It's a little after 7 am on the morning after Christmas. I am in a hotel room, husband and 3 big sprawling boys asleep all around, and I am trying to pray.
I manage, a little. But even after an hour and a half of wakefulness, this prayer time could be better called "distraction time."
There's no good reason for this. I am enjoying my vacation time with extended family. I'm not unhappy or upset about anything.
I'm not even down on myself about not being able to pray much. Religious performance anxiety is for people who are trying to earn something. I have no thoughts of earning anything.
I am thirsty, and I want a drink of Living Water.
I am Bethlehem. I am busy with life, with plans and activities and schedules and discipline issues and fatigue, and with political concerns looming as regularly unwelcome intruders in the mundanities of the day-to-day.
I am just Bethlehem, a sleepy little town of ordinary folks who have no worldly power, whose lives have been thrown into chaos by imperial decree, who are trying to navigate the channels of disruption so that they can get back to the not-so-comfortable Ordinary.
I have nothing special to make Jesus come to me.
But He comes anyway.
He comes because He doesn't come looking for the deserving. He comes for the undesirable, the clueless, the hardened, the proud, the weak.
And He shines a glorious light from Heaven to open their eyes - Our eyes - because otherwise we would miss Him altogether.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
If God had waited for Bethlehem to make itself ready for Him, He would be waiting still. But He came first, He broke the stillness, He gave the glorious announcement, and He gave Himself.
Only those whom He had prepared (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) saw this as anything other than an ordinary birth, though a few might have wagged their heads and clucked their tongues at the shame of a cattle-stall delivery. If word spread at all, it was due to the wild story of the shepherds, babbling on about a Heavenly visitation.
That's why it was harder for them than for us to see something wonderful in that manger. The people in Bethlehem heard anguished labor cries and newborn wails vaguely intermingled with the bedlam of myriads of tired, disgruntled travelers. They smelled sweat and cattle. They saw flesh and blood and vernix, and it looked so ordinary.
God among them. And they had no idea.
It still takes a heavenly visitation to show us who Jesus really is. And it's still the most vital thing for us to see.
Humanity cannot be saved by a metaphor for human suffering, poverty, or moral struggle, but such a safe, sanitized sentimental Jesus is the only one most people are willing to think about. Safe, soppy, sentimental Jesus, however, doesn't exist.
Humanity can only be saved by the very unwelcome, intrusive, sovereign Savior that it's clueless about, blind to, rebellious against.
So He came. Not to give things like healing, peace, joy and an example to follow, but to show us that He Himself is our healing, our peace, our joy, our life. He came to open blinded eyes, to soften hard hearts, to turn rebels into loyal subjects.
He came to give us Himself, and in Himself to give us everything we truly need.
Most have never seen Him that way.
And even those of us who have seen Him, who have begun walking with Him, who are finding our lives more and more in Him... even we still have Bethlehem mornings when we unaware and unprepared. And EVERY morning is undeserving.
Yet He comes. He comes. Because that is who He is. God With Us, the Savior who has come into the world.
May God open your eyes to see Him, for the first time, or the thousandth.
Just a reminder - prayer is not the recitation of magic words. Nor is it a way to "get God to see things our way." Prayer is not bending God to our will, but bending ourselves to His. When we pray, we align our desires with God's priorities, and we submit to Him where those two things differ. And when we petition Him according to His will, we know that He hears us (1 John 5:14).
But how do we know if we're praying according to His will? He has not left us in the dark about that. Though there is no one "right prayer," Jesus taught us tremendous lessons about praying within the will of God when He gave us His model prayer.
The more time I spend allowing the Lord's Prayer to shape my praying, the more convinced I am that there is NO situation in which its guidance is not helpful. So I hope you will join me is praying for Newtown, CT in this manner:
Our Father: Dear Lord, please become a Father in truth to those who don't know You in Newtown. May they come to know you and call you Father and feel Your care as never before.
Who art in Heaven: I thank You, Lord, that You are enthroned in power, and that there is nothing I could ask you that would be too difficult for You. I thank You that Your sovereign control extends even into the incomprehensible.
Hallowed be Your name: Oh Father, there are many who blaspheme You because of this tragedy. Even though this massacre was pure evil, and You are pure light...even though You sent Jesus to save us from sin...even though those who love You and walk with You are growing to love their neighbors and enemies more and more...yet people will blaspheme You when sinners do evil. I pray that You will open blinded eyes, even those dimmed by tears, to see who You really are, and to hallow You from the depths of their souls. Then they will find the peace and the newness that only You can give.
Thy Kingdom come: Oh Father, how we long for this! May Your Kingdom come to Newtown! Your Kingdom is not a place, but a reign in hearts, and it is a reign of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. May Your kingdom be brought there by Your people coming to serve, to weep with those who weep, to pray. And may Your Kingdom spread there as more and more people come to know You.
Thy will be done in Newtown as it is in Heaven: Oh Lord, Your precious, perfect Will is done trustingly, lovingly, loyally, joyfully, obediently in Heaven. Let Your will be done the same way in Newtown, even in the midst of tremendous sorrow. May the beauty of Your Will shine more brightly than ever in that place.
