What Are Five Things I Am Thankful For Today?

“What are five things you are thankful for today?” That was the blogging prompt or challenge for WordPress Bloganuary blogger participants today. I have lagged behind in my responses to the prompts, but this one caught my attention because it attunes so well to my mission for this blog – to learn to pray from the prayers of the Bible and from what the Bible teaches about communicating with God through prayer. When I read the question, Philippians 4:6-7 jumped into my mind:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Anxiety has slowed me lately. Concern about the health and safety of my children and grandchildren (increased by having not seen them in person for some time), an extended job search that was interrupted by a pandemic, a competition that I was organizing for a service organization that so far has failed to gel, and storm damage to my house have all contributed to distracting me from thankfulness and my usual “possible dreamer” orientation. Unwanted cynicism and pessimism infected my prayers. The prompt jolted me into awareness that so much remains for which to give thanks!

The verses quoted above immediately follow a reminder to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5). In this world and in our lives that God has given us, reason to rejoice persists, even when we may struggle to detect it. Eight years ago I was in the hospital, seriously ill. A Facebook memory reminded me today that I had been thankful then. Friends and coworkers who took the time to call or visit me had infused me with badly needed energy. The visits especially encouraged me since I realized that having to gown and mask to come into my room created an emotional hurdle for some of my visitors. Their courage gave me strength and hope.

Today, despite distraction and discouragement, I am still very thankful for these five realities:

  • My wife’s love, patience, and pragmatism.
  • The aforementioned son and daughter. While both have encountered recent obstacles, their resilience has thrilled me.
  • The ability to read, learn, and write. Every day, I make new discoveries about this universe in which we live.
  • Viable shelter and transportation. Having a roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in, as well as a means of getting to church and the grocery store mean a lot to me.
  • This afghan that my wife recently made for me. It incorporates my favorite colors and keeps me warm. My wife truly is a talented person.

Writing about these five has reduced my anxiety. I have thanked God for my wife, children, and the other gifts that God has provided me. While lament, praise, confession, and petition all are important parts of balanced praying, remembering to say “Thank you!” to God remains essential for helping us to keep things in perspective.

For what five things are you thankful today?

* Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version.

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Prayer that We Will Learn from Experience

As a teenager, I discovered in classes like algebra and Latin that I could do well on tests without doing the homework. In college, I tested out of enough classes that I graduated a year early. As I review my life, I want to give my younger self some sage words of advice based on my experiences. My experiences in Latin and algebra differed somewhat. In both, my test scores were the best in my class, but my grades were not, because I was not doing the homework assignments. The algebra teacher would not budge on her insistence that it was not fair to other students to exempt me from homework, but after twelve weeks, gave me a path to redemption – completing all eighteen weeks of homework in the final six weeks of the semester. I tackled the arduous challenge and achieved the goal. My more mature self wishes that my younger self had taken that lesson to heart – do the homework. Innate intelligence and natural ability do not always suffice – careful study and hard practice are keys to success.

In regard to this, I would also advise teenage Michael to read and meditate on Psalm 119:33-40. The Psalmist prays for understanding and instruction. He wants direction; he fears disgrace. He prays:

“Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end. Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight” (Psalm 119:33-35).

As he prays, he discloses his awareness that some choices distract from achieving his goal of pleasing God. Focusing on swift satisfaction and pleasure may close doors to enduring achievement and the sense of work well done. Chasing after metaphorical squirrels may give momentary pleasure, but only increase frustration when trivial pursuits don’t result in wisdom. His prayer continues,

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Psalm 119:36-37).

In my thirties, I was commissioned as an Army officer and suddenly had to meet a standard in an area where I had less skill – running. I realized soon that I had to run farther and more frequently for practice than other soldiers whom I knew if I were to pass the required physical fitness test. In my sixties, I take more notes when reading than ever before, because a formerly almost photographic memory sometimes betrays me. I have learned that “doing homework” lays foundations on which I can build in the future.

