For Whom Do You Wrestle in Prayer?

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12).

For whom do you wrestle in prayer? By this, I do not mean, with whom do you wrestle in prayer? In that case you might be wrestling with God (Jacob was named Israel, because he had struggled, or wrestled, with God (See Genesis 32:28), or with Satan. No, I ask who you go to battle for when you pray. Who do you pray for and about emotionally?
Epaphras was a ministry colleague of the apostle Paul. He apparently was from the town of Colossae in what is now the nation of Turkey. As Paul ends his letter to Christians in that town, he passes on greetings from their friend Epaphras and tells them also that Epaphras wrestles (or agonizes) in prayer on their behalf. Specifically, Epaphras wants the Christians in Colossae to grow up in their faith and to be fully convinced. He wants them to stand firm in the face of opposition to Christian teaching.

 
I have wrestled in prayer at different times in my life about whom I would marry, whether I would be hired for a specific job, and what I should do next in my life. I have also wrestled in prayer for the health of my parents, my wife, and my children. Like Paul and Epaphras, I also have agonized in prayer for people whom I served as a chaplain or a preacher. I have prayed that they would grow in knowledge of God’s will, turn their life over to him, and be baptized into Christ. I have prayed that they would grow in maturity and assurance of the truth of what they believed. I prayed that somehow their actions and mine would reflect the heart and actions of Jesus himself.

 
Right now, I’m praying that last prayer for citizens of the United States of America, to include, again, myself. A pandemic (whose reality or seriousness some question) has killed over 100,000 in our nation alone, but steps taken to slow its progress have also affected our economy, our education system, and our groups with whom we worship. People have protested, and even killed, because they didn’t want to wear a mask in a public place. Others have worn their masks, even when they detested them, because they believed that they were protecting others by doing so. Both groups have criticized the other group harshly.

 
In the last weeks, Americans have learned how three unarmed African-Americans, two men and a woman, were killed by police officers or people claiming to attempt a citizen’s arrest. In two of the cases, the deaths were captured on video. In response, protests (some peaceful, some tainted by violence, looting, and arson) have begun to happen. Horror and indignation over the killings of Ahmaud Arberry, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd have been balanced in the minds of many by damage done to a police station and businesses, by widespread looting, and by burning of businesses that in many cases are owned by African-Americans. I’m conscious of deeply seated desperation and fear in communities where these types of killings have happened far, far too many times with officials seeming not to care. Parents taught their children carefully how to interact with police in an effort to their dying at the hands of police needlessly. I’m aware that many of us did not experience learning “the talk” or having to teach it to our children. I personally, however, did have the experience of being put in handcuffs after trying to make it through a traffic signal before it turned red and being pushed into the back of a patrol car while a seminary student in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. But, while I was afraid at the time, I never feared that the policemen would kill me.

 
I’m wrestling in prayer because these circumstances have unveiled ugly attitudes and deeply ingrained prejudices among people who claim to be seeking to do the will of God. I’m also praying with emotion because the deaths have caused some to understand a horrible reality that they may have denied previously because it was not their experience.

 
I ask you join me on the figurative wrestling mat in struggling in prayer for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the people of the United States. Join me in praying for the President, for state governors, for city mayors, and legislative assemblies, that they may speak, write, act, and legislate wisely and responsibly in treacherous times. Join me in a prayer of lament for unnecessary killing of our fellow citizens and for the sinful dereliction of duty by some policemen that has caused sections of our population to fear those who should protect us. I pray that we may overcome this virus that, because I have friends and relatives who have been affected by it, I take very seriously. Pray hard, wash your hands, wear a mask when you’re supposed to, and keep your distance. Pray that we all may grow together in love and unity. For whom are you wrestling in prayer?

  • Quotation from the Bible is from the New International Version, 2011.

