? Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice…” (John 10:27). He is like a shepherd guiding, guarding and caring for his flock (us).
  2. What if God’s message to me is waiting for me to get caught up? What if I’m not ready? What if He’s waiting on me, not the other way around? “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).
  3. What if God is preparing me in so many ways as I follow Him (stumbling and bumbling), to be able to hear even more from Him? What if He has a message like this one Jesus gave to His disciples for me? What if my Heavenly Father has much more that He wants to tell me? “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God isn’t holding back his love, grace and knowledge from me, he’s caring for me and telling me exactly what I’m ready to hear.

What I learned this week from this single sentence is that God has heavenly things to share with me but that his revelation is always measured by his care for me.

So many wonderful things to hear and learn as I walk every day in friendship with Jesus. That relationship is the source of revelation for me and all of us.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”  ― Henri Nouwen

Waiting Always Matters

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Waiting is a necessary part of living. How well have you mastered the skill of just waiting? Usually I’m very impatient. Sometimes, when I’m more thoughtful, I can sit down and wait for what I know will surely come (one way or another).

Think about all the waiting you have to do while you live your life…

  •  Waiting in line at the grocery store too long because you still can’t pick a fast moving line (there’s always someone ahead who’s going to dig out her checkbook, right?)
  • Waiting at the doctor’s office. Why did I schedule this appointment so late in the day when every other appointment is backed up?
  • Waiting in traffic, welcome to Houston. Hasn’t that road been under construction since Dolph Briscoe was governor?
  • Waiting for that baby to walk his first steps. What’s the hurry? He’ll be gone one day too soon. Enjoy every minute that he has to be carried about.
  • Waiting for an answer to that prayer you’ve been asking again and again. Makes you wonder, is God even listening to me anymore?

“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected — an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows.” ― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

I don’t need to remind you that you are living in the fastest society in the history of the world. We are bathed in fast information, fast work, fast food, fast schedules, fast relationships, fast transitions into adulthood and even fast thinking.

This world we’ve made has probably produced in us a razor thin tolerance for waiting. What’s the value in waiting and the time it takes from the fast life we think is normal? Psychologist Stephanie Brown has come to believe that we even fear waiting (slowing down).

“Waiting turns men into bears in a barn, and women into cats in a sack.” ― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

So often there are big things in life that we can’t fix ourselves. These are matters that must be left in the hands of God. Anyone who has waited on God knows how  agonizing, frustrating, and discouraging these times can be.

“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.”  ― Oswald Chambers

When I’m in a situation that calls for a time of waiting for God’s will to come about there are a number of things to remember:

  1.  I really do want God’s plan and not my own.
  2.  Waiting can bring out the better in me. Sitting still, praying, reflecting and putting things into their right perspective always bears fruit.
  3.  Waiting calls for action on my part. When I wait on God I work with great effort at praying, writing, reading and reflecting. There is much to do while waiting.
  4.  Often, while waiting, I realize that what I thought I needed from God was a mistake. After serious spiritual reflection, I misunderstood my situation and what God was already busy doing.

I’m sure there are other great lessons that could be added to this list. I’m not there yet. I’ve got more waiting to do.

What about you? Are you waiting these days? Do you need to stop what you’re doing right now and start waiting? That’s where I am at this point in my life.

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”  ― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

A Good Time to Pray

“Accustom yourself gradually to carry Prayer into all your daily occupation — speak, act, work in peace, as if you were in prayer, as indeed you ought to be.” François Fénelon

 

 

What if everything that happened in your life was really an opportunity to take or to leave behind? Certainly you’ve missed many chances in life just because you were unaware, asleep, afraid, busy, suspicious, worried, satisfied or even hopeless. Missing your chance isn’t a unique experience in life. All of us have this experience, all of the time!

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”  ― Soren Kierkegaard

But what if, instead of looking at what’s happening all around us with “here and now” eyesight, we started more and more to see our circumstances and situations with the eternal perspective of God?

  1. What if there was a chance each day to say something important to someone that might change their life, even a little?
  2. What if you had your eyes open to what might really be going on in the lives of people you really know, the lives of acquaintances and even the lives of strangers? Watching closely enough so that you could do the right thing.
  3. Can you imagine living each day with your head in the heavenly clouds and seeing your situation from God’s point of view?
  4. What if you walked through your day praying instead of: complaining, whining, worrying, sulking, gossiping, or cynically making fun?

