Prayer

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September 22

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

One of the things I read a lot about, especially during this pandemic, is worry. Worry about the virus. Worry about family and friends. Worry about a job. Worry about the future. Worry about money. Worry about how things will be on the other side of it. A pastor’s life is compounded by the sheer responsibility he feels for the people he pastors/shepherds. So multiply a family of four (for example) times 25 or 50 or more. Now you catch a glimpse of the magnitude.

So its easy to worry about things. Both big and small. Jesus speaks to that in Matthew 6: 26-27: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you be being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” His picturesque advice for His listeners in just as appropriate for His followers today. He is saying, “Bill (or whatever your name is) don’t worry. I got this and you will be taken care of.” Why should I be anxious? Why should I hoard for fear of the future? Why should I be concerned about where the next dime is going to come from? Jesus has promised He will take care of me. In spite of how easy it is to feel alone, forgotten, left hanging on a string, He has made a promise and will keep it.

Trust Him. He made another promise He keeps: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

“Father, those words are for me. May I not forget Your promise given in Matthew 6 and elsewhere.”

September 9

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Have you ever read something that you felt sliced and diced you? Or you might say “It fileted me like you would a fish.” I’ve had those moments when stunned by something would be an appropriate word. That happened to me one recent morning (I wrote this on Monday, the 7th, when it happened). But before I give you that quote, please allow a confession. Even though I write this daily devotion (obviously for me since hardly anyone reads it) 🙂 ; even though I’d like to say it has brought about a consistency for me to make time each morning to be with God; and even though I may sound (upon occasion) as though I have it together spiritually, there is one area I really have a great lack. Prayer. I go through jags where prayer is important-then uber important-but I also go through times when I read and journal then pick up and leave with nary a moment given to prayer. I’m not proud of that. That is, perhaps, why the following quote did me in that morning:

We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.” Oswald Chambers

Need I say more? I’ll let you stew in your own juices over that quote. I have to go start healing from the slicing and dicing.

“Father, may prayer not be a side trip for me. May it become a regular part of my daily time with You. May it be another way for You to do Your work in and through me.”

September 3

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

In I Thessalonians 3 several important lessons emerge to me. I want to touch on them briefly in this devotion.

The first lesson is a combination. It is a request and a reply. Paul is concerned about the Thessalonians. Life is not easy for them and Paul is wondering how they are doing. His words were “I could bear it no longer.” His desire to know was so great he sent someone as a messenger to learn about their faith. The response that came back made his heart feel good. Timothy brought good news of their faith and love and told Paul that the Thessalonians wanted to see him. Oh, how that must have been a balm to his weary heart!

The power of a good word, an encouraging word, cannot be underestimated. That good news lifted their spirits. So much so he writes, “In all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.” Their words enabled Paul to face his situation with strength.

The second lesson is his further response. He chose to pray for them, to be thankful for the joy they gave him. Paul’s most earnest desire was to see them again. While waiting he prayed for them. Want to know what he prayed? Check out I Thessalonians 3: 11-13. This was no mere “Lord, bless them” prayer. No. There was a depth to this prayer that I know is way too often missing in mine. That needs to change.

“Father, thanks for encouraging words. How good it is to hear good words and how someone is doing in their faith. Also, help me to develop a depth to my prayers, one like Paul had.”

August 31

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I love to hear a good story! I love to read and when I come across a good story I might laugh; I might cry; I might get choked up; I might see my faith grow; I might even wish I could meet that person.

For example, I read a story about a village on the hilly terrain of the Yunnan Province in China. Their main source of food was corn and rice but a severe drought in May of 2012 put all that in jeopardy. They tried everything, including all their superstitious practices. When that failed, they lashed out at the five Christians in the village for offending the spirits of their ancestors.

So those 5 believers gathered to pray. Soon the sky darkened and thunder was heard. A heavy downpour started and lasted the whole afternoon and night. The crops were saved and some of the villagers came to know Jesus.

Here’s another: In Acts 18 Paul and Timothy were opposed by those in Thessalonica (Macedonia) and went to the house of Titius Justus. His house was next to the synagogue. Sosthenes was the ruler of the synagogue and it was his responsibility to bring charges before Gallio about Paul and Timothy. In short: he lost. In verse 17 it says they seized him and beat him in plain sight of Gallio. Nothing was done.

But read ahead to I Cor. 1:1. Who is mentioned? Sosthenes. What is said? “Paul called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. (Emphasis mine) Isn’t that an incredible three words? Isn’t that an incredible story? My imagination kicks in at this point. Did Paul take Sosthenes and care for his wounds, much like the jailer did for he and Silas in Acts 16? Did this kindness lead Sosthenes to question Paul about “the hope that lies within?” I’d sure like to believe so.

Don’t you just love a great story? Do you have one? What is it and could you tell it to someone?

“Father, I belong to you. There is no better story than that. May my story always include you.”