God of healing and justice, Have mercy on our land. Spare us from this lethal virus. Heal those who are sick. Comfort those who grieve loved ones who have died from the virus or from unnecessary violent acts. May healing justice take place that will punish appropriately but also move to repentance not only the perpetrators but those who shared their worst fears and prejudices. Restore peace to our cities and help us find a way to rebuild trust as we repair ruined buildings and honor the dead. Instill within our political leaders and our law enforcement officers a burning awareness of the very real responsibility they have to act for the best outcome for all the people they serve. Forgive us when we hate and turn our hearts toward loving both our neighbor and the person we perceive to be a stranger. Help us to avoid cosmetic actions that assert concern; inspire us with the courage to take positive, helpful action to heal and restore. Help us to love one another. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pray for the Survivors on Memorial Day

 

Memories of bereaved mothers, fathers, wives, and husbands me haunt me on Memorial Day.  I recall being a part of next-of-kin notifications after soldiers or family members died. As a Chaplain, I rarely told the grieving, often disbelieving widow, parent or child that they had lost one they had loved.  Another officer said those words.  Sometimes they didn’t need to speak.  Just the sight of two military officer in our dress uniforms at their door told them that the moment that they feared most had arrived.  On a few occasions, a spouse had suspected and was waiting outside for us so that the children could be told later.  I remember only one time when a young woman had no awareness of why we were walking up her driveway.  Sometimes, the family had moved and had not informed the unit.  We had to find them. Our goal was they would not learn about this from the news or from someone’s Facebook post, or from a friend who somehow had learned. The Army wanted us to be the ones who told them, who answered the questions we could, who thanked them. Even when they knew, we had to tell them. If the other officer was overcome with emotion, I told them. My usual role was to watch, to listen, to console, and if desired, to pray.  I saw and heard denial, but also rage, and at times, simply a numb shock. Most often their prayers might have been like this prayer from Lamentations:

“See, LORD, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside, there is only death. People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me” (Lamentations 1:20-21a).

They had not always had perfect relationships. Some had not approved of their loved one’s choosing to serve in the military. Some felt guilt because of past quarrels. Some parent/veterans had survived their own wars, and were broken when they imagined what their child had experienced. Some of them had worked hard in their Soldier’s absence, encouraging other families and sending packages to cheer up those who were deployed.  What they all shared besides loss, was that because of their relationship to the Soldier, they too had served our country.

Remember these people on Memorial Day.  As you look at rows of tombstones in a military cemetery or attend a Memorial Day event, imagine a family and friends alongside each name.  If you’re at the Vietnam Memorial Wall, you may read my uncle’s name – James F. Akins. He had just returned to the combat zone from a leave spent with his wife a few days earlier.  Their only child would be born as a result of that leave.  My aunt and my cousin lived very different lives without him than they would had he survived.  When Uncle Jimmie died, I did not know that I would serve in a combat zone.  I did not know that I would be part of a notification team that would tell families of their loss in several states, in Germany, and even in Afghanistan. Those memories haunt me, as I’m sure they do even more with the families and with the other officers who went with me.

Pray for the survivors as you honor the dead.

  • Quotation from the Bible is from the New International Version, 2011.

O God who sustains, We honor the dead, our military warriors who gave their lives on our behalf, on Memorial Day. Help us to remember the living who knew them and loved them.  Renew our energy that we may be alert when they need us to listen or when they ask us to help them.  Comfort and strengthen them.  Show them the path to peace. With some of them, Lord, it will be a more arduous trail to navigate. Give them hope and refresh their memories of love and laughter. Help them to know that others grieve with them, and thank them as our hearts are torn by imagining their grief.  Show our world the path to peace and to justice. Give our leaders the courage to know when to fight and the wisdom to know when to negotiate.  Thank you for our heroes who have fought for us. Protect and heal their survivors. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Prayer for Nurses and Other Essential Workers

