Monday, June 26, 2017

In Need of a Prayer (just the right one)?

DO YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF in need of a specific prayer, for a specific need, and you just can’t seem to put what seem to be the right words together? If so, then check out my friend and Guideposts contributing editor Karen Barber’s website: She’s also the Founding Director of Prayer Igniters International, the creator of Personal Prayer Power video/study series, and the author of Surprised by Prayer, the book I mentioned in my last post.
            It’s a nonprofit organization she started that offers advice on how to pray and has prayers for all kinds of life situations. They also offer helpful articles about prayer and praying written by Christians from a number of denominations. Karen says, “Our most popular article is final exam prayer with Bible verses and our second most popular is prayer for adult children with problems.
            You’ll find current, themed prayers as well as:

~ Standing in the Gap in Prayer (more great advice for intercessory prayer)
~ Praying for Direction (always a big concern)
~ Developing Your Prayer Life (a must if you want a deeper, more personal relationship with Jesus
~ Praying Scriptures (In my personal prayer experience, I have found this to be one of THE most effective and satisfying ways to pray!)
~ Prayer to Accept Jesus (If you’re already a follower of His, this will give you another witnessing tool.)

            Some of the recent articles include how to get back into a prayer life when you haven’t recently prayed to God, using prayer art meditation to connect with God, using Christian reflection meditation in nature to receive insights from God, and praying for healing, strength, guidance and relief when you’re suffering from a chronic health condition. Undoubtedly, you will find a nugget on her site to enrich and expand your prayers and spiritual life.
           In my humble opinion, I don’t think you can pray enough, and I don’t think we do pray enough! The Apostle Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, as in—all of the time! Now does that mean we’re to always pray aloud? No. Jesus does tell us to go into our prayer closets when we pray, so we’re not out in public trying to impress others with our righteousness. But we do need to cultivate a deeper relationship with the Father that can only be accomplished through ongoing fellowship with Him. And that fellowship is found in prayer and gathering together with other believers, frequently.

Do you have any “special” way to pray that really helps you draw closer to God? Please share your ideas!

Until next week (Music Monday!),

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos by Google Images

Monday, June 19, 2017

Being An Effective Prayer Warrior


HAVE YOU EVER NOT had a prayer answered? At least not the way you expected or wanted? Did you get frustrated with God for that? Mad at Him, maybe? I mean, like, really mad.
            First, we need to understand that God always answers prayers. Always. Like any parent, or person, the answer could come in the form of  “Yes, you can absolutely do that and I’ll make it happen.” Or it could be a flat out “No.” Or it might be “Okay, but not yet.”
            When prayers don’t get answered the way we hoped or think they should have, maybe the first thing we need to do is some self-inspection. Take an honest look at our lives, our attitudes, and our behavior to uncover anything that might be hindering our prayers. We need to know what it takes to be a really effective prayer warrior. Dr. Charles Stanley gives us a great place to start in his Life Principles Bible.
            In reference to James 5:15 and 16, Dr. Stanley gives the “Principles for Effective Intercession.” There are six of them. While Dr. Stanley presents them as statements, I’ll pose them as questions.

1. How’s your heart?

Why does he start there, do you think? Because your heart gives the condition of your soul and mind. Do some self-examining—is your heart vessel overflowing with love, compassion, and forgiveness (the mind and heart of Christ), or does it have the mold of bitterness, resentment, and anger growing in it? When you’re praying for someone, it is difficult to feel anything negative toward him. But God looks at the heart, and I think He’s going to have a difficult time answering your prayers if He sees a heart polluted by negative emotions.

2. Are you recognizing you’re a link between someone’s need and an omnipotent God?

When you pray, you’re asking God to reveal Himself and His power—to the other person and to you. Sometimes when we pray, we get right to the person’s wishes, rather than going deeper and asking God to meet that person’s true need. We don’t always know what that is, but He always knows what it is. We need to make sure we have our priorities straight when we’re praying, to be the best prayer warrior we can be!

