Sunday, April 24, 2016

When We Pray

When I was a boy, I collected postmarks.  Nothing special.  Just ordinary old postmarks.  When we took trips, I left home with $.03 postcards addressed to myself for mailing at some town so that I could add some obscure place to my collection.  I am not sure what happened to it, but what I do know is that it now exists only in my memory.  Later, as a middle age adult I started collecting pre-1900 religious books.  Over the years I have enjoyed adding some real treasures to my collection.  Of course, no one calls any of them treasures except this collector.
It was in that old book collection where I first encountered Francis Fenelon.  He lived out his final days in the early years of the 18th century.  He was a French archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and a tutor to royal children.  He was also a spiritual writer.  About prayer he wrote, "In order to make your prayer more profitable, it would be well from the beginning to picture yourself as a poor, naked, miserable wretch, perishing of hunger who knows but one man of whom he can ask or hope for help; or as a sick person, covered with sores and ready to die unless some pitiful physician will take him in hand and heal him.  These are true pictures of our condition before God."  While these words may not be at the level of what Jesus said as He said, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father...',"  (Luke 11:2)  it is surely a good word to remember when we on bended knee approach our Father God.
Too often in our praying, we forget who we are and who it is we want to hear our prayers.  It is not exactly a relationship based on equality.  Jesus may have spoken of knowing us as friends, but we have taken that to a place where He becomes just another buddy.  The relationship we have with God is not based on equality, but on grace and mercy and love.  To be able to approach Him in prayer is not about our entitlement but His mercy. The words of this man named Francis Fenelon may be hundreds of years old, but they still proclaim a word to be taken seriously when we pray.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Singing Woman

While walking midst the nuts and bolts of a big box store, I heard someone a few aisles over singing.  It was clearly a woman's voice and she was singing rather loudly a song about Jesus.  "When Jesus washed, when Jesus washed my sins away..."  were the first words I heard and then came, "He taught me how to watch and pray, watch and pray..."   By now you are likely singing it with me, but not like this singing woman.  She was singing happy.  She was singing joyfully.  She was singing with passion.  I rounded the end of the aisle and there she was coming right at me.  She broke the singing only long enough to say, "Good afternoon" and then she was past me singing as she walked.
I started to write, "I don't know if I have ever done what she did," but then that would not be true.  I know I have never done what she did.  I do my singing about Jesus in the church with other folks, or along with the professional singers on the car radio, or sometimes when I am alone out here on the farm walking.  Looking back I wish I was more like the singing woman in the big box store.  Looking back I wish I could be one who lives so unconscious of what others people might think that I would have just spontaneously joined in her singing.  Who knows?  It might have started a sing-a-long in the store.
I saw her one more time.  I suppose I should say I heard her one more time and then I saw her.  I was getting in the truck and I heard that singing voice sounding praise for Jesus across the parking lot.  While I am not likely to follow her example, I am thankful for it.  She blessed me in an unexpected moment.  It was one of those moments when God surprised me with an awareness of His presence.  Maybe the next time I will be ready to seize the moment and sing with her.  Or, maybe I should just start singing a song of my own.  Maybe I should ask God to help me surprise someone with a blessing tomorrow. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


"Lord, at times it is hard to believe that I am the work of Your hands.   Some marvel at the work of creation and I have done my share of marveling at red evening skies and soaring hawks.  But, the real  marvel is Your steadfast love and unending mercy.  More than anything else, it is what puts my knees on the floor and turns the floods loose from unseeing eyes.  Only Your unbounded love and deep mercy could cause me to hear You speak of me being the work of Your hand.  Being the work of Your hand.  It is too much to comprehend and any word of gratitude somehow seems too small.
Yet, here is this Word, Father--this Word which reminds me that You are my Father God.  Not just mine, but everyone's.  And, then, there is this Word about my life being like clay and You being the potter.  My life in Your hands.  It is amazing.  And humbling.  Even the dark clay of the earth has been more constant in its faithfulness to the purpose for which You put it in place.  But, still You persist in holding me in Your hands and shaping out of the rough dark stuff of my life something that can be of value, not just to me, but to the work of Your kingdom on this earth.

All I know to do is to say, "Thank You" once again, knowing it is such a simple thing to say in response to the wondrous things You are doing around me and even through me each day.  Hear not just the words, but see the heart that seeks to give thanks and praise to You through this flawed mortal life.  And, help me, Father, to truly live each day mindful that I am in Your hands and the work of Your hands.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Before Praying

We encounter folks every day who need us to stand in their presence as a caring disciple of Jesus.  Only those blinded by pre-occupation with gratifying the ego fail to see.  The 5th chapter of John tells us of one such moment in the life of Jesus. Waiting by the pool called Bethsaida was a man who had suffered from an illness for thirty-eight years.  Jesus knew the man was waiting and hoping to benefit  from a tradition which said the first one in the water when it was stirred up would be healed.  In that setting Jesus asked what seems to be an absurd question.  "Do you want to be made well?"  (John 5:6)  Actually, this question empty of presumption was the first step toward caring for the needs of this suffering man.
Too often we pray according to perceived assumptions instead of a person's needs.  Years ago when I started offering what I called "A Service of Prayers for Healing," I learned the value of asking those who came for prayer a simple question, "How can I pray for you?"  I discovered through this experience that what I assumed was not always on the heart of those who came for prayer.  And another thing I am still in the process of learning has to do with asking God, "How do You want me to pray for this person?" and then listening instead of charging forth on my own.  I always remember the first time I did this.  A woman came into the office whose marriage was falling down around her.  Before praying aloud I quietly asked God for help and then in what might have seemed like an unproductive silence I listened until I heard the word, "Peace."  Her response to my praying that day assured me God had hit the nail on the head.
As one who is nothing more than a student in the classroom of prayer, I really do want God to be at the center of my praying.  We are surely alike in that desire.  It is not always easy.  It often takes more time than I want to commit.  But, Jesus, did teach us to pray, "...Thy will be done..."  which makes it more than worthwhile to spend the time and effort needed to learn that will before praying.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Only the Starting Point

Like you, I have been asked more times than can be counted to pray for someone.  And, like you, I have asked many times for the prayers of those around me.  While we may differ about some of the things the Bible says to us, its message about praying for one another is unquestionable.  We may not understand all the dynamics of intercessory prayer, but we are, nonetheless, called by scripture to pray for one another.  And, we do it.
On the surface, it looks easy enough to do, but sometimes I wonder.  As I learn from the praying saints around me, I wonder if praying for someone is not more involved than putting a name on a list of people and praying, "Lord, bless all these folks listed on the page."  This may be a starting point for us on our journey to a meaningful prayer life, but I am not sure it should be the ending point.  As I reflect on the way others have prayed, I remember a man who would sit unseen on the steps leading into the chancel area of the sanctuary and pray for me while I was preaching.  I also think of a friend whose prayers I have sought who often sends a simple text message saying, "Praying for you."  When I read it, I visualize him making the text message a part of his prayer time.  And, I think of those who through a mailed card or an internet email sent me a prayer they had offered up to God on my behalf.
It could be that our prayer list sabotages our intent to be people who really pray.  Sometimes it gets too long.  It gets to heavy to carry so we are tempted to employ the blanket blessing method of prayer.  A prayer list can become more manageable and usable if shortened by understanding that no prayer list is written in concrete.  A long daily list can be divided into seven shorter daily sections which might lead to more focused prayer.  And, most importantly, it might help us find more ways to pray and to bring the people for whom we are praying under the influence of our intercession.