The prayer of the Psalmist ends with a realization that I too have learned: Laws and commands that seem irksome and unnecessary in fact contribute to longer and more enjoyable life. Focus, direction, and discipline in spiritual matters produce benefits in all areas of life. As the Psalmist implies with his prayer, trust in and following the source of the laws. Awareness of his purposes develops skill in knowing how to obey the commands, in knowing why the precepts give life. He prays in anticipation of salvation and life, an anticipation he shared with the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. He prays:

“Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life” (Psalm 119:38-40).

Awareness surfaces in the final verses of the prayer. The purpose of life is glorifying God and living out his righteousness. Because God is righteous, he keeps his promises. So we pray with the Psalmist that God will give us understanding, that he will direct us, that he will turn our hearts towards himself and his will. I would remind my teenage self also that the verses that follow the recounting of the faith heroes’ search for an enduring city teach us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, and that God disciplines those whom he loves, so that his discipline may produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:1-8).

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

O God who creates and who loves, we thank you for skills you have given us and the ability to learn from our experiences. We pray that we may understand the lessons that we learn and may implement them in ways that please you and glorify you. We pray for our children and our grandchildren, that they too may learn from your love and grow in understanding of your will. Shield us from the bitterness that accompanies disappointment. Grant us the wisdom to discern what is worthless and a distraction from your will for our lives. May we keep our focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, in whose name we pray, amen.

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Top Five Call for Fire Posts for 2021

Thank you to those who have read my posts and prayed along with me in this past year. Hopefully, you learned concepts and truths about God, as I did, from biblical prayers that deepened your faith. The five posts that were most read during the year also included reflection on current events and how the prayers of the Psalms are applied in the New Testament as well as their relevance when applied to our own circumstances.

The five most read posts were:

A Lament for Afghanistan

Prayer When God Is Silent

A Prayer During a Deep Freeze

Prayer of the Righteous Man

Praying After Riots in the Capitol

You may read each post by clicking on its title. As I wrote these posts, I considered how biblical passages and doctrines influence how we pray, how we make decisions, and how we interact with others. As I reviewed these posts today, it struck me that what I wrote remains highly relevant now, even though some of the posts were written much earlier in the year. The tensions, emotions, and fears that I addressed in the posts about current events still exist. In the background throughout the year was the world’s continued adjustments because of the COVID pandemic. Perhaps perceived silence of God in response to prayers is weighing more heavily now.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope that reading it deepens your faith in God, your love for others, and your hope for the future. I pray that it encourages you to pray more and to pray with perseverance. Pray hard, my friends, and may God bless us with peace, health, and reconciliation in 2022.

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A Prayer for Peace, Health, and Hope

Photo taken by Tamara Sevcik

This past Monday night I prayed the invocation for a Christmas Party celebrated jointly by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts of Lansing, Kansas. A local high school’s JROTC honor guard did great work in posting the colors. We had great food and door prizes. We sang and prayed. We heard from post Commanders as well as helping agencies and local politicians. Both organizations serve the community by conducting and promoting leadership development activities for high school students and by assisting fellow veterans who are in need. We remembered four of our veteran friends who belonged to our posts who had died in the past year. Members were also recognized for having served in specific military conflicts. The evening began and ended with prayer. Several speakers spoke positively about the impact of the message of Jesus.

In several biblical prayers, the person offering the prayer intercedes for a nation. Ezra confesses the sins of previous generations. Hezekiah pleads for Judah to be delivered from an Assyrian attack. The apostle Paul urges Christians to pray for kings and for others in authority. If you click on the hyperlinked names of those three, you will be taken to my posts about the prayers they offered. At the party, I prayed for peace for the United States of America. I prayed for those who have been harmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and by tornadoes. I prayed thankfully about several who have passed away recently. I prayed for good health and for hope. How well are we praying for our nation? How well do our actions reflect the teachings of Jesus and influence those around us for good? I encourage all of us to reflect on how our prayers and our actions are making our part of the world more obviously a place where Jesus has left a positive mark. Pray hard, my friends. Work hard to encourage peace, love, hope, and faith in your communities.
I encourage you to check out the Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page. I regularly post quotes from Biblical prayers, meditations about prayer, and links to articles about prayer there. I conclude this post with the prayer I offered at the Christmas party:

Most Holy God, Our nation has experienced trauma over the past two years. Over 750,000have died from a virus in our country alone; millions more have died in other parts of the world. In this past week alone, tornadoes cut a swath of deadly destruction across the middle of our nation. We also have remembered the eightieth anniversary of an attack on the United States that sparked a unifying reaction that forged a great generation of American patriots. Among them were people like Bob Dole who, crippled by war injuries, nevertheless provided leadership in later years that strengthened both his home state of Kansas and the nation as a whole, but also enlisted military members like our recently departed friend Jack Folle, whose memories brought the great war alive for us. We remember and honor Jack Folle, Ralph Beckwith, Dennis Caudle, and John Bennett tonight their service to our post and nation. We pray that you will bless our nation with renewed unity as we work together for peace and the rebuilding of decaying communities. Thank you for this season when some worshippers of you have celebrated a feast of dedication and lights while others remember the birth of the Prince of Peace. May we know peace, good health, and hope as we forge a brighter future. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen

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Prayer and the Ministry Priorities of Jesus

As I read the final verses of Matthew chapter 4 recently, it struck me that Matthew 4:23-5:2 function as the introduction to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew describes the priorities of Jesus and introduces the crowds that followed the teacher and healer wherever he went:

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:” (Matthew 4:23-5:2)

Jesus then began his great sermon with the blessings that we call the Beatitudes. As in the early chapters of the book of Mark, Jesus focuses on teaching while continuing also to heal the physical ailments of the people who come to him. He proclaims the good news, or gospel, of the kingdom, which he will emphasize during the following sermon when he says,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

In the sermon, Jesus will describe what disciples are and he will teach his hearers to pray, using what is often called the Lord’s Prayer as a model or template. The teaching about prayer falls in the middle of teaching about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the kingdom of God. The final verses of Matthew 4 reveal that the influence of Jesus spread into largely non-Jewish areas even during his ministry and introduces a glimpse into the variety of afflictions that he healed. If you or a family member has suffered from pain or had seizures or experienced paralysis, you can imagine the joy and relief that his therapeutic work gave them. Jesus cared for the whole person.

When Jesus came down from the mountainside (Matthew 8:1-4), a man with leprosy approached and asked to be made clean, to be healed. Jesus healed him, but then instructed the man to comply with the requirement of the law that his healing be validated by a priest and that he offer the gift that Moses had commanded. Jesus did not scoff at the requirements of the law regarding healing from certain diseases.

These chapters in Matthew give us insight about what it means to follow Jesus faithfully. They inform us about his priorities and how he sought to heal both the body and the soul. They remind us that seeking God first and trusting him does not require us to scorn medical guidance from doctors or the government. Today, chronic diseases and viruses alike continue to endanger lives around the world. People with epilepsy, COVID, and ALS (and many more diseases or conditions) yearn for healing. Many hunger also for a healthy soul. During the past few weeks, I have begun to memorize and to meditate on Matthew 4:23-8:4. A healthy relationship with God includes talking to God in prayer, but also listening to what he has revealed in Scripture. I encourage you also to study the Bible carefully as you pray so that your requests may align with God’s will.

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

O God who saves and heals, we come to you in our pain, seeking relief from our afflictions. Some of us know pain too well or have suffered from seizures interrupting our lives. Others struggle with mental illness or chronic anxiety. Illnesses disrupted our work and relationships. Many of us are very tired of hearing about a virus that continues to endanger lives in many parts of the world. We ask for healing, and for help in realizing how we may be your agents in healing others, whether physically or spiritually. Thank you for people who dedicate their lives to healing others, often endangering themselves. Thank you for their spirit of sacrifice. Keep them safe as they serve us. Thank you for a Savior who can heal our souls. May we focus on him as we seek your kingdom. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Review of Timothy Keller’s Prayer

Timothy Keller has written a useful survey of writings about prayer. He aims to enable a Christian to know both awe and intimacy with God. I greatly appreciated his references to writers throughout history who have written concerning the spiritual discipline of prayer. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Martin Luther, J. H. Packer, and Matthew Henry are only a few of the noteworthy people of prayer that he cites. His annotated bibliography at the end of the book contributed four more books to my “to read list.”