3. When you recognize and realize the person’s need, are you identifying with it?

Certainly, if we have never experienced the kind of pain—emotional or physical—that a person is going through, it may be difficult for us to exude or feel the depths of compassion we need to feel in order to be the best intercessors for them that we can be. So how do we do that? We first ask God to have the mind and heart of Jesus toward that person, to see and feel what He sees and feels for them. Only then can our prayers take on the depth they need to.

4. Are you considering God’s highest good for that person?

While we might not know exactly what God’s intentions are for this, we can be praying for it—to be in agreement with what God wants to have come to pass. Dr. Stanley says, “Ultimately, God’s highest good is wholeness. Wholeness includes vibrancy and life in every domain; spirit, mind, body, emotions, relationships, and finances.” As the Apostle John wrote in his third letter, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” I think that pretty much covers all areas of life.

5. Do you need to go beyond just praying for that person?

Perhaps you do, if you’re able. Like Jesus, we need to have compassion and demonstrate it, by feeding, touching, providing for someone’s needs. While you’re praying, ask God how you can also be His hands and feet to this person. We need to follow our Savior’s example. We need to demonstrate our faith in action. James has some scathing words for those of us who pray and don’t do.

6. Do you persevere or give up easily in your prayers?

We need to be in it for the long haul, even if we don’t see immediate results. When you spend a lot of time in prayer for someone, “the more rightly our hearts will be knit to him or her,” Dr. Stanley points out. Praying for someone binds you and that person together with spiritual and emotional ties. As Dr. Stanley points out, that kind of bond is an eternal one!

In a nutshell, when you prepare yourself to intercede for someone in prayer—

1. Do a heart check.

2. Remember to whom you’re praying and what He’s capable of. (Do not limit His abilities by your human ones.)

 3. Strive to identify with the person. Seek to really empathize.

4. Focus on the person’s greatest need.

5. Provide for the person’s physical need, if there is one.

6. Do not give up easily or quickly. Persevere!!

And always remember that “The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].” Amplified Bible

This week I’ll be traveling to Southern California again, although our car won't look quite like the one int his picture! This time for the first Southern California Christian Writers Conference. It’ll be an exciting three days of gathering with some of the writing and publishing industries’ best. (It doesn’t hurt that it’s in Southern California, either. For me, it’s always good to get back to the land of my birth. J) We’ll also be visiting and fellowshipping with relatives, and friends who are spiritual family. So it will be a time of learning and refreshment for the mind and spirit! (Once again, I’ll be looking for God and expecting Him to show up!) And if you’re up for adding me to your intercessory prayers this week, I wouldn’t mind a little request that I might be able to stick my toes in the Pacific Ocean, if only for just a brief plunge!

Until next week.

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images           

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Individual, and Corporate Faith


I’VE BEEN PONDERING PRAYER a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of praying the last six months, agonizing over situations in my life or the lives of my family that need deep intercession. (I’ve been using Stormie Omartian’s great book, Praying for Your Adult Children for a lot of those prayers.) Or maybe it’s because I’m doing a beta reading (draft copy first-review) for an author who’s tackling prayer—and the frustrations and joy of it—in his soon-to-be-released book. Or, because a fellow Guideposts writer, Karen Barber, and I were talking about it at our Savannah Guideposts Writers workshop last month—the importance of prayer and how we can be surprised by it. (She’s written a great book about that subject called Surprised by Prayer.) Then there’s the MercyMe song “Even If” that I talked about last week—how we hang on to God’s promises and Him even when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we’d like to have them answered.
            And then, the morning I started the draft for this post, what do you think the subject matter ended up being in my Bible study time? You guessed it: prayer!
            It’s a popular topic, isn’t it? The best way to pray, how to pray so your prayers are answered, why doesn’t God answer prayers, (he actually answers all of them), and other prayer points that have filled volumes. People innately know that if they want to “talk” to God, then they have to pray. And they’d like to know that they’re doing it “right”, so their prayers have the most effect.
            It was so important to Jesus’ disciples that they begged him to teach them how to pray. Even they must have felt that their prayers were pretty anemic and fell short of the best-way-to-pray mark.
            So let’s start there. With Jesus’ model for prayer. We might learn some things we’d never noticed before. They’re things that smacked me between the eyes while sitting in church several years ago, our congregation corporately praying this prayer as we did every Sunday morning.
            In Matthew 6:9-13, we find what is commonly referred to as the Lord’s prayer, although some theologians take issue with that title by saying it really wasn’t The Lord’s Prayer. His prayer, a pretty long one, can actually be found in John 17. The prayer in Matthew, though, is how he taught the disciples (and us) to pray, so we could refer to it as The Disciples’s Prayer Model.” It’s a template to use, and it covers all of the basics, the most important issues facing any of us today. And it’s only eleven lines long.

