Prayer to Proclaim God’s Enduring Word

Things change. That truth has become clearer to me each day of my life. On the national level, heads of state finish their term of office or pass away, as the Queen of England did recently. She was 96 years old and had reigned longer than any other British monarch, but now her son reigns in her place. The writer of Ecclesiastes observed such transitions and asked,

“What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 2:22).

He concluded that such transition made life meaningless. A prophet observes change and transitions, death and decay, and asserts that one unchanged truth remains. While “grass withers and flowers fall,” while people, like flowers, age and die,

“…the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5) and “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Despite the overpowering nature of change, decay, and death, one constant reality remains. Despite our persistent efforts to put our “spin” on events, doctrines, issues, and speeches, truth remains. God has spoken. His word endures. Our mission is to discern truth and to prepare means by which people may learn what is real and understand what God has said or done. This requires that we take time to listen and learn rather than responding emotionally to new initiatives or news reports, that we learn what happened rather than projecting our fantasies or fears into reports of a crime or announcement of government response to crises (epidemics, mass shootings, wars, hostage taking, etc.). We ask ourselves seriously, “Is there a word from the Lord about how to act in such situations. Yes, we pray, but we also study verifiable sources and act lovingly and compassionately, but firmly, as we “in the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). As we pray, we ask how we may comfort, how we may heal those who hurt, how we may recognize truth rather than pretending that truth is what we wish it was. In the Bible, Moses, Isaiah, and and an aging John the writer of Revelation has an up close and personal encounter with God the Father or with Jesus. For each of them, his encounter sparks first terror rather than confirmation, but then, suddenly for Isaiah, slowly for Moses, the awareness that he has now a responsibility, a mission, to speak the word of the Lord. May we learn humility and courage from their examples as we consider how we speak the good news of God in a desert of skepticism and competing narratives.

• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version

O God whose reality awakens reverence and fear, but also sparks acts of love and compassion, grant us the patience to wait to learn truth, but give us also the courage to speak truth and confront evil in a way that will persuade rather than coerce. People have amazing ability to project evil onto innocence and to protect tradition rather than vulnerable, hurting people who need a cure for their souls as much as one for their bodies. Teach us how to love, how to trust when appropriate, how to discern what to believe. In a world ravaged by decay and death, and rocked by change, help us to speak your message – using words if necessary, but always living so that people may see us and recognize you living in us. Thank you for your enduring, saving message. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.

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A Prayer that Helps Us Know What to Pray

The tenth prayer in Psalm 119 is a template for praying. Although these verses repeat themes from earlier in the psalm and foreshadow later passages, the psalmist prays in a way in verses 73-80 that suggests content for our prayers. I don’t remember using alliteration in this blog before but five themes for prayer from these verses that I detected all begin with the letter ‘C.’

Fear and ignorance sometimes goad people into praying. We encounter situations or topics that make us uneasy or afraid because we don’t know enough about them. We may learn that that our fear is justified, but often learning new information sheds light on what had seemed dark. We realize that what seemed sinister was innocent, or at least logical. The psalmist first prays for comprehension. He wants to understand God’s will, but also how God works in our world. He says,

“Your hands made and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands” (Psalm 119:73).

His prayer acknowledges God’s agency in his life. He does not know exactly how God works or all that God wants from him, but he wants to learn. He wants to comprehend how obeying God’s commands can help him achieve all that God intended when he made him. His prayer reflects Psalm 51, where David suggests that God taught him wisdom in the womb (Psalm 51:6), and Psalm 139, where God “knit together” the psalmist in the womb and “saw” him. We may pray also for comprehension so that we may know what God’s will is and how best to align with it.

The psalmist also prays for community. Perhaps reaching back to 119:63, he reveals his desire to be recognized by other worshippers of God as someone whom they may trust and respect. He says,

“May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word” (119:74) and “May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes” (119:79).

He yearns for fellowship. He wants to accepted among the faithful. He wants to be perceived as one who also understands God’s will, perhaps even as one who can guide others who seek more understanding. The psalmist understands that faithful followers of God function best as part of a community of worshippers, not as isolated “Lone Rangers.” We also may pray for a place, a community of the faithful, where we sense that we belong and where our contributions matter to others.