Give Newtown today its daily bread: There is so much to this prayer! Yes, Father, we ask for the provision of daily food, for those who are grieving may not have the strength to prepare it for themselves. May Your people bring material support wherever it is needed. We pray that you will free the grieving from the fear of lacking tomorrow's bread, and that they will instead trust You to provide for tomorrow, too. But You have taught us that our daily bread is so much more than material provision! Jesus said that doing Your Will was His food. He found refreshment in it. And so I pray that You will refresh Your people in Newtown by giving them manageable ways to do Your beautiful Will. And please show Your people outside of Newtown if some part of their daily "work allotment bread" should bring them into Newtown. And finally, Jesus taught us that HE is our bread, our food on which we feast for nourishment. So we pray that each person in Newtown would get a daily supply of Your grace, and that they would recognize it as coming from You.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors: This one is so hard in Newtown right now! Such forgiveness is impossible without Your forgiving grace. Please God, free them from the prison of bitterness. Show them Your forgiving grace as they most clearly need to see it in these dark days. May those who have never received Your forgiving grace do so now, and be made new in order to be free to forgive others as well.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: Yes, Father, please. There will be such a strong temptation to sin in response to sin! Even outside of Newtown, there will be those who will want to hate. As the mother of two kids on the autism spectrum, I am very worried that hatred will be turned towards them. Father, protect those whom you have created on the "spectrum" from the prejudices of others. Protect them from revenge. And Lord, as hard as it is to comprehend, there will be those who will envy Adam Lanza his notoriety, and will want to follow his example. Protect both us and them from this evil! Protect us, too, from the temptation to live in fear. I have received notifications from both schools that my 3 children attend, detailing the increased police presence, the increased security, the siege mentality that characterizes our godless age. Oh Father, in the name of freedom to sin we have sacrificed true freedom! Help our schools, nationwide, to find the balance between wise precaution and unwise terror. Most of all, may they welcome You back into schools, not as a token nod, but as the Savior who alone can change evil hearts.
For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. You alone have the power and authority to change all of this. May people realize this and turn to You! Amen!
Just yesterday a gunman murdered 20 kindergartners and 6 school staff members in Newtown, Connecticut. I spent yesterday buried in the news, numb with the shock of it all.
Yet today I am working on translating and perfecting my presentation of Christmas Carols in American Sign Language, so I can be ready for church tomorrow. I believe in the true Christmas...one that has nothing to do with trees, elves, white bearded men in red suits, or greed, so I'm dealing with songs that celebrate the incarnation of God Himself.
It's been hard, hard work. Not just because of the struggles that always come with interpreting from one language to another. That's a challenge I actually enjoy. Usually (for example), fitting the convoluted, implied-subject, passive-descriptive imperative form found in the single line, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see" into ASL grammar within the confines of artistic style and musical speed...well, I would normally relish it. I don't actually know the right grammatical terms for all of it, but I can feel it in my heart, and I love to coax it out and watch it dance on my fingers.
Not this time. Not with a soul that is stunned by the horror of yesterday.
It's so tempting to say that yesterday threw Christmas into the dust, that the bleating of manger-side sheep is drowned out by gunfire, that the cries of labor pains pale next to cries of terror and death, that the message of peace on earth has been disproven. Rendered trite. Annulled.
But, of course, the millennia that have passed since Christ's birth have been full of horrors. If Christ's coming to earth could have been rendered meaningless, it would have happened long before now.
But how can we sing "Peace on Earth, and mercy mild" so soon after Newtown? Can we only sing it wishfully, wistfully, as a prayer for what we hope will happen someday?
How can the truth of these songs not get lost in translation when "the real state of things" is interpreted to us by the hands of madmen?
How can "Peace on Earth" be communicated in a world like ours? The first step is to remember that the song of the angels was not about peace.
It was about the Prince of Peace.
The angels didn't sing a sermon that told people how they ought to live peacefully. They sang an announcement of the One who was, and is, Peace Incarnate.
Incarnation is not the same as interpretation. Some things can't be expressed in language. They have to become flesh and blood.
"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14).
Humanity has tried countless ways to interpret the message of peace, but unlike any other communication, this one cannot truly be received without receiving the Messenger.
Oh, it is undeniably true that there are many good, peaceful people who do not know Christ. They are as good as they are by the grace of God, whether they know it or not. If He did not bestow such "common grace," Newtown would happen every day. There is not a single good person on the planet; not one who, if left to his or her own devices, wouldn't become a horror (Isa 53:6, Isa 64:6, Jer 17:9, Mark 10:18, Rom 3:10). So God gives a common form of goodness with the same mercy that makes Him send rain on both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). It's a providence largely ignored. It's also a providence that will someday be withdrawn, if I understand 2 Thess 2:7 correctly.
But every human being, even those with a measure of sweetness, kindness, and goodness, needs to be saved from their own sin.
This is the kind of message that the religious elite of Jesus' times could not stand. The kind that made their rage murderous against the most innocent one who ever walked. Think of it... a perfectly innocent adult, telling the religious elite that they needed to repent and turn to Him so they could be saved. They wanted Him dead...and temporarily got their wish.
The world hates that message today, too. Oh, they believe that some people need to be saved, for sure. But they bristle at the thought that they themselves need to be saved from the evil within themselves, and that only Christ can do that. They can't imagine that they could be capable of truly heinous acts, even though history is full of people who, under the right (wrong?) circumstances, did things they never thought themselves capable of.
If they're not a Hitler or a Klebold or a Breivik or a Lanza, they're just fine, thank you.
They want humanity to find a workable interpretation of the message of peace, but without the incarnation of the Prince of Peace in their own hearts.
And peace gets lost in the translation. Because without Christ Himself... trusted, worshiped, indwelling... there is no power for peace with God (the ultimate peace) or for the truest peace with neighbors.
But with Him, everything is possible. And there can be no doubt...if Christ had sat enthroned in the heart of Adam Lanza, conforming him to ever-increasing Christlikeness, including love of neighbor, love of enemies, peace, joy, righteousness...the Newtown Massacre would never have happened. Christ's Spirit inside makes that much difference.
And so I must Sign the songs of incarnation tomorrow with a heart full of hope, and joy, and peace. Because the message has not been annulled, nor can it ever be, as long as The Eternal One lives in people's hearts.
Does He live in your heart by repentant faith?
Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
John 14:27 (ESV) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I talked about how I use
the model that the Lord gave us, often called "The Lord's Prayer," to
pray for my family (not in a rote way, but with real meaning).
