A Prayer that We May Listen

Calling for fire in a military context requires confidence that that the headquarters being called for assistance can and will provide what is needed. It also requires caution. The caller must communicate accurately the nature of the request, the correct location of the enemy to be attacked (if that is the nature of the call), and the type of fire needed. He or she may also want to note the location of friendly troops that must not be attacked. The person calling for fire also needs to coordinate with allies and plan his own movements so that the counterattack brought about by the call for fire will not kill friendly forces.

Psalm 85 is a prayer for restoration of God’s people. The psalmist prays, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!” and “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation” (Ps. 85:4, 6-7). The latter part of the psalm reveals his confidence that God can restore his people: “Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteous will go before him and make his footsteps a way” ((Ps. 85:12-13). God has capability to rescue his people.

In the midst of the prayer, the psalmist acknowledges his responsibility when the Lord acts in response to his call, “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land” (Psalm 85:8-9). If he prays for God to rescue him, he must act faithfully toward God. He must cease acting as if there is no God will hold him accountable. He must not place himself in the area targeted for attack by his own prayer.

When we pray, we must assess ourselves and how we stand before God. If I pray with anger and pride a request that God will punish the angry and proud, I’m praying for judgment against myself. When we pray, we need to listen to what God has said as well.

O God who restores when we repent, Help us to see ourselves accurately. Cure the spiritual astigmatism that distorts how we see ourselves and our world. Your love and compassion give us hope. May we not waste that hope by ignoring your will. Give us courage to act for righteousness and justice; give us the humility to listen and learn. Revive us again, that we may rejoice in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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A Prayer that Our Love Will Renew Hope

I’ve witnessed Christians working together to glorify God and to serve others this week. This morning, about sixteen members of our congregation welcomed over seventy families who needed food and helped meet their needs at our monthly Food Pantry. Tomorrow, we’re hosting a Friends and Family Day as we seek to increase the number of people we’re reaching with the good news of God’s saving grace. We’re focusing this year on renewing hope. Many people suffer damage to their dreams daily; some experience shocking losses that challenge their belief systems. Whether through abuse at the hands of someone they love, disease that saps their savings rapidly because of expensive treatment, or witnessing horrible events, they wonder whether they can continue to believe in God or whether to continue living. Sometimes their suffering increases because well-meaning bystanders criticize their handling of the crisis or condemn them for experiencing it – “surely their sin led to this.” I’ve met people who struggle to hear the message of Jesus because of such interaction.

In the midst of the prayer that is Psalm 145 occur these words: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (verse 8 and 9). These words differ markedly from a perspective that judges quickly and harshly. While we must remember that God calls us to be holy as he is holy, we absolutely must recall that he calls us to forgive as he forgives us, and to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Matthew 6:13,14; Romans 15). The possibility of forgiveness for acts or attitudes we may never have thought we would do, yet discovered ourselves doing, explains the praise of God throughout the prayer of Psalm 145:

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, 8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (verses 8-13).

The prayer explains the presence of hope in those who have sinned and among those who have know great loss. God revives and invigorates those who question whether they can go on. He renews hope for the hopeless; he forgives those we might consider unforgiveable.

O Lord, our God, open our eyes to your glory. May we glimpse the greatness of your love, and grasp that you can forgive, that you can create a way to hope where there seems to be none. Help us to love and to forgive. Strengthen our resolve to be your person each day. May we respond to your glory and your forgiving love with loving holiness that reflects your own holiness. Thank you for loving us when we were unlovable. May we love as you love. May we value what you value. May we forgive as you forgive. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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A Prayer to God who Delights in Setting Right What Has Gone Wrong

In Psalm 35, a victim of betrayal and injustice calls for fire in militaristic fashion. He pleads for God to fight against his opponents. He cries out for God to put on his armor, “Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers. Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation” (verses2-3).

The psalmist reveals his enemies’ strategy of deception and abuse of the innocent: “For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life!”(verse 7). He describes how they testify against him and how they berate him in heartless interrogations. As he prays, he contrasts how they treat him with how he treated them when they needed assistance:

“But I, when they were sick – I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning” (verses 13-14).

