Preparing to Pray

How well do we prepare to worship God? How do we prepare to pray? I have heard many stories of families arguing bitterly on the way to a place of worship, only to emerge from their vehicles with smiles and joyful greetings to all as they enter the assembly. I remember once refusing to participate in the Lord’s Supper because of a disagreement I had not resolved with another Christian. I was stunned when that person sought me out immediately after the service, seeking to make right what had gone wrong between us. They had noticed my choosing not to partake, and guessed my reasoning correctly.

While the Bible records prayers offered in anger and lament, some prayed by people with checkered moral or ethical histories, prayers like that of Psalm 26 suggest preparation for worship in attitude, choices of association, and lifestyle. The Psalmist confesses, too, an awareness that strikes me as foundational for our practice of prayer when he prays:

“Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness” (Psalm 26:2-3).

The Psalmist lays out his life as an open book before God; he invites God to review his thoughts and actions. He also remembers God’s nature – unfailing love and faithfulness. He foreshadows words concerning God from the New Testament:

“If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Events of the past few weeks have reminded Americans that it is critically important to speak truth and to expose lies. It’s important to determine what is true and to refuse to encourage acceptance of falsehoods. This psalm urges assembly with those who seek truth and goodness, who eschew lies and violence, who praise God:

“I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites. I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, LORD, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds”(Psalm 26:4-7).

One of the most difficult aspects with the pandemic scenario for me has been the interruption of regular assembling together to sing and pray with other Christians. I have missed singing, teaching, and conversing with other Christians in large groups. The dynamic of those assemblies revives our awareness of God’s glory. The synergy of the assembly often alerts us to aspects of truth we had not realized. I yearn for reunion, for the joy of worshipping with others. I pray along with the psalmist:

“LORD, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells. Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with those who are bloodthirsty, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes.” (Psalm 26:8-11).

The psalmist prays with awareness of God’s character. He prays that his own character and his associations will reflect God’s love and faithfulness. He prays that he will be innocent as he praises God and tells others about what God has done. He does not want to be perceived as a hypocrite. His prayer challenges me to live with integrity, to seek and to speak truth, to act with love.

Wrapped around this prayer are petitions for God’s protections and a pledge to live a life that reflects God’s character and that is grounded in trust in God:

“Vindicate me, LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered…I lead a blameless life; deliver me and be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the LORD” (Psalm 26:1, 11-12).

He prays with conviction that God will deliver him. He knows God’s love and faithfulness; he models his own character and associations on those traits of God. He loves worshipping God with others who share his love for God; He praises God in the great assembly. He has prepared to worship the Lord. May we do the same.

Faithful and loving God, May our ethical and moral choices indicate our resolve to shape our lives in reflection of your character. Our nation was rocked by news of violence and death as people who had believed a lie tried to overturn an election and sought to overthrow our government. We pray for those whose lives have been scarred by their actions, that they may know healing of spirit and body. We pray for our nation, that it may recover and prosper, and for our incoming President, that he may lead with humility, courage and wisdom. We pray that our departing President may recover from his disappointment and anger, that he may choose to live with integrity and compassion as he moves forward in his life. Give us all the courage to examine our lives, to repent of sin, and the willingness to confess while seeking to heal. Help us all to appraise ourselves honestly, but with hope based on faith in you. We pray also for those who mourn because loved ones have died. A friend of mine died from the coronavirus yesterday. Bless his family and us, his friends, as we grieve. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

  • Quotations from the Bible are taken from the New International Version 2011.
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Praying after Riots in the Capitol

Events in the Capitol building and its surroundings shocked me this past week. Along with reacting to those events, I remembered happier moments from 1977 and 1978 when I sang with a college choir on the Ellipse outside the White House by the National Christmas Tree, later in the Rotunda of the Capitol building, and finally as part of the National Independence Day Celebration on the Washington Mall. We sang songs of faith in Christ, but also included patriotic and songs from musicals in the Independence Day performance. The experience sparked an appreciation of memorials and monuments to our nation’s history in me, but couched that appreciation in a lyrical context that challenged me to consider what it means to live as a Christian in a political, national environment.

