Prayer to the God Who Sees

“So she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).

Many women and men in our world experience physical and emotional abuse in places where they should feel safe. Like Hagar, many flee and sometimes find themselves in situations that are equally or more dangerous.  Sadly, sometimes we fail to “see” those who suffer. We fail to protect. We may deny their abuse. We need to be more like the God we worship, the God who sees and who looks after the outcast.

God who sees,

Help us to see. Open our eyes to injustice that enrages you and causes you to reach for your armor, asking why no man or woman has stepped into the breach to fight for your cause. We pray that we will discern deception that seeks to distract us from doing your will. Help us to hear. Open our ears to cries for help that arise from the harassed, the abused, the depressed, the unemployed. Help us to remember. Revive our memories so that we recall our promises to you and one another when we were baptized, when we wed, when we were employed. Remind us each day that we are your ambassadors. May we seek to reconcile rather than repel by our words and our actions. Help us to see the victims so that we may help, the opportunities so that we may serve, the challenges so that we may overcome. You see us as we are. Help us to see as you see, and to be who you want us to be. Thank you for seeing and for caring. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Prayer for Less Disputing

More than two hundred years ago, five Kentucky preachers penned a document (“The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery”) in which they opined that Christians should “pray more and dispute less.” Their words resonate with me when I read disciples of Jesus and disparaging one another’s character and integrity while they question motives and liturgical practice. Jesus prayed that his disciples “may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 18:23). Such unity will not result from calling each other names. If we differ, let us correspond about what Jesus wanted from his followers, and let the writings of his apostles shape how we interact. Choices that a congregation or church leader make may shock us. Some changes in practice may trigger a sort of traumatic shock as they bring to mind past controversies and divisions. We will not achieve a greater unity by repeating either decisions or attitudes that fueled controversy in the past. Let us focus on the Christ who unites and forgives. Let us sing, pray, and share as his earliest disciples did. Let us show Christ to the world in our spirit, our relationships, and our disciplined obedience. Culture implodes around us as searchers hear bitter bickering rather than declarations of love for God and one another. Let us love God and one another the way that Jesus loved the sinners of his time – sacrificially. Pray hard, my friends.

God, you commissioned us to serve as your ambassadors. We have distorted your message; we garble your intent in our quest for acceptance and power. Help us to discern the cries for help demonstrated by hateful exchanges and arrogant pronouncements. Turn our hearts to you so that we may love one another and walk as Jesus walked. We may follow him in paths of rejection and suffering; help us to retain our focus so that we may remember that he who suffered so greatly in his obedience sits now in a place of honor by your side. Give us the words that will send your message to those who need it most. Give us the resolve to live, to serve, to worship in ways that please you rather than ourselves. You are our guide and our Shepherd. Bring us back when we stray from your purpose. Make us one in you as we pray more and dispute less. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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A Prayer During the Storm

I enjoyed an intense time of study and fellowship this past week. I spent most days (all day) in an intensive residence period with a small group of preachers from across the country examining the Exposition of Luke. Preachers from Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado, California, Oklahoma, Montana, and Arkansas built on preparatory research and reading of hundreds of pages as we learned from experienced professors/preachers/disciples. I attended an evening campus ministry interest meeting where a campus ministry discussed the challenges and joys of helping college students find meaning and salvation through Christ. On Sunday, I taught a Call for Fire session at Osceola, Arkansas, Church of Christ and preached the parable of the Good Samaritan. On Tuesday, I heard my friend Robert Perez speak about the parable of the Dishonest Judge after I led the songs “In His Presence” and “From Every Stormy Wind.” The latter song encouraged me while we sang. The last six weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster in which I have realized the truth of these words by Hugh Stowell about prayer:

“From ev’ry stormy wind that blows,
From ev’ry swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm a sure retreat;
Tis found beneath the mercy-seat.
There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads,
A place than all besides more sweet;
It is the blood-bought mercy-seat.
There is a scene where spirits blend,
Where friend holds fellowship with friend;
Tho sundered far; by faith they meet
Around one common mercy-seat
Ah! There on eagle’s wings we soar,
And sin and sense molest no more,
And heav’n comes down our sous to great,
And glory crowns the mercy-seat.”