emergency room 2020

Emily Milburn, a traveling nurse from the Kansas City area who often works in the aftermath of disasters, recently volunteered to work at a hospital in New York City to take care of COVID-19 patients. You can read a report about her experiences here.  She worked 12-14 hour shifts with few days off. The experience changed her perspective on the disease.  She is one of many who have shouldered a heavier load in the past four months as people around the world, not just in the United States, have had their lives turned upside down either by the disease itself or by their community’s attempts to slow down its spread. Some of the medical workers have contracted the disease themselves, as did the sister of a friend of mine.  While working as a nurse with sufferers from the virus, she tested positive for it and after being sent home from the hospital after days in intensive care, had to return for more time as a patient when her virus symptoms surged again. Friends of mine who are nurses have given so much even as they tried to adjust their responsibilities as parents in this time. Hospital chaplains have searched for ways to listen and care under new constraints that did not allow them to touch or be in the same room as the patient. Medical personnel have been quite essential, but others have performed critical roles as well, working to manufacture masks, ventilators, and other personal protective equipment. Educators, parents, and students have adapted to new venues and methods.  Preachers and churches have sought new ways to communicate, worship, and care for one another. Churches and other religious groups have, along with service organizations, restaurants owners (some who were at risk of losing their businesses), and the government provided food banks or pantries as well as other services that have been more needed than ever as millions have found themselves unemployed unexpectedly.

When I saw an update on Nurse Milburn’s story the other day, I had just read a passage from 2 Corinthians that struck me as applicable to her and the many others who have stepped up at great personal risk to serve during this time of crisis. In its original context, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to encourage Christians who had volunteered to send financial aid to churches in famine stricken Judea:

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hears will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you” (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).

While many who perform these essential roles may not yet confess faith in Christ, their service reflects his vision for his followers and (this is where the relevance comes in) their sacrificial efforts are causing those who benefit from their care to thank God for them and their generous work on the behalf of others. God has used them to bless those who desperately need their skills and training. Not all those have the virus.  This past week, I took my wife to an emergency room. Although I had to remain outside in the parking lot, I was quite thankful that a doctor was able to diagnose her quickly (I was glad that it was neither the virus nor a heart attack) and prescribe a course of treatment that seems to be working.

If you are a doctor, nurse, or other worker in a medical facility (to include custodial workers), thank you so very much for what you are doing! If you are another “essential worker,” thank you!  May God bless you for what you are doing to help others.

I encourage all of us to take time each day to pause and pray a prayer of deep gratitude for all these people who working harder, and in some cases, in different roles than usual, performing tasks that improve the health and safety of our communities.

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

O God of comfort and compassion, we have seen the evidence of your love and your grace in the sacrificial works of doctors, nurses, and so many others who have given so much their time and energy in recent weeks.  Their patience and their skill have impressed us; they have kept us going.  In some cases, they have become victims themselves.  We pray that you will comfort those who grieve over the deaths of those who died as a consequence of serving others. We pray that you will heal those who still suffer from the virus. In the midst of our personal changes and inconveniences, their work have brought light into our haze and darkness. Their sacrifices have reminded us of your son who gave his own life that we all might live. Bless them and bring healing to our world. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Prayer on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day brings memories of Mom, and also awareness of how not only my mother, but my grandmothers, and particularly one of my great-grandmothers, shaped my life. When I wrote “A Prayer on Mother’s Day” in 2014, my mother still lived; she died about two years later. I miss her love for learning and her beautiful alto voice. Even more, I would love to talk to her again. Her mother died shortly after Mom was born; Mom’s paternal grandmother saved the sickly newborn by feeding her Eagle Brand condensed milk. She and her husband then raised my mother, instilling in her a deep love for God, for Christ and his church, and the Bible, especially the book of James. Later my great-grandmother would live with us during my teenage years. A later wife of my Mom’s father became an early positive influence on me, teaching me to learn to read and modeling perseverance with love. My father’s mother taught me to pray with reverence and demonstrated how to cook with excellence. I love to read, I love to cook, I love to sing, and I am still learning to pray. Thank you for learning along with me. Pray hard, my friends.

Call for Fire Seminar

Isaiah the prophet said that God said concerning his people, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies” (Isaiah 66:13-14). God uses feminine imagery to describe his relationship with his faithful worshipers. Although the passage refers initially to a setting different than our own, we can infer two principles from it. God cares for his people as a good mother cares for her children and he will protect his people.