I understand how it feels to be disappointed and angry about decisions by politicians, to be concerned about the moral direction of the United States. My beliefs in the sanctity of life throughout life, integrity, respect, in truth, in standing up for those who are limited in their ability to defend themselves, in equity of justice and citizenship responsibility have clashed with my perception of decisions or actions taken by both major political parties. I have cried out to God in prayer in sorrow, bewilderment, and anger.

This week, while I heard the anger and disappointment with some electoral results, I did not understand nor approve violent action that took place while elected representatives were counting the votes of the Electoral College and considering objections to those votes. The timing of the actions demonstrated a lack of respect for the process our nation’s Constitution establishes for determining the result of a presidential election. While some protesters seemingly got swept along without knowledge of violent intent, others in video shared while they were breaching the building or texts and messages sent beforehand, threatened harm to the Vice-president, Representative, and Senators inside the building. Those threats included hanging, shooting in the head, and running over with a vehicle. Items were stolen from congressional offices; the Capitol building was defaced by vandalism. A Capitol policeman died, apparently from being beaten by protesters. The broadcasters of the videos and messages and those who have been arrested included people who identify themselves as Christians. This saddens me, especially since some have seized upon Christian flags and banners being present in the protests as a reason to criticize Christianity as a whole.

So, how do we pray when, wherever you stand on the political spectrum, it appears that many are confused and afraid? We pray for truth to emerge, for the ability to discern truth clearly, and for courage to act for justice and peace. I personally have reminded myself of these verses:

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

“But in your hearts revere Christ as LORD. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if its God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself in Christ, not county people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The riot did not prevent Congress from fulfilling its responsibilities this past week. After the Electoral College’s votes had been counted, and two objections debated and defeated, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was determined to be the next President of the United States of America, elected by its people. You may question the fairness or methodology of the election. Remember however, that every state’s governor certified the votes for his or her state after counting, recounting, and auditing occurred if required by law or requested by the loser in especially close elections. Over sixty court decisions have ruled that the elections were conducted according to relevant state laws in fairness and security. Even if you have fear regarding the future, pause for a minute to remember that Jesus, the apostles, and early Christians lived in a political environment where they had much less influence on the selection of their civic leaders than we do. Yet they were able to encourage praying for those leaders that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We may not be able to control some aspects of national policy making. We can, however, determine how we will conduct ourselves in personal relationships and business dealings. As American Christians, we also can voice our concerns in speech and voice in a responsible manner. We can pray.

While we pray, and try to make sense of the aftermath of the events of January 6, we who profess to be Christians must remember to check our steps to make sure that we are following him. Jesus taught that the two great commands were to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). When we suspect that hate and fear motivate our choices more than love does, we need to pause abruptly, regain focus on Jesus, and recalibrate our course. Pray hard, my friends, and act with love.

God who governs the course of history, humans have rebelled against your will throughout history. Still, people have maintained faith and lived with integrity in very hostile settings. When we face uncertainty and wonder whom to trust, remind us that truth exists, and that we can act with love whatever befalls. Give us courage to call for justice, but discernment also that we may know we when obstruct justice. We pray for the people of the United States of America, that we may know peace, security, and confidence in our government. We pray for President Donald Trump, that he may act wisely, compassionately, and justly in maturity during the final days of this term of office. We pray for President-elect Joe Biden, that he too may act and speak with wisdom and compassion, and that he may work for justice, but also for policies and actions that rebuild unity and trust. We pray that we will be able to live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness and holiness. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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

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Praying After Recognizing a Need

A prayer, along with a relevant post from 2013, as we pray when discerning a need and wanting to align our will with God’s:
O great and awesome God, Creator of all that lives, we enter a new year dismayed by the impact of a virus upon our world’s peoples and nations. Millions have lost jobs. Hundreds of thousands have died. Hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of patients their doctors and nurses have to try to treat. Violent civil wars rend nations in Africa and Asia. Even in the United States, a loud minority is contesting the results of an election; some even threaten armed rebellion if the results are not reversed. As we ponder these situations, help us to seek peace and to recognize truth. Give us the courage to speak up for reconciliation and unity in a time when people crave argument and dissension, when they accept claims from the least credible sources while rejecting what has been investigated and affirmed by courts and medical authorities. Open our eyes that we may see clearly. Embolden us to speak up for the oppressed and the vulnerable, to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to seek the good of others rather than our own. Help us to be your people whatever may transpire: people who love, seek justice, and work for a peace that is grounded in your will. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Call for Fire Seminar

