A Prayer When We Are Running Away from God

Hosea’s wife did not respond to his love. She left him for a life of prostitution. But then as Hosea chapter 3 begins, God calls Hosea to go love his wife as God loves his people. When Hosea finally found his wife, she had sunk as low as she could go. She was being sold in the slave market, where quite literally, she would be stripped naked as she was offered for sale. Imagine her surprise as the husband whose love she had spurned, whose children she had abandoned, stepped forward to purchase her and to take her home with him. Legally, he could have demanded that she be stoned to death. But in his love, he kept pursuing her, seeking her redemption, even when she rejected and humiliated him.

Hosea, the husband but also the prophet, told Israel that his love for his wife was not unique. God loves his people with the same fierceness and protectiveness as Hosea had for Gomer. The story of Hosea and Gomer was the story of God and Israel. Hosea says in Hosea 3:4-5, “the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.” As Hosea foreshadowed at the end of chapter two, God would take them out of the valley of trouble and open the door of hope.

The story of Hosea’s relationship with his wife has been called “the second greatest story ever told.” The greatest story ever told is much like Hosea’s: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The relationship of Hosea and his wife Gomer is like that between Christ and his Church.

The Apostle Peter used words that echo Hosea when he wrote to Christians, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). When Paul calls the church “the bride of Christ” in Eph. 5, he underlines the analogy. Like Hosea’s wife and like Israel, we must be faithful to the one who really provides for us. We sometimes attribute our blessings to other sources: luck, hard work, shrewd investing. But even when we push God out of our lives, when we invest our time, our money, and our emotion in focusing on other loves, he pursues us with his love. How is our relationship with God? How should God respond to our behavior? Have we committed ourselves fully to serving God or is his provision something we take for granted? Is being part of God’s people, Christ’s church and bride, who we are or are we confused about our spiritual identity? Are we running away from God as Hosea’s wife did from him? Do we question whether we are worthy of his love? We run but God still seeks us. He seeks to love, to forgive, to renew.

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

O God, we push you away. We deny your love with our actions if not with our words. We struggle first with the idea that we need forgiveness, then with how you could forgive such incorrigible rebels. We have trouble trusting. Your relentless pursuit sometimes seems like harassment, or even stalking. Yet your kindness and your forgiving spirit, your fierce protection of us reveal to us that you are not our enemy. Help us to remember. Help us to recognize those who seek to tear us away from you.  Hold us in the embrace of your love. Remind us that we are your people and that you love us. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer When Afraid

Did you ever notice that the words “Don’t be afraid” are spoken when you are most afraid? In Mark 4, a storm arises while Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. His disciples are terrified, but Jesus had been taking a nap and has continued to sleep despite the storm. They awaken him, he calms the storm and asks them, “Why were you so afraid? Have you no faith?”
Centuries earlier, another man prayed in fear. An enemy army had besieged, then destroyed his city. He has lost all and has witnessed atrocities that often accompany war. He writes and prays,

“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: ‘We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us like scum and garbage among the peoples” (Lamentations 3:40-45)

He (The writer may be the prophet Jeremiah) laments his people’s situation and confesses sin. His vividly worded prayer conveys his despair: God has turned from protector into pitiless pursuer. God has ignored their prayers. “No prayer can pass through” – Those words drip with dread. God, our refuge, has barred his gates and denied entry.
He cries in his anguish, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” The tone changes as he prays, “you came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’” (Lamentations 3:55-57) Foreshadowing the incident on the Sea of Galilee, God replies, “Don’t be afraid.”
The prayer continues with relief-laced rejoicing:

“You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen all the wrong done to me; judge my cause.” (Lamentations 3:58-59)

God has stilled the storm, although the scars of fear remain.
I have suffered unexpected loss several times during my life: deaths of loved ones, loss of employment, and more. I know the feeling expressed by the prophet when he prayed “no prayer can pass through.” It seemed as if God refused to hear. Even now, when things don’t go as expected, shadows of dread return. I hear, when I pause to listen, Jesus saying to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you no faith?’ I hear God saying to the prophet, “Do not fear!” I hear in my mind those words being spoken to me. Sometimes it’s hard to listen. Background noise threatens to drown out the calming words of assurance. I also hear the words of another prophet to his rightfully fearful son, “The Lord will provide.” When I hear those words, my faith rebounds. Although my storm may not yet be over, I can go forward because the Lord has taken up my cause.

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Prayer While the Snow Falls

The winds are roaring outside and the snow is falling. Forecasts call for the snow to continue for the next five hours with the winds reaching forty-five miles per hour. As I watch the storm build, I reflect on verses from Psalm 16 that remind me of the good we receive from the Lord. Even in the darkest hours, when job prospects may be sparse and relationships may be hazardous places to venture, he provides hope and reveals the path to refuge and life. The apostle Peter quoted this Psalm in his sermon on that first Pentecost after Christ arose and ascended back to heaven. He directed his hearers to this verse of prayer as he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

While Peter focuses on the promise of resurrection, the psalmist rejoices in God’s promise of refuge and life for his worshippers. He prays for salvation from the Lord, and rejoices in the fellowship he enjoys with other followers of God:

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.