But there's so much more on my heart to pray about, so many
more aspects of The Kingdom that the Lord taught us to prioritize! So starting just recently, my prayers for my family have also take their
cues from the Beatitudes, (The "Blessed are..." statements from Christ's "Sermon on the
Mount"). It's very fitting to frame our prayers
around this sermon of our Lord, and here's a sample of how that can look. (Since I don't pray by rote, this is just a representative sample.)
- "Lord, please help
each family member (I think of each as I pray this) to be poor in spirit- not spiritually conceited, but truly humble in our walk with God; relying on His righteousness, abiding in the Vine, drawing our life, strength, and direction from Him. For then we will possess the kingdom of Heaven, a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17)."
- "Lord, please help each one of us to mourn over our sin, and then to humbly rejoice in Your forgiveness. Help us to humbly receive whatever hardships You call us to,
choosing the healthy pain of mourning rather than the pain of sinful anger or whining self-pity,
and so may our hearts be prepared our hearts to receive Your comfort in those circumstances, and to extend Your comfort to others (2 Co. 1:4)."
Just today one of my children was extremely disrespectful and defiant during family devotions, and I wanted to respond out of anger (as usual). One might rationalize that, under such circumstances, my anger would have been righteous, but I know from experience that anger is only righteous if its attitudes, goals, and methods are righteous. Mine would have been anything but righteous in that moment...no, not even my goals, because at that moment I felt much more of a desire to make my son suffer for what he had done, instead of wanting to help him find a place of repentance and restoration.
So, during a cooling off period, when we grounded him from what he desperately wanted to do, and gave him time to (hopefully) think about his sin and repent, I had to spend time praying that I would mourn, rather than rage, over my son's sin. I prayed that he, too, would mourn over his sin, and that together we would be able to pray for his repentance, healing, and restoration. This mourning, Jesus promised, would lead to being comforted.
Did I see the hoped-for change in my attitude, and did I receive comfort? Yes, thanks to the Lord. Did I see the hoped-for repentance in my son right away? No. Not in this case. But earlier today, a different son came up to me, totally unexpectedly, and confessed a sin to me with tears...something he didn't even know I already suspected (because in this instance the Spirit had held me back from confronting when I wasn't sure). It was obvious that the Spirit of God was at work within him, and this mourning over sin was a precious gift from God. Far more precious than any forced "I'm sorry" spat out in order to get out of consequences. And it enabled me to take that precious boy in my arms and pray aloud over him, thanking the Lord for working in his heart, bringing him to repentance, and for forgiving him and restoring him. It was a beautiful thing, and not something I ever could have forced. And it gives me confidence that the Lord can change my other son's heart, too, especially if I seek to walk in the Spirit and not mess things up!
Which brings me to the next beatitude...
- "Lord, help us to reject the quest for power, and to seek instead to inherit
meekly. Help us not to be obsessively driven toward mastery of life in our own strength, and not envious of those who seem to have it, but eager to operate from a place of total inadequacy and dependence on the Lord. Thank You that Your power is perfected in weakness, and that when we are weak, then You are strong through us (2 Co. 12:9-10)."
This is a huge one for me, for a couple of reasons. First, because I tend to not want to take on projects unless I believe I can see the way clear to the very end and know exactly how I'll do it, what obstacles I might face, and how I'll overcome them. (As a result, I take on very few projects!) But since this approach to life is determined by personal power (either its presence or absence), it is the opposite of meekness. Meekness operates by God's power. So I pray for this kind of meekness for myself and for family members as I see us struggling with perfectionism and fear.
I also pray for meekness when my lack of it shows itself in arrogance and power struggles. Remember the discipline issues I mentioned above? Meekness allowed me to inherit a precious experience that no power on earth could have given me. I should know by now that my angry power-grabbing has NEVER brought about anything truly good, but since it's still my knee-jerk reaction, I still must pray for meekness. Not weakness, but power through God's strength.
Of course there are times when I will have to respond more strongly, but if I do so in the Lord's strength rather than in the strength of my anger, it will be beautiful in its own way (even if my son may not perceive it that way at the time), with beautiful motives and goals. And the fruit will come in God's time.
I won't take the time to elaborate on each beatitude. I do pray that I and each family member would:
Hunger and thirst for righteousness, first within, and
then in the world, with the promise that He will satisfy such hunger
Be merciful and obtain mercy
Be pure in heart and see God
Be peacemakers and called the sons of God
Rejoice to be persecuted for Christ's sake
That last one has often felt a bit far-removed from my life, but today I had to pray it for real. I had gotten all fearful and bitter over an article I read about the US Government persecuting a Christian business and threatening to fine it into bankruptcy if it would not fund abortifacients for its employees.
Not only is this a business that I love and frequent, but this governmental abuse is a fearsome glimpse of the fascism that is likely to descend on this once-free nation. And as I fretted, I recalled what I had been praying. "Help us to rejoice to be persecuted for Christ's sake."
I remembered that this prayer reflects and actual command of Christ's (see Matt 5:12), and that I needed His help to obey that command. And I remembered that it wasn't a cruel, heartless command from an unfeeling deity, but the loving command of a Savior who also knew persecution, and who "for the joy set before Him, endured the cross" (Heb 12:12). I knew that this same Lord promised that those who are persecuted would receive great rewards that would far exceed our sufferings, and this is why we could rejoice.
And so, just in praying the beatitudes, I find many helps for the difficult days that we live in. I hunger and thirst for the justice that is being denied to Christians in our country, and I am reminded that Christ, too, wants justice. But I am reminded to use not the world's weapons, but Christ's, not to seek to seize by fleshly power what can only be inherited by the meek, and not to lose my perspective.
And, more than just being reminded, I am also brought to a spiritual posture, one that aligns with God's commands and priorities and is promised His blessings. And most importantly, I enlist His divine intervention with confidence that I am asking for what He Himself desires.
