A Prayer for Courage on an Anniversary of Evil

A prayer I offered in 2012 front of an assembly from several nations in Kabul for Patriot Day (September 11):

O God, Creator of all, Sustainer of life, our Refuge from disaster, we commemorate today an event that awakened a nation and that forced awareness of vulnerability upon a world. As a nation, the United States of America sank to its knees in prayer as we reeled with disbelief. Even so, hundreds of citizens immediately responded, many dying themselves as they struggled to save those trapped within the targets of the terrorists.

Today we pray that you will restore our hope, that you will renew our faith, that you will energize us to defend liberty to speak, to worship and to assemble.

May we have the courage, when faced with evil, to stand firm in freedom, resisting the urge to retreat into authoritarianism and oppression.

Thousands have given their lives striving to counteract the violent destruction of September 11, 2001. Many more have grieved their losses but celebrated their achievement. We thank you, God, for our international friends who stood beside us in our darkest hours and who continue to fight beside us. Bless and protect them. Sustain the people of this land (Afghanistan) as they recover from decades of fighting. Give them a vision of freedom and grant us all the wisdom to help them walk the paths that will lead to its realization.

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Prayer As the Hurricane Approaches

The prayer of Psalm 57 concludes with praise and a statement of determination to keep singing in the midst of threatening turmoil. These words caught my attention this morning after I had been reading about the steady progress of Hurricane Dorian, which one report described as a “monster storm.” Hurricane Dorian will change plans for and cause damage to the property of hundreds of thousands of people this next week. Animals will perish and beaches will suffer erosion. People will be injured; some may die, either as they try to ride out the storm by staying at home or as they attempt to flee from its powerful winds and torrential rain. I lived in coastal Georgia for six years. My work during the last three years of that time in Georgia required me to take several courses from FEMA on disaster preparedness and response. Our team reviewed projections on flooding and other damage that would occur if the area experienced storms of different strengths. I realize just how deadly this storm may become. However, that same study and experience reminds me how true this statement is:

“There’s not room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear” – Hans Rosling, Factfulness, p. 103.

Preparing carefully for adversity reduces uncertainty and fear. Having a “go bag” ready and a planned route for evacuation saves time when it becomes clear the family has to leave. Making sure that property is reinforced and secured before departure will reduce damage. Watching or reading newscasts about the projected path of the storm is helpful so long as we pay attentions to facts and don’t surrender to fear and panic.
How do we prepare spiritually for such an event? “Thoughts and prayers” are only part of our preparation, whether we are in the “cone” of the hurricane’s expected path, or watching from afar. Those who are not in the storm’s path may begin to consider how they will be able to help in its aftermath, remembering that government agencies and local organizations will take the lead in response. They too pray. While some may scoff at prayer’s usefulness, it retains an important role.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:1).

Prayer reminds us of God’s care for us. The psalmist prays for protection, but he also realizes that the storm will pass. Part of us still wants to panic and forecast how dire our circumstances will be. As we pray, we trust that God hears and that he will show mercy. The psalmist prays, but he also sings in the midst of the storm, whether literal or metaphorical, that threatens him:

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody” (Psalm 57:7).

Trust and faith form the foundation of the believer’s response to disaster. Loss sometimes is only the preface to a new story. I don’t write those words glibly. Grief and loss have been too much part of my own journey. God’s love has sustained me through the care of concerned friends and compassionate strangers. The beauty that surrounds us in his creation has become even clearer and more treasured.
Last weekend, I preached to a church in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. My wife and I enjoyed the calming scenery and relaxing ocean breezes. We made new friends and relished delicious seafood. In coming days, many of those whom we encountered will respond to the approach of the hurricane. We pray that God will protect them and their community. And I hope that after the storm passes, that each of us will be able to pray along with the writer of Psalm 57,

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations, for your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:9-11).

Storms testify to the dynamic power in God’s creation, but remind us also of the unfathomable resources of the being who made them possible. I know my prayers will remember family and friends in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida especially in the next few days. May our love for God, and our care for one another, sustain those who react to this storm in the days ahead.
* Quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version.

