A Prayer While Weeping

This past Sunday, I started crying and for some phrases could only mouth the words of the song “Oh, How He Loves You and Me” during a worship assembly. That song was the lullaby that I sang to my middle child, who later would die at age 27. But this past Sunday, my love and grief for my son drove me to an overwhelming awareness of God’s love for me as I participated in the singing of the song with other Christians. What songs have affected you in such a way?

The song reflects biblical prayers that tell of God’s love that protects and empowers during life’s most threatening moments. The song reminisces about Jesus’s death on the cross as an example of God’s sacrificial love. Psalm 138 gives thanks to God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. The psalmist prays,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:7-8).

When I sang that song when I cradled my infant son in my arms, I prayed that my child would know God’s love and respond to it. When I sang it at his funeral, I realized afresh that God’s love extends beyond the end of this life. As I sing it now, awareness of God’s presence and continuing love strengthens me even while I move to hurdle new challenges. In recent weeks, I have spoken about God’s helping us to navigate the storms of life as I have spoken to churches across the United States about prayers in Psalms 107 and 130. Prayer is an important part of safe passage on that journey, whether silent, verbalized in speech, or sung.

As we speak to our God, we remember that we are not alone. Our prayers, and the prayers of others that we hear or read, remind us that we live for a purpose, and return focus and direction to our lives. Let’s remember when we suffer, to confess our faith in the enduring love of the Lord even as we plead, “Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

  • Biblical quotes are the English Standard Version of the Bible.

 

O Lord God, the paths of our lives are rocky and uneven. At times it seems that we have left a path to set sail on a voyage across uncharted and stormy seas. As we move as in a fog, fear and uncertainty threaten our composure and compete with our faith in your ability to guide us to our destination. Remembering your love helps us to remember that we live with purpose and move towards reunion with those whom we love. Guide us as we travel, that we may see more clearly your light piercing through the darkness. Dispel the fog that depresses our hope. Comfort us when we weep as we pray and sing. Oh, how you love us. May we never forget that truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer to God who Saves “Man and Beast”

The words of the prayer in Psalm 36:5-6 convict me as they should any who realize their weaknesses and their inadequacy as they seek to please our Creator. The prayer envisions God as judge, but also as redeemer and savior. I think many struggle to reconcile those images as being consistent within one being. The extent of God’s love surprises; we marvel at recipients of his care – a nomadic family worshipping idols beyond the Euphrates (Abraham), a forgiven murderer (Moses), an impoverished young widow gathering the “leftovers” from farmers’ fields (Ruth); an abused concubine stranded in the desert with her young son (Hagar), and many others. Then we reflect, and we remember that we too have fallen short. We too have failed to honor our God. We wonder how he could love us.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD” (Psalm 36:5-6 ESV).

The prayer illustrates human limitation in describing the capabilities of God. The psalmist appealed to the depths of the seas, the heights of the mountains, and the vastness of the skies. Today, after NASA probes have ventured beyond our own solar system and telescopes that are themselves satellites have peered much, much farther into the depths of the universe, after we have gained a sense of just how deep the oceans are, but still are constrained by the immense pressures at those depths, we may tremble even more as we contemplate the power of a God who creates such a universe. Remarkably, even as the psalmist praises God’s power, he notes his love, his faithfulness, and his righteousness. The prayer describes God as judge, but also as Savior of “man and beast.” We often overlook biblical references to God’s concern for others of his creatures. This portion of a prayer concisely captures God’s concern for all of his creation.