When you know the ship will wreck...and you warn people...and they don't
listen...what do you do? Especially if they drag you into their mess
despite your warnings?
And what if, in the midst of their mess that they dragged you into, you've been
promised a personal just-for-you rescue...what do you do then?
Shipwrecks are a good topic in election years. They're a good topic for
Christians at any time, because we can always look around and see the world
getting into messes that Scripture warned them against. Often times we've
added our voices to the warning cry of Scripture, and have been mocked and
vilified for it. And yet we know that, when the world gets itself into
the very messes that Scripture foretold, they will blame God for it (Pr 19:3).
And, to make matters worse, the messes they make often spill over into
Now, it's not as if our lives were mess-free. We have our own, for
certain. And that makes it even easier to resent the messes that others
dump in our laps. We don't need theirs on top of ours, do we?
Or do we?
What is a Christian to do?
If the world were to judge by American Christianity, it might conclude that the
Christian response to an impending shipwreck is to sit back with arms folded,
hollering warnings with an air of disdain for the fools that we know won't
listen, and secretly gloating over the disasters that come.
In many cases they'd have good reason to feel that way about us. Admit
it. Don't many of us just love mocking the fools who voted for the wrong
guy, even while we resent the way the wrong guy messed up the country we live
in? Don't many of us just love "writing off" this group or that
group whose sins finally got them what they deserve? If you've been
around long enough, you can remember how many Christians gloated over AIDS when
it first appeared.
Ugly, isn't it? And anything but Christlike.
When you throw in the belief in a promised "just-for-you" rescue, the
so-called "Christian" response tends to become even uglier. The
attitude I see far too often (and used to embrace wholeheartedly myself) is a
contemptuous sneer that says, "Fine, go to Hell and take the world with
you. What do I care? I'm getting raptured out of
here. You're going to get what you deserve, and I'm
Well, if that's not the right response (and assuredly it's not!), then what is?
Does Scripture give us a picture?
It certainly does, in many places, most clearly in the face of Christ Himself.
But the picture I want to paint for you today is from the Apostle Paul in
He was a prisoner in chains, bound for trial in Rome. He had no choice
but to get on that ship... a ship that he knew would wreck. He'd
been divinely warned, and he had warned those in authority. But they
wouldn't listen. (Acts 27:10-11).
On top of that, Paul had a divine promise of personal survival. In Acts
23:11, God encouraged Paul that he must not fear, because he was going to give
his testimony in Rome. Sort-of like a "Rapture clause," if you
think about it. The ship might wreck, and everybody else might die for
all he knew, but he was going to make it to Rome somehow.
But the trip sure wasn't going to be pleasant for him. Listen to the
description by the physician named Luke (Paul's traveling companion, fellow
apostle, and the author of the biblical Books of Luke and Acts):
14 But soon a
tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land.
15 And when the ship
was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven
16 Running under the
lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the
17 After hoisting it
up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run
aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven
18 Since we were
violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo.
19 And on the third
day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands.
20 When neither sun
nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of
our being saved was at last abandoned.
Yeah, just reading it makes me queasy. And Paul was here through no fault
of his own.
So, naturally, he hunkered down in the storm. He spewed hatred on the fools
who hadn't listened to his warning, because it was their fault that he was
reeling and puking along with them for days on end. He spewed hatred on the
religious and political systems that had chained him on this ship in the first
place. And he prayed for his personal rescue to come get him off that
ship as soon as possible, so that he could be comfy while the others perished
as they deserved. Right?
If you know your Bible at all, and if you know what Christlikeness looks like,
then you know that he did the exact opposite. Let's pick up Luke's
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship. 24 and he said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you." 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island..." 33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you." 35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.
Think this through,
and you’ll know how to respond to the impending shipwreck of our nation, or of
that person who ignored your warning.
First – with honesty,
but not spitefulness. Paul did point out
how it all began, but not to say “Nyah.”
Rather, he wanted to point people to the wisdom of listening to God. He was always a soul-winner.
Second – with selfless, persistent prayer. Notice the angel’s words. “God has granted you all those who sail with
you.” The word “granted” indicates a kindness bestowed on someone
who requests it. Paul had not been
content to get “raptured” off of that ship.
He prayed heartfelt prayers for the lives of everyone on board. And he prayed this persistently through two weeks...two WEEKS of tempest-tossed, vomit soaked, hungry, thirsty misery.
Third – with encouragement
in the promises of God. Unlike Jonah,
who hated seeing God’s mercy extended to the wicked Ninevites, Paul was happy
to give the good news of God’s grace to his shipmates.
Fourth – With personal
hopefulness. He ate. And he shared food, even though the supplies
had mostly been jettisoned. No selfish
hoarding here. No siege mentality. His faith was generous, contagious,
If you read the rest
of the story, you’ll see that Paul gained great credibility through all of
this. And after the wreck, God used Paul
to perform miracles of healing for the natives on the island where they had run
aground. Because of this, the gospel
continued to spread.
Do you suppose that
God would have worked as many miracles and advanced the gospel so well through
an unrepentantly self-centered, hateful jerk who just wanted to get out and let
the others drown? What about through a Gloomy
Gus who sees nothing but disaster, and can't serve anyone because his hands are too busy pointing at people? Paul’s
faith made him available to move mountains.
Do I really need to
One last thought from Acts 27, but from a slightly different angle. If you've been reading my blog lately, you'll
know that God has laid it on my heart to pray daily for my neighborhood. And
not just little, generic prayers, but bold prayers for the whole neighborhood
to be saved, to become part of The Kingdom, and more.
This morning, as I looked out my front door and looked over the various houses
to pray for them, the thought came to me. C'mon, Betsy, do you really
think that could possibly happen? A whole neighborhood, for Pete's sake?