On this Mother’s Day, those of us who were blessed with good mothers thank God for the way that these women incarnated his love for us, giving us a visual image that…

View original post 168 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Prayer on the National Day of Prayer 2020

flagfiresky

 

“O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God. See how your enemies growl, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish” (Psalm 83:1-3 NIV 2011).

On this National Day of Prayer, pray hard, my friends. Pray with courage and faith, but also with humility. Remember your personal sins and weaknesses. Remember the sins and weaknesses of our nation and its leaders. Pray that their moral and ethical strengths will be most evident in the days ahead. Pray about the challenges we face together as a nation – building respect for the value of life, loving one another during times of international, not just national, stress and crisis, and acting with integrity on a foundation of truth. Pray for our medical workers, our scientists, our public safety officers, our teachers, our preachers, the people in our churches, and our government leaders/civil service workers. Pray for spiritual, mental, and physical health. Pray that you may learn each day how better to love and to forgive. Pray, pray, and pray some more.

 

Psalm 83 is in some ways a prayer for a nation. The psalmist prays for retribution against its enemies and for protection of its national identity (verse 3).  The prayer is for ancient Israel, with its origins and identity based on acts of God and relationship with God.  Modern nations, including the United States of America, do not share those origins, although several of them have been influenced strongly by Jewish and Christian teaching.  We should be cautious in praying for our nation as if it were identical with the people of God for that reason.  However, the prophets of Israel and the apostles of the early church both proclaimed that God loved all ethnic groups and called them to follow him.  Both added their voices to that of the psalmists in urging prayer for national leaders.

 

Psalm 83 is also a prayer that God will be glorified in a time of crisis.  Not only Israel, but the name and character of God was under attack.  The psalmist prays that God will overcome his enemies and affirm his control of our world:

“Cover their faces with shame, LORD, so that they will seek your name. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD – that you alone are the Most High over all the earth” (Psalm 83:16-18).

Psalm 83 is a prayer that God will act.  As we pray together on this National Day of Prayer, let us pray that God will act to glorify his name and that he will act to heal our nation and our world.

O God who creates and who heals, As twin pandemics race around our globe, we implore that you will act to cleanse our world of disease and fear. The disease is new and we know so little about it, except that it has killed tens of thousands.  We pray that a cure may be found for it. We pray that those who mourn may be comforted. We pray that doctors and nurses who take care of the ailing may be protected from the disease. We pray that we too may overcome the fear that has rampaged alongside this virus. Fear so quickly mutates into hate, and divides people who should be working together for a common good. Conquer that fear and put to shame those who seek to promote it. We pray that those who call on your name may act as you want your people to act during this time of crisis, that we may fan into flame a spirit of loving action that will bring glory to your Name.  We pray that you will help the United States of America, with its vast resources and diverse collection of talented people, to grow in unity in love for others and in translating that love into concrete action that saves lives.  Guide our leaders, our doctors and researchers, our religious leaders to grow in wisdom, discernment, and boldness in doing good. May healing of mind and body cause more and more to fall on their knees and praise you in prayer and song.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Learning to Pray

How do we learn to pray?  Prayer is not an innate skill. Although you might argue that we are born with a desire to communicate with our Creator, even the disciples of Jesus had to ask him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).  He responded with what various Christians call the Lord’s Prayer, the Model Prayer, or the “Our Father” or Paternoster. So we must learn how to pray.

Some of us may have learned to pray as the disciples did.  Someone intentionally taught us to pray and provided a template for us to use as we began, much as a small child learns to ride a bicycle that has training wheels attached.  A parent or grandparent may teach the child a poem of prayer or simple requests to God to say before eating a meal or before falling asleep.  The teacher may even say the words along with the child as he or she learns to pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep…”  Such prayers introduce the idea that a spiritual being, God, cares about us and has the power to protect us.  As Jesus taught about prayer, he spoke about the relationship between pride and humility when praying, as well as about the importance of perseverance.