Later in this prayer, he prays for vindication, that the “arrogant” may be put to shame for wronging him. He does not blame God for his distress. He believes that God has act faithfully, coherently according to his will. He prays now for God’s comfort and compassion. He understands that God cares for and protects his people. His survival depends on God keeping his promise. He says,

“I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight” (Psalm 119:75-77).

Even when we enjoy following God and learning his will, we still encounter pain and suffering in our lives. Some may be consequences of our own choices. Others may result from people who do not share our beliefs or values, who scoff at God and belittle or seek to harm those who seek to follow him. Some followers of God embarrass themselves and other worshippers by their arrogance, their actions, and their lack of compassion. We pray for compassion and comfort in our distress, trusting that God will be faithful even when others betray us.

The psalmist concludes this prayer within a prayer by praying for his own commitment. He prays that he will follow faithfully, that he will conduct himself honorably as a representative of the people of God. He says,

“May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:80).

We may also pray for commitment to doing what God wants and to advocating faithfully by our words and our actions what God desires. We may pray that we will commit to seeking to defend what is true, that we will demonstrate our love for God by loving others as we love ourselves.

The psalmist prays for comprehension, for community, for comfort, for compassion, and for commitment. We should include these requests in our prayers also. As we pray, let us pray that we may pray, follow, and act with courage, love, and discernment.

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

O God who dispels darkness with light, replace our confusion and ignorance with understanding and knowledge. Help us to conquer our fear by finding others whose faith will help us to heal from the hurts we have endured. Comfort us, show compassion on us. Help us to remember that you keep your promises, that you already have acted to forgive us and have shown us the way to life. You have been faithful; may we also be faithful as we follow you and seek to do your will. I pray in Jesus’ name.

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Prayer and What We Value after Affliction

The psalmist who prayed Psalm 119:65-72 offered a prayer of thanks for affliction he had suffered. Most of us pray that we may avoid difficulty. Why would someone thank God for allowing them to suffer? Part of the answer emerges in the beginning of the prayer:

“Do good to your servant according to your word, LORD. Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 110:65-67).

Many respond to affliction with cynicism or despair, but the experience also increases perspective on what we value. When we evaluate what contributed to our difficulties, we may learn lessons that will improve our judgment when we encounter future problems. The psalmist’s experience increased his sensitivity to the benefits of a spiritually disciplined life. He confesses that he had strayed from God’s word before he was afflicted. He prays,

“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling but I delight in your law” (Psalm 110:68-70).

I do not yearn to feel pain. I have known physical pain and emotional distress. Sometimes my distress resulted from my own poor judgment. At other times, people misunderstood my words or actions, and reacted in ways intended to do me harm. On other times, I suffered because people around me were themselves not equipped professionally or emotionally to make healthy decisions when crises arose. They may not have intended to hurt me, but they did. As I staggered, shaken by the impact of changes around me, I hurt whether it was my foolishness or someone else’s decision that had caused my plight. The crises required a reaction from me, the same sort of processing and decision-making that the composer of this prayer in Psalm 119 confronted. Although those times were hard for me, when I reflect on them, I realize how much I learned that strengthened me as I moved forward. The psalmist may have been thinking similar thoughts when he concluded his prayer,

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 19:71-72).

When our lives seem shattered, we may shut God out. We may feel too angry to talk with him. I have been there. But even in those moments, we can grow and heal if in our anger we take time to read the Scriptures and reflect on how they may help us cope with our conundrums. The psalmist prayed for knowledge and good judgment. He realized that he already had gained great benefits from learning how God’s will should govern his life. His increased wisdom was much more valuable to him than financial wealth would have been. Praying for health or prosperity may seem a waste of time when someone experiences physical violence, or loses their job, or realizes that their marriage is ending in divorce. The psalmist instead prays for discernment and better understanding of how God’s will can assist him in overcoming setbacks. He thanks God that he suffered. Let’s pray that our afflictions, our suffering, and our pain will ignite awakening of insight into God’s word and understanding of what our pain has taught us.

