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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A Prayer of Gratitude for My Father

Today would have been my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 86 years old. I always believed firmly that he would live at least into his nineties, so on this date each year I feel as if someone and something special were stolen from my brothers and me. We each missed out on wise counsel that might have spared us pain, but even more so I have missed his presence in moments of pain and doubt. He was our father, and mentor. I miss him. He taught me faithfulness, enthusiasm, and love. He died thirteen years ago, from the horror known as pancreatic cancer. Dad, six inches taller than me, had seemed so healthy and strong. He lost eighty pounds in seven months of wonder. Those months we’re terrible, yet they were amazing. Cards written with love and gratitude flowed on daily from across the nation. A steady stream of visitors stopped by to wish him well, to pray, to ask for guidance one more time. Dad got to say goodbye, and we learned how his life had helped others. Dad had been a grocery cashier, a soldier, a high school teacher. For forty-eight years, he had preached about Jesus and for more than fifty years he had been married to our mother. Before I was born, they grieved together when my older brother died two days after he was born. Dad gave me glimpses of his grief at that loss, glimpses that helped me persevere when my older son died. Dad wanted his sons to believe as he did, but he did not want us to believe just because he did. He and I disagreed from time to time, but he lived, loved, taught, and mentored in a way that laid a foundation for faith that could endure if I built upon it. And when he spoke his last words to me two days before he died, he said with a sly grin, “See you later, son.” I miss him, but I look forward to that reunion.

God, thank you for the years of guidance and leadership you gave me through my father. In times of pain and loss, his faith and example motivated me to persevere. He served with an exuberance that I struggle to match, yet I hope that when my life ends, I will meet it with the confidence he did. He ran his race in a way that inspired me to follow him as he followed Christ. Thank you again, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer for God’s Steadfast Love

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise, then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me, for I trust in your word” (Psalm 119:41 ESV).

The twenty-two sections of the Bible’s longest prayer, Psalm 119, each may function as prayers independently. Since the beginning of the year, I have meditated on this majestic prayer and have taught to the church where I preach how the psalmist’s words may inspire us to pray with greater faith. The sixth section begins with the words above. The psalmist prays that he will experience God’s steadfast love, or mercy, that he will know salvation.  His prayer begins with an affirmation that rests on the assurance that God is true to his word, and that God cares. His assurance may rest in a revelation by God of his own character to Moses founded in Exodus 34:6-7. God’s words there echo throughout the pages of the Old Testament, appearing in prayers like this one, in protests by Jonah, who wishes God wasn’t so predictable in his mercy to people the prophet doesn’t want to forgive, and in calls for repentance by God through the prophet Joel. God describes himself to Moses in this way,

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love  for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV).

The psalmist knows the law of the Lord, and persistently seeks to obey them.  He finds delight in and loves God’s commandments (verse 47). He confesses as he prays that his obedience will blossom into courage with the arrival of God’s steadfast love and the experience of God’s power to save and to forgive.  This courage will enable him to speak confidently before kings without fear of being put to shame. When I read this prayer, I think of God’s mission for Saul (AKA Paul) to speak before kings.  Saul, even when a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion, had been, like the psalmist, confident in his obedience to God’s commands. The revelation of God’s saving love through Jesus empowered Paul to preach confidently to kings.

The psalmist prays for confidence in God’s love and saving power. He grounds his prayer in obedience to God’s commands (verse 43).  He trusts God’s word (verse 42). His prayer demonstrates a believer’s appreciation of his active, obedient response being critical to full understanding of God’s power to forgive. He meditates on God’s statutes, and he prays with awareness that God’s commands themselves reflect God’s perseverance in loving his people. His prayer reveals how God’s revelation of himself in his word inspires us to faithful obedience as we realize how much we need his grace.

O God, you are merciful and gracious. You abound in mercy and faithfulness.  Your grace amazes us and inspires us to sing.  Lord, we pray that we may know your love even as we remember your justice.  May our meditation on your word and your will revealed within it ignite our faith and generate courage that will draw others to faith in you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Spiritual Warfare and Call for Fire

Twice in my life, when counseling people who had been sent to me, I have looked into another’s eyes and have seen no anger, no suffering, no life – I have seen nothing, only darkness in the eyes that stared back at me. On one of those occasions, my assistant had gone elsewhere on an errand, and I was alone in the presence of an unpredictable evil. On both occasions, I prayed for courage and for safety. I knew also the truth of these words:

“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6 ESV).

Jesus characteristically both prepared for and reacted to temptation with prayer.  He emerged from those prayers with greater spiritual focus and resolve. Whether threatened by direct attack by Satan, or the lure of a ministry of healing, or the appeal of political power, or the threat of eminent death, he prayed. He prepared for temptation by praying and learning Scripture. He advised Peter, James, and John to pray so that they would not fall prey to temptation (Luke 22:46). His example and the writings of Paul concerning the armor of God urge all followers of war to pray with purpose and with full awareness of the dangers we face each day.