We also learn to pray by watching and listening.  Whether at a family meal or in a worship assembly, we acquire impressions about proper posture, wording, and focus during prayer by observing others.  Perhaps, in your family, everyone held hands and repeated the same words for your prayer at each meal. Or, each one folded their hands and bowed his or her head with eyes shut as one person prayed on behalf of the group. I vividly remember while a small child learning from my grandmother not to look around the auditorium while someone else prayed during a worship service.  I glanced upward and saw her looking sternly at me. She shook her head and closed her eyes. I quickly bowed my head and closed my eyes, too.  In some worship settings, people kneel while praying. In moments of great sorrow or shock, we may even lie on the ground prostrate as we speak or cry to the Lord (see the description of David as he prayed on behalf of dying son in 2 Samuel 12). At meals and in worship services, we hear phrases repeated and concepts stressed.  We notice patterns like praying for the recovery of the sick or asking for wisdom to be given to political leaders or that the preacher will remember what he has prepared (sometimes even when preaching from a manuscript.   We learn those patterns and phrases; we repeat them later when we pray in similar settings. Because many grew up hearing prayers offered extemporaneously without notes, they may assume reading a prayer is inappropriate or even wrong in worship.  Others grew up hearing and reading printed prayers; those prayers come to their mind when praying.

We learn to pray by reading the prayers of other believers. The Bible has within it many prayers that were offered through the centuries by people who sought to follow God. Some of those prayers, especially those in the Psalms, obviously were meant to be used either in public worship or personal prayer.  Others describe how the person thought about God, what faith and obedience meant to them and affected how they spoke to him. Biblical prayers of lament and imprecation startle us, because in some church cultures we have shied away from such harsh and sorrowful expression in public prayer.  Other biblical prayers model how to confess sin or how to praise God.  This blog studies these biblical prayers in hope that that they will deepen our understanding of our God, increase our faith, and yes, teach us to pray.  The Call for Fire Seminar Facebook page posts excerpts from biblical prayers as well as quotes about prayer. Notice that these biblical prayers were written. Prayer does not lose authenticity just because it is written down or read.  However, what emerges from these prayers is that prayer that God hears is rooted in faith, or at the least, desire to believe.  Within many of my blog posts I also include my own prayer written along the line of thought from the biblical prayer. As we read prayers by others, we may notice that their words are what we want desperately to say to God ourselves.

I encourage you to learn to pray, and to think about what you are going to say when you speak to the Creator of the universe.  During my military career, I had to speak to officers or civilian leaders who outranked me significantly.  It was essential for me to prepare beforehand what I would say. As a child, I learned that requests made to my parents, whose love I never doubted, were heard better when I thought about why I wanted what I asked. When we speak to our God, our heavenly father, we likewise should know what we plan to say and why we need to say it then.  I invite you to learn along with me in this Call for Fire Seminar.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Are We Praying to God or Ourselves Right Now?

COVID-19 has made an impact on lives around the world. For those who have been diagnosed with it and their families, even if the patients have recovered, stress levels have increased mightily. For those who knew those who died, an often unexpected time of grieving has accompanied adjusting to new normal of social distancing, a reordering of daily schedules, and the economic fallout of the disease or the measures put in place to mitigate its damage to society.

 
Fear and grieving have accompanied the disease. Throughout the world, prayers have increased in number and intensity both among those who feared the disease and those who feared more its economic impact or endangerment of valued freedom. In times of fear and grieving, we draw comfort and strength from the presence of people who love us or share our values. In this instance, that ministry of presence often has been restricted or displaced by measures to control the spread of the virus. Religious assemblies, support groups, and team sports have had to find new ways to function. Celebrations accompanying holidays like St. Patrick’s Day or Easter and milestones like anniversaries or birthdays have had to be cancelled or revised. I have realized that I may be more of an extrovert than I or the Myer-Briggs Personality Inventory had thought. We have had to evaluate what we do and why we do it. Our world has changed.