When the tragic events of September 11, 2001, unfolded, they stunned an unprepared nation as centers of business and the military were attacked with great loss of life. In response, if only for a time, that nation dropped to its knees in prayer. Crisis prompts prayer. In Nehemiah chapter one, Nehemiah (cupbearer to the king of Persia) is visited by his brother Hanani, who has just returned from Jerusalem. At this point Nehemiah is a civil servant. Later in the book, he will assume a more political role. In response to a decree by a previous ruler, many Jewish exiles had returned to their nation’s homeland. They had rebuilt the temple of God in Jerusalem. Now Nehemiah’s brother reveals that the wall of Jerusalem remains broken down.

Nehemiah weeps when he hears this news No walls meant no security for the city, so he weeps, fasts, and prays. His prayer…

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A Prayer for 2021

As a chaotic 2020 nears its end, I invite you to reflect on seven petitions from a psalm of David, Psalm 25. These ancient words still resonate, for they speak our pleas as we reflect on the year just past and plot our hopes for 2021. My year did not go as planned. I suspect that is true for almost all who will read this post. Plans to travel to see my children and grandchildren, to preach and teach, to draw nearer to completing a goal that my wife and I have of visiting all fifty of the United States, vanished as she and I adapted to the constraints of living through a pandemic. On the other hand, my wife drew nearer to finishing academic goals while I resumed running and read aggressively. While we lamented reduced in-person fellowship with a local church, we sang hymns, prayed, discussed the Bible, and ate the Lord’s Supper with unleavened bread baked in our own oven. We engaged with congregations online for worship and participated, again online in a church small group. We encountered unexpected obstacles during the year that challenged and forced us to assess our trust in God. That is where the prayer of Psalm 25 begins:

“In you, LORD my God, I put my trust. I trust in you, do not let me put to shame nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause” (Psalm 25:1-3).

The prayer asserts trust, but the petitions that follow reveal humility and concern as the worshiper encounters problems instigated by opponents or ignited by his own faults. He prays with an urgency that cries out to God with imperative verbs: Guide, Remember, Forgive, Relieve, See, Guard, and Deliver. When we pray in desperate times, we use these verbs, too. We also trust in God’s mercy and love (verse 4), in his faithfulness (verse 10), and in his grace (verse 16). He is the foundation of our hope, for we realize his uprightness and his confidence in those who respect (fear) him. We too implore God to remember his character as he engages with us:

“Guide me in your truth and teach me for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old” (Psalm 25:5-6).

Difficult times often reveal the worst in people. We have witnessed that during the last year in violent acts by frustrated or despondent people, and in the deterioration of civil discourse in social media. When we recognize our own failings, we ask, we pray for forgiveness:

“For the sake of your name, LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great…Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish. Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins” (Psalm 25:11,16-18).

As we begin a new year, we hope that 2021 will be a better year, that disease and civil unrest both will dissipate, and that we will plan and live with greater “normalcy” and confidence. The realization of that hope rests on truths from this prayer as well:

“Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, LORD, is in you” (Psalm 25:20-21).

God is the ground, the foundation of our hope. When we learn from his ways, we conduct ourselves with integrity. We seek the welfare of others and not just our own. In 2020, we have learned to wear masks, not to protect ourselves but to protect others. The year has been a difficult year; hundreds of thousands of families have mourned as loved ones died who otherwise might still live. Psalm 25 in its first twenty-one verses is an intensely personal prayer in acrostic form. The final verse diverges from that form and moves to a national perspective:

“Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” (Psalm 25:22).

You, as I, may wish to insert the name of your nation of concern and residence in that phrase as you pray those words. As we enter a new year, we hope for an end to our trouble and the realization of our dreams for a brighter, healthier future. The God who sustains remains able to deliver and to heal us in body, mind, and soul. Let’s pray that in 2021 we will witness a renaissance of hope, health, and love for one another.