• Bible quotes are from the New International Version 2011

O God,
We hurt. We wonder why. We wonder what part you may have played in our suffering. We lash out in anger. Sometimes we are the actual villains. Open our eyes that we may see clearly the sources of our pain and recognize the path that leads to our healing. May your revealed word awaken us to what we should value. Thank you for the lessons we already have learned. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.

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Prayer and the Mystery of Christ

Mysteries grip our imaginations. Whether questions concerning commission of a crime or suggestions of conspiracy to obscure historical truth, we want to know more…and more. What has any of this to do with prayer, with calling for fire? Prayer itself is a mystery. How does prayer work? In the wake of recent mass shootings and other catastrophes, skeptics have scoffed at the usefulness of “thoughts and prayers” in resolving the impact of the traumatic events or in discovering the reasons they had occurred. Hatred, fear, and longing for revenge frequently emerge among what inspired horrific acts. Sometimes investigators fail to discover a reason. What remains, however, is clear – death, grief, emotional and often physical pain for survivors. Offering prayers and thoughts comes across as mockery. But is prayer useless in confronting the aftermath of hate and violence?

The apostle Paul writes about mystery, about historic ethnic divisions, and … he prays.

Paul writes about the mystery of Christ. Within this mystery is the answer to enmity that has divided wide swaths of humanity. The prospect for unity emerges. He writes,

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6).

Several times in my life, first in 1976 and again twenty years ago, I visited the remains of German concentration camps from World War II, memorials in a sense to the ethnic contempt and hatred that sparked genocide in the twentieth century, but also centuries, even millenia earlier. I’m currently reading a memoir that quotes letters from such a concentration camp written by the author’s aunt and uncle to the uncle’s brother, her father. The messages paint a somber picture of destitution, denigration, fear, and starvation, but also describe glimpses of music, art, hope, and love among the desperation.

Paul says the mystery of God’s eternal purpose was accomplished in Christ Jesus. Why then, centuries later, does hatred of people unlike us persist? Whether Jews and Gentiles (everyone else), Black and White Americans, tribal groups (ethnic and political) in many countries, refugees of different religious and ethnic backgrounds clamoring for citizenship in Europe and the United States – the ancient divisions remain and its advocates cry for more walls to be built. The enmity endures because humanity resists the antidote. Paul reveals the path to the cure as he writes about what God has accomplished in Christ. He writes,

“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12).

Prayer is part of the answer, prayer that we may speak boldly in Christ. Paul follows the statement about free and confident prayer by praying for his readers (who now include us) as they (we) seek hope and unity. He prays for strength. He prays for faith. He prays that Christians may be “rooted and established in love” so that they

“may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18).

He prays this because he believes in a God who is able to surpass all that we may dream that he is able to do. He prays because he believes that God-initiated, Christ infused love finds a way through human love to overcome whatever hurdles, obstacles, or demons we may encounter. I recently watched a television pilot show in which a character said, “Darkness always finds a way.” That indeed seems to be true, testified to by the hatred, jealousy, lying, and killing that still mar human societies around the world. Paul counters that the love of Christ, sacrificial and persistent, incredibly “wide and long and high and deep,” also always finds a way to fill us “to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:20-21). The love of Christ, lived out by his followers, brings glory to God. Love in action is God’s answer to thoughts and prayers on behalf of traumatized victims and survivors. When darkness invades your world, call for fire – pray, and prepare to spring into action with faith and love.

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

God who shows us the way to love one another, We gasp when we read about lives cut short because people hate, envy, or covet. As we reel from the shock of witnessing violence or grief, our faith is jolted, our prayers are stilled, as we search for sufficient faith to voice our longing for hope, for redemption of these tragic moments. We believe. Forgive our lapses of faith and re-ignite our confidence in approaching you to ask how you may use us to redeem these times. Restore our hope. Heal those whose lives have been upended. Reveal paths forward for those who think justice has be wrenched away from and that no hope remains. Help us to glimpse and understand the magnitude of the love of Christ and of your power to transform what we perceive to be reality. Help us to love, and through love, to overcome hate. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.