 
In Zechariah 7, political change has made an impact as well. Persian rulers have ended the deportation of Jews to Babylon and other locations. After returning to Palestine, Jews have rebuilt the temple. Zechariah and others among the returnees have begun to prophesy and explain the theological meaning of the return. During the captivity, new rituals had emerged among the worshippers of God, both those in captivity and those (whom I think we sometimes forget) who had remained in Palestine. Zechariah and the priests at the newly rebuilt temple get a request for information (RFI) from the town of Bethel: “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
Zechariah responds with a message from God that challenges the people and their practices. God wants to know whether they had been fasting and mourning for him, if they had been celebrating religious feasts as worship, or if their “religious” activities had simply been done for themselves.

 

In our own time, stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations have caused churches and other religious organizations to cancel assemblies. People have responded in a variety of ways. Some have cancelled meeting in person and replaced it with video presentations on YouTube or Facebook Live. Others have used telephone conference calls or radio broadcasts. Still others have assembled in cars in parking lots as if at a drive-in movie theater. Still others have insisted on meeting as usual (sometimes, but not always, employing social distancing, masks, and/or gloves). Some of those who continued to meet as usual have criticized those who did not. They also have lamented that constitutional rights are being violated, and have gone to court to protect their assemblies. As in the time of Zechariah, we need to ask, “Why are we doing this?”

Zechariah’s contemporaries and their parents had mourned and fasted about the destruction of the temple; they now longer could meet there for the major feasts of worship or offer sacrifices. They prayed for a return to normal. As seventy years had passed, their response to an emergency had become religious ritual. Now that the reason for their mourning and fasting had ceased, they still wondered if they need to continue mourning and fasting. So, again, why are we meeting? Are we doing it for God, or to make ourselves feel good? Admittedly, a major reason for Christian assembly is to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). But in our assemblies, we also sing praises to God, pray, give, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and hear a message from the Lord. Are we doing these for God or just functioning as social work organization? When we pray, are we arguing with God as part of our relationship with him or just engaging in self-talk? Perhaps more importantly, what difference is it making in how we act, think, or relate? That is what God was asking through Zechariah.

 
God’s answer does not seem to answer the question from Bethel. He doesn’t address fasting or mourning or praying. Instead we read this,

“This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

As we consider the challenges to our rituals and routines during this pandemic, we also need to hear this word from God through Zechariah. Why are we upset about changes? Are we thinking about pleasing God or pleasing ourselves? During this time of upheaval, what is happening to those on the fringes of society? To the weak, the vulnerable, and the elderly? To immigrants and tourists stranded away from home? To workers who have lost their jobs? While angry people have protested for re-opening of society, some have hoisted signs that acknowledged that the weak would die or that the elderly might suffer and seemed to argue that such was acceptable loss. Frankly, to me that attitude seems more Darwinian (survival of the fittest) than biblical. As God said through Zechariah, “Do not plot evil against one another.”

 
Zechariah’s contemporaries didn’t want to hear his message: “They …would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets” (Zechariah 7:12). The consequence was damage to themselves and to the land in which they lived. As we navigate through a time of change and upheaval, let’s act with love for God and for other people. Let’s find a way to help those who are losing jobs or facing medical bills they had not anticipated. Let’s think of the real suffering being experienced by people who were traveling and now find it difficult, if at all possible, to return home. We may have to wear masks (which I really don’t like), or refrain from hugs, handshakes, and kisses, or sit farther apart when we return to meeting together to worship. We may even have to stream our assemblies or study the Bible together by online conferencing video. Lets act and pray that justice and health may prevail, that people will remember after this crisis how the “people of God” acted to achieve good rather than just insisting on their rights.

 
When we pray, we ask for ourselves. That is not what prayer is all about. We also praise God in our prayers. We pray for justice, for health, and for prosperity for others. We pray that our prayers will result in our actions being godly so that our land will be beautiful, and not desolate. Pray hard, my friends.