They instead rejoice at his weakness and assault him; “they gnash at me with their teeth,” he tells the LORD.

How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!” In verse 17, he cries out in desperation for God to save him. He recognizes that others also suffer as he does and prays that God will deliver them as well. These enemies “do not speak peace, but against those who are quiet in the land they devise words of deceit.” He appeals to God’s hatred for falsehood and desire for justice as he asks for God to intervene and destroy his enemy with a devastating counter attack. In verse 8, he prays “Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it – to his destruction!” In verse 26, he summarizes his appeal, “let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether who rejoice at my calamity!”

He concludes his call for fire with a prayer that those who delight in righteousness will “shout and be glad” as they say, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” and a promise, “Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long” (verses 27-28).

When it seems that pain increases and opponents multiply in direct correlation to our own attempts to be faithful, we question God’s presence and his power against evil. We wonder how abuse of the “poor” and the “quiet” abounds in a universe ruled by a loving God. We ask how long will God allow this to continue. In the prayer of Psalm 35, the abused and the vulnerable, the swindled and the deceived, read a message that goes to the heart. The prayer is our prayer. Hope revives when we remember that God does “delight in the welfare of his servant.” He does care; he will judge the abuser and liar. Then the focus falls on us: will we “tell of [his] righteousness and of [his] praise all the day long?” Let us pray for God to act against evil, but let us also rejoice and thank him when he does. God delights in setting right what has gone wrong. Pray hard, my friends, and tell boldly what God has done to rescue you.

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A PRAYER THAT WE MAY NOT BE FOOLS

Many observe the first day of April as an occasion for practical jokes and deceptive news releases. I remember when I was a teenager in University of Tennessee sports-crazed East Tennessee that a Knoxville newspaper published a report that the university basketball team had recruited and signed an eight-foot tall player who surely would lead the schools program to greatness. It was an April Fools Day hoax. There was no such signing. When a psalmist wrote in Psalm 14:1, ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” he did not refer to humorous hoaxes. He did not focus on atheists, either. He concentrated on people who profess belief in God, yet act as if he does not exist. They do “abominable deeds” (verse 1), they have become corrupt (verse 3), and they do not call upon the Lord (verse 4). Because they have turned away from God, they “are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous” (verse 5). They have neglected what they knew; they have spurned their source of hope. As they pursue their godless course of action, they scorn those who remain faithful to the Lord who is their only true refuge.
We pursue the course of the godless when we neglect biblical values by compartmentalizing our lives, living by one ethical code at work and another when at worship. We pursue the course of the godless when we minimize the value of life by approving of mistreatment of the vulnerable in our society, whether they are unborn babies, the aged, the poor, or the mentally ill. We pursue the course of the godless when we laugh at those who value faithfulness to God and give our allegiance instead to political agendas or cultural trends.
As we reflect on Psalm 14, let’s resolve to act with integrity in our dealings with other people. Let’s remember that God values highly the helpless and calls us to treat others as we would wish to be treated. And let’s pray for an end to the worship of slander and corruption in our world. But first, let’s look within ourselves and evaluate our own relationships with God. Let’s return to the one who truly protects in time of terror.

O God who was, who is, and who is to come, May we humble ourselves before you as each of us becomes accountable to you in our speech and our actions. Deliver us from acting like fools. Give us courage to treat others as people who have your image within them. Give us the spiritual and moral strength to defend those who cannot defend themselves. Ignite our faith and forgive our moments of doubt as we recognize your reality and return to claim refuge with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Call for Fire Seminar’s Third Anniversary! Thank you!