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A Prayer of Devotion in Difficult Times

A Dry Creek Surrounded by Beauty, photo by Michael Summers

The eighth prayer within Psalm 119 celebrates the worthiness of God for the worshiper’s loyalty and declares devotion even when persecuted. The psalmist identifies the Lord as his “portion,” perhaps alluding to the part of the sacrifice that was returned to the worshiper for his meal. If so, it affirms a relationship, one that the following verses will stress has mutual responsibilities. Because the Lord is his portion, the psalmist states, he promises to obey the Lord’s words. His devotion is deeply grounded, so he asks God to keep his promise to show grace to his followers. This devotion, or faith, has been joined by repentance, urgency, and faithfulness under duress:

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes, I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands. Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Psalm 119:59-61).

Whether physically bound by persecutors or ensnared by the net of temptation, the psalmist pledges that that his faithfulness will endure the sternest tests. He has reviewed his own behavior and has amended it to conform with the instruction or statutes of the Lord. Knowledge of God’s desires shortens inner debate about proper courses of action. Ethical dilemmas still emerge, but even they can be navigated with wisdom if we have meditated on what God wants and have decided to conform our choices to his guidance. During the past few months, I have endured a “dark time of the soul” as I reached a decision point in my life and found it difficult to discern answers to my questions. As I have grappled with my frustration and attempted to map a plan for the future, I have continued to read my Bible regularly, to pray, to run, and to assemble with other Christians. In addition to reading systematically through the Bible, I have returned repeatedly to meditate on key passages. I have read the passage we are considering in this post daily for weeks. While I have not posted in the blog for several weeks, I regularly have posted biblical prayers on the Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page. In recent weeks, I have had several opportunities to teach, preach, or deliver a Communion meditation. These opportunities and these spiritual practices have unlocked some of the doors that seemed barred in my writing and creativity.

Devotion flows from disciplined actions and appreciation for community, knowing that we don’t walk alone. Others also seek God and good. We ally ourselves to those who share our goals and our values. Devotion for God flows also from gratitude for the righteousness of his expectations and from admiration for the beauty that he has created that surrounds us. The psalmist has regular habits of prayer and study:

“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws. I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts. The earth is filled with your love, LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:62-64).

Social media is saturated with skepticism and cynicism. In contrast, the psalmist realizes that love fills the earth – God’s love, but also the love of those who follow his will and seek relationship with those who also affirm the goodness of what God has done. We struggle sometimes to separate the demands of culture and the gravity of our history from the life-affirming will of a loving God who has surrounded us with an incredibly beautiful creation filled with evidence of his love. In that creation, we find friends who discern that beauty and love, also. Our relationships with them and our disciplined, reverenced, loving obedient following of God give us hope where others see only ugliness, violence, and chaos. We discover direction when we initially only see a road closed for construction. May we also pray,

“You are my portion, LORD; I have promised to obey your words. I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise” (Psalm 119:57-68)

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
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Prayer and Bridge Building

I run several days each week. Several of my routes include a half-mile-long paved trail that includes a bridge over a creek near the small waterfalls from which the creek and the trail derive their names: Angel Falls. Bridges enable us to cross canyons and rivers. They help us to reach destinations that might otherwise be unattainable.

Angel Falls Creek Bridge

Metaphorical bridges also help us reach otherwise unattainable, or at least difficult to visit, destinations. In Genesis 28, Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth on which he sees angels ascending and descending. He awakens with a fearful awareness of the presence of God and prays a memorable prayer of petition in which he attempts to bargain with God. The ladder in the dream was a bridge between heaven and earth.

Prayer, too, is a bridge that we cross in our attempts to draw nearer to God. As we pray, we often also intercede for others, praying that they may overcome the issues that keep them antagonistic towards God and towards other people. We pray that they may find the bridge over those spiritual chasms. In Philippians chapter one, the apostle Paul describes his prayers for the Christians in Philippi:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with oy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).