Immortal Creator of all we behold and more, we worship you in awe. The more we learn about the universe in which we live, the more we struggle to comprehend the scope of your creativity and power. The more we gain in technological prowess, we recognize still more that we do not know, and even fear unintended consequences from our own inventions. We pray that you will guide us as we learn, that you will divert us from paths that will damage, and steer us towards goals that that will restore and cure. We pray for the salvation of this world you created, for the health of your creatures that inhabit hit. May we turn from harm and instead walk in paths that heal. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer that We May Tell the Story in Love

My wife and I drove from the Leavenworth, Kansas area where we live to a small community roughly twenty miles north of the Tennessee-Alabama state line last month. Twice a year, Christians gather from across the country in Diana, Tennessee, to sing praises to God and to enjoy fellowship, hot ham sandwiches, and fresh peach or chocolate fried pies. The event begins at 7:30 pm and ends about 2 am on Saturday morning, to resume for four more hours on Saturday evening beginning at 7 pm. They have been engaging in these singings at Diana since 1969, so this year participants are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Diana Singing. The singing is a cappella and led by individual leaders who signed up at the location earlier that evening. This year, over one hundred signed up to lead on Friday evening. My name was drawn to lead a song just after 8:30 pm. I chose to lead the song “I Love to Tell the Story.” While its lyrics are not a prayer, my prayer is that that God will continue to give me opportunities to “tell the story” of Jesus and his love. Several of the other songs selected that evening were songs of prayer. Over five thousand attended the singing, held at a two sided shed that seats 2500. It was an inspiring sight to see hundreds of singers sitting and standing outside the two open sides of the shed.

Michael Summers leading at Diana Singing
Like any event planned and conducted by human beings, the June 2019 Diana Singing had imperfections or aspects that someone might criticize. However, my wife and I saw so much evidence of the grace of God at work in people’s lives that it overwhelmed any thought of criticism for us. People from twenty-eight states attended. The youngest person present was only five days old; the oldest was a woman in her nineties. Some of the leaders were teenagers or younger; others were in their seventies, if not older. One song leader was blind and led with a strong, beautiful voice from a Braille edition of the hymnal being used. Differences over doctrine or tradition became secondary to shared faith in Christ and a desire to praise God. The Diana Singing gives hope that the prayer of Christ for unity among his followers recorded in John chapter 17 may become a reality. The singers will meet again in Diana in September. You may find out more on the event’s Facebook page here. Pray with me that God’s people will continue to praise him together in a spirit of love at this location for years to come.

June 2019 Diana Singing
O God of love, You desire unity among your people. Differences in interpretation or practice quickly attract our attention. We may argue with or even demonize those with whom we disagree. Open our eyes and our hearts that we may discern how we may hurdle the barriers that divide us. May we turn from a spirit of grumbling and complaining towards fellowship in you that will bring joy to you as you hear us pray and sing together. Thank you for opportunities like the Diana Singing where we may unite to sing together of your majesty as we anticipate that “pearly white city.” Thank you for men and women who work sacrificially to make such events possible. Bless them richly for their sacrificial service. May yours be all the glory as we tell the story of your grace and  love. I pray in Jesus’s name, amen.

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A Prayer for Evening Worshippers

The first time I led singing at church was on a Sunday evening. My father, who was the preacher, and several other men were out of town. A few minutes before the service was to begin, one of the elders tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mike, you’re the only male member of the church here tonight who can carry a tune. We need you to lead singing. Pick out some songs. Just start them, and the ladies will take it from there.” I was ten years old, and began my public ministry that night.

Thirty years later, I was leading singing again on a Sunday night. However, now I was a U. S. Army Chaplain leading worship at a contemporary worship service, the only Sunday evening chapel service at that post. As I had prepared for that evening, the words of a Psalm I had never noticed made an impact on me:

“Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” (Psalm 134:1-2).

I used Psalm 134 as the “Call to Worship” reading that evening. Here was a Psalm written for those who serve God in worship settings in evening assemblies. Years have passed since that evening. Even as evening assemblies have waned in attendance and have been phased out in many places, I still enjoy “standing by night in the house of the LORD.”

Recently I finished teaching a group of men on Wednesday nights about how to study the Gospel of Mark inductively. As we learned that we need not be afraid because Christ has risen, we also discussed the urgency of the mission of Jesus. That urgency has dissipated in the hearts of many Christians. We surrender to many distractions. Other activities clamor for our attention and the limited spaces on our calendars. We have difficulty finding time to “lift up {our} hands…and bless the LORD.” Psalm 134 calls us to worship as it did pilgrims to festivals in Jerusalem centuries ago. The words of a distant lyricist call us to stand by night in the assembly of those who worship God, lifting our hands in prayer and our voices in song to our Savior and our God. That’s not all. As the song calls us to sing and to pray, its writer also prays for those who worship the Lord together at night,

“May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 134:3).

* Quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version.

Lord God, who created heaven and earth, we lift our hands to you in prayer and thank for the privilege to enjoy what you have made. We lift our voices and sing of your majesty; we extol your gracious sacrifice on our behalf – sending your Son to die so that we may live and love. Stimuli bombard us each minute, distracting us from meditation on your goodness. We pray that we may remember the blessing of this psalm, and carve out time to focus entirely on you, even in the evening when it seems there is so much to do. You bless us so richly when we pause and take time to listen to your voice. Thank you for your gracious care and loving redemption. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer for Dwelling in Unity

Passion for unity flows throughout biblical narratives and prayers. We may overlook the friction that threatened the confederacy of tribes united around worship of one God and awareness of a common ancestry. The book of Judges records a tragic incident that sparked a civil war that almost annihilated one of the tribes. After the death of King Solomon, the united tribes divide into two nations. Still, the quest for unity remains. As Jesus prayed shortly before the arrest that led to his execution, he prayed that his disciples would be one.

 
Psalm 133 celebrates unity as people of God come together to worship. The festivals of Israel brought together the people and reminded them of what united them. The palms may have been written by King David, or written much later to celebrate his vision for worship. The worshippers sang:

 
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Three times the psalm rejoices in anointing as a metaphor for unity: the anointing oil runs down the beard of Aaron the priest, it runs down the collar of his robes, just as the dew of majestic Mount Hermon in northern Israel is said to fall also on the location of the temple, Mount Zion. The Lord blesses, and creates the conditions for, the unity of his worshipers. The unity begins with dwelling together, with community, as we praise our Creator and God. Sadly, we relish discriminating among ourselves and seeking what differentiates rather than what unites us. Rather than seek division, or avoid reconciliation if division already exists, lets meditate on these words, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

Father, help us to understand how we may overcome the pride and envy that divide us. Help us to navigate the difficult paths through controversy to reconciliation and unity. May we discern the ties that bind and seek to repair relationships that have frayed. May we learn again how to pray and to sing together so that we may enjoy your blessing, life evermore. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer that We Will Shout for Joy

King David served God with passion. He badly wanted to build a place for worshipping God that would honor his Lord appropriately. David did not get to see his dream come to fruition. Nathan the prophet conveyed to him a message from God that the Lord had not asked for such an edifice, and that David’s hands were too covered with blood to build it. David’s son would build the temple, but David spared no expense to make sure that all the materials were obtained, the plans made, and the roles for temple servants arranged. Psalm 132, sung by worshippers preparing to worship at or traveling to the temple, is a prayer that calls on God to remember David’s fervent desire to build a dwelling place for the Lord. The psalm calls on God to honor his promises to David and to bless those who serve or worship in that place:

“Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor, the hardships he endured, how he swore to the LORD, and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob, ‘I will not enter my house or get into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for t he Mighty One of Jacob’” (Psalm 132:1-5).

The news resounded throughout the land, and so they, the worshippers and singers, went to worship the Lord in Jerusalem, saying, “Let us go to his dwelling place let us worship at his footstool.” The passages that describe the dedication of the temple make it clear that God is not confined to it. His name dwells there. He shows his glory there. Specifically, his presence is associated with the ark of the covenant, above which he dwells. Verses 8-10 are almost identical to the last verses of 2 Chronicles 6. They seem to describe what was sung as the Levites took ark of the covenant into the temple at its dedication:

“Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. For the sake of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one” (Psalm 132:8-10).

