A Post-Labor Day Prayer About Work

“A man can do nothing better than eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This to, I see is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Have you considered your work as a way of serving, even praising, God? Several biblical passages address how work functions as service to God. The writer of Ecclesiastes attributed the ability to find satisfaction in one’s work to God. The apostle Paul counseled workers, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men;, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). He spoke primarily to slaves in that passage, but his thought applies to all who work for a living, especially those who are employed by another. The apostle prefaced those remarks by noting that the worker should work hard at all times, not just when being watched by the employer. Work should be done with “sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (Colossians 3:22).

How does this relate to calling for fire in prayer? Sometimes we do not find satisfaction in our work. One may work for a “toxic” supervisor, or be “under-employed” at a task that does not challenge his or her abilities. Many today search for meaningful employment; some have searched so long that they have given up hope. All these need to pray – for sustaining hope, for courage in addressing problems, for opportunity to work. Thank God for the opportunity to work, and pray that you will glorify him through your service. Pray for those who cannot work because of illness or injury, and for those who have not found work yet.

O God, thank you for giving us strength and skill so that we may work. That work helps us provide food, shelter, and clothing for our families. We pray also for employers, that they may listen, that they may care, that they may encourage. Remind us that when we work at honorable occupations, we praise you, who created us with this potential. We pray for those who suffer financially or emotionally because they have no work. Grant them relief from their pain, and return them to work they will enjoy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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A Prayer for an Unjust Nation Threatened by Terror

He prayed while his contemporaries trusted in rituals and practiced a syncretistic religion that mixed elements of nature religion with nationalism and the worship of God. He prayed while a hostile nation sent its armies to eradicate cities and demoralize populations with sickening brutality. He prayed when he himself had announced that God was judging his people for their unfaithfulness.

The prophet Micah concludes his prophecy with a prayer. He recognizes God’s care and love for his people even as the nation staggers under the impact of military attack. He believes that God will judge the enemies who are punishing his people. He praises the character and reliability of God. He remembers, when it would have been so easy to forget, that God keeps his promises.

He reminds the Lord and his people of God’s historic care, that God is the Shepherd for a flock that needs to feed once more in fertile fields. He prays,

“Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvelous things” (Micah 7:14-15).

Micah prays for Judah and Israel, but he prays also for their enemies. He prays, as we might expect, that the enemy will know shame for their actions, and that they will fear God. He prays that they will repent, that trembling, they will recognize the reality of Israel’s God, and in fear begin to worship him. To say that our God is awesome is to confess that it is frightening to be in his presence. Micah’s description of the enemies’ repentance describes their dread as they approach the Lord in reverence. As Hebrews 10:31 notes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” What Micah and the writer of Hebrews both understood was the holiness of God, a holiness to which he calls his people in both the Old and New Testaments. Micah prays,

“The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick dust like a snake, like the crawling things of the earth; hey shall come trembling out of their fortresses; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall stand in fear of you” (Micah 7:16-17).

Micah prays to God the Judge, but he also calls upon God as Savior. God abhors unrighteousness, but he also forgives in compassion. There is consequence for rebellion against God, but God will pardon. He has made promises to his people; God keeps his promises even when his people do not. God sees hope for the most disobedient. Horrible acts of genocide, commandeering of property, and religious persecution terrified Micah’s contemporaries when they heard about the enemy’s committing them. Micah prays with confidence that God will judge that evil, but that he will do so in a way that turns the hearts of the enemy towards obedience to God. Micah prays in a time when it seemed there was no hope for the recovery of true worship, justice, or fair treatment of the poor among God’s people, when seemingly barbaric enemies threatened their existence, and prays with hope. God will once again show compassion. He will cast out all sin, but he will show faithfulness to his people.

Micah calls for fire. He calls for justice against brutal enemies. He cries out earlier in his prophecy against unfair business practices and excessive reliance on ritual (Micah 2:1-3; 6:8). He deplores the plight of Israel as Assyrian armies advance. He prays that God will guide his people once more; he prays that God’s judgment will convert the nations; he prays that God will forgive:

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).