As I write, sleet and snow fall outside; a frigid stormy wind blows. My safety and warmth as I write reminds me of the confidence I gain as a disciple of Jesus when I praise, when I ask, when I confess, when I lament in prayer. This last week, my prayers ascended with others from our small community of scholars, reminding me that even when life seems lonely I am surrounded by caring brothers and sisters in Christ and cheered on a by “a great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Sustainer of life, you are the God who stills the storm. We ask that you inspire faith and turn hearts towards you. Open doors of opportunity for your frustrated servants. Comfort us as we grieve. Protest as we travel and work. Reward our study with recognition of saving truth. Thank you for friends who encourage but also rebuke. They keep us strong. Thank you for your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Praying with Reverence

Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out; they call for help because of the arm of the mighty. But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?” – from the words of Elihu in Job 35:9-10. Elihu’s role in the discussion between Job and his friends has been debated. Does he misunderstand Job’s plight and the reasons for it like Job’s older friends, or does he represent a proper perspective on Job’s actions? Whatever the case, his comments here regarding perspective in times of need or loss merit our attention. At times, we forget the blessings that God has given us. When we pray, let remember to thank God for what he has given even when we lament what we have lost. Elihu may not have understood Job, but he realized how pride shapes prayer when we hurt: We forget the blessings God has given, and focus on what we do not have.

Lord, We hurt, and we complain to you about our pain. Sometimes we blame you for our pain, ignoring our own culpability or the role that others have played. Help us to remember your love even as we lament our losses. Help us to believe even as what we hold dear is stripped away. Help us to hope when defeat seems certain. May we revere you as you deserve even as we lament. In Jesus name, Amen.

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Prayer that Glorifies God

In an age where rage and insult infest social media posts and where people get shot after blowing their horn at a potentially speeding motorist, it is easy to be captivated by the fervent and righteous outrage and to yearn to participate in it. Then, just I am about to unleash my own potently phrased angry outburst, I read what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2 about prayer and what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4 about how self-control affects prayer.

Paul urged that prayers be offered for all people. He expressly included heads of state and government leaders among those people for whom we should pray. Why should we pray for these people? First, “that we may live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We pray for leaders so that society may be at peace. Second, we pray for these people, including our leaders, because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Paul reminds that Jesus gave his life as a “ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). This is the reason men should lift holy (a reminder about proper attitude and behavior) hands in prayer “without anger or quarreling.” In other words, pray that God will turn the hearts of world leaders to himself, that he will help them find ways to break down barriers that divide while they govern effectively. Pray that he will cause perpetrators of evil, whether here or on the other side of the world, to awaken to the horror of their rebellion against their Creator and repent. Pray that he will mold them and us into the holy and loving family he wants his people, his church, to be.

Peter reminds us that we need to be self-controlled and sober-minded because “the end of all things is near.” He says that we must do this for the “sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). He then ties love of others, hospitality (without grumbling), speaking like a representative of God, and performing acts of service into this template of behavior and mindset. We must act and pray in a way that glorifies God. Living, acting, and praying in these ways demands that we curb our tempers, that we establish what is true before we castigate in speech or print, and that we conduct ourselves in the way that we expect others to act. Failure to be self-controlled will affect our prayers. I suspect we don’t want to experience the impact of that failure.

O God of peace, you call us to be ministers of reconciliation. That mission sometimes requires us to confront and to call to repentance. Give us the maturity to look hard at ourselves and our own behavior before we criticize others. Give us the wisdom to pursue truth and to admit the possibility that we may not know all the variables that drive decisions by our leaders. Help us to remember that that they, and our enemies, also are people whom you love and want to be saved. Help us to be instruments of their salvation. May we stop before we say or write words that will incite their anger against you and your people, unless those words will provoke a reaction that ultimately will cause them to glorify you when they realize that we truly spoke or acted with love and desire for their salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Prayer for Those Who Seek Healthy Relationships

For several weeks, I have read blogs and other articles that anticipated the release of a movie called “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The impression I gained from what I read, even in articles that had a somewhat positive approach to it, was that the movie’s idea of sexiness included violence, stalking, and other abusive behavior. The movie opened in our area on Valentine’s Day weekend; my wife and I chose instead to watch another movie entitled “Old Fashioned.” Our choice also includes conflicted characters who struggle to find working relationships with the opposite sex and who have been scarred by involvement in lifestyles that glorified the kinds of choices purportedly made in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” They seek integrity and consistency from people who claim to have answers grounded in faith; sadly, sometimes their failure to find leads them to withdraw. One of the primary characters has decided to build his life around his “theories,” which include never being alone with a member of the opposite sex. Obviously, that wrinkle in character development takes “Old Fashioned” in quite a different direction than the other movie mentioned. Its characters still face difficult moral dilemmas. It is not a “pat answer” type of movie. It did, however, receive an ovation from the audience at the packed viewing we attended.

People in our world are searching for answers to moral questions; often they seek those answers while engaging in behaviors with others that damage both parties emotionally, and sometimes physically. It’s time to remind one another that other alternatives exist to finding enduring love than drinking, drug abuse, casual or abusive sex, or on-line dating services. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Seeking first the kingdom includes praying, calling out to our Creator, when we are angry, confused, lonely, and hurt. People who read the books of the Bible that include episodes from Jesus’ life sometimes are surprised to discover that he reached out most to help those who were hurting most, those whom the religious establishment had counted out, those whom had been written off by society because of their choices. He did not tolerate people who took advantage of others. He touched the untouchable. He called us to follow him, to walk in his steps, to suffer as he suffered, to love as he loved. After busy days of teaching and healing large crowds of people, or when he himself encountered temptation, he often would go by himself at night to pray. He made it a habit to meet with others to worship God and study his scriptures. From what I read, “Fifty Shades of Grey” does not reveal the path to healthy relationships. “Old Fashioned” suggests a path that may do so. Ultimately the answer is seeking relationship with the One who designed us and with people who seek to please him. Not every moral choice is a shade of gray. Some choices are clear-cut. Pray hard and study long, my friends.

O Lord, our God. Our culture confronts with alternative lifestyles that often damage. Toxic leaders plague organizations, even churches, in ways that cripple those already weakened. We need love. We need forgiveness. We need wisdom. Help us to hear your message and to apply it in healthy ways that encourage the disenfranchised and heal the hurting among us. Show us the path to holiness and health. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Prayer When Grief Challenges Faith

The prayer of Psalm 143 spoke for me today. As I read it, its words echoed the pain in my soul. Like the Psalmist, I have felt crushed by events in my life. The most recent, and most painful, is the death of my older son. Other heart-wrenching events have tested my resolve, and some have challenged my faith more, but his loss has struck me to the core of my being. I like to think that regular reading of the Bible and meditating on the prayers in the Bible before lifting my own words to the Lord has helped me during these dark hours, but those biblical prayers also have exposed my pain.

“Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my plea for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:1-6).

Seeing pictures of my son taken shortly after he was found stunned me. Looking at his lifeless body in his coffin drove me to tears. Neither struck so severely as when today I was handed his death certificate. That piece of paper drove home with fierce finality that I would not converse again with Caleb in this lifetime. He won’t flash his sly grin when laughing with me. I often kidded Caleb that if he ate right and exercised regularly, he would live to be a hundred years old. Then, I would say, on his hundredth birthday, to celebrate, I would pick him up and we’d go bowling.

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143:8-10).

The reading of His word and the fellowship of fellow believers have given me strength. Still, I hurt, I cry, and I pray. Last week, I sang with an alumni Chorus at my alma mater’s annual Bible Lectureship. Among the hymn we sang was one that begins, “Yes for me, for me he careth.” As we rehearsed, tears welled in my eyes as I challenged myself to believe the words I sang. “O yes, he cares, I know he cares,” proclaims the chorus of that song. Finally when we sang in concert, I sang with confidence, assured by the love surrounding me from God’s people that yes, indeed, he cares and shares my pain, for he too has experienced the death of a Son.

Lord, Some symbols of death confront us with its reality, with its frightening finality. Seasons for repentance pass; we ignore pleas to reform because we are too busy. Then diagnosis of disease, an automobile accident, or the sudden death of a loved one jars our complacence. We no longer can ignore our mortality; we no longer can disparage the pleas of those who love us enough to question our direction. Draw us closer to you, that we may listen more closely and understand better. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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