And that’s when the Spirit brought Acts 27 to mind for today.
24 “God has granted you all those who sail
were in all 276 persons in the ship.)
I haven’t received any such promises from God. But I know that He CAN save them all, and
more, in response to prayer. So why in
Heaven’s name wouldn't I ask in faith and hope and love? Why wouldn't I offer my neighbors truth...not spitefully, but in loving hope that they will turn to the One who is Truth? Why wouldn't I have the kind of hope and encouragement that are contagious (See 1 Peter 3:15)? Why wouldn't you?
I had it all planned out, you know. I knew just how it was going to go.
As you may have guessed from all the posts I've been writing on prayer lately, my morning devotions have often been very sweet and powerful in the past few weeks. And I knew that today would be the same, because it's a no-school day in our district. Surely everyone else would sleep in, and I could have uninterrupted prayer and reading time to enjoy at leisure.
It started out just fine, too. I was the first one awake, and it was easy to hide the glowing light of my Kindle under the blanket and read the many wonderful words for today in my favorite devotional books (I read actual Scriptures at night before going to sleep, to give me a proper focus for my thoughts as I drift off...or as I lie awake with insomnia as I sometimes do).
I was so touched by those wonderful words, some penned hundreds of years ago, some in the early 20th century, and some much more recently. God has always had witnesses, and it's such a blessing when their words are preserved for future generations!
But then I got my prayer list out and started to pray.
Unlike most recent days, for some reason I couldn't focus.
And people were getting up, much earlier than I expected.
And the phone began ringing. Seriously, nobody ever calls our home that early. But it happened this morning, more than once. Resentment tempted me, and I am afraid that at least one caller could probably tell that fact.
Even after the calls ended, I could hear life going on downstairs, and I simply could not focus. I began to rush through my list (it's long), but tried to maintain a prayerful focus despite it.
I only got through a small fraction of the list.
But God was speaking. This time it was my turn to listen.
"Betsy, what do you believe about prayer? About prayer time?
Do you believe that I will refuse to bless your family
if you can't focus on your prayers this morning
or finish your list?
Do you believe that your prayer activities
are powerful in themselves,
or do you believe that I am powerful on your behalf?
Do you believe my power is only available
at certain times of day?
"Which do you think is better?
A heart humbly submitted to My sovereign will,
even when I allow your prayer time to be interrupted,
or a heart irritated and unsettled at those who interrupted?"
If you resent My other children,
and My timing in sending them,
can your heart really be in a proper posture to pray for them?
Don't you think,
if I want you to pray for people,
that I also want you to humbly serve them
and bless them even when they don't
fit into your sense of timing?
Even when they dare to interrupt prayer?
Yep. That still, small voice packs a wallop.
A large part of my prayer focus these days is "Thy Kingdom come." I pray it for specific situations and people, not as a rote statement, but much more mindfully than that.
Scripture tells us that the Kingdom is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). Of course, there's more to it than that, but it can't be less than that.
Do I -- who regularly pray for the Kingdom to come -- do I seek to receive each moment, each change of my plans, with a heart that's submissive to the King, that can walk in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?
If so, then "prayer time" can be interrupted without ugliness, and without fear of a "bad day." My heart can pray wherever and whenever because it's properly postured to do so.
If I don't seek to receive my life on His terms, does it really matter what I say while I'm on my knees?
Notice, I didn't say that my prayers don't matter if I haven't mastered this heart posture. Thank the Lord that's not the case, or there would be no hope for me! But seeking first the Kingdom, not mastering it, is the command that is given. The kingdom has only one Master.
Notice, too, it's "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Countless religious systems can offer a semblance of peace (more like "resignation") that can lower blood pressure. That is NOT the kingdom of our Lord.
My righteousness, my peace, and my joy are in Him. The world didn't give it to me (John 14:27), and the world can't take it away.
Even if they can take away my morning prayer time.
On my prayer schedule, Wednesdays are the days that I specifically pray for my church. Will you join me...and pray for your church as well? If you don't currently have a commitment to pray regularly for your church, will you make that commitment today? If you do, please let your pastor(s) know. I suspect it will mean a lot to them.
If you have a church directory, it might help to take it out and look at it. If you don't have one, take a moment to search your memory for the faces of your local assembly.
The church is not a mere organization; it's a body made up of living parts. Each face you see in that directory (or in your memory) is someone you are praying for today. And each one has a full plate of life to deal with. Some of them have bumped up against your life in wonderful ways, and some perhaps in painful ways. Either way, like neighbors, they are all given. It is no accident that they attend the same local assembly that you do. They are given to you to bless, to pray for, to edify, to encourage, to forgive as needed.
Here is my prayer for my church - clergy and laity - today:
"Our Father" - Oh Lord, you have given me such a burden for the self-deceived lost souls in every church, because I was one for so long. How many decades was I faithfully in church -- singing, playing handbells, doing worship songs in Sign Language, teaching, speaking up ... and yet not truly knowing You as Father? How many are in my church right now who are deceived ... lost but don't know it? How many there are lost and DO know it? Father, reach them all. Please bring them to you until each one can truly call you "Our Father." And Lord, since you are our Father, then we who know you are siblings indeed. Give us love for one another!
"Who art in Heaven." - Thank You, Lord, that You are sovereign, and that there is nothing I can ask for my church which is too difficult for you.
"Hallowed be Your name." - Father, may your name be hallowed in our church! May there be no flippancy, no irreverence in the name of "relevance," no empty mouthing of words, no coldness. Not that those who are cold would be turned away...God forbid! But may those who are cold would be warmed to life. May your name be presented and received with proper awe and reverence in each part of the church...from clergy to laity, from pulpit, to youth room, to class lectern, to nursery changing tables. Oh Lord, our world is starving for meaning, for transcendence, for something bigger than self...and yet without knowing You, self-worship is the only remaining option. And souls starve. Oh Lord, bring the hungry to our church, and hallow Your name in their ears and their hearts when they come!