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

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Staying Disciplined in Prayer and Running

When I was 26 or 27 years old, I decided that I wanted to start running to improve my fitness. Since it was a mile from my home to my office, I resolved to run from my home to work in the morning and run back at lunch three days a week. After a couple of weeks, my stride landed in a pothole. I emerged from the experience with a sprained ankle that ended my running project for about eight years. When I learned at age 35 that I would be commissioned as an Army Reserve Component Chaplain, and realized that running would once more become part of my life. For the next twenty-four years, I ran regularly, motivated initially by the need to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test.

After the first year, I realized that I would need to run more than six miles a week to maintain the running speed I needed to pass the test. As my fourth year began and as I planned to step up my training in anticipation to moving to the active- duty component of the Army, I noticed a brochure for a Leukemia Society program that linked fundraising for their much-needed work to forming teams-in-training for a 26.2 mile marathon. I would run and finish that marathon, thanks to encouraging teammates and a coach who was a kinesiology professor at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. During that marathon training, and even more during the race, prayer and reflection on Scripture became increasingly part of my running experience. In fact, I would develop a sermon and a motivational lecture from memories of my reflections during the race. An additional benefit of the race training was that I emerged from it, at almost forty years of age, running faster than I ever had before. Although my running speed would gradually slow as I aged, the praying and reflecting remain part of my running regimen.

When I retired from the military over three years ago, suddenly it seemed much harder to run. Walking took the place of running until less than three months ago, when I decided to try to run one day. For the first time in years, running was fun again, and I began to work it back into my fitness schedule along with walking and bicycling. This past November 30th, a message promoting the World Wide WordPress 5K virtual race showed up in my email box, encouraging bloggers to run a five kilometer run during December. I have run several since then and remain discouraged with my time. But with each running attempt, I feel stronger and run with less effort, breathing easier. During part of my 5k route, I ran through a wooded area. Part of the trail led me over a bridge across a creek. The view from the bridge includes a small waterfall, Angel Falls, which lifts my spirits when I see it. Deer, an opossum, squirrels, and an owl caught my eye as I ran. Familiar comrades in walking, running, or cycling waved as our paths crossed. The lush green of the woodland trail has turned to barren gray in December, but the vitality of the wildlife and my fellow human walkers remained.

Running, walking, and cycling, mixed with prayer and reflection, have helped me stay strong physically, mentally, and spiritually during pandemic-related restrictions on social activity this past year. I include a mask among what I carry as I run now, in case I cannot maintain six feet of distance when I encounter a group or a friend on the trail. As I run, I reflect most on two passages of the Bible. One is the end of one of my favorite biblical passages, the fortieth chapter of Isaiah:

“Do you not know? Having you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31).

On one of my recent runs, a boy shouted, “Hey, old man!” while I was running. I did a quick 360 degree perimeter scan, saw no old man, and kept running. While I am older now, exercising physically and spiritually help me stay focused on God being my sustainer rather than waiting for the approval of other people. The other passage helps me remember the value of consistency and discipline in running, reading the Bible, and prayer:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Discipline in prayer and reading of the Bible help us to improve our communication with God. Discipline in physical exercise like running improves our physical and mental health. Combining spiritual and physical exercise helps us improve our health holistically. I encourage you to walk or run with prayer and reflection on the words of God.

O God who calls us to run the race of life with faith, renew our strength when we falter. Heal us when we incur injury in body or spirit. Help us to remain focused on the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ, as we run and walk. May we remember as we run and pray how others prayed. May their cries of desperation and jubilation inspire us to greater devotion and help us to cross the finish line successfully. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

  • Quotations of the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
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Praying with Faith during Battle

To what genre of scripture do you turn to learn about prayer? The Psalms include many prayers, and from them we learn much about prayer, about God, and about the faith of the writers/singers who penned those prayer-psalms. Prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Micah included passionate prayers filled with both faith and despair in their books. Paul told recipients of his letters why and what he prayed about and for them. The Sermon on the Mount and the sermon we call “Hebrews” include both prayers and teaching about prayer. The history of Acts records prayers and James, the brother of the Lord, writes in his letter about when prayer is both needed and effective. The prayers of Revelation praise and petition God and his Son.

But, what about genealogies? Many readers skim through the lists of generations, or skip them altogether. Sometimes, what seems an aberration commands the reader’s attention. Five somewhat scandalous women intrude into Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus? What similarities connect them? What distinguishes each? Why is each one included in a genealogy that concludes with the Messiah? Luke’s genealogy stresses that Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of Adam, but he is above all the Son of God. How or when, if ever does prayer, play a part in the writing or reading of genealogies?