I shudder often, painfully aware of my ineptness in communicating to others and of my failure to hear fully their hurt. It is too easy to give in to the temptation to provide easy, pat answers that seem so certain to me, but appear to confuse or even anger others. I don’t know their pain as they do not know my experience or my own pain. I can only guess and lean heavily upon the source of my direction. I value highly time with other believers. I can only hope that they realize how much they encourage me with their songs, their smiles, and most of all with their presence. With the psalmist,

I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

The world outside my window turns progressively snowier as I write. The temperature will drop steadily through the rest of the day. My schedule for today has been altered dramatically. There are forces in our world that we cannot ignore, times when we must halt, when we must listen, and when we must worship the God whom we thank when we realize and pray:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

• Bible quotations are from Psalm 16 in the English Standard Version.

O Creator of all the seasons, As the snow falls, it obscures our roads. We cannot discern as well what path is safest. Our emotions, particularly our fear, act like snow to hide our paths. Clear our paths that we may choose wisely and well.  Remove the burdens of our hearts and free our lips to sing your praise as we rejoice in your presence and the company of fellow believers. Forgive our slowness to learn and motivate us more strongly to listen quietly, to speak softly, and to forgive. In Jesus’ name, amen

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Thanksgiving to a Loving Creator

“Great are the works of the Lord, Psalm 111 says, “studied by all who delight in him. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.” The apostle Paul notes that the world testifies to the glory of its Creator. When we slow down and observe the natural beauty surrounding us, we begin to understand why we sing songs like How Great Thou Are and Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore him.” When I saw multitudes of stars in a cloudless sky as I stood in a dark Mojave desert, or I witnessed the majesty of the ocean’s crashing waves during a storm in Hawaii, or I enjoyed the changing of leaves in the fall or the glistening of ice on barren tree limbs during the past two weeks, I have realized the grandeur and the beauty of God’s creation. You have your own memories of beauty that captured your imagination and fired your faith in God, that perhaps drove you to your knees in humbled prayer as you acknowledged the incomprehensible power and frightening intelligence of a being that could create this universe. The words of Genesis, Psalms, and the prophets in the Bible reflect on God’s creative process. They remind us that God imagined then created this beauty. The stars, the moon, the sun, the ocean are not gods to worship. They are created by the God that we assembled here today to thank and to praise.

Earlier this year, I preached from Exodus 34, where in verses 6-7 God describes himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty… Those words of God foreshadow the praise of Psalm 111. God loves, and because he loves he provides. Today, many will sit down to feast upon turkey, roast beef, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole, surrounded by family and friends. Others may eat alone, perhaps feeling abandoned or mourning the absence of loved ones. I pray that they will realize God’s love for them on this day.

Psalm 111 reminds us of the source of our food. It reminds us that God keeps his promises. His works are dependable. We count on the sun rising in the east and the tides rolling in. We look to certain parts of the sky expecting to see specific groups of stars. After we have lived somewhere for a time, we gain sense of when one season will segue into the next. The Psalmist testifies, “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” We thank God because we live in a world that despite crazy weather at times, functions in an orderly fashion.

I pray that you will know joy and love on this day! Happy Thanksgiving!

O Immortal Creator, your Cosmos astonishes us with its magnitude and beauty. Imagining a force, a being, who could fashion such challenges, yet sparks faith and hope. We thank you for life, and for a world that has predictability. Even when fires and storms destroy, life surges back in the aftermath. We marvel that your power is accompanied by love and we rejoice that we have received the benefits of that love. We pray that you will bless the lonely and bring hope for the poor on this day. Thank you for the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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We Give Thanks This Week