"Your Kingdom come, Your will be done in our church as it is in Heaven." - Oh Father, may Your reign be palpable within our walls because you reign in our hearts! Your will is done perfectly, lovingly, joyfully, trustingly, willingly in Heaven...let Your will be done the same way in our church. Please reign in the way our church does "business"... in its bookkeeping, in its staffing of leadership positions, in its building program, in its decision making, in its counseling, in its spending, in its acts of charity, in its programs, in its recommendations, in its meetings, in its classes, in its sermons, in its singing... in every way.
"Give our church today its daily bread" - Please meet today's material needs as with Manna from Heaven, and let us trust and not fret or go into debt for tomorrow. Protect us from the excess that might seduce our leadership away from You and lure us into Laodicea (Rev 3:14-19). Give us our daily kingdom work to do (John 4:32-34), even if that's very different from what we had planned to do. And give us the daily portion of Your Spirit as food and drink to strengthen us for our work (John 6:48-58).
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" - Oh Father, let there be no divisions in our local assembly! Give us forgiving hearts; not just willing, but eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). As I think through the people in my local assembly, please help me to be honest with myself about those I have wronged, and help me to seek reconciliation and make restitution wherever needed. Please help those whom I have wronged to forgive me. And I pray Your help as I resolve to forgive those who have wronged me, and as I seek to bless them in Your name. As we all do these things, Father, please forgive us our debts for Jesus' sake.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." - I know, Oh Lord, that Satan desires to sift us like wheat. That is his desire for all Your people and Your churches. Please, oh Lord, lead us not into such trials unless You have first prepared our hearts to stand. May we also prepare our hearts to stand, by taking up the whole armor of God as You have commanded us. And if we must be sifted by some trial, may we bring honor to Your name throughout it, and when we have been restored, may we strengthen our brethren.
For Yours in the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen!
Can you imagine if every church had many members praying for it in this way?
Will you go to your front door and look out at your neighborhood? Will you really look...reminding yourself that these neighbors are real people whom God has put in your life for a reason?
Do you know and believe to the depths of your soul that they are put in proximity to you so that you can bless them and be salt and light to them?
Do you really, really understand that you are commanded to love them as yourself, to serve them, to think of them before yourself?
I don't. But I should. And by God's grace, I'm learning to.
This is a radical, scary way of thinking for me. And yet...I'm beginning to be excited about it. Because this "Big God Story" that we're all a part of is a truly epic adventure, and though each one of us plays only a minor part, yet we can't know how the ramifications of a single act might have repercussions into eternity.
So lately I've committed to praying for my neighborhood. And since I tend to be a cerebral person (as in, "Head in the clouds and in books, and not much good in real life"), I've decided to go to my door and look out as I pray.
Why should I look out as I pray? To cement it in my soul that this is not theoretical. This is real. Those people. Yes, THOSE people. The ones who annoy me. The ones I know absolutely nothing about (and until recently, couldn't have cared less about). The ones who judge me. The ones I judge. The ones my kids play with. The ones I'm friendly with when life throws us together, but whose company I never seek out because I'm too wrapped up in my own world. The ones who belong to that religious group. The ones who pursue that lifestyle. The ones who party drunkenly and loudly until the wee hours. The ones I'm embarrassed to be around because I know our family hasn't been what it should be towards them. The ones I'm not sure would still consider me even a casual friend if I dared to share my faith with them.
Yes, those neighbors.
You have them, too.
Are you ready to pray for them, and for yourself as a part of this neighborhood?
Look out at them, and let's start.
"Our Father." Oh Lord, how many of these people truly know you as "Father?" May every one of them come to know you that way. And for those who do, may their childlike relationship grow in love with you more and more each day.
"Who art in Heaven." Thank You, Lord, that You are sovereign. There is nothing I could ask for this neighborhood that is beyond Your power.
"Hallowed be Your name." Oh Lord, may each person in this neighborhood come to hallow your name, to truly know who You are and stand in joyful awe before Your face every day.
(Are you looking? Are you trustingly praying for that neighbor, though your soul is tempted to doubt he could ever hallow The Name? Are you wondering if you've hallowed The Name in front of them?)
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in this neighborhood, as it is in Heaven." Oh Lord, may your kingdom come in this neighborhood. May Your will be done here as it's done in Heaven (meaning that it will be done lovingly, trustingly, joyfully, obediently, happily).
(You know, of course, that by praying such things, you're asking to be used to help bring the Kingdom. And you need to know that the Kingdom never comes by way of Pharisaical rules, judgmentalism, pride, or ivory-tower living. The kingdom must be served by you...lovingly, trustingly, joyfully, obediently, happily...before it can come through you to your neighborhood. Are you ready to love...to love that neighbor? To serve that neighbor?)
"Give this neighborhood, today, its daily bread:"
Its daily material needs (Matt. 6:25-32)
Protection from excess (See Prov. 30:8-9)
Daily kingdom work to do as You prepare hearts to do it (John 4:32-34)
The daily supply of Jesus Himself by His Spirit (John 6:48-58)
"And forgive this neighborhood its debts, as we forgive our debtors." Lord, I forgive that neighbor. Please forgive me for having judged/held a grudge/(whatever it is in your case.) Please help me to seek restoration and/or to make restitution wherever possible where I have sinned against this neighbor that You have given me to love and serve. Help them to forgive me. Please transform our neighborhood into a place of genuine biblical love.