            “Our Father in heaven.
            Hallowed be thy name.
            Your kingdom come.
            Your will be done
            On earth as it is in heaven.
            Give us this day our daily bread.
            And forgive us our debts,
            As we forgive our debtors.
            And do not lead us into temptation,
            But deliver us from the evil one.
            For Yours is the kingdom and the power
                        and the glory forever. Amen.”

            The prayer starts off with a word that always threw me off. Our. Not My Father, but our. As in yours, mine, and ours. I wondered why Jesus did that, and I always felt a bit silly saying “Our” when I was praying alone. Sometimes I even changed it to “My” or started in with “Father.”

            But that Sunday I stopped praying aloud to pray silently and listen to the collective voices of the congregation, praying in unison. And it hit me. This isn’t just about me! (I actually kind of realized that before, but that day it really hit me.) Not only am I in this as an individual; I’m in this with scads of other people—millions on earth now and the millions who have gone before me. Jesus could have said “My” but I’m wondering if it may have sounded self-centered to a group of Jews who have more of a tribal, collective mind-set than we individualistic Americans do. But it also must have stunned them, because they weren’t used to calling God “Father” even though the Old Testament does refer to Him that way numerous times.
            This entire prayer is corporate, as Jesus uses the word “us” over and over and the word “our.” And “we.” Not my, me, or mine. It’s, as the Three Musketeers said, “All for one and one for all.”

            Then the word “Father” grabbed me again. Having a Father implies that you are a child, not in the childish sense (although there’s plenty of that going around), but in the relationship sense. And being a child implies that you are a dependent with a need. And guess who fulfills that need? God. This is a permanent relationship between the two of you, between God and us. And it demands all of the respect due it; and He demands all of the respect due Him, as our Father and creator.

            “In heaven” speaks of his dwelling place. “Hallowed be thy name” tells us that He’s holy, sacred, and revered. And, while He is our Father and friend, we need to treat Him with reverence. We can call him “Daddy” but we must respect him as we respect a daddy.

            “Your kingdom come” has us looking into the future, when God sets up his righteous kingdom on earth and in heaven, and agreeing that it will and should come.

            Then we move into proclaiming that God’s will is the will that takes precedence over all else—our will and everyone else’s. It proclaims Him as the final authority. I think this is where the prayer gets a little hairy for us, honestly, because this is where it hits us the hardest. We so often want God to come alongside us, pat us on the back, and assure us that He’s going to make sure our will is done. Regardless of what He thinks and knows is best. It’s something we’ll wrestle with until the day we pass from this side to the next. Humans are self-focused and selfish. We have a narrow view of life that seldom expands outside of ourselves. “Your will be done” turns it over to Him, and lets him have the final say.
            And, naturally, His will should be done in both heaven and on earth. Why? Because He is the King of the universe and it’s rightful ruler. It’s like the memorable line from the movie “The King’s Speech,” when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) looks at his student, Colin Firth, (who plays Prince Albert, the royal who is about to ascend to the British throne as King George VI), and says, “My castle, my rules.”
            It’s all God’s castle, and He gets to set the rules. Consequently, like any rules in a civilization, we need to follow them or suffer the consequences.

