Why Do I Pray?

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned to pray at a very young age.  Prayer was an important part of my family’s life.  Every meal we took turns thanking God for our food.  As the “baby” in the family my first prayers over meal time were memorized prayers like

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.

But as I started school it was expected that my prayer would become a “real” one prayed from my heart and not my head.

Before we went to bed at night we would all gather in the living room and pray together as a family.

So prayer to me is just a natural part of my life.

Lately, however, I have asked myself “why do I pray?”  Is there “magic” in prayer?  Does my prayer change God’s mind?  If I did not pray for someone, would their need still be met?  If someone’s request is answered, is it because I prayed?

Prayer is a mystery.  There have been times I believe I prayed and saw immediately a direct answer to that prayer.  There have been times I prayed and wondered if God even heard me.

So, since I have no real answers to these questions about prayer, what do I pray?  Why do I believe in prayer?

First I pray because of the example Jesus gave us.

  • And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
  • In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Even in his greatest moment of anguish He prayed.

  • My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as You, not I, would have it.

Second, I pray before Jesus told us to.

He gave parables about the importance of continuing to ask and not give up.  He also gave us specific things to pray about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is one prayer I think the church may have forgotten as we hear such hateful language now directed toward those who disagree with us.

Several times in his teachings he used the phrase When you pray.”

Not “if” but “when.”

He told us to pray for laborers to share the gospel.  He told to pray that we would not yield to temptation.  In the Lord’s Prayer He made it clear that praying with unforgiveness toward someone else in our hearts will be a barrier to our prayers being answered.

But perhaps the main reason I pray is that it strengthens my relationship with God.  As I pray to God, I am again reminded of my need for Him.  I am encouraged to know I can talk to the Almighty and that He cares for me and my needs.

I think of my relationship with my husband.  Our closeness would not last long if we never communicated with one another.  A good marriage requires good communication.

As I pray I maintain that relationship with God.  Recognizing that prayer is for me one of the ways to keep my relationship with God thriving, I know my prayers must be more than just a grocery list of “God, do this and God, do that.”

Again, in my communication with my husband if I only spoke to him when I had a list of chores I wanted him to do, our relationship would not be warming and loving.

My praying to God helps me remember all the blessings I have received and to maintain a grateful heart and attitude.

Finally as I pray for others my heart is opened to their needs and I find myself not just praying for God to help them, but I often find ways that God can use me to be that help to them.  It opens my heart to others.

So I pray.  I pray with expectancy that I speak to one who is loving and powerful and that although I do not understand it all, prayer matters.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day I Let My Pain Go!

Thirty-eight years ago my beloved husband and father of my two daughters was killed in an accident.  Only those who have suffered the loss of a loved one know what sorrow I felt.

In that first moment when I realized I was a widow at 33 with two little girls to raise, the first thing I did was cry out to God.  Since a small girl I have based my life on my faith in Jesus Christ so it was only natural that my first thoughts were “God help me!”

Immediately a verse from the Bible came to my mind.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In the days and weeks ahead God gave me the strength and courage I needed to make so many decisions.

Things I had never thought about:

  • What funeral home do I use?
  • Where do I bury him?
  • Will I have enough money for the expenses?
  • How will I provide for my girls on my one income?
  • How far will his life insurance go?
  • Since I have to keep working, who will watch my girls before/after school?
  • Do I continue to live where I am or move closer to family for support?
  • What do I do with all his clothes, his guns, his personal stuff?

But the biggest decision was “how do I get through a day without him?”

While everyone talked about how strong I was, only God knew how many times I fell to my knees and cried out for strength.  One of my friends had recently recorded this song, “Praise the Lord,” and when I felt I could not go on, I would play this song and as I began praising the Lord, peace would come once again.

 

But slowly, as the months, then the years went by the burden of my grief became almost more than I could bear.  While the love for my husband did not diminish, I confess I became very lonely.  The idea of all the years stretching ahead of me with no one to share them with me became almost overwhelming.

I began to entertain the thought of finding a new love.  Yet, I felt so terrible even thinking such a thing.

One Sunday in service the speaker sang an old song “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”  The lyrics expressed exactly how I felt.

“Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.  I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.”

After the song was finished, the speaker invited anyone who was struggling with a burden to come to the altar for a joint prayer with the church.  While I definitely wanted prayer, I did not want to walk to the front of the church – too embarrassing.  As I sat in my seat debating what to do, a old friend of the family who was sitting in the very front of the church got up, walked back to me, held out his hand and invited me to walk to the front with him.  How could I say no when my heart was crying out for relief of this burden of grief?

At the altar I quietly asked God to please take this burden of grief from me.  I could not go on year after year like this.  It suddenly came to me that God could give me peace, but I had to be willing to let go of my grief.  Like a light bulb going off, I realized that I was holding tight to my sorrow because I felt that was all I had left of my husband.  To be willing to stop grieving, to be willing to laugh and love again, I had to “let it go.”

Praying to God to help me, I felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from my shoulders.

I felt the peace of God that passes understanding fill my heart.

Did I quit missing my husband?  Of course not.  Even today I cannot see a young man fishing without seeing my husband with his fishing pole slung over his shoulder.  I cannot see a police officer without seeing my husband in his uniform as a prison guard.

Did I quit loving my husband?  Of course not.  I treasure his memory and look forward to seeing him again some day in the next life.

But I was able to finally understand that constantly grieving, being filled with sorrow was not how he would have wanted me to live.  He would want his memory to bring a smile and he would want me to live and laugh again.

I let my pain go – and accepted the peace Jesus offered me.

Another song I now love to hear that says it so well:

And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you were never left alone ‘Cause you can always count on Jesus’ name.  And if there’s one thing I pray it’s that Jesus helps you find a way to make a change and listen to your heart.  God will take away your pain if you choose to let it go, if there’s one thing I know.”

By this post I do not mean to sound like Pollyanna and to those who are suffering unbearable grief, I know it is not an easy thing.  But I do hope you will seek the peace of God and allow Him to help you.

 

Is Your Body Suffering?

Today I went to church.  I walked from my car in a public parking lot with my Bible in my hand and never once felt afraid.  Entering the foyer of my church, I visited with fellow worshipers in front of large windows without once looking to see if anyone was watching us.  When it was time for the service to start I joined with others as we sang loudly and our musicians played loudly without worrying that someone might hear us and report us to the police.  My pastor stood up and gave a sermon reading from the Bible without any fear of being dragged out of the church and off to jail.

For me the worst persecution I might face because of my beliefs is hearing some comedian make fun of Christians.  But I really know nothing about real persecution

Today was the National Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  I wonder how many churches actually took time to pray for their brothers and sisters who face real difficulties because of their belief in Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Corinthians compared the church to a body.  In that chapter it states:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…”

One group who documents persecution in other countries has listed North Korea as the country with the worst persecution of Christians.  To be a Christian in North Korea is to be seen as an enemy of the state.  If someone is found to be a Christian they are treated as a criminal and sent to labor camps or even killed.  Their family also faces harsh treatment.  They cannot meet openly and it is very dangerous for them to gather in more than groups of two or three.  Because being a Christian is so dangerous, it is even hard to know if someone you meet is also a believer as everyone has to remain secretive about their faith.

In Afghanistan no expression of faith except Islam is permitted.  To become a Christian is seen as betrayal of the family, the tribe and country.  Anyone who becomes a Christian is exposing themselves to death even by the hands of their own family.  They are considered to have brought shame on the family and the family honor must be protected at any cost.

In India it is the radical Hindu nationalists who view Christianity as alien to their way of life.  Christians are often physically attacked and churches burned or bombed.

In Myanmar persecution of Christians (and other ethnic minorities) is backed by the army which leans toward Communism.  More than 100,000 Christians live in camps for displaced persons, deprived of access to food and health care.  Buddhist monks have taken over churches and made shrines to Buddha on the church property.

These are only a few of the places where the body of Christ is suffering.  The causes range from corrupt government to the various other religions of the world.

But today as fellow Christians are suffering, I have to ask myself if the body of Christians in America share in any way in their suffering.  Where are the prayers?  Where is the concern?

I believe a large part of the problem is we simply do not know how we can help.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Become informed.  There are several organizations that can help you gain more understanding of the persecution taking place around the world.
  • Pray.  We often under estimate the power of prayer.
  • Write letters to those who are in prison.   Many who have been released from prison have testified how much getting letters meant to them, giving them courage to endure.
  • Become a spokesman for helping the persecuted church.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Here are a few organizations that work with the persecuted church.  Check them out and learn what you can do to help.

  1. OpenDoors: One of the most well-known ministries advocating for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  2. Voice of the Martyrs: Another well-known ministry that raises awareness and provides support for the persecuted church. (Write, Pray, Donate, Advocate, Learn)
  3. Samaritan’s Purse: Their ministry focuses on providing physical and spiritual aid to people around the world. They also provide opportunities to donate to the persecuted church. (Donate)
  4. PrisonAlert: Prison Alert is part of Voice of the Martyrs. (Advocate, Write, Donate, Pray)
  5. Be-a-Voice: Part of Voice of the Martyrs as well. It focuses on providing prayer points and writing letters to the persecuted church. (Pray, Write)
  6. icommittopray.com  (Pray)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering?  How does it effect you?  Are you suffering with them?

 

 

Two Questions – Two Different Perspectives

Reading the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke today I noticed the two questions in the story.

The first set of questions was from a young man who asked Jesus what were the requirements of obtaining eternal life.   Jesus said you could summarize the entire Law and Prophets with two basic commandments.

  1.  Love the Lord with all your heart, your soul, your strength and your mind.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

At that, the young man then asked “Who is my neighbor?”

What follows is a story told by Jesus that has been retold over the years.  Anyone who has attended church for any length of time has heard about the “Good Samaritan.”  This story has been shared as a lesson to show us who our neighbor really is.  The idea is anyone we come into contact with that needs help is our neighbor.  Our neighbor is more than just the people who live next door to us.

While that is all well and good today I compared that young man’s question to the one Jesus asked him after He finished telling the story.  When we look at Jesus’ question I think we might get a different take on the point of the story.

Jesus asked the young man “Which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?”  When he answered it was the one who actually took the time and spent of his own finances to help the man, Jesus told him to “go and do the same.”

From the young man’s perspective, the question was:

Who is my neighbor?

From Jesus’ perspective, the question was:

What kind of person do you want to be?

Have you ever stopped to think about that?  What kind of person do you want to be?

It’s not just about acknowledging that everyone is my neighbor, but actually taking time to determine just what kind of person we desire to be.

 

How Do I Pray For My Family?

In my small group at church this week we talked a little about how we pray.  One of the members of our group mentioned reading Paul’s prayers for the church.

Knowing what to pray for my family has always been a topic of concern for me.

I confess most of my prayers are for their needs for the “here and now.”

  • Help this grandchild to find a good job
  • Provide the finances for this grandchild to pay for college
  • Heal this son/daughter
  • Take care of this difficult situation this child is experiencing right now

Looking at the ministry of Jesus on earth I do not think praying for their physical and financial needs in this life is wrong.  While on earth Jesus often spend time meeting the needs of those who followed Him.

  • He fed the hungry
  • He opened the eyes of the blind
  • He reached out and healed the leper
  • His very first miracle was actually supplying wine for a wedding party

Clearly He was and is concerned about all our needs, not just the “spiritual” ones.

Still, when I look at the prayers the early church prayed and the prayers of Peter and Paul in their writings it is clear that their main concern was not for the “here and now.” They were not so concerned for their own needs but for God’s kingdom to be advanced, for “eternal” things.

I say as a Christian I believe  there is life after this one on earth.  I say it is my desire that my children and grandchildren know and serve the Lord.  But do my prayers really reflect that?  Am I more concerned about the “here and now” than I am with the “eternal”?

One prayer the early church prayed which I think really reflects their focus on the kingdom of God rather than their own needs, is the one found in Acts 4.  Here, Peter and John had been in prison for preaching about Jesus.  Upon being released, they were warned to stop sharing the story of Jesus and threats were made if they did not refrain from doing so.

They immediately gathered with the other believers.  Now, today if this happened to our pastor, I believe our prayers would probably be for God to protect us or to change the hearts of the religious leaders.  But I love their prayer.

“And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word.  Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

To help me focus my prayers more in line with the early church, I have been praying one of Paul’s prayers for my children and grandchildren.  It is found in Colossians 1.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.”

Truly I want all the best for my children and grandchildren.  It is my desire that they have great marriages, successful careers and good health.  But most of all, my greatest desire is that they will grow to know God better and better.

How do you pray for your family?

Where is the Evidence?