August 26

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Each morning as I sit at the table to have my Quiet Time, I start out with these words: “Father, speak to me through Your Word this morning. Show me something I need for today.” I base that on Psalm 119:18- “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” The words to the old hymn ring out in my mind as well: “Open my eyes that I may see/Glimpses of truth Thou has for me.”  (How did that King James word get in there?) 🙂

Sometimes when I come to His Word, He surprises me with something momentous. A truth I once knew that needed “shored up.” A conviction I need to heed, especially of sin. A verse that speaks anew to my heart. An encouragement for a tough time. An answer for a vexing question. A reassurance for a time of questions. A light for a time of lostness or doubt.

In old days (the 1800s) people used to consider catastrophic events, like when their life was spared, as their “conversion experience.” You know…”I was walking through the woods when a tree fell and barely missed me. That was God calling me to salvation.” Well…I sorta doubt that was a point of conversion, although whom am I to say it didn’t ruffle some feathers and wake someone up? What I do know is sometimes my experience with God in His Word is quiet and even, while at other times His truth explodes on me.  And what I DO know is this: however God chooses to speak through His Word, I need to listen, to perk up, and say with Isaiah, “Here I am Lord.”  Let me offer a challenge here. Next time you come to the Word to read it, ask God to open your eyes to let you see what He has for you. Then read expectantly.

“Speak Lord as I read Your Word. Open my eyes to see as the song says, ‘Glimpses of truth You have for me.’ ”

August 20

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Have you ever read or heard the story of someone and wondered “could I do that?”  For example, you read the story of someone wrongfully accused of a crime and spends years in prison, only many years later is found to be innocent. When that person is released he/she holds no grudge, no desire for vengeance, no animosity, and no anger. Then you read/hear that person has come to Christ while in prison and then you know the reason. But it doesn’t stop the “could I do that?” from going through your head.

Or how about this? You read the biography of someone who has an incredible life story. You are moved deeply by it and again wonder. For example, Joni, who has been a quad since a diving accident in her teens. It has now been over 50 years and along the way there has been two bouts with breast cancer as well. She holds no bitterness toward God.

Or how about George Mueller? He ran an orphanage for over 300 children. Often times his faith was tested. The story I read this morning was just such a story. He gathered his 300 children for breakfast…but there was no food for breakfast. So they prayed and thanked God for the food. What food? Oh, the bread a baker made when he could not sleep and delivered. And let’s not forget the milkman standing outside the door with milk from his broken down cart. He didn’t want it to spoil.

Talk about faith! Sometimes I’m just downright ashamed of my lack of it. Just the other night I laid awake a good part of the night wondering how I was going to pay for a dental procedure that is going to cost me close to $4k. Oh, me of little faith! I read the story of Mueller and I’m encouraged because His God is my God. The same one who owns the cattle on his hill owns them on mine. I still don’t know how that procedure will get paid for but it will. It’s not a want; its a need, a have-to. Maybe He’ll sell one of my cattle. 🙂

In I Cor. 10 (and I know I’m taking this out of context) it says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” Perhaps that story of George Mueller was written down and read by me this morning just for me. For this time.

“Father, no lesson is ever wasted. No challenge is ever lost. Help me not to lose sight of that truth. Help me to keep my eyes open to lessons from You.”

August 11

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

One of the more humorous-but more challenging to the faith-sections of Scripture is found in Acts 12. Herod had killed James, John’s brother. When he saw that it pleased the Jews he arrested Peter and threw him in jail also. My guess is his plan was to do the same to Peter as he did to James. He knew enough of the Jewish Law and culture to keep Peter in prison until after the Passover.

And here is where it gets interesting…and humorous…and convicting. The night before Peter was to be brought out, an angel appeared to him and told him, “Get up. Get dressed. Put your shoes on. Follow me.” Peter, thinking it was a dream, did as he was told and wasn’t aware of what was happening until he was out and free. That’s the first great truth: God’s miraculous deliverance.

The humorous part is next. Peter goes to the house (Mary, the mother of Mark’s house) where the believers were praying for his release. He knocked on the door and Rhoda, the servant girl, recognized his voice. First humorous act: she leaves him standing outside! When she tells them Peter is outside, their response is “You are out of your mind.” (v.15). Okay, so check it out. First, she leaves him standing outside. Second, they think she’s nuts.

And third? Well, that is humorous part #3. It is also the convicting part. She was insistent, and I can see them roll their eyes, drop their shoulders and say, “Okay. Let’s check it out.” They even added, “Maybe it’s his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter is still knocking. When they open the door they are amazed.

This is the convicting part. What had they been praying for? The release of Peter. What did Rhoda tell them? Peter was at the door. What was their reaction? Disbelief. Even when they saw they were amazed. I’m thinking they were amazed-not because of the overwhelming realization of what God had done- but because Peter was there to start with.

How much like that I am. I pray for something and when it is answered I am surprised. I shouldn’t be. God has promised to answer my prayer when it is asked in faith. I should stop being surprised and amazed that He would answer, but instead, amazed at His faithfulness.

“Father, help me please to send up prayers in faith, believing you will answer.”