One Old Testament genealogy includes two short passages about prayers – the long genealogy found in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. You may have read a book about the better known of the two passages, the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Several years ago, I wrote a post about “Prayer and Integrity” that compared and contrasted that prayer with the prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30. The second reference to prayer in the Chronicler’s genealogy, found in 1 Chronicles 5:18-22, involves tribes about which we otherwise hear relatively little after Israel’s tribes conquer the territory God has promised them, the tribes of Reuben and Gad plus the half tribe of Manasseh that settled in the lands east of the Jordan River. The genealogy informs us that they occupied the land until the exile, referring to the conquest of Israel by Assyria.
The genealogy describes the military strength and skills of these tribes, then says,

“They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur Naphish and Nodab. They were helped in fighting them, and God delivered the Hagrites and all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:19-20).

Their prayer was literally a call for fire. In desperate need for assistance in battle, they sent up a message to God requesting rescue. God heard the request and granted it. They won the battle, “because they trusted in him.” For those Israelites, as Christians too have proclaimed in song, faith was the victory. James alludes to this aspect of praying also with these words:

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:6-8).

The soldiers from Reuben, Manasseh, and Gad cried out to God because they believed that he could rescue them. They won the victory that day handily, the Chronicler writes, “because the battle was God’s” (1 Chronicles 5:22). Hundreds of years later, after a king of Judah prays during another desperate time, a Levite assures the king and the nation, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15b).

When we live with integrity and confident faith, pursuing the goals of God, God’s battles and our battles are the same. Our challenge is to overcome our pride, our selfishness, and our fear to follow God where he leads. An early sign of victory over pride is to ask for help, to admit humbly that we cannot win the battle we’re fighting on our own. Discernment is a critical part of faith, too – recognizing when we may be fighting against God by pursuing our own desires rather than his.

This reference to prayer in an unexpected context reminds us of the role of faith (and faithfulness) in prayer. We pray sometimes when faith flickers, when we wonder if God hears us or if anything can change our predicament. When we submit our will and our fears to God, when we seek what he seeks, the battle is no longer ours. The battle is God’s.

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

O God who seeks justice and truth, hear our prayer. Quiet our fears. Train us to discern rightly your will amidst the clamor of competing claims for our allegiance. May the armor we choose to wear be the armor that you wear into spiritual warfare: righteous, faith, and readiness from the gospel of peace. May we remember that it is our role to call for fire, to pray, and that it is your role, not ours, to avenge. May the causes for which we fight be your causes. May our goals align with yours. Remind us to seek truth and to be ministers of reconciliation to those who need so badly the gospel of peace. Strengthen our boldness when we need it. Increase our faith. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

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Prayer during Election Uncertainty

The uncertainty leading up to the Presidential election drove many to their knees in prayer, regardless of political affiliation. For many conservative Christians, concern for the unborn and convictions about marriage or sexuality informed their prayers. For some of them, and for others, concern for ethics and morality in society (especially among our leaders), passion for the plight of the economically and socially oppressed, and a love for life that demands accessibility to healthcare and recognition of civil rights for people most vulnerable to discrimination and bullying inspired their prayers. Some on both sides either ignored the others’ concerns or dismissed them as hypocritical or simplistic, unconstitutional or demonic. Fear of violence and civil unrest, whether the violence was prompted by response to violence against unarmed citizens or by allegiance to white supremacy, also led Christians to pray. Americans across the political spectrum have feared that our system of government might be at risk, whether from socialism or from authoritarian leaders who disregard constitutional procedures. I think it’s fair to say that such fear remains even after the election with former Vice-President Joe Biden projected to have won the election, but President Donald Trump refusing to concede.

The prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 1 of his prophecy seems relevant for people across the political spectrum to me. The prophet feared invasion of Israel by a pagan superpower. He also lamented the injustice he witnessed already in his nation. He prayed:

“How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

God’s answer startled the prophet. His divine strategy to resolve the collapse of justice among Israelites was to unleash “a feared and dreaded people…a law to themselves [who] promote their own honor” (verse 7). God’s plan to discipline his people and reset them on a right course would employ means and agents that shocked Habakkuk.
God’s plan for our times may confuse us. We may wonder why he does not hear our cries against violence, abuse of power, and disregard for the helpless. God assured Habakkuk that faith would provide fuel for survival (2:4), that God still controls (2:20), and that living in harmony with God empowers (3:16-19). These principles endure, and form the foundation for Peter’s encouraging words to embattled Christians:

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Join with Habakkuk and me in praying for justice. Be prepared for an answer you had not imagined. Live with faith and act with love as you follow Christ (Take time to reflect on his words in Matthew 25:31-46 about priority of action). Pray for Donald Trump and Joseph Biden, Jr. Pray for yourself and for me, hoping that our sentiments are the same as the writer(s) of the book of Hebrews:

“Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” (Hebrews 13:18)

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

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Let the Whole Church Pray…

Several preachers among Churches of Christ have put together an online event for today called “Let the Whole Church Pray.” You can read about it here. The event’s page calls for Christians to pray for our nation (the United States of America), the elections, this week, local churches, evangelism, young people navigating uncertain times (I would add that we older people need such prayers, too), and unity. The unity we need on both the religious and political scenarios.

Acts 4:23-31 records a prayer by the apostles and the church of Jerusalem during a turbulent time in the church’s earliest days. Apostles Peter and John had been arrested and instructed before their release “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). They responded that they could not help speaking about what they had witnessed. In the church’s prayer, they prayed,

“Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness” (Acts 4:29).

2020 to this point has been a turbulent time for the whole world because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, we have experienced the virus, economic collapse, civil unrest and widespread protests because of shootings by police, disruption to normal routines of work, recreation, entertainment, and even assembling for worship with fellow believers. This also is a Presidential election year that pits two older but very different major party candidates. Christians are supporting each of them because of issues voters support because of biblical teaching. I have already voted – in person. My vote will count and I had a voice in the direction our country should take. I voted for people I trust to speak truth and have empathy, to act with integrity and compassion, to act firmly but fairly. I prayed about my voting before I voted. I pray now that peace will prevail in the aftermath of the election. I hope that all votes that qualified voters cast will be counted so that their voices may be heard. I realize the potential for unrest after the election and pray that whatever the outcome, we work together to restore health and unity in our nation as a whole, in our communities, and in our churches. Let us resolve that “prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings, and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1b-2).

So I urge: Let the whole church pray…for reconciliation, for unity, and for holy, courageous leaders in our congregations and in our nation. Let us determine that we will live courageously for God and for Christ, but also peacefully in all godliness and holiness.

  • Biblical quotations are from the New International Version 2011.
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Praying for Survival

Can you name a place in the Bible that received its name because some prayed there? When you think of a biblical judge (or leader in the book of Judges) who was a prayer warrior, who comes to mind? Gideon might, because his account begins with a prolonged conversation with God. But the stories of several judges include no prayers or allusion to calling on the name of the Lord. The Song of Deborah and Barak concludes with a prayer and the final judge, Samuel, includes several mentions of prayer. Another judge’s story includes two prayers, each of which can be described as a call for fire that requests God to act now at a specific location to achieve a specific purpose. This judge thus is a prayer warrior. His name was Samson.

Prayer probably does not come first to mind when you think of Samson. Movies have been made about him, but they did not focus on his prayers (although his final prayer is the climax of his story). Most people remember Samson’s legendary strength and his long hair or think of him as a “wild and crazy guy” obsessed with finding the wrong woman to love. His first recorded prayer came as a consequence of a frustrated quest for love. After his fiancé had been given to another man to be his wife, Samson had burned Philistine fields and followed that with a vicious massacre of Philistines after his would-have-been father-in-law and wife were put to death because they had brought on Samson’s revenge (Judges 14:20-15:8). The Philistines then demanded that Israelites hand over Samson to be punished, which the Israelites did after conferring with Samson. Near a place called Lehi, the bound Samson broke free from the ropes that bound him, grabbed a “fresh jawbone of a donkey” lying near by and struck down a thousand men at what became known as Jawbone Hill (Ramath Lehi).