This past Sunday I missed the service at my own church filling in at another local church for the organist that was out of town.  The pastor’s sermon really spoke to me and reminded me of a song I heard years ago.

Since that time I have seen one line from that song on church’s signs, in church bulletins and even on Pinterest.

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The pastor spoke about the need to be more than a “churchy Christian.”

He shared the story where Jesus had fed a multiple on a few fish and bread.  He was drawing large crowds and the people were ready to make him their leader.   If a poll had been taken then his popularity rating would have been high.  Now was the time to begin setting himself up as a great rabbi.

But Jesus did something that in the natural really seems illogical.  He began talking about his body and blood being the source of eternal life.  (I will not try to get into any theological discussion about the meaning of all this.)  The point is – what he did was unreasonable to the natural mind.  If you were wanting to increase your following, this was not the way to do it.

At that point many of his followers turned away.  Jesus even questioned his twelve closest followers if they too would leave him.

The pastor then pointed out that truly being a follower of Jesus Christ may often require us to do things that seem unreasonable, things that go against all that our culture tell us is the right thing to do.

Is it really reasonable to love your enemies?  To pray for those persecuting you?  Is it really reasonable to put others before yourself?

He then asked the congregation if we are more than “churchy Christians.”  People who go to church, support the church with our finances, even do “good” deeds to others.  But when it comes to being passionate about our faith, when our commitment to God calls us to do the unreasonable, where do we stand?

Got me thinking today.

If I were arrested for being a Christian and my neighbors, family, friends were called as witnesses, what would they say about me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can Only Imagine!

In the fall of 2002 I was diagnosed with an advanced and very aggressive cancer.  Hearing my doctors words, “The odds are not in your favor,” I realized I was heading into the battle of my life.

Would I live or would I die?

Facing your own mortality changes the way you look at the world.  Some things that seemed so important no longer matter.

  • What difference does it make if I do not get that promotion I wanted.
  • Who cares if the windows need washed?

Other things take on a new importance.

  • Reading a book to my granddaughter.
  • Taking a walk with my husband.

During that long year as I lost my hair and my strength became less and less, I thought about the very real possibility that I would never see another birthday.

43735730_10215479501014157_607921005494534144_n

We took a picture of me with my Dad and we laughed at how much I looked like him with my bald head.

Throughout it all I had a deep assurance that whatever the end result, it would be fine.  When I first heard those terrible words from my doctor, I immediately thought of the scripture that says:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.

Feeling at that moment God had given me that scripture for this battle, I did not know if it meant I would walk through the valley and come out on the other side alive and well.  Or, did it mean I would walk through the valley into death?

For me, it did not matter which it meant.  What comforted me was the assurance no matter what the outcome, God would be with me.

As the treatment continued and my strength got less and less, I began to think perhaps it meant I was walking through the valley into death.  Thoughts of exactly what that would mean kept running through my head.

Then, I heard a song that had been released just the year before.  It had become the most played Christian single in 2002 and you could not listen to any Christian radio station without hearing it.  In fact, it became a main stream hit in 2003 hitting the top 40, adult top 40 and country radio lists.

In the song the writer talks about trying to imagine what he would do when he stands before God in heaven.  He questions:

  • Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still?
  • Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?
  • Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?

Listening to that song over and over, I tried to imagine what I would do when I stood before Jesus?  Slowly in my mind a picture began to take place.  I saw myself standing with my hands raised in the air and dancing round and round the throne of God.

Wanting to live for my family, yet there were moments I wanted to see that vision fulfilled and to dance for Jesus.

I did not share this thought with my family.  For them, I continued to maintain a strong belief that I would live.

When all my treatment was finally over, my youngest daughter took me to lunch to celebrate.  She arrived with a gift for me.  It was a Willow Tree angel.

When I saw it, I almost cried with joy.  The angel she gave me was the exact vision I had of me with hands raised dancing around the throne of God.

DSCF0046(1).JPG

So grateful that I survived that battle and God has given me many years beyond what the doctor said I would have.  Still, as I age I know before many more years pass, I will be facing my eternal destiny.  I have no idea what I will do on that day when I see Jesus, but I hope I can dance for Him.

A movie has been made about the life of the young man who wrote this song.  If you have not seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  It is an inspiring story of what God can do to change a monster into a good father.  The move has the same title as the song, “I Can Only Imagine.”

What do you imagine you will do when you stand before the throne of God?