May we pray, as Micah prayed, that worshipers of God will practice justice and compassion that is consistent with the character of the God we profess to worship. May we pray, as Micah prayed, that the most barbaric terrorist will learn to fear God in a way that will teach them to love God and to love other people as they love themselves.

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Praying Through the Rain

It rained today. The forecast called for thunderstorms; for a short time this afternoon rain descended in a downpour. We needed the rain. Grass in the neighborhood lawns was turning brown. Water levels in area ponds and rivers were noticeably lower. However, I run several days a week, but I do not run during thunderstorms. After the downpour, a soft steady rain continued. Since there was no lightning, I ventured out for a short three mile run in the rain. I had a peaceful run today; I saw only five other runners and a few cyclists. As I navigated between puddles on the asphalt trail, I looked through the forest towards the river flowing nearby. Earlier this week, two deer walked across the trail right in front of me; yesterday, I startled a rabbit as I galloped past. I saw no animals today. As I jogged, I reflected on news stories of the last week – revelations of religious persecution, a Christian university president’s divorce, continuing impact of budget cuts on our government. Each of these stories, I realized, reported people experiencing pain, loss, and disappointment. Even the budgetary constraints change families’ plans, sometimes because they end employment. Each story told of people who need other people to call for fire on their behalf. They need our prayers. As I ran through the rain, I thought too of several tasks I must achieve in the next month to stabilize ministry and income. I need your prayers, too.

In Psalm 123, one of the Psalms of Ascent, the psalmist pleads for God’s mercy. He compares his dependence upon God to that of a slave upon his master, or a maid upon her mistress. He prays, “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt” (Psalm 123:3). Perhaps you and I have not endured much contempt lately, but some of the people I mentioned earlier certainly have. Whatever our current situation, we all share this: We need God’s mercy.

So pray that the devastated family members of people who lost their lives because they believed in Jesus will know consolation in their grief. Pray for all who are considering divorce, that they may know reconciliation, or at least peace and safety. Pray for those who now look for a way to support their families financially. Pray for communities torn apart by suspicion and fear. Keep looking forward, focused on Christ. Keep running in faith. Notice subtle reminders of God’s love and his provision for you. And remember, as a saying I once read reminded, “Before the rainbow must come the rain.”

“Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us….”

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A Reminder of Early Christian Prayer

Monday evening, my wife and I attended the Convocation that opens the academic year at Harding School of Theology. The evening included several prayers led by faculty, staff, and students, songs of prayer, and addresses about prayer. Dr. Allen Black delivered the keynote speech, which considered the theme of prayer in the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, two books penned by the same author. Both give great attention to prayer in the lives of God’s people (The Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page has a link to the event where you may find audio links to the evening’s messages). The early Christians, like Jesus before them, prayed regularly and often, individually and in community. Student officer Steven Gaines noted, with attribution to a professor, that one should not pray unless they are prepared for God “to do crazy things.” “Crazy” is used there in sense of much more than we can imagine. When we are caught in dark times in our lives, it is easy to imagine that God does not care. But the Bible consistently asserts that God is at work for us in those darkest hours, preparing us for works of service.

God who restores, bring light to darkness. Renew fellowship where it is shattered by violence and distrust. Comfort the hurting; inspire the cynical. Turn our hearts toward you and align our values with your values. Remind us to listen to the recounting of what you have done for your people. Open our eyes to see you activity on our behalf today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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God Has Given Us a Heritage

Songs encourage us with inspiring lyrics. Among my favorite hymns as a young man were songs that pointed me “to a rock that that is higher than I” and that reminded me that God is our refuge and an ever present help in times of trouble. Recently I read Psalm 61. It contains these themes. The psalm also reminds that I do not pray alone. If I pray as one of God’s people, he has given me the “heritage of those who fear [his] name” (Psalm 61:5). Hebrews 12 speaks a similar message as it reminds us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, heroes of faith who have served God before us. Their example gives us the boldness to stay focused on Christ when temptation arises or when trials multiply. We share a heritage with those heroes of faith. They feared God; they gave him the reverence he deserves. They remained faithful in times of testing, even when threatened with death. When we pray, or we sing, of God’s power to save, we remember those whom he has redeemed, and marvel that their number includes us. Yes, God has given us the heritage of those who fear his name. He is our Rock; he is our Refuge. May we live with such conviction that future generations will rejoice that they share our heritage, the heritage of the forgiven who seek to help others find the path we have found, the road to salvation.