Twenty-four years ago this past weekend, I ran a 26.2 mile race. When I finished the marathon, I was so dehydrated that my vision began fading in and out. A volunteer led me to the first aid tent, where I gulped down two liters of water in the next forty-five minutes before I was able to walk back to my hotel. Samson likewise was dehydrated after his prolonged battle alone against at least a thousand men seeking to kill him. So he sent up a call for fire message to God:

“Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, ‘You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” (Judges 15:18)

God responded by opening up a spring of water in a nearby “hollow place” (a depression in the ground?). Samson’s call for fire had been heard and God had responded promptly and decisively. The passage concludes:

“When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines” (Judges 15:19b-20).

Verse nineteen answers the question I asked to begin this post. En Hakkore means “caller’s spring.” It was the place where Samson, a leader of Israel, called to the Lord. His prayer for hydration was a prayer for his survival. He had prayed in fear that he would die and that his body would be desecrated and defiled by his enemies. God heard his prayer. Samson is hardly a moral example to follow, but his prayer and another recorded later reveal that he trusted God. He believed that God could and would act to save his people in desperate times. The book of Judges records what was on the whole a spiritually desolate era in Israel’s history. Samson’s prayer at the “Caller’s Spring” reveals that faith remained in Israel in the most unlikely of spiritual heroes.

The occasions that prompt us to pray don’t have be the need for world peace or answers to a worldwide pandemic. Just as the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples included a request for “our daily bread,” so we pray for what we need to live just as Samson prayed for water when he was dehydrated. He prayed in a moment of personal physical crisis. He prayed and God heard him.

  • Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011

God who revives and restores, we pray that you will hear our prayers for healing during this time of pandemic, civil unrest, and political strife. Give us the physical strength and health that we need to continue. Strengthen our faith even as you reveal to us our own weaknesses that prevent us from serving you well. May we remember in the times of our deepest need as Samson did, that you are the God who sees and who hears those who trust and call out to you. Hear our prayer. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Praying for Rescue from Liars

How do we pray when there is a crisis of integrity? When truth becomes difficult to discern, when discordant voices clash in public forums inviting our allegiance and denouncing one another, we bow before our Lord praying for an end to confusion. A psalmist cried out to God in just such a situation, praying with desperate faith:

“Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts” (Psalm 12:1,2).

Whether we seek to ascertain which political candidate to endorse or what presentation of theological doctrine to endorse, we clamor for certainty. We crave truth, even when postmodern advocates assure that none exists. Those who seem to espouse values that we hold dear command our attention, even as their behavior and speech in other matters horrify us. We struggle more when those who disagree with us act and speak nobly. Are we being deceived by flattery? Can we accept what we hear and trust what we see? Many of us have learned to look carefully for signs of digital adaptations in videos and photographs or indications of editing in recordings of speeches. We have become more discerning; some have become cynical; still others trust no one. Like the psalmist, we plead for the Lord to provide clarity:

“May the LORD silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue – those who say, ‘By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us- who is lord over us?” (Psalm 12:3-4)

We pray for truth, but also for the desperate and vulnerable. They may hop back and forth from distrust to gullible affirmation of what they hear, but they need very real help and support. The psalmist echoes the voices of the prophets as he continues his prayer, declaring in the words of the Lord himself that God will protect the poor from those who malign them:

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.”
“And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like god refined seven times.” (Psalm 12:5-6)

In times when we do know whom to trust or what to believe, we can take comfort in a God who pursues justice and defends the cause of the oppressed. The prophet Amos condemns “women who oppress the poor and crush the needy” in Amos 4:1. The psalmist of Psalm 12 likewise affirms the Lord’s care for the poor and needy. He asserts confidence in God’s future actions on their behalf. He denounces the arrogance of the wicked as he prays,

“You, LORD, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by human race” (Psalm 12:7-8).

When leaders glorify deception and manipulation as an artform and do what they themselves previously denounced, when vulnerable groups are targeted for killing or are imprisoned literally or figuratively so that they cannot live without fear, courageous believers in the God of justice will speak for those who cannot defend themselves or lack legal standing to do so. The challenge for those who seek to do right is learning truth and exposing evil to the light that will cleanse it, while retaining humility and integrity. This psalm speaks directly, not just to political leaders, but to “neighbors,” who deceive and abuse those they live beside.

When we pray that the Lord will silence the arrogant and the deceptive, may we also pray and vow that we will not be among those whom God should silence.

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