Keller seems confused as to how prayer would function as part of the Christian’s “armor of God,” but makes useful comments about connecting the practice of prayer with systematic, consecutive reading of the Bible. He also describes how to use the Psalms in learning to pray and recommends Martin Luther’s method of building personal prayer around the outline of the Lord’s Prayer. An appendix at the end of the book includes several templates for building a regular and thoughtful practice of prayer.

Keller is wary of prayer that is grounded in repeated mantras or in wordless silence. For him, prayer is grounded in Scripture. In this way, prayer becomes a conversation with the very real, personal God who has revealed himself through the Word. He does acknowledge that there are times when silence is appropriate, just as there are times in the best marriages when silent companionship speaks love to one’s spouse.

His confusion about prayer’s utility as part of the “armor of God” may stem from his not having served in the military. Prayer functions a means of communication with “higher headquarters” when under attack or when wanting to express praise or appreciation. The American military describes this as a “call for fire” and it is where I derived the name for this blog. Keller does recognize the role that regular, biblically infused, thoughtful prayer plays in maturing faith and building disciplined perseverance. His book is an excellent one with which to ponder about prayer and at times to argue with the author, while more often admiring the insights of his sources and the way in which he makes their writings relevant to our own time.

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Prayer for the Abused

Domestic violence continues to disrupt relationships and to threaten survival for children, women, and men alike. Please take a few minutes to read the attached post that I wrote two years ago. Pray hard, my friends, and consider what your responsibilities, and your limitations, may be to act in response to such situations.

Call for Fire Seminar

In Luke 4, Jesus reads in Nazareth’s synagogue from what we call chapter 61 of Isaiah. He affirms that the reading reveals his mission, that his presence and his ministry fulfills the words of the prophet. Jesus says,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)

The passage in Isaiah continues with these words: And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…” (Isaiah 61:3a). It’s clear that Jesus as God’s Messiah (Christ) has a mission to…

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Prayer when Lying in the Dust

You, like I, may have experienced times when your world fell apart. How did you pray? At times, I found it hard to pray at all. I have learned that such times require prayer, that we talk to God when all seems lost, but that we also continue listening to him.

Prayers of faith during desperate situations move from acknowledgement of terror or loss to gratitude or praise for God’s deliverance. The fourth prayer of Psalm 119’s twenty-two prayers features such progression. The prayer begins with acknowledgement of a dire plight and a petition for God to show the way to deliverance through instruction:

“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. I gave an account of my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:25-28).

The psalmist describes himself as “laid low in the dust,” having been knocked off his feet by events in his life. His sorrow and openness to accountability suggest that his own choices and actions produced his condition. They also imply that he has repented and confessed his sin to God. God has answered him and now he realizes his need to understand better God’s will for his life. In this Psalm that employs eight synonyms for God’s revealed will, this prayer’s repetitive emphasis on the word, decrees, precepts, law, and commands of God drives home the psalmist’s increasing understanding that he needs to know and obey God’s instructions. He prays first that God will preserve his life, then after revealing that God has answered, him prays that God will “cause him to understand the way” and will strengthen him “according to [his] word.” Underlying these “calls for fire” for God to take action are his admission of his need for God’s help: “I am laid low” and” my soul is weary with sorrow.”

The second half of this prayer unveils the psalmist’s progressive spiritual growth in response to God’s answers to his previous prayers. He makes another call for fire request that God will turn him away from lying and acting deceitfully, then requests also that God will show him grace while training him and protecting him from shame:

“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I hold fast to your statutes, LORD; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands for you have broadened my understanding” (Psalm 119:29-32).