A prayer for the entry of God’s presence into the house of worship segues into a petition on behalf of his priests and his holy ones or saints. The worshippers pray for the priests, those serving in the temple. This part of the psalm gets more involved for Christians. In 1 Peter 2:9, the apostle informs Christians, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” As Christians read, pray, or sing this psalm today, the words become a request that God will clothe us with righteousness, and let us shout for joy as his people. Psalm 132 reminds also that God had promised that David’s lineage will reign forever. The New Testament picks up this promise by linking it to a descendant of David, Jesus, who also in a spiritual sense is a king like David. Psalm 132 ends with a response from the Lord that affirms that the prayer of the worshippers has been heard. God will grant their (and our) request:

“This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provisions; I will satisfy her poor with bread. Here priests I will clothe with salvation, and here saints will shout for joy. There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Psalm 132:14-17).

God has prepared for his anointed (Christ means “anointed”). He clothes his priests (Christians) with salvation and his saints shout for joy.. Psalm 132 reminds the worshipper of God’s presence and care. Its words affirm that God keeps his promises. They celebrate salvation and joy. The psalm, however, begins with a prayer that God will remember David’s hardships. We may pray, too, that he will acknowledge our own work and sacrifice on his behalf. Nehemiah also asked the Lord to remember what he had done for God’s people Israel (Nehemiah 5:19). Psalm 132 anticipates the victory of God’s anointed, his Christ, his Messiah. When we read this psalm, we remember that being a priest or servant for God requires living up to high standards of righteousness and holiness.

  • Bible Quotations are from the English Standard Version

O Lord, remember our service on your behalf and the sacrifices we have made. Remember losses we have suffered and pain we have incurred. Remind us that you have healed our hurts and have commissioned us to be your priests and holy ones. Increase our joy as we meditate on our forgiveness and the reality of our salvation. Suffering and temptation distract us. They sadden us and we forget your love; we begin to doubt. We pray that we will shout for joy when we remember what you have done for us. Thank you for Jesus, your Messiah, descendant of David, but even more your Son. In his name we pray, amen.

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Like a Child with Its Mother

A sense of entitlement can mar our prayers as we worship God. If I believe I deserve more, that I have earned more than I have received, I will approach life and prayer with anger. On the other hand, I may pray as if there is no need to do so, because I can claim what I want through my own initiative and hard work. The early chapters of Genesis describe the first humans eating forbidden fruit because they wanted to be like God and building a tower to heaven because they wanted to be equal to God. In our postmodern times, we may focus so much on achieving goals, playing games, or building wealth that we neglect to think about God, much less pray to or worship him. We trust ourselves (and perhaps no one else). In our desire for privacy we lock others out, including our Savior. Psalm 131, sung by pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem, describes the proper frame of mind for entering worship:

“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3 ESV).

I reflected yesterday on conversations I had had with my mother. She loved to learn, and confessed to me once that that what she loved most about talking to me once I had reached adulthood was that she always learned something. Perhaps she did, but what I enjoyed about those conversations was the knowledge that my mother wanted to know what interested me and cared deeply about the condition of my soul. We had calm conversations, even when we disagreed, which I usually could sense even if she did not express her dissent verbally. Those conversations with my mother inform my perspective on this psalm. When I pray or when I preach, awareness of my need for God will calm my anger and soothe my soul. There have been times when I prepared to preach that I was quite agitated about obstacles I was confronting in my life. Anger mingled sometimes with arrogance and distracted me from my mission of showing people the way to Jesus. On good days, I caught myself, and engaged in intense, even if short and private, prayer to God to have mercy on my and to heal my pain, to calm my soul so that I could communicate his love and reveal a reason to hope in him now and forevermore.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version.

O Lord, the challenges and disappointments that crowd into our days sometimes push aside our focus on you and your Son. Anger and our yearning for more cause us to trip, to stumble in our following of you. Help us to control our passion and to use it for the purposes you desire. May we have the confidence when we worship that a young child has as he or she walks alongside a loving parent. May we know your purpose for us and discern the work you have planned for us to do. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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