John TheobaldThree eventful years have passed since I began writing “Call for Fire Seminar.” Exciting events have occurred: Travel overseas and to several states for ministry, a new preaching ministry, and a promotion in my chaplaincy work. Moments of sorrow have also left their scars; my mother and my older son passed away a year apart. In the turmoil of grief, moving, ministry, and welcoming a new grandchild, I still haven’t published the book “Call for Fire Seminar.” All these experiences have underscored the need to keep calling for fire (praying) to the Lord. Praying, teaching, and writing have strengthened my resilience. Even so, it has been difficult to press on. Friends and readers of my blog have reached out and encouraged me. I have appreciated your support so much. This past weekend, I attended a Christian youth leadership training event in Kansas City. While there, I met with John Theobald, a reader of this blog and its sister Facebook page. John’s military experience with calling for fire has helped me apply the concept to prayer. He also has “been there” with notes of encouragement in those times of grief. So, I pause to say “Thank you!” to him and the rest of you who have helped me persevere in service. May the Lord bless you richly with peace, with hope, and with love.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

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Praying When Afraid

Dread and fear must have filled their hearts as they fled into the darkness. One had his clothes torn away from him as those who had arrested Jesus tried to seize him as well. Jesus had warned, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40). Temptation surrounded them now. Hide in the darkness while the teacher who brought light into their lives suffered. Lie about whether they were his disciples, or even knew him. Abandon the dream that he was the One who would liberate God’s people. Their desperation and depression engulf us when we forget the ending of their story. We forget when we too fail to pray. We forget when we too allow fear to dictate our response to the world around us, when we strike out in anger or fail to do the right thing because we are afraid. They had dined with Jesus that evening, and even as he tried to alert them to the dangers and remind them of his priorities, they had argued about which of them was most important. Now each of them wanted to be least, to be the one forgotten by the authorities. While they forgot, and hoped to be forgotten, they needed to remember that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer, and to pray that they would not enter into temptation.

We too experience dread. We fear. Enemies of truth and love rejoice when their acts of terror cause their targets to surrender their freedom, to renounce their faith (“How could a good God allow such to happen?”), to silence their confession. May we remember the warning and pray that we may not enter into temptation. May we, when confronted with fear and dread, respond with wisdom and courage. May we remember to love when to hate seems the logical choice. May we remember that we are disciples of Jesus.

O God our Father, Darkness engulfs. Headlines of horror describe episodes of terror that have found their target – our hearts. Revive our courage; help us to remember what and who we believe. Strengthen our resolve to do your will. Protect us from temptation. Open our eyes to how we may heal others who are crippled by their fear and hate. Thank you for your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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God’s Response to a Cry for Help

“7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. ‘ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
   The verses above from Judges chapter 6 recount God’s response to the collective prayers of a people who had strayed from following him, but now sought his aid. They had forsaken him and they had experienced consequences from their disobedience. He reminds them through his prophet of His promises and of their subsequent disobedience. After these verses of rebuke, however, follows a narrative of grace: God calls a timid and skeptical young man to lead Israel back to faith and to independence from their foes.
  These words in Scripture both warn us and give us hope.  They remind us that our worst dilemmas result from our own rebellious choices.  They tell us that God loves, listens,and forgives.  When God rescues, he does not always choose the obvious hero.  Even Gideon did not regard himself as a natural leader.  God still saved his people. God’s salvation occurred when a believing Gideon accepted his role as a leader and acted in faith according to God’s instructions. Before Gideon accepted, he had a series of conversations with God (and God’s angel) in which he voiced his doubts and asked for evidence that the God who had delivered Israel from Egypt truly was behind this.
  The story of Gideon and his relationship with God is a complex one. It begins with Gideon’s skepticism and cynicism.  It ends with a victorious Gideon making a tragic mistake regarding the spoils of war, one that compromises his and his people’s ability to continue serving God faithfully. The struggles of life may make us question as Gideon did. The flush of spiritual victory may tempt us to indulge our own desires as he did. May we remain focused in faith, in humility before God, and in our courage to serve wherever he may lead. May we, even in our darkest hour or in our mountain-top experience, always remember to cry out for God’s help.
 
God who delivers, Hear us when we cry out in the aftermath of our errors.  We pray that we may hear your direction accurately as we pray and we study your word.  Give us discernment so that we may see the way to return to you.  Give us courage to act in obedience to you. Help us to turn away from sin and to resist the lure of temptation to return to it.  We marvel at your continuing love and your ability to forgive. Help us to live lives that reflect your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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