July 14

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

I made a phone call the other day and ended up angrily hanging up. No, I wasn’t mad at the person on the other end. I didn’t get into a heated argument and rather than say something I would regret I hung up. No, it was more like” “Thank you for calling __________. To continue in English, press 1. If you know your party’s extension you may dial it at any time. Press 2 for technical support. Press 3 for directory. Press 4 for_______.” On and on it goes until you hear the words: “To hear this menu again, Press *.”  G-r-r-r-r. Clang!

How about Press # if you give up? Automated customer service. I call that AWOL. I want to talk to a real live person!!

Imagine if you will: “Thank you for calling God.  To continue in English, press 1.  For salvation, press 2. For a prayer for wisdom, press 3. For a prayer for financial help, press 4.”  On and on. Talk about frustrating! All I want to do is to talk to God and all I get is this annoying number system.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t operate that way? I cannot even begin to tell you how frustrating that would be. I think I get upset with human customer service; I can’t imagine what it would be like with God’s unavailability. And there you have it-the dilemma. The crux of the matter. God says, “I’m here for you.” Psalm 121:4 tells us He neither sleeps nor slumbers. We are constantly being told about His Omniscience. He is everywhere…at all times…except when we need Him. Then we have to dial an automated prayer line. What kind of God is that? It’s called Absentee. It’s called AWOL. It’s called distant.

“Father, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with an automated call line for an automated God. Thanks for being there and thanks for listening.”

May 26

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

I was in the 4th grade when I started wearing glasses. Miss Kutzer (whom I was in love with) noticed I was squinting to see the chalkboard. Well, you know how that goes. I’m moved up closer to the front. She tells my mom. Mom takes me to see Dr. Braveman. Dr. B tells me I need glasses. I’m going to translate: “Bill, you’re blind-as-a-bat without your glasses. You are going to need them the rest of your life.” What he doesn’t tell me is my eyes are going to get worse every year until my glasses will look like coke bottles. Fortunately, they developed material that allowed the lenses to get thinner while still helping me see. But that’s another story.

I finally got my glasses and could actually see. Hmmm there was carpet before? It looked like the carpet was right up close to my eyes! It was so cool! Until the next day when I needed to wear them to school. I thought I looked stupid or a dork (if that word had been around those days), so I left them at home. Until Miss Kutzer (whom I was still in love despite her betrayal) said, “Bill, weren’t you supposed to get your glasses yesterday?” “Yes ma’m.”  “Where are they?” “At home.” “I’ll expect you to wear them tomorrow.” Then she betrayed me again by calling my mom!  (Amazing how love overlooks betrayal).

Down through the years my eyes got worse. I wore contacts for awhile; then back to glasses; then contacts again; then glasses for good. My eyes did get worse as I got older and last November at the age of 67 I got rid of glasses forever…except for reading. I had cataracts removed. It was a great two days!! 🙂

I remember my frames breaking; lenses falling out; wearing tape to hold my frames together; vision marred from sweat, dirt, chips and breaks. I remember elbows in basketball games that found my frames which split my eyelids and eyebrows wide open. I remember trying to play first base with only one lens in my broken glasses. It was fine until the first ball thrown to me hit my wrist  and not my glove because my perception was all out of whack.

It is easy to lose sight of the important. Psalm 141:8 says, “But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless.” We used to sing an old hymn: “Open my eyes that I might see/ Glimpses of truth Thou has for me.” (Sorry about the King James English there). With clear vision we need to be focused on God. With open eyes we need to be seeking God in His Word, praying for clear sight in our quest.

“Father, I do ask that my eyes will open and seeing clearly in my quest for a deeper relationship with You.  May my sight and my focus be on You.”

May 22

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

Is there any of us who hasn’t struggled with prayer? I’m not talking about frequency, or seeing the necessity, or posture, or any of the varied ways to pray. I’m talking about believing God will answer our prayer. Or to put it another way: Is God even listening?

You know how it goes:

  • A dearly loved grandmother is diagnosed with dementia.
  • A much-loved child is diagnosed with cancer.
  • A husband or wife is only given weeks, maybe months, to live.
  • A job ends and days of unemployment turn into weeks then months.
  • A much prayed-for child goes AWOL and chooses a lifestyle we don’t approve of.
  • A pastor/youth pastor goes rogue and leaves everything to pursue lust.
  • A child we have prayed for and prayed over since before birth becomes a prodigal, abandoning their faith.

The list seems endless doesn’t it? Is God listening? Is He deaf? We are praying in faith believing, but it just doesn’t seem to be heard. The prayer hits the ceiling and slaps us in the face, laughing at us.

We may never know the “why” of God’s work. Least not at the moment. Maybe later. Maybe. I honestly have no answer except to say, “Been there; done that; keep praying.” God is listening. It may not seem like it, but He is. Sometimes no matter the sincerity or the fervency or the heartache the prayer goes unanswered. That doesn’t mean God is not listening; it does mean our wish is not His command. God is not deaf. He is not out relieving Himself (as Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal about their god).  God is heart-broken over your heart break. He is shedding tears with you as you shed tears before Him. He does care. He is listening.

“Father, in spite of long lag time, help me to trust, to believe You have things in Your sight.”