Near the end of that same letter, the apostle pleads with two women to “be of the same mind in the Lord” and asks another Christian to help these women “since they contented by my side in the cause of the gospel” (Philippians 4:1-3). He wanted their partnership with him and with one another in serving Christ to endure. He prayed that they might be able to bridge any spiritual or personal gap that may have arisen among them or between them and God. Paul acts as a minister of reconciliation and calls other Christians to do the same, to be “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:3) and to be, and to call others to be, reconciled to Christ. Although he does not use the terminology, he calls for bridge-building in relationships with God and others.

We sometimes find it easier to build walls that divide us from others rather than to build a bridge that unites us. Sometimes a wall that protects from a clear danger is needed. But walls can outlive their usefulness or divide unnecessarily. Paul reminds in Ephesians 2 that Christ has destroyed the “dividing wall of hostility…to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14-16). Christ makes peace and helps humanity to bridge what divides us from God and from one another.

Let’s pray that we may build bridges that unite and that help people draw closer to God and to one another. Let’s appraise our actions and attitudes. Do we encourage peace or do we stoke the fires of anger with incendiary arguments and name-calling? Sometimes we fear to cross a bridge because we feel more at home where we are, don’t trust the bridge, or fear what is on the other side. Let’s cross the bridge of salvation into the presence of God together.

• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version

God, you loved the world so much that you sent your son that he could shine the light of your love so that we might discern the path that leads out of darkness. Our anger, greed, selfishness, and pride divide us and widen the distance also between you and us. Open our eyes as we read your Word that we may see clearly the way that your son, the pioneer of our faith, has blazed. Help us to build bridges as ministers of reconciliation, to live in ways that draw people together in service to you. Thank you for your love and your patience. Forgive us and help us to follow more faithfully. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

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Praying for Ukraine and for Ourselves

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

Those words from the Bible are my favorite quote from any literature in any genre. The words “Comfort my people” are on my tombstone already, not just because I want people to console my loved ones after my passing, but because I want them to remember these two verses from the prophet Isaiah and the powerful, encouraging message that they and the next three verses proclaim.

They originally were written to ancient Israel to help a nation recover from invasion, destruction of property, violent deaths of loved ones, and exile. Isaiah conveyed God’s loving message that they could survive because they had hope. God had forgiven them. Desperate times still would follow. The people still would suffer. However, they no longer had to shoulder an extra burden of guilt. The book of Lamentations reveals in graphic terms the agony that the people of Jerusalem endured during the Babylonian invasion. But even in that tragic treatise, in the middle of lament over pain and suffering, occur the words

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:21-22).

As I write these words, people in Ukraine cower underground in subways and other shelters. They know firsthand the horrors experienced long ago which Isaiah and later Jeremiah addressed. They all fear, but some have hope, even if not for physical or national survival, because they know the words with which Isaiah 40 begins and they believe that God has forgiven them. Please do not think that I regard lightly the plight of the Ukrainian people. I have been in a combat zone, have heard explosions, have seen what a fiery helicopter crash does to human bodies, have informed parents and spouses of the deaths of soldiers and infant children. Some Ukrainians, taking shelter in subways, have sung hymns of hope and praise. Others, rather flee the country as the Russian Army advances, have resolved to stay and minister to other Christians whatever may happen. They act and think like this because they realize the character of God remains as it was when the words of Isaiah 40 and Lamentations 3 first were proclaimed.

Early Christians applied the words of Isaiah 40 to the circumstances brought about by the death by crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, whom they understood to fulfil the roles of Messiah and Suffering Servant about which Isaiah wrote. So Peter could proclaim,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do? Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:36-39).

God had acted through Jesus to accomplish the forgiveness of sin and to demonstrate victory over death. Another apostle Paul described himself and his coworkers (and I think also by extension all Christians) in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 as “ambassadors of Christ” and “ministers of reconciliation” who fulfill Isaiah’s commission to “comfort my people” by showing the way to reconciliation with God and with one another.