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or, as some translations suggest, "Deliver us from the Evil One"). Oh Lord, the enemy has plans for evil against every single person in the neighborhood, and he will redouble his efforts once I commit to serious prayer and intentional neighboring. Lord, deliver us from whatever evil he has in mind. Foil his plans, especially the plans that he has for tempting me to sin in response to other people's sins. My neighbors will sin against me, perhaps more now as the enemy incites them against me because I'm praying. He knows that, if I respond unlovingly and sinfully to my neighbor's sin, that I will do more harm to the Kingdom than my neighbor could ever do. Let me not be a traitor to Your kingdom. Teach me to love my neighbor.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
Will you commit to praying for your neighborhood regularly, at least once a week? Please let me know if you will.
(For more helpful blogs on this subject, please read this by Joe Thorn, and this by Tim Challies, and this from Ligonier Ministries.)
Today we continue looking at a truly meaningful, non-rote way to pray through the Lord's prayer for ourselves and our families. (If you have not yet read Part 1 of this series, please do so now. This entry is much better as part of a whole.)
Give us this day our daily bread. As rich Westerners, we usually gloss over this part.
Of course we get our daily bread, plus snacks, desserts,
sodas, and expensive designer-brand coffees for those who like coffee (that
would not be me). But as Chapell reminds us in Praying Backwards, Jesus explained and fulfilled
(rather than discarding) the Old Testament, and so we need to look for the Old
Testament idea of "daily bread" to get the full picture. Of
course there's the precious old account of the manna in the wilderness, and
there's much to be learned from it. But until we come to true material
poverty, that won't be the kind of "daily bread" we're likely to
focus on the most. Instead, for our Old Testament model of praying for
daily bread, we go to a wise man named Agur. These are his words:
Proverbs 30 (ESV)
 Two things I ask of
you; deny them not to me before I die:
 Remove far from me
falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with
the food that is needful for me,
 lest I be full and deny
you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and
profane the name of my God.
So the first part of praying for
daily bread for each member of my family is to pray that we would not be given
too much. That we would not be rich in the world's goods and forget God.
Have you ever prayed that for your family? I confess, I haven't,
either. I just remembered this aspect of the prayer while I was
researching for this blog. But I'll be adding it, I promise. In
fact, I just sat down with my list and added it, so I won't forget. And
as I pray it for each family member, I will remember specifically the things
that each one may be lusting after, longing for, discontent without. I
will pray for each one to be content with what the Father gives them daily.
The second part of
praying for our daily bread comes from Jesus' own words:
John 4 (ESV)
 Meanwhile the disciples
were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
 But he said
to them,“I have food to eat that
you do not know about.”
 So the disciples said to
one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”
 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to
accomplish his work.
Have you ever really thought about
that? That wasn't just a "Jesus thing," you know. Our
souls, too, are nourished when we do God's will in God's way, as it's done in Heaven.
And there's yet another angle to
praying for our daily bread. It comes from Jesus' mouth, again.
It's too long to post in its entirety here, so please look up the context
and see it all in John 6:32-58. I'll put just a little bit here:
John 6 (ESV)
am the bread of life.
fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds
on me, he also will live because of me.
is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died.
Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Jesus Himself is our daily bread!
He is the spiritual life that indwells us and empowers the only works
that are acceptable to God.
So I think of each family member,
and I pray that on this particular day we would each be given our work to do
for His Kingdom (which may be very different from the work we had planned to
do), and that we might also be given the gracious supply from Heaven to do that
work and prosper in it. I pray that we would abide in Jesus and receive
from Him all that we need to accomplish His work acceptably, because if we do
it in our flesh, it's not acceptable. Also, what we do in our flesh is
heavy work, but what we do by his Spirit is life-giving, because His yoke is
easy, and His burden is light.
All this from "Give us this day our
daily bread!" How much we miss when we mechanically mouth words!
And forgive us our debts, as we
forgive our debtors. Oh, how many people we have
wronged, and how many have wronged us! I can easily think of examples for
each family member. So I pray daily that God would give us each tender
hearts to forgive others, and that He would, in turn, forgive us. And it
just now dawned on me that I need to pray that each of us would have the
courage and wisdom to seek restoration and make restitution where possible (see
Matt 5:23-26). I guess it's time to make another addition to my prayer
And lead us not into temptation, but
deliver us from evil. If we know Scripture, we
know that God never tempts anyone to sin (James 1:13). But when He taught
us to pray this part of the Model Prayer, He knew that every situation He leads
us into for our good is also misused by the Enemy in an attempt to seduce us
away from God. He also knew that our own tendency to sin would seduce us
sometimes, and (like He did with Judas), He can use even our sin to accomplish
His purposes (though never without cost to us...it is NEVER acceptable to
choose to sin in order to bring about good. See Romans 3:5-8). As I
see it, this part of the Model Prayer is kind of the flip-side of "Thy
will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." God can use anything, but
we want to be sure to offer Him obedience and righteousness, not messes, to
use for His glory and His kingdom.
Can't you think of a half-dozen
situations for which you can pray this for yourself...your spouse...each child?
Can you see how, if you regularly
prayed this way, it would dramatically change the way you feel about your own
circumstances, about your family members' individual circumstances, about each
person and their worth as you should esteem them, about God, and about the
answers He gives?
God forbid that we should ever
mindlessly parrot the "Lord's Prayer" in order to try to get
something from God. But may He also forbid that, out of our zeal to avoid
such "vain repetition," we should refuse to obey our Lord who said,
"Pray then like this..."
First of all, let me say that the finest book I have ever read on prayer is this one, "Praying Backwards" by Brian Chapell. (That link goes to the Kindle version on Amazon. The book is also available in traditional formats.) Get it. Read it. Re-read it. Often.
Chapell's book, along with Paul Miller's excellent book "A Praying Life," have forever changed the way I pray for myself, my family, my neighborhood, my church, my country, my world.
How? Did they offer better formulas, better acrostics to help me remember what to say next? Did they tell me how to gain more power, how to use positive thinking, affirmations, The Secret? How to better manipulate God, how to make sure my will gets done?
To seek to ensure that "MY will be done" is to seek power over God. My will, not His. Such power seeking can often be recognized by its use of earthly currencies, whether money, ungodly influence, dishonesty, etc. Most clearly, though, it can be recognized by the object of its faith, because in "My will" prayers:
I have faith in ME to know what's best, and
I have faith in the thing that I want, believing that it can BE what's best.
God is just a tool for my use to get myself the things I want MORE than I want Him.
To seek power over God is to seek to usurp His throne, even if we're convinced that we would use that power for good. It is the way of the occult, not the way of any true Christian, as Simon the Sorcerer learned in Acts 8:9-24.
The only power we may legitimately seek is power from Him, to do His will, in His way, in His time.
Chapell and Miller taught me how to seek God through prayer, how to submit to His priorities, how to be shaped by Him as I bring my cares to Him. They (especially Chapell) taught me what it really means to pray in Jesus' name.
In response, I've found myself increasingly gravitating to the Lord's Model Prayer and to the Beatitudes...not as a formula to slavishly follow, nor as vain repetition to earn brownie points with God, but as the best possible expressions of agreement with what God desires to accomplish in and through me and my loved ones, within the circumstances that He's given us.
Who'd have thought it? Jesus actually was onto something.
So here, in case it's helpful to someone else, is an example of how I pray for myself and my family using the Lord's Prayer. (And also, how I pray for my church, my neighborhood, my country, my world, and anything else there might be.)
Oh, and one more thing. I often make reference to "Thinking individually of each member of the family" when I pray certain things. Why is this?
It is NOT a magical sort of way to daub the spiritual equivalent of fairy dust or holy water on each one. I do not "turn the powers of my mind" to each one in order to bestow something on them.
We must guard so carefully against occultic thinking in our prayers!
I am careful to think individually of each one because it changes and informs the way I think of each person during prayer and afterwards. It guides the way that I pray for our individual concerns. It reminds me of what God is up to, so I can see His hand at work later. It increases my love for the God who loves each family member, and it increases my love for each family member that God loves. It gives me the inestimable privilege of being an instrument of good in their lives, if and when God sees fit to use me in that way (it's up to Him, not me or the power of my prayers).
Our Father. Thinking individually of each member of the family, I ask God that those who are not saved would come to know Him as Father, and that those who are saved would grow in their childlike relationship with Him. (I don't have to really know for sure who is already saved, and who is not yet. God knows.) As I think of each person (including myself), I am reminded to think of them as children of my Heavenly Father, or as those that I hope will soon be adopted into His family, and it reminds me to honor and love them accordingly. And when I think (for example) of a fearful child, instead of merely praying that they'd "toughen up" or "get brave," I pray that they would rest in the Father's care. It's a different prayer, isn't it? And praying it makes me look at my children differently. Treat them differently. Speak to them differently. When I remember.
Who art in Heaven. When I remember where God is enthroned, I am reminded of His sovereign power. There is no point in praying to anyone else, or trusting in anyone else. And there is no point in worrying over anything that I have left in His sovereign care.
Hallowed be Thy name: Oh, what a beautiful thing to pray for each family member as I think of them! "Lord, hallow your name in and through my husband, and myself, and this child, and this child, and this child. May we each hold you in proper awe and reverence. May we bring only honor to You in our thoughts, words, and deeds."
Thy Kingdom come. What is a kingdom but a place where a king reigns? I pray for each family member, including myself, that Christ's reign would be strengthened in each life. I think of the sin patterns, false beliefs, and stubborn self-determination that currently affect one or more of us, and pray that each would increasingly yield to the King. This prayer is also a reminder to me whose kingdom I need to be seeking. (Hint: It's not mine.)
Now, this can be confusing. Some people wonder why we ought to pray, if God is totally in charge anyway. Isn't God always controlling things? And if He is, why would we pray for Him to control? That's where the next part of the prayer makes everything clear.
Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven. Of course God's will is ultimately going to be done on earth. He will crush His enemies under His (and our) feet when He returns. Until then, He does often rule over enemies by bringing them down in one way or another, or (more happily) by winning them over to Himself. And He rules over His people by lovingly winning their increasing allegiance. Jesus did God's will in one way, by gracious, loving submission and obedience. Judas did it in another, because God overruled his evil intentions and used his sin to perfectly fulfill prophecy and bring about the greatest good that ever happened.
Which way do we want Him to rule over us and over our families?
Ah, the vital role a single phrase can play! On Earth, as it is in Heaven. As it's done. The same way it's done.
How is God's will done in Heaven?
So, when I think of each family member's current dilemmas, tough decisions, trials, temptations, triumphs, tragedies, options, whatevers, I pray that God's will would be done in, by, and through that family member in the same way that it's done in Heaven: Joyfully, willingly, trustingly, obediently, immediately, triumphantly.
Notice that I don't have to understand God's specific will for that family member's circumstances (though of course I know His general will, which is revealed in Scripture for the conduct of all His people). I am not to use prayer to impose my will. I am to yield, I am to entrust.
What freedom this offers! And what joy, when the answer comes in some form I never could have anticipated! If I stubbornly hold out for my will, I might not even recognize His will when it is done, and I might frown in the face of Providence. God forbid. God forbid.
Because God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has chosen to put treasure in clay pots.
I can't be a superstar, but I can be a pot.
Remember the story of Gideon, and how he and his rag-tag army took on the Midianites? Their lights were hidden in clay pots until the right moment, and then they smashed the pots to let the light shine. God then miraculously routed the enemy before them.
God has given me plenty of good hard whacks in my life, and at times I've felt like he's completely smashed me for good. Maybe one of His purposes for doing that is to let some light out.
I don't have any light of my own, but He is the light, and it's my hope that He'll shine through just a bit on these pages, "that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us."