This past month I spoke to groups in Missouri and Arkansas about prayer and spiritual warfare. My study for those engagements persuaded me that I needed to add a session to the Call for Fire Seminar about this aspect of prayer that is so closely tied to the concept of calling for fire when under attack. I invite you to consider having a Call for Fire Seminar at your congregation.  Information about the available sessions is found on this site under the “Call for Fire Sessions Summaries” tab. You may contact me through a comment to this post or through the Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page that is linked to the blog to schedule a seminar or to get more information.

O God who prepares us, Help us to take seriously the dangers that confront us, and to order our lives so that we will remain strong when under trial.  Help us to identify triggers that expose us to attack from forces of evil; help us to neutralize those triggers.  You want justice and compassion; root out selfishness and cruelty from our hearts. May we seek what is best for others. May we not shy away from spiritual combat, but enter the fray with courage built on a foundation of love for you and for those whom you want to save. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

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Praying with confidence that God can effect change

As soldiers fail when they do not trust their weapons and other equipment, we cripple ourselves in the battle against evil when we do not believe that that “those who are with us are greater than those who are with those who are with them”(2 Kings 6:16). Soldiers build trust through regular use and maintenance of their equipment. Studying the prayers of scripture, meditating on their words, and rephrasing them with application to our times increases our faith in the God who hears our prayers and in the usefulness of our uttering them. Like the soldier, too, we must be aware of another potential threat: our own failings as leaders and as disciples of Jesus. Jeremiah sounded words of warning to his contemporaries that still demand our consideration: “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, ‘We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the LORD, their habitation of righteousness, the LORD, the hope of their fathers” (Jeremiah 50:6-8). Our God is an awesome God, who will accomplish his will despite our most fervently pious interference, but our disobedience slows the fulfillment of God’s will. When we pray for God to change our situation, we must recognize that he may change us as part of the process, and we must be humble enough to submit to the change. A psalmist meditated on his own transformation by God as he prayed, in Psalm 94:12,

“Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, 13 to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. 14 For the Lord will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; 15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow.”

Prayer in spiritual warfare rejoices in the power of God to effect victory over the forces of evil. We pray for and with a sense of God’s presence. We pray with urgency. We pray with confidence.

O God who sustains us in the battle, replenish our weary spirits when we falter. In moments of temptation, or when we are attacked because of our faith in you, we may hesitate to call on you for assistance. We may surrender when rescue was near. Open our eyes that we, like Elisha’s servant, may see the superior strength of those who are with us. Give us discernment, so that we may realize that we need to change ourselves if we are to accomplish your will effectively. Thank you for your love and your grace. In Jesus’ name, amen

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Prayer in Response to a School Shooting

The recent school shooting in Florida captured our nation’s attention. We learned in horror of lives lost far too soon. Families still mourn and struggle to comprehend what they have lost.  Many have responded for increased gun control because of the weapon used in the Florida shooting. Many others responded to the shooting by denying the need or increased control.  At least some marveled that those who called for gun control included supporters of abortion.  Their reasoning: Why would a supporter of the shedding of innocent blood (abortion) want gun control?  To be fair, not all people calling for increased gun control support legal abortion.  In addition, what happened at the Florida school itself was shedding of innocent blood.  What happened at the Florida school was horribly wrong.  If we can decrease the likelihood that such shootings will happen again, we must. The path to safety may be more complex than some would like it to be.

As I contemplate the shootings, I don’t want to imagine the pain survivors, witnesses, and responders feel.  I have suffered unexpected loss of a family member whom I loved dearly. It’s not something you want anyone else to experience.  I also attended a public high school and taught at public high schools. As I consider the grief that survivors in Florida are expressing, the prayer of Psalm 70 strikes me as containing emotions they may feel and shock some of them may experience as people question their real involvement in the event:

“Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me! Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life! Let them be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt! Let them turn back because of their shame who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’ May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’ But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” (Psalm 70 ESV)

May God bring peace to broken hearts. May he cause those who speak words that harm the victims to stop and think, to determine what is true, before they compound the suffering of innocent victims.

Justice has gone awry, O Lord, when violence shatters lives, when someone sheds innocent blood, and people attack the victims’ credibility.  Bring healing to the bodies of those who have survived shootings in schools and churches, Lord. Restore hope in the minds of children whose sense of security was mangled when a young man opened fire where they studied.  Restore hope in the minds of those children who cannot understand why people question their identity and whether they were where they were on the worst day of their lives.  Comfort parents, teachers, and responders who wonder how they could have saved more lives. Bring back to us a desire to seek truth and to pursue it. Give us wisdom, grant us patience with one another, but stir within us a hunger to build communities of compassion and awareness where we can help people overcome their pain that makes them want to hurt others. Illuminate the path of peace, that we may find it and walk together on it. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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