As I perused social media, including other blogs, in recent days, I read many pleas to “pray for Ukraine.” I echo that plea and add to it a plea to act for Ukrainians whose lives are endangered. You may give to agencies that have established histories of helping people in Ukraine. You may prepare to offer hospitality to displaced Ukrainians and missionaries who flee that country. Consider how you may comfort people whom God has called to serve him. If you have opportunity to teach, teach as one who brings good news, as an ambassador who aims to mend broken relationships. And, by all means, continue to call on God to act for peace. Pray for Ukraine. Pray for all of us, that we may accept the comfort God offers and that we may learn to love one another.

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

O God who heals and forgives, open the eyes of people to your message of forgiveness, healing, and hope. Help us to realize that you already have acted to restore hope, even as reasons for hope evade our awareness in areas scarred by combat and dissension. Lust for power and dominance over people betrays the ancient temptation to appropriate your powers for ourselves, to act as if we are God, rather than God’s Creation. We are created in your image. May we remember to see our fellow humans as image-bearers of you, no matter how dimly your image may be reflected in their actions and words. May we act as people who love God and one another. May we act for justice, because you are a just God. Give hope and life to the people of Ukraine. We thank you for people around the world, including many in Russia, who have called for peace and for an end to attacks against the Ukrainian people and their nation. Help us to remember that you have done the hard work so that we know comfort and learn how to love one another. Lord, have mercy. I pray in the name of Jesus, amen.

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Prayer and Emojis

“What is your favorite emoji(s) to use?” I was asked that question in the form of a writing prompt that was designed to help me write more regularly. Emojis are symbols used on social media to fill in emotional gaps and make clearer what words may fully express. People use smile emojis and frown emojis, praying hands emojis, and angry emojis. My favorite is one that Facebook introduced in 2020 in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the “care” emoji. The care emoji of course helps express that I care about another, that I am showing compassion or sympathy in difficult times. I also use the emoji when I am concerned about a statement that someone has made in anger or in derision, to indicate that I care about the person and hope that they will reconsider their statement when they calm down. I intend the emoji at express that I care about the person even though they may be writing statements or expressing beliefs that I believe to be false or that I feel threatened by.

Care and compassion ideal play prominent roles in prayer. We pray for others when they grieve, when they grow ill, when they fail to achieve goals for which they have worked hard. When we express these petitions to God through prayer, we tell God that we care. We very well might use the care emoji if we were writing our prayer as a “direct message” to God.

When our prayers are steeped in compassion, we show that we care, but we also reflect the character of God. When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he addressed fellow Christians whom he had rebuked in previous communications. The church in Corinthian had numerous doctrinal and relationship problems. After having corrected them, he begins this letter by revealing the character of God and his own concern for these younger disciples of Jesus. He writes,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

These words occupy a space in this letter of Paul’s that in several of his other letters expresses what he is praying on behalf of his letter’s recipients. Those prayers express the apostle’s care and concern, just as these words to the Corinthians do. He grounds his care in the nature of God, who is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” Paul asserts that even our sufferings are accompanied by God’s compassion as he comforts. He assures them he suffers along with them and that they are comforted as he is comforted by God.

When we pray, we may pray prayers of lament in which we weep and tell God of our anguish as we grieve or suffer. Angry or sad emojis would accompany those prayers. We crave relief from our pain. We pray that the God of compassion will demonstrate his compassion once more for us. But we also pray prayers that express our care for others, our desire that that God will comfort them.

I like the care emoji because I try to reflect the character of God when I use it. I am not perfect as he is, so I do not claim always to communicate well or always to restrain my emotions when silence would work better. I can indicate that I care, even when I may not trust myself to express that concern well. The care emoji helps me in those times.

*Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version, 2011.

God of compassion, we hurt. Millions in our world have died from a new virus in recent years. We grieve because we have lost friends and family, but we also mourn because we argue about ways to react to this virus and the proper ways to treat one another. We are tempted to shout and to belittle because we are angry or frustrated. We lash out because we feel deprived of the presence of loved ones, of hugs, of handshakes, of the shared emotions shown by others’ smiles or frowns. You comfort us in our affliction and know our suffering. Open our eyes and our hearts so that we more consistently may act with care and compassion. Help us to know when to speak and when to be silent. May we people who comfort. May we proclaim through what we say and do that we praise you, the God of all comfort. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer, a Song, and a Memory in the Night

I remembered this post while reflecting on the prayer I discussed in it from Psalm 119:49-56. I focused on the encouragement that we derive from songs whose lyrics mirror our prayers. I encourage you to read the entirety of the original post after you read these comments. I think that it will encourage you. As the Psalm says,
“Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night, LORD, I remember your name” (Psalm 119:54-55).