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

 

O God: Turmoil in our times from the fear and the reality of disease causes us stress. We worry whether we will survive individually. We fear that our businesses will fail or that we will lose our jobs. We fear that those walking near us will infect us or otherwise harm us. We also want to do your will. We want to obey you. In times like these, we face confusing choices as we try to be faithful. Give us wisdom. Fill our hearts with compassion. Drive cynicism and hatred from our minds. When we examine our hearts to discern our motives, help us to evaluate with brutal honesty. Open our eyes that we may see opportunities to be your hands to help those around us. Give us courage, that we may continue to move forward. Help us to know the difference between ritual and relationship. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Praying in Dark Times

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 ESV).

winter sunset 2020
David’s prayer in Psalm 23 took on greater meaning for me this past week. As I walked for exercise one day this past week, I happened upon a domestic violence incident in progress. Another onlooker called emergency services while I asked if the apparent victim needed help. Before the incident ended, one of the individuals pulled out a weapon. I filed a report with the policemen who showed up of what I had seen before I left the scene.
As our families and communities adapt to new restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals and families alike feel increased fear and tension. Interruption of customary routines, restricted travel, and loss of income potentially increase episodes of depression that contribute to family violence or suicidal ideation. Regular exercise by walking is one of my coping methods, along with prayer and reading, during this time. I have become more aware of  “social distancing” during recent weeks, and took a cloth mask with me on my most recent walk.
David refers to the “valley of the shadow of death” or “the darkest valley” in Psalm 23. Our time is a dark valley for many people. We unexpectedly have found ourselves walking in the valley of the shadow of death, as I did during my walk that afternoon. Let’s take care of ourselves during this time by washing our hands thoroughly, following guidelines on social distancing, eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising. Critical parts of our self-care include maintaining our relationships with God, our family, and friends. We may not be able to visit those friends and family that we yearn to see right now. We can check on one another by phone calls, emails, and messaging. We can pray and keep working on our relationship with God through Bible study and singing of spiritual songs during this time.
As we walk together through this time, let’s be alert to what our family, neighbors, and friends may need. Let’s be aware of our own needs, too. In the United States, the national suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help before you hurt yourself or someone else. If you’re being abused, seek safety.
This is a time to “call for fire,” to pray urgently for God to act quickly with grace and healing. It’s a time where loving others as we love ourselves is urgent. Consideration for others may just save their lives, and maybe even our own. Pray hard, my friends.

O God, our shepherd, guide us carefully through these treacherous times. Threats to our health and our security emerge without warning. Fear and panic threaten to cripple us. Suspicion and cynicism threaten our unity. I pray that we will walk with you now instead of running away in fear. Help us to discern truth and to choose wisely where we go and what we do. May these experiences increase faith in you and awareness of your love. Thank you for keeping us safe thus far. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poetic Prayer in Spring

concrete path2

I wander down a tree-lined path
While pandemic rages, sign of God’s wrath?
Branches begin to bud, verdant green;
Daffodils revive; their blossoms’ sheen
Renews hope in the midst of despair,
Encourages gulping in of fresh air.

Emerging signs of life in nature remind
To open our eyes, that we be not blind.

God, your love still stuns
Even when a skeptic runs
Ands shuts eyes, closes ears,
Ignores the evidence of years
Of your creativity, provision
As we battle doubt and indecision.
I wonder as I walk, and watch,
How many marvel at a swatch
Of green grass, a bed of sunflowers,
Four deer bounding across the path,
Not thinking to calculate the math,
Not reasoning how unlikely the chance
That this intricacy is happenstance.

This renewal of life recounts your vision.

Your creative symphony inspires frisson;

Chills run down my back.
Your love leaves nothing that I lack.
May the suffering from global disease
Engender acts of love that everyone sees
While we wander a path through a grove
That reminds us, O God, of your love.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Praying During a Pandemic

As news about the COVID-19 virus grew ever more ominous, I went out for my customary walk the other day. As I began my walk, a song being played on a neighbor’s device caught my attention. It was a song by the rock group, Kansas, one with which I was quite familiar. In the context of the virus, and the uncertainty about its continued spread and how to treat it, the lyrics sent a pungent reminder:

“Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind.”