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.”  ― Anne Lamott

Isn’t right now a good time to pray about something/someone? What are you waiting for?

Why Do We Pray, Part 4

We pray out of persistence.

“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” – Luke 11:5-8

Because we have no where else to go…

Because we have absolute trust in God…

Because we have developed a habit of knocking on that door…

Because we know where the real answers lie…

Jesus uses this story to teach us all that when we pray, the one thing we must never do is give up. Faith will never grow in an environment of disbelief, always afraid to stick it’s neck out. Persistence works wonders, even on frustrated neighbors. How effective it must be with God who awaits our searching hearts.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  – Luke 11:9-10

The answers that we seek are to be found at the end of a very persistent journey. Giving up quickly communicates all sorts of messages to others, to me and to God.

  • I’m not really counting on this
  • I can probably take of this myself
  • Who knows what might happen, but I’ll give this a shot
  • Does God really care about what happens to me?

Jesus doesn’t seem to focus much on the answers in his lesson. Developing the habit of prayer. Sticking with it. All the spiritual character that gets built by this practice. This is what enables us to receive a gift larger than any we could ever pray to receive. Praying persistently transforms us.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”  – Luke 11:11-13

Notice the two big lessons here?  God loves us like a parent. How often do you think about God in this way? This was a new kind of idea to Jesus’ audience who had God all figured out as a distant and stern figure. Prayer isn’t about getting something. At its heart, it’s about a relationship. You can’t have a very meaningful relationship with anyone built only on tweets.

The second lesson is that in answer to your prayers He wants to give you a gift you didn’t even know you needed. A bigger gift than you could imagine. He wants to give you Himself. His very Spirit to reside within you to guide, comfort and empower you.

The path to God’s ear is not a difficult or hidden quest. He is awaiting the persistent children who will come knocking, but with certainty.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ― Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933, 30th President of the United States)

Why Do We Pray? Part 3

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:2-3

One of the best ways to know someone’s heart and mind is to spend time praying for them. Once you make that kind of commitment, to invest yourself into someone’s life, you begin to fulfill the law of Christ. Instead of just talking about love, praying for someone “puts your money where your mouth is.”

Why is intercessory prayer so important?

When someone asks me how they can pray for me it takes away a part of the burden. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a friendly exchange, like “what can I do to help?” or “we’re here if you ever need anything.” But other times I can see (by someone’s persistence) that they mean it, they want to pray and help share in the burden I’m hauling around. And it works.

When you tell someone you want to help by praying for them, take a hold of their arm, look him/her in the eye closely and say in a determined voice – I am going to pray for you, tell me how. Why not stop right then and there and just pray?

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.  -Ephesians 6:18

When others are praying for me, it’s a constant reminder that when I’m going through the storm I know I’m not alone. Maybe that’s most of the terror – the darkness of being alone while suffering. Practicing our faith means being faithful to pray for others AND to go public with this practice. Being faithful means being accountable. When I promise to pray, I’m also making a commitment to stand with someone through their storm.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.  – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

God involves more of his church in his will for our lives when we participate in intercessory prayer. When the church received the Holy Spirit the first report was that they were of one heart and one mind. The more they prayed for one another, the stronger their bonds of love grew. They began to sell their possessions and give to those in need. When we pray for others, when our bonds of love grow our actions become shaped by God’s will. It becomes more normal for us to love God and to love others.

When we pray for each other – we are making the work of God here on earth that much more real. We are participating in heaven on earth.

I don’t know how people survive some of the disasters that come in life. I have said so many times that having this cloud of witnesses all around who are praying for me and with me every step of the way have kept me alive through thick and thin.

For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. – Philippians 1:19

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

What should you do right now?

  1. Find people to pray for, tell them and make sure they know you mean it
  2. Check in regularly to find out how your prayers have been answered
  3. Be persistent in your praying – keep the burden in front of everyone’s eyes and in front of God
  4. Make praying an integral part of your daily routine – talk to God about all the people in your life – consider it a sacred duty.

“Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.” – E.M. Bounds