The prayer is rooted in faith in God’s promises. Another hymn comes to mind when I read this prayer, one I sang frequently when a child, “Standing on the Promises.” In the midst of his suffering, that precisely is what the Psalmist did. He trusted God to keep his word to his people. Because of that faith in God keeping his promises, he in turn kept his spiritual focus. He writes in verses 52 and 56,

“I remember, LORD, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them…This
has been my practice: I obey your precepts.”

Suffering can tempt us to compromise our values if we think that will alleviate our pain. May we maintain our confidence in God and our focus on following his Word.

Call for Fire Seminar

When life is darkest, what do we pray? When hope dims, what songs do we sing? When opponents taunt, on what memories do we rely? In his prayer to the Lord, the writer of Psalm 119 provides his answers to those questions as he prays in verses 49 through 56.
He prays with anger: “because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (verse 53). He prays with hope: “Your promise gives me life” (verse 52). He prays with confidence: “this blessing has fallen to me, that have kept your precepts” (verse 56). The psalmist trusts God and obeys him.
He sings the laws of the Lord as his songs (verse 54). I remember myself singing a song based on another verse from this song as a child: “O how love I thy law; it is my meditation…” During my darkest hours, songs of faith have sustained me. The songs “It…

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Seeking Solitude to Pray

Where do you go when you need solitude? For extroverts that question may have no meaning. For people who personality tests identify as introverts, solitude seems like time in a most sacred space. I love being around people and especially speaking to and teaching large groups of people. When I was younger, I performed in plays like “My Fair Lady,” “The Prince and the Pauper,” and “Brigadoon.” I sang in college choir that traveled throughout the United States and Europe. But after time before and among people, I need a break. Sometimes, when I am grieving or trying to make a difficult decision, I crave solitude so that I can meditate over relevant biblical passages and pour out my heart to God.

During the past six years, I have fled to two places when seeing solitude. One is Angel Falls trail near my house. A picture of the small waterfalls after which the trail is named accompanies this post. The sound of the water calms me. The falls, the stream, the surrounding trees, and occasional deer or owls remind me that God who created all this still is in control. I pray for his guidance, sometimes as I pause along the trail, sometimes even as I run (with my eyes open, of course – I’m watching and praying).
Jesus, before teaching his disciples a model prayer that we often call the Lord’s Prayer, encouraged his disciples to seek out a quiet and secure place to pray. Often, he himself would go alone into the hills to pray. In this passage before the Lord’s prayer, however, he said,

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

The pronoun “you” in the verse is singular. The instruction is for private prayer, not for congregational or group prayer. However, a principle from the context applies whatever the context. Prayer is not a spectator sport. It’s not a sermon. It is communication with God. Now, when I don’t go to the trail, but need solitude, I often go to my walk-in closet at my house. I shut the door after I enter it. I have a chair in that closet and sit in it while I think and pray. I feel secure and safe while praying in the closet.

The book of Acts and the letters of Paul reveal that often Christians prayed together. But sometimes they, like Jesus before, prayed alone. Paul tells in several of his letters what he prayed on behalf of churches in such prayers. John seems to have been alone and in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he received his “Revelation from [or “of”] Jesus Christ.”

Where do you go when you need solitude, when you want time alone so that you may cry out to God without interruption? Where do you go to call for fire when you are in spiritual crisis? Where do you go to ask God for guidance in troubling times? Pray hard, my friends.

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

Lord, we seek you sometimes in boisterous crowds singing and praising joyously. At other times, each of us needs time alone with you to grieve, to seek guidance, or to talk through difficult situations. Help us to seek safe places to pray when we need to talk with you alone. Hear us and help us when we cry out. Refresh our spirits and heal our wounds. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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