We give thanks this week. Despite fires that ravaged parts of California, Christians there give thanks. The Paradise Church of Christ building was totally destroyed, except for its sign. On the other hand, pictures of Pepperdine University, a college associated with the Church of Christ, show its campus surrounded by devastation of burned out forest and neighborhoods, yet its campus seemingly untouched by the fire. Students and faculty sheltered in place in two buildings on campus. According to a friend of mine, they cheered loudly at 3 a.m. when a wall of fire three hundred yards from the library where they were sheltered was extinguished as helicopters dropped a huge load of water. We give thanks that while so many lives have been lost or disrupted, others were spared and hope remains.
We give thanks this week. Despite a horrible accident that totaled his car and broke his body, Jeremy Telgren, the son of a friend of mine who preaches, survives. We will pray for him and encourage his family as we are able. A fund has been set up to help him deal with vast unexpected expenses associated with his medical care and rehabilitation. Here is the link to the site for that fund if you can contribute.  We rejoice that he lives.
We give thanks this week. Many of us have know pain in our lives. Sometimes that pain was self-inflicted, at other times we were the collateral damage from other people’s mistakes. This year, two beloved sisters in Christ died in the church where I preach. We cherish our memories of them. Others in the congregation have battled illness and injury this year. Some have been healed; others still suffer. We rejoice with those who rejoice; we weep and pray with those who grieve and suffer. We give thanks for joyful memories and healing.
We give thanks this week for the privilege of worshipping openly our God of grace and glory. We are surrounded by beauty in the world he created. This past week, a patina of snow coated trees in northeastern Kansas, presenting a vision of wonder. Inspiring sunsets and, in recent weeks, colorful leaves capture our imagination. We, scarred by sin and trauma, marvel that the God who created such beauty saw the creation of humanity as what made this world “very good.” We give thanks and pray that our lives will radiate the light and beauty of God to those we meet.
We give thanks this week. I conclude with the worlds of the Psalmist: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD” (Psalm 107:43 ESV).

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Praying Thankfully in the Congregation

In this season of Thanksgiving, we express our gratefulness to God by enjoying gifts he has given us: food, family, shelter, clothing, and friends. In Psalm 111, we discover additional aspects of our lives for which we should give thanks.

How and where do we give thanks to the Lord? The Psalmist writes, “Praise the LORD I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” These words speak to our priorities and to our behavior with our associates. The words that begin the Psalm are a phrase that has become one word in English: Hallelujah. We often say “hallelujah” with emotion, joyously celebrating good news. That is what we do when we praise the Lord. We celebrate his grace and love. We praise the Lord according to Psalm 111 with “my whole heart,” with all my being, with my mind’s total focus.

We praise the Lord in the company of the upright, in the congregation. The words company and congregation indicate different sizes of crowds. They are bound together here by the people who make up those groups – the upright. We praise the Lord best when we praise him with others who share our faith in him, whether it is with a small group of friends, a Bible study group, or with the church as a whole. Psalm 111 does not describe the worship of a lone individual hiking along a mountain stream. No, the worshipper of God surrounds himself or herself with other people who also praise God. We gather in the congregation of the upright to praise and to thank the Lord.

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

O God of steadfast love, the beauty of your creation impresses us with your attention to aesthetics and usefulness.  The magnitude of your creation drives us to our knees in humble pray, seeking to understand why you would care about us.  We praise you and thank you, we shout “hallelujah” when we rejoice. Whether we feast with friends or pray alone this week, help us to remember that we are not alone in serving you. If we falter, another worshipper and you are there to lift us up and encourage us.  Thank you for your generous love.  May we reflect that love in our actions. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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A Prayer on Veterans/Armistice Day

On this Veterans Day/Armistice Day weekend:

“Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:1-4).

Many soldiers derive comfort from the beginning verses of Psalm 144. The words remind them that God protects and delivers, that he is a shield and refuge when under attack. The psalmist recognizes God’s governance of the nations and his working of his will through those to whom he has given the ministry of the sword (Romans 13:1-8). He also recognizes the love of God while declaring through this prayer of blessing and petition his own allegiance to the Lord. Prolonged exposure to combat can breed a weariness and cynicism in a soldier, but this one declares in verse nine that he will sing a new song to God who gives victory to kings and who rescues his servant.

He prays in verses five through eight that God will intervene, that God will strike out against those “whose mouths speak lies and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood,” a petition he repeats in verse eleven. He prays in hope for a future of prosperity where his and people’s sons and daughters will flourish and there will be “no cry of distress in our streets.”

This is a prayer we can join with fervor in a time when we struggle to discern which news is “fake” and what is true, and when protesters from every side run to the streets to voice their distress. Meanwhile, soldiers continue to fight for their nations and for one another. As they train and as they fight, many thumb through worn Bibles and pray earnestly to the Lord, their Rock, who sustains them and gives them hope. The preaching service pictured with this post was not scheduled.  The soldiers on the wall requested it as they and I were about to leave a location where they had escorted me as my security team so I could preach there. They too wanted to worship.  I was honored to have the privilege to bring them good news that day. May we regain the ability to trust and to fight together for peace. May we not disdain or overlook opportunities to call upon the Lord and to sing a new song unto him. preaching in AfghanistanAs the psalmist concludes,

“Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”

  • Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version. Photograph was taken by Randy Eichelberger, Sr.

O Lord, our rock and our refuge, infuse us with zeal to perform the ministries to which you have called each of us. Fill our hearts with compassion for those who suffer and who struggle because they have sacrificed and been wounded in mind and body on our behalf. Help us to overhear their cries to you for deliverance and grant us the privilege to be your hands as you rescue. Heal our hearts. Remove the rage and selfishness; restore peace, altruism, and hope. Restore our voices so that together we may sing a new song to you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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