Hear our cry, O God who calls us to mission. You have given us a heritage, a lineage of holy men and women whose example shows us how to persevere in the darkest times and how to excel in the brightest times. Help us to be worthy of that heritage. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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We Pray for Hope

We pray, closing eyes, bowing head.
We cry, wringing hands, clutching side,
Illness strikes, suicide shocks, hope dies,
Promise fades, friends vanish, only lies.

Hurting eyes begin to glisten,
Surely God will pause to listen,
Will apply salve to this hurt,
Showing no fear of oozing wart.

Increasing pain tears starved souls apart,
Searing stab wounds pierce each heart,
Spiritual wounds, but still great pain;
We cry to God, “Don’t prayer disdain.”

We pray, closing eyes, bowing head;
We listen; we wait with great dread.
Morals rotting, guns flashing – such hate!
Choices fewer; is prayer too late?

Flowers blossom, bees visit, life renew;
Sun rises; light gives brighter hue,
Dispels the darkness, revives hope.
We pray, closing eyes; we can cope.

O God who created the light, who calls us out from darkness, we falter when we see scenes of destruction, we question when terrorists slay children and call it your will. Illness, violence, darkness of the soul distort the beauty of this world you created. Remind us where beauty lies. Help us to see the good; teach us how to overcome, how to hope, and how to cope once again. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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A Prayer of Despair

We express diverse emotions in our prayers. We thank God joyfully for unexpected gifts. We request urgently items or services that we or loved ones need. We sob prayers of grief, and argue angrily when we struggle to understand why certain events have occurred.

Several biblical prayers fall into the last category mentioned above. Often, as in Psalms 6 and 10, the Psalmist first expresses deep despair, then. If only in anticipation, thanks God for hearing his prayer. Psalm 88 is not such a prayer. Its writer begins by begging God (whom he identifies as the One who saves) for his attention. He describes his despair and longs for God to hear him:

“O LORD. The God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you, turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near my grave” (Psalm 88:1-3).

He has lost hope; he fears that God has forgotten him, as if he were a lifeless corpse in a grave. He feels very strongly that God is acting in wrath against him (See verses 4-7). In the next verses, he sounds much like Job, alienated from his friends, he asks God for the opportunity to present his case, but suspects that God will not hear him:

“You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to him, I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you” (verses 8-9).

His sense of being ignored by God reveals itself as he compares his state to that of the dead, to whom God does not listen. He believes, so he continues to pray, but despair has destroyed his trust:

“Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend (verses 14-18).

The Psalmist understands the concept of hurt so deeply felt that words cannot express it well. He feels hopeless. I write these words as I absorb that Robin Williams, who brought much laughter to our world, apparently has killed himself. Suicide usually requires a loss of hope, a sense that no options remain. The Psalmist almost seems to be there, but he is not. He still cries out to God; he still prays. He has lost friends; his life has no apparent meaning, but this man of prayer still presents his case to God. Sometimes suicide is a cry for help that has gone awry. When all seems lost, like the Psalmist, we still must speak and tell others our hurt. While we pray for an answer, we still cling to life with hope. Psalm 88 seems to be a prayer of a man that has no hope, and indeed it has no words of gratitude or praise for God’s having heard the prayer. Yet, this prayer of lament reveals in its beginning, in the greeting given to God, that this troubled man still believed and still hoped, even when darkness had become his closest friend. Remember that the prayer begins, “O LORD, the God who saves me…” Let us continue to remember, even as we grieve or hurt, that God can save, and remembering to believe, keep on praying that God will preserve our hope.

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