Praying for Peace when Life’s Storms Overwhelm

sunrise      Psalm 107 begins the fifth book of the Psalms with a song that remembers hardship. Consecutive sections of the Psalm recall different experiences of suffering and fear in which it seemed the Lord might be absent. Some wander in desert wastes, others are shackled in prisons after committing crime, others suffer affliction and illness because of foolish decisions, and still others have courage-melting experiences on the sea. In each case they suffer, they realize their desperate situation, they cry to the Lord, and he hears their prayer. The first section may look back to the Exodus, when Israel wandered for forty years in the desert.
The New Testament compares the spiritual experience of Christians to the Exodus in passages like Hebrews 11:13-16. We too wander through challenging times, when we may grumble and wonder where the Lord is. We suffer, often because we rebel against any authority. But when we, hungering and thirsty, realizing the spiritual void in our lives, turn to the Lord and obey him, he hears us, too. The Psalmist considers four groups of people in Psalm 107 who may believe that God has forsaken them. He describes their turning to God and crying for deliverance. Turning or repentance precedes biblical conversions. People like Saul of Tarsus realize their desperate need for God before they arise and are baptized, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
God rescues the hopeless. God redeems some really horrible people. Psalm 107 reminds us that God loves us reliably; God is there when we doubt his presence most. This Psalm begins with stirring words of praise:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lans, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (Psalm 107:1-3).

Those words may originally have applied to Israelites returning from exile and captivity but they foreshadow the good news of Christ that gathers in the redeemed from all nationalities and adopts the redeemed into the family of God. The psalm ends with words that remind us how God reverses what we know and what we expect. The desert becomes fertile. The demagogue is punished. The poor are rewarded. The Psalmist exhorts us to remember what God had done for us, and if we have been redeemed, to make some noise about it. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Don’t be ashamed. Don’t keep it a secret. God loves you and has saved you.
God satisfies the hungry soul. He shatters the chains that we have forged to imprison ourselves. His word heals us from our cravings and our addictions. Hurricanes and tornadoes often remind us that our technologies do not overcome the power of God’s Creation. God delivers in our distress. He hushes our fear even as he stills the storm. God’s history with humanity is a story of reversal, God’s ability to rescue us from our greatest fears, addictions, and rebellion. God cares for the needy. He empowers the vulnerable. He redeems those that others call “God-forsaken.” His steadfast love and his grace empower us to be the people he created us to be. Will you be wise and pay attention to these truths?

  • Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible

O Lord, we give thanks to you. When it seems that no one cares, we remember that you do, and looking around, we discover the evidence of your love. Our desperation drives us to you, and crying to you, we plead for relief. You satisfy the hungry soul, the Psalmist tells us, and when we turn to you and submit to you, we experience that filling. Thank you for your love that stills the angry storms in our lives and gives us peace. In Jesus’s name, amen.

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Keys to Confidence

concrete path

The apostle John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life”(1 John 5:13).  Those words breathe hope. The apostle tells that we can know that we have eternal life, salvation. Too many Christians aren’t sure. They feel as if they are suspended between heaven and hell, swinging between the two, knowing that they will land, but not sure in which of the two destinations they will land. John says that we can know. We can have confidence.

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him”  (1 John 5:14).

In these verses, we learn the first of two key truths that give us confidence that we can trust in the concrete love of God. When we coordinate our will with God’s, we begin to see answers to our prayers.
Some prayers don’t consider God’s will. They are all about me, what I want. What does God want? How and for what did he design us? God hears us when we pray in accordance with his will. My uncle owned a construction company. Originally the company built houses, but he converted it to a concrete construction company – they poured foundations for houses and laid level, firm parking lots. People depend on the proper balance between water and concrete mix when foundations are laid. If there is not enough concrete, the foundation will not be secure. The house will collapse. If my prayer is about what I want, and not what God wants, I will not succeed. In operating his company, my uncle learned that he had to listen to his customers and he had to take care of his workers. He had to follow government regulations. In our relationship with God, it is not just about you and God, or me and God.

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrong doing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death” (1 John 5:15).

There is the second key to confidence in God’s concrete love: Praying for one another. We struggle at times, and like the man I mentioned earlier, wonder if God hears our prayers. We doubt if we have hope. We need the prayers of stronger, more faithful Christians whose vision is not clouded by our lusts or our addictions, our dangerous friendships or improper relationships. If we are praying in accordance with God’s will, we need to pray that other Christians will grow to be spiritual giants and that seemingly incorrigible sinners will realize that their only hope is in turning away from their idols that are destroying them and turning to obedience to God.

God our father, you provide secure paths on which we may  walk. You have given directions to guide us on our journey. As we travel through life, we navigate treacherous passageways. When we ignore your guidance, we find ourselves on trails that have not been maintained, where footing is not secure, and we risk falling into the abyss. We pray for others who travel, that they may keep their focus on you and your Son. We thank you for stronger disciples who spur us on toward safety with mentoring and prayers.  We have an anchor, and in his name, the name of Jesus, we pray, Amen.