The psalmist’s concluding verses reveal that the psalmist has made a deliberate choice to obey God. He will follow God’s commands as set forth in his revealed message and he “will run in the path of [God’s] commands.” His prayer demonstrates confession as a foundation for prayer, assessing accurately one’s situation and environment helps in determining what course of action adheres most closely to keeping in step with the God’s Spirit and his commands. Our prayers also should include admission of our own faults and awareness of how God has acted in our lives. The prayer’s final clause is saturated with gratitude: “You have broadened my understanding.” God had shown him that he had other options than remaining prostrate in the dust. Like this psalmist, let’s always acknowledge what God has done to change our lives.

  • Bible Quotations are from the New International Version 2011

God, we suffer when we ignore or violate principles and commands that you have revealed in your word so that we may see more clearly the path we are to choose to walk. In our stubborn pride, we resist your guidance. How we see ourselves blinds us to your assessment and direction. Reach out to help us arise from where we have fallen. Keep protecting us from our own incompetence as we follow the way you have set out. Thank you for the lessons you have already taught us and the gifts you have graciously given us. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer of a Stranger

Travelers and immigrants seek accurate direction. In Psalm 119:17-24, the Psalmist confesses that he, a stranger, desires that God will reveal the wonders of his law. He contemplates the statutes of God’s word as carefully as a modern traveler might ponder alternate routes on a map app or, if using an old school method, an atlas. He prays,

“Be good to your servant while I live, that I may obey your word. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. I am a stranger on earth; do not hide your commands from me” (Psalm 119:17-19).

The motif of the stranger surfaces throughout the Bible. After killing his brother Abel, Cain fears that he will “be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14). Abram (Abraham), already a stranger in Harran in what is now Turkey after immigrating there from Chaldea, followed God’s instructions to go to Canaan. Later, his grandson Jacob would emigrate to Egypt. Still today, as millennia of his descendants have done, Jewish worshippers recite,

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression” (Deuteronomy 26:5-7).

In the New Testament, the stranger motif surfaces most strongly in the book of Hebrews. In chapter 11, sometimes called the “Hall of Fame of Faith,” the writer emphasizes that these faithful heroes were spiritual pilgrims, or strangers. To paraphrase an old gospel song, this world was not their home, they were just passing through:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting they were foreigners and strangers on earth…Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).

This status as exiles, aliens, travelers for Christians underlines the urgency of Christians keeping “our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). This awareness fits well with the outlook of Psalm 119’s prayer. Because he is a “stranger,” he needs God’s guidance. His “soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times” (verse 20). He prays that God will be good to him and reveal to him the good in his commands. He asks God to rebuke those who arrogantly stray from the laws of God and to remove their “scorn and contempt” from him. He concludes with a declaration of his allegiance to God whatever may happen,

“Though rulers sit together and slander me, your servant will meditate on your decrees. Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:23-24).

Not everyone that travelers meet is an enemy. And travelers can be “ugly” and arrogant themselves. The Psalmist does not assume that he always is right or that those he encounters are wrong. He confesses his need for guidance and understanding. He listens to the counsel of God’s message. We who seek to understand God’s will also must pray with humility and a willingness to admit our own failings. The prayer underscores the interplay between prayer and attentive reading of the Scriptures, the responsibility of God’s followers to meditate on His message and to obey him. If we follow Christ, lets remember that we are migrants and worry less about our rights. Lets focus more on staying in step with God’s Spirit and staying on course with Jesus.

God who blazes a path for us to follow, open our eyes so that we may follow the road that you have marked out. Forgive our stubbornness, arrogance, and selfishness. Help us to discern correctly when we stray from your commands. We pray that those who govern us will act wisely. If we suffer, may it be because we are faithful to you, and not because we are self-centered and rebellious. Help us to keep our focus on Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.

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A Lament for Afghanistan

Impressions of Afghanistan included, for me, a sense of a people traumatized by decades of armed conflict in their nation – wrecked buildings, landscapes stripped of trees and vegetation in an attempt in previous decades to get rid of hiding places for attacking insurgents or terrorists, people living in shipping containers (and not because they wanted a “tiny home”), fountains that didn’t work, and people who seemed resigned to a future where it would not be safe for them to live in their homeland.