            Then Jesus gets to the nitty gritty of our concerns when He tells us the first request (which doesn’t come until the fifth line) should be for daily provision of bread. Nothing fancy; just the basics. And this “bread” can be either the food kind or the spiritual. Preferably both. But I think it’s telling that most of the time Jesus fed, healed, and met physical needs first, before He started preaching and teaching. Something for us to remember.

            Then we move into asking God to forgive our debts, or sins. To do that, we need to recognize what they are. Simply throwing that request out doesn’t cut it. We need to own up to our failures—acknowledge and confess them. Don’t know what your failures are? Ask God. He’ll point them out to you.
            And that request is followed by a qualifier: “As we forgive our debtors.”
            Got anyone you haven’t forgiven? Any act of a perpetrator that you haven’t let go of? And I don’t mean that you have to ignore the sin or have reconciled to the other person. Sometimes that just isn’t going to happen.
            If there is someone that you’re still harboring resentment toward, then it’s time to let it go. For your sake. I think writer Anne Lamott summed it up perfectly when she said, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.”

            The next line is a tough one to wrap your head around—asking God to not lead us into temptation. A good way to figure it out is to look at the Book of James that says God does not tempt any man. So some scholars think a closer translation would be: “Leave us not in temptation.” Please, God, once we are knee-deep in temptation, please don’t let us languish there! Give us a way out! He does, and 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that He will provide escapes for us. Big hint, though: We have to take the way out.

            Then the next line says, “But deliver us from the evil one.” There’s that reference to Satan, the destroyer of our souls, our witness, our lives. (Who actually looks like a gorgeous, beguiling being rather than a red guy with a pitchfork.) We are to pray that God delivers us from him. You only need to read the beginning of Job to learn that he prowls around the earth looking for the faithful that he can assail. He looks for our weaknesses and uses them against us. A lot of people say they don’t believe Satan exits. Well, if Jesus believed he did, and says we ought to pray to be delivered from him, then that’s good enough for me. He’s a threat we need to take seriously. He’s a threat we need protection from.

            Finally, we come full circle, right back to where we started, with acknowledging that God is holy, He has the kingdom, and He has the power. Nice bookends to all of the stuff focusing on us weak humans in the middle. It starts with God—not us—and ends with God—not us.

            And as I listened to the congregation praying, the point was driven home to my head and heart that while my salvation is individual, my working out of that faith is corporate. I’m part of the Body of believers. We’re in this together. I want my brothers and sisters to excel in their faith as much I want to excel in it. I want all of us to glorify the Father!
            And then I started to weep, thinking what a beautiful sound it must be to the Lord—all of our voices sending up that corporate prayer of recognizing Him as our Father, of acknowledging where his throne is, calling him revered, publicly acknowledging His Kingdom and agreeing that whatever He decides from Heaven should take place down here on earth.
            Then, after addressing the important things first, we are free to ask Him to provide our daily provisions of both physical and spiritual food. And a request to forgive us, as we go about forgiving others. (A distinct recognition of the importance of our relationships with other people, and how they can affect us.) And then we get to the crux of our issues—our weaknesses, our propensity to sin, to get ourselves knee-deep (or deeper) in the cesspools of life. We ask Him to deliver us from ourselves, and from the one whose goal is to destroy us.
            And then, so we don’t forget whom we’re addressing, we remind ourselves again of God’s position in the universe, and ours. We start humbly and end humbly. And we lift up our hands together.

            Sometimes I find myself going back to that basic prayer, to re-focus my heart and my thoughts. And now I have no problem saying “our”. It shifts the focus from “me” to “us.” There’s a feeling of power and comfort in numbers, a feeling that I'm not in this race alone. That fact makes me feel more secure and bonded to other believers, in my own church congregation and around the world. It takes my American individualism and turns it on its head.
            And that makes me more like the First Century Christians, who lived and survived more in community. That community that turned the world upside down.
            And that, I think, is how God really intended it.

Until next week!

May you prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2).

Photos courtesy of Google Images