O God,
When thunder roars and lightning flashes, when winds blow fiercely and hail shatters, we want to cower in fear. We wonder whether we will survive and what costs we will pay if we endure the storm. Give focused clarity of mind and calm resolve to those who feel the brunt of this storm. May they prepare appropriately and flee safely if necessary. We pray for their health and for their security. May we discern in the days ahead how these events make us better as communities and as individuals. May we recognize what reminds us of your power and glory, whether the sheer force of the winds, or the unexpected kindness of a stranger in whom your image resides. Thank you for life, for beauty in your creation, and for the ability to appreciate it. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer that Pride Will Not Preclude Prayer

In Genesis chapter 4, we read about Cain murdering his brother Abel and Cain’s subsequent punishment. The chapter tells also of Cain’s descendants. Several generations later is born Lamech, whose story becomes the focal point of Cain’s genealogy. Lamech has two wives, who each bear him two children. Lamech’s three sons begin progress in various forms of technology. Jabal is a nomad who herds livestock His brother Jubal is a pioneer musician. Their half brother Tubal is a smith, a forger of metals, so he is called Tubal-cain. Lamech’s sons achieve progress in several areas. Herding makes it easier to obtain meat. The creation of instruments brings joyful recreation of music. Tubalcain creates tools and other devices of metal that make farming, housework, building, and yes, killing easier. The genealogy introduces technology in a way that lets us know it is not inherently evil. Technology can improve the quality of life. It may however be used in a way that hurts not only individuals, but societies.
After learning of the progress of civilization among the descendants of Cain, we hear a disturbing song that Lamech sings to his wives:

23 Lamech said to his wives:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

Lamech, like his ancestor Cain, has killed, and seems to have no remorse whatever. There really is no hint of that here. Lamech has killed and believes he is more worthy of being avenged if someone kills him than Cain was. Does his arrogance come from his sons’ achievements? The context suggests a connection. As civilizations grow and become more technologically advanced, we become more confident in our control over our existence. Pride reeks from Lamech’s song. He has killed and he shouts that revenge for any harm to him will be far, far greater than God’s promise of protection to Cain. Notice: Lamech does not appeal to God. He applauds his achievements and insists on what he considers his rights. Technology changes perspective. We adapt to our new reality and may scoff at the way things used to be.
As Cain’s descendants multiplied, Genesis 4 tells us of another development:

25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD. (Genesis 4, English Standard Version).

Even as many take pride in technology, rejoice in violence, and proclaim their independence from God, others begin to call upon him in worship and prayer. The descendants of Cain will not survive; the descendants of Seth, equipped with technology acquired from the family of Cain, but calling upon the Lord will provide the basis for human survival. Lamech shouts that he deserves vengeance 77 times if Cain received it 7. Centuries later, Peter will ask Jesus , “Lord how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say you seven times but seventy times seven.” Rather than multiplied revenge, Jesus calls for exponential forgiveness.
In this unusual and very ancient passage from Genesis, invention of new tools and livelihoods produces violence and lust for revenge, along with a pride that causes people to act as if there is no God. The Bible does not regard technological advances as evil. They are morally neutral, neither good nor evil. How and why people use them makes all the difference. Inventions like mechanical reapers, indoor plumbing, water purification, advances in medical care and transportation have changed human experience for the better. The real danger is when, as the apostle Paul expresses it in Romans 1:25, we “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen.” When we begin to allow our technology and our activities to crowd God and truth out of our lives, lies, corruption, and violence become part of our culture. We seek revenge and consider forgiveness weak. Pride precludes prayer. Genesis 4 and the rest of the Bible confront us with two options: Choosing the worship of human technology and achievement or calling upon the name of the Lord.

Lord, teach us to forgive. Open our eyes when we close them rather than admit that our pride has placed our trust in our own inventions rather than in you. Thank you for the privilege of living in this cosmos that you created. May we enjoy and not hoard; may we love and not destroy. Grant us humility so that we may discern when our technology and our insistence on our rights interfere with our relationship with you. Show us paths to reconciliation and unity, so that we may call upon your name together. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer While Weeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Prayer to God who Saves “Man and Beast”

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

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

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

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

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Prayer that We May Tell the Story in Love

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

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

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

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A Prayer for Evening Worshippers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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