To be sure, I encountered Afghans who had big dreams for their country – a politician and engineer who envisioned millions of new trees planted, fountains repaired, and street intersections made navigable by installation of traffic lights or presence of policemen, women who imagined educational and career opportunities that recent decades had not enjoyed, vendors and shop owners who anticipated a resuscitated legal economy. Others, however, seemed still fearful of the Taliban’s return or surrendered to government corruption as a fact of life. Still others, I realized, thought that the return of Taliban-led government would bring order, and perhaps peace. Competing tribal, religious, and political allegiances made future conflict probable. Even a decade ago, too many (in my impression) already were trying to put together an exit strategy, determining how they might leave and where they might go.

Kabul, Afghanistan became more beautiful in the nine months I was there. The politician’s dream of more trees and flowers began to become reality, some intersections had policemen, and more color appeared in decoration and fashion. Stores seemed to be better stocked, and I enjoyed my introduction to pomegranate ice cream. Still, cultural clashes occurred that stoked conflict and shortly before I left, protesters gathered outside our camp. I had positive interactions with Afghan community leaders too, that both reminded me of challenges going forward and of possibilities for a brighter future. We discussed values held in common and how damaged buildings might be restored. We debated whether actions on either side represented exceptions to the rule or were intentional insults. A Muslim cleric asked with a smile how I could be a religious leader since I didn’t have a beard (Obviously, I have since corrected that.). I dreamed of someday returning with family as a tourist.

Today, I mourn because it seems less likely that that dream will become a reality. I mourn because fewer educational and career choices will be available for many Afghans. l mourn because discussion of both differing and common values will be discouraged more often. I mourn for the visionaries of Afghanistan whose dreams have been crippled, if not dashed entirely. I mourn for the women and children who will struggle more in a nation still torn by uncertainty and conflict. I pray for them and for foreign (to Afghanistan) missionaries who chose to remain there to continue discussion of agricultural improvements, educational reforms, and yes, the claims of Jesus.

While in Afghanistan, I read a history of Afghanistan which helped me understand its heritage of conflicting allegiances and successful resistance to foreign superpowers, whether Greek, British, Russian, or others. It has been called the graveyard of empires. I read both the Koran and the Bible. I listened to and talked with American and coalition soldiers about their vision of the mission, and their need to express their religious beliefs even as they engaged in armed conflict. I saw Afghan shopkeepers and vendors closing their business during a busy part of the day so that they and their employees could pray together. I heard dreams of hope. I heard nightmares of destruction.

So, I mourn the ending of a mission that seems incomplete despite having achieved its initial aims several years ago. I mourn for a scattered people who need hope, love, faith, and opportunity as they forge new paths. I pray for them. I pray for American and Afghan families who lost loved ones during a bombing at the Kabul airport during the evacuation process. I pray for my own nation that a spirit of divisive hatefulness will dissipate and that love for one another will prevail. I pray for those whom I served alongside and for myself, that our own scars may continue to heal and that we too may discover brighter and safer roads to travel. I pray for Afghanistan, that its people may know hope and peace once more.

“You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure” (Lamentations 5:19-22).

  • Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.

Lord, our God, misery and fear pervade swaths of our world. Large groups of people stoke the fires of enduring mistrust and hatred toward other groups or nations. Armed conflict has crippled the hopes and dreams of so many in Afghanistan for fifty years. That nation’s future still looms as murky and potentially violent, derailed by fear, hatred, and ignorance. May they remember how to hope and how to listen, how to work for justice and to defend the helpless. May they have courage to defend what and whom they love. I pray for those from so many other nations who have worked hard over the past twenty years trying to help a crippled nation build unity and restore infrastructure for agriculture, for travel, for education, and for self-government. Heal us as we stagger under the weight of physical and emotional scars, of unfulfilled dreams, of a sense that our sacrifices might have been wasted. Help us to see purpose in the good that we did. Help those whom we helped to remember that help. Restore faith, hope, and love around this globe. May we all learn to stop crippling ourselves by lashing out hatefully, seeking to find someone to blame. May you “fill [us] with all joy and peace as [we] trust in [you], so that [we all] may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That prayer of Paul’s in Romans 15:13 is my prayer as I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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