  • All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
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My Lord and My God

What does one pray when he or she discovers faith and realizes that personal failure or sin has been exposed? The apostle Thomas had scoffed a week earlier at the suggestion that his teacher, Jesus, had arisen from the dead. Thomas had said that he would believe this incredible claim only if he physically could see and touch the wounds Jesus had received. Now, face to face with Jesus, clearly alive once more, he realized he did not need to touch the wounds in order to believe. Seeing and hearing the teacher’s voice humbled him, and as if ripping off a scab, unveiled the shame of his doubt. “My Lord and my God,” he breathed, an exclamation of faith, but a prayer for forgiveness and acceptance.
Moments of darkness and failure challenge our beliefs. The unexpected shakes our worldview. Then insight shines light on the obscure. In that moment when all becomes clear, we, like Thomas, can only whisper in awe,

“My Lord and my God!”

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A Prayer for Focus

The prayer of the first stanza or strophe of Psalm 119 begins with beatitudes that echo Psalm 1: “Blessed are those who way is blameless, who walk in the way of the LORD!” These blessings introduce us to the intense prayers of a Yahweh-worshiper who reveres the LORD and his revealed word, or law. God’s name, Yahweh, which appears in English translations as LORD, Lord, or Jehovah, appears through all of Psalm 119. The Psalmist uses the Name exclusively, never referring to the object of his worship as God. He aspires to obey the LORD faithfully. He prays that he may reliably obey the statutes of the LORD (verse 5) by remaining focused on his commandments (verse 6). The psalmist promises that he will praise the Lord. His praise will emanate from an “upright heart;” he is no legalist seeking to earn God’s favor with precision obedience. He promises, however, that he will keep the LORD’s statutes. He will obey the LORD because he loves him and his word. The prayer foreshadows the statement of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Psalm 119 is a highly structured psalm of 176 verses divided into twenty-two sections of eight verses each. Beginning with the first section, where each line begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet in the original language, each section’s lines begin with the next letter of the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet. The psalmist also uses eight synonyms for “law” liberally throughout the psalm. In the English Standard Version, the synonyms used in the first section appear as “law,” “testimonies,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” and “rules.”
I just finished teaching a twenty-three-lesson course on Psalm 119. I began each session by reading aloud the section twice. In the first reading I emphasized the synonyms for “law.” In the second reading, I emphasized key emphases unique to that session. In the first eight verses, I stressed words like blameless, walk, keep, seek, ways, steadfast, shame, fixed, upright, and learn. The group and I then read the section for that session aloud together from a more idiomatic translation.

Psalm 119 is a prayer, and each section within it may be read as a component of the larger prayer or as an independent prayer in its own right. As we read these words of prayer, we gain insight into the discipline and the fervent faith of a life lived in prayer and study of the word of God. The psalmist teaches us to pray when we recognize his desires, his fears, and his hopes as our own. We learn how to pray a prayer of praise. We learn how to pray that we may obey the LORD in a way that will please him. We learn that when we pray, we realize our need for God and his presence. We pray that we will be faithful, that we will not embarrass God or ourselves with our failures. We pray for focus. We pray with the psalmist, “I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” (verse 8).

O Lord our God, we seek your blessing. You are our strength, our refuge, our Rock. As we live, we navigate paths of worry and doubt. We stumble into ravines of illness and despair. We meet opponents who challenge our commitment and mock our faith. We meet friends who encourage us and walk with us. We pray as we walk that we will keep our eyes focused on your Son and your word. Strengthen us, that we may not do wrong. Walk with us and protect us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer about a Father’s Hope

I preached about “A Father’s Hope” this past Sunday. Drawing from Isaiah chapters 7-9, I discussed how Isaiah’s sons participated in his ministry and became part of his message. As Isaiah proclaimed his message, he noted that he and his sons were signs from the Lord to a nation where “the heart of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). Fear permeated his society and his peers were prone to believe conspiracy theories. As they sought to untangle these theories and find the truth, they reached out to mediums, fortune tellers, and foreign religious ideologies for answers to their questions. Isaiah asks in horror, “Should not a nation enquire of their God?” He warned earlier,

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread, but the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13-14).

He specifically had warned King Ahaz, “Be firm in faith, or you will not be firm at all” (Isaiah 7:9). He directed his people to listen to the teaching and to the testimony – the oral and written message of God-when they seek for answers rather than trusting in political ideologies or fortune tellers.
Isaiah confirmed one fear: There will be consequences for past sin. However, he assures them that a faithful remnant will survive and that “God is with us.” He proclaimed these messages through boys’ names; at least two of the boys are Isaiah’s sons. Isaiah’s hope is in the Lord; his sons’ names testify to that hope and will remind them that God provides.
Like Isaiah and his contemporaries, we live in tumultuous times. We need to hear Isaiah’s warning to flee from conspiracy theories and to enquire of the Lord, while grounding our hope in his word. We need to pray for our children even as we equip them with values and faith that will sustain them and an example that will inspire them in the worst of times. We need to pray, but we need to trust as we cry for help that God is with us and he will provide.