Having heard those words, and more, I experienced the phenomenon of hearing them over and over again as I continued my stroll. It was as if my mind was on a constantly repeating loop. It was not the message I wanted as I walked to clear my mind, but it was a useful message: Our life is transient. We cannot predict what our future will be with absolute certainty. Earlier in the day, I had read a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “God’s Acre.” The phrase that forms the title is an idiom for a cemetery. The last three stanzas of the poem say,

“Into its furrows shall we all be cast,
In the sure faith, that we shall rise again
At the great harvest, when the archangel’s blast
Shall winnow, like a fan, the chaff and grain.

Then shall the good stand in immortal bloom,
In the fair gardens of that second birth;
And each bright blossom mingle its perfume
With that of flowers, which never bloomed on earth.

With thy rude ploughshare, Death, turn up the sod,
And spread the furrow for the seed we sow;
This is the field and Acre of our God,
This is the place where human harvests grow!”

Although, like the song by Kansas, the poem has a somber tinge, Longfellow strikes a different theme: When we die, we live again. This experience is not our end. When we die, we then will reap the fruit of the choices we have made. Longfellow perceives a brighter future where the beauty of wise decisions and faithful living shines more brightly and smells much better.
Much remains unknown in our current circumstances. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, how many will be infected (or right now, how many are infected), how many will die, or how profoundly it will change our world. We know that humanity has suffered through similar, arguably much worse, scourges and many survived. The oldest among us remember rationing during World War 2. They and my own generation remember widespread outbreaks of measles, mumps, and the initial outbreak of HIV. Influenza remains a threat, but vaccines and other treatments have mitigated its impact even though many still die from it. So far, we have no vaccine nor effective treatment for this new virus. That is why we try enhanced hygiene and increase social distancing to try to contain it.
While I was hearing the song and contemplating the poem, I also was meditating on words I had just read from Jeremiah 3. God calls to his people three times through the prophet in that chapter to renounce unfaithfulness and to restore themselves to a healthy relationship with God. Earlier in the chapter, God had reminded them,

“Have you not just called to me: ‘My Father, my friend from my youth, will you always be angry? Will your wrath continue forever?’ This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can” (Jeremiah 3:4-5).

God then begins the call to return. He calls them away from loyalties and behaviors that distract: Even the Ark of the Covenant had become an idol of sorts. He calls them to more accurate vision of their relationship with him and describes how they will have “shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (verses 15). As we experience the spread of this current virus, we need leaders who speak truth to us and who understand both our plight and the potential consequences of their own actions. We too need shepherds who will act with integrity and with faithfulness. We and they need to grow more conscious of our values, our ethical decisions, and the focus of our faith. God called his people to remember that they were in a spiritual sense married to him. He was not a pawn to be manipulated or abused, but their provider and sustainer.
In Jeremiah, the people respond with a prayer, “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 3:22b). As we contemplate our dilemma during this pandemic, may we respond in faith, accurately evaluating our relationship with God and our responsibilities to our God as well as to the rest of humanity. We’re tempted to live in denial; some initially tried to pass off the virus as a hoax perpetrated by a political party and national leaders from multiple countries have attempted to blame other nations for a disease. We don’t want to give up our habitual lifestyle. We seize hold of potential good news – supposedly my blood type renders me less susceptible, but back away from negatives – my age and other factors put me more at risk.
As we face uncertain futures, let us do so together with faith in a loving, just Creator God who calls us to speak truth and to love one another. Let us put aside our own idols and trust in God, whatever tomorrow may bring. We are not just dust in the wind, although life is like a mist or vapor (James 4:14). Let us live with hope and with love as we pray during the pandemic.
• Bible quotations are from the New International Version 2011.

 

O God, our Creator, Sustainer, and Lord, We have so much confidence in our own ingenuity and strength. When something like the COVID-19 virus catches us unaware and unprepared, we gasp and panic follows. Breath calm into our hearts. May we regain healthy perspective. May we act with integrity and with loving regard for the needs of others around us. This virus challenges us because responding to it disrupts our expectations of how we will order our lives. We fear that we may be overestimating its danger and that we may under estimate its lethality. These contradicting fears cloud our judgment and fuel our cynicism. Increase our faith. Restore us to yourself. May we know more fully a sense of your love and protection. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments