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 Story Behind the Song (It is No Secret)

Music is magic.

Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand….Stevie Wonder

Music is the emotional life of most people….Leonard Cohen

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain….Bob Marley

I see the power of music every month as I play for the residents of a nursing home in my town.   Eyes that look so dull without emotion suddenly light up as they recognize a song from their childhood.  Bodies that were slumped in their chairs suddenly sit up as a song brings back memories of days gone by.  Faces that were so sad looking suddenly light up with a big smile as I play a song that was once their favorite.  Voices that were silent began to sing along as music works its magic.

As I research songs from the past to play each week it has been interesting to see the stories behind the songs.  Each Friday for a few weeks I thought I would share of these stories behind the songs that I have discovered.  Hope you enjoy.

This week’s story is about the writer of an old gospel song – It is No Secret.

The writer, Stuart Hamblen was a songwriter, cowboy singer and appeared in motion pictures with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne.  My parents loved Roy Roger and Dale Evans, his wife, and was a big fan of these movies.

His songs were recorded by many artists including Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  Perhaps his best known song was This Old House that was recorded by Rosemary Clooney and was Song of the Year in 1954.

Part of the Hollywood scene, Hamblen’s wife tried to get him to attend the Billy Graham crusade held in Los Angeles in 1949.  At first he refused but then asked to meet personally with Graham.  During his conversation with Graham, he committed his life to Jesus Christ.

Shortly thereafter in a visit with his friend, John Wayne, he was asked about the change in his life.  He replied, “It’s no secret what God can do in a man’s life.”  Encouraged by John Wayne to write a song about that beautiful thought, Hamblen went home and began thinking about it.

When he heard the hall clock chime out the midnight hour, he was inspired with the words of the first verse.

“The chimes of time ring out the news, another day is through”

Hamblen went on to complete the song which has been sung throughout all the small churches in town after town.

If you have not heard the song – or if you just would like to hear it again – here’s Elvis Presley’s version.

And on a personal note:  I truly have found

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Do I Reflect Being With Jesus?

Every Sunday I meet after church with a small group to study the Bible and right now we have started walking through the book of Acts.

One story in chapter 4 of that book really makes me stop and examine my own Christian witness.

Peter and John had been brought before the religious leaders who were disturbed at the message they were sharing with the people.  A message that Jesus had risen from the dead.  A message of hope for salvation in those who believed their report.

After careful questioning they ordered them to never speak or teach again in the name of Jesus.  They answered that “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard. “

History tells us that they did not stop but later it is reported that in Thessalonica it was said of the followers of Jesus “they have turned the world upside down.”

What caught my eye in this passage of scripture is the religious leaders description of Peter and John.  They were amazed at the boldness of these ordinary men who had no special training in theology.  They recognized these two as men who had “been with Jesus.”

How was it these ordinary fishermen became bold and successful messengers of the Good News that Jesus Christ died and rose again and that belief in Him led to salvation?

They had spent time with Jesus.

Examination of my own life makes me question.

Does my witness to the goodness of Jesus reflect that I have spent time with Him?

My language, my attitude, my compassion, my awareness of the needs of others, how I spent my time and my money – would people say of me that “she has been with Jesus”?

That is my prayer today.

Heavenly Father, help me to spend time with you – in Your Word, in Your house, with fellow believers, in quiet times of worship.  