God, we profess faith that you love us. We want to believe that you are our friend. Sometimes we want to domesticate you, to believe that you will do as we wish and tolerate all that we desire. We put you in a metaphorical box where we can deceive ourselves into believing that we control you. We forget the awe of being in your presence, the dread of being in the hands of the living God. Various ideologies tempt us with an appeal to our lusts or our hatreds. We want to define our faith and sense of reality within their definitions, rather than building our sense of right and wrong on what you have revealed. Help us to remember that despite your dreadfulness, you are for us and are with us. Give us discernment so that we are not deceived by the Sirens of our society or frightened by false stories. Renew our hope in this time when the hearts of people shake as trees in the wind. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer for Spiritual Survival

 

  Years ago, I lived in a steel-mill town.  On the south side of the town was a large metal hill that we called Slag Mountain.  It was the dumping site for impurities that had been discarded in the making of the steel. This massive pile of unwanted metal and rock grew larger and larger. In Psalm 119:113-120, a psalmist prays for spiritual survival. He lives in a pluralistic culture. Opponents lure him towards disobedience to God.  The prophet Elijah had chided the people of Israel for “limping between two different opinions” as they tried to worship both Baal and Yahweh, the God of Israel (1 Kings 18:21). The psalmist uses a similar word when he cries to God,

 

“I hate the double-minded, but I love your law” (verse 113).

 

 The prayer of this section begins and ends with his love for God’s word and fear for God as he grapples with the threat from the double-minded to his own obedience to the Lord.  In the middle of the prayer, he prays for God to uphold him:

 

“Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually” (verses 116-117) .

 

 His prayer, grounded in Scripture, is that the Lord will support him so that

 

          He may survive

 

          He may hope without shame

 

          He may be secure

 

          He may trust God’s commands

 

 He prays that he may overcome the evil-doers who threaten his obedience of God’s law.  His prayer may be ours as we encounter calls to compromise values and to change behaviors to fit the mold of a secular society. Like him, we may long to obey the Lord because of our love for his message, but we may also fear being cast onto a spiritual “Slag Mountain”: “All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies” (verse 119).  We too pray for survival of faith, for hope without shame, for security in following the Lord, and for the ability to trust God’s promises.

 

God of refuge, our shield who protects us in life’s darkest days, help us to define and recognize truth when others laugh at the very idea and scoff at us for seeking confirmation.  Bolster our hope; help us to obey your will with courage and confidence.  Grant us safety.  As we navigate through relationships, work responsibilities, and moral choices, we feel as if we are walking across a tightrope over a fear-inspiring chasm. We want to trust and to obey.  Strengthen us and mold us into the spiritual steel that remains when the dross has been removed. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

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Prayer About Meditation on God’s Word

Prayer and meditation on God’s message in the Bible builds spiritual strength.  Psalm 119:97-104 describes the equipping power of the Word of God as a psalmist prays to the Lord.  He begins, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”  He describes a passion for doing the will of the Lord that drives him to study the instruction revealed within the pages of the Bible (although for him it was more likely a scroll). He is a person of prayer, but his prayer is grounded in written revelation of God and his desire to comply to God’s will rather than his own desires.  Although many prayers in our time center around petition, asking God to grant our wishes and supply our needs, this prayer includes no request. He recounts his love for the law of the Lord, and how God’s instructions have benefited him. He identifies three groups with whom his relationship has been altered because of his meditation on the Word:  his enemies, his teachers, and the elders of his people. He is wiser and has more understanding than the members of those group.  His prayer and meditation on the law of God has equipped him to overcome the attacks from his enemies and to advise those who previously have taught or led him. That wisdom does not flow from superior intellect or formal instruction; it derives from his continuous reading and meditation upon the Scriptures.  Biblical meditation is not repetition of nonsense syllables or focused silent reflection on one’s inner self, although silence can focus our awareness of God’s world around us.  In a class I am teaching about Psalm 119, we begin each session by reading the eight verse section we are studying three times. I read the verses twice, emphasizing different key words each time. Then we read the passage aloud together from a different translation.  We meditate on the prayer even as we pray it afresh.  The psalmist has gained wisdom because he loves God’s law, he meditates upon it regularly, and he practices what he learns. He obeys the law of the Lord. His love blossoms into action. He has also learned restraint: “I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me” (verses 101-102).  Reading the Bible and meditating on its words has positive, practical results when we act out the good that we learn. As we meditate and pray about God’s will, we grow to be the people he wants us to be. We realize the power of his instructions to change us and our world.

O Lord, Reflection on your word reminds me of how you have demonstrated his power and your love. I remember also, as I read and meditate upon your scriptures, what my responsibilities are in regard to other people and this world you created. The Bible inspires as I read about your relationship with often rebellious people and groups.  Your patience and love give me hope. Meditation on your word makes me wiser and equips me to teach and to counsel others.  My memory of your message gives me resolve when I experience disappointment or encounter temptation. I have strength to overcome in moments of doubt or attack. I can turn away from the path that leads to destruction. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and for the love you have shown in revealing your will to us through the written word and in the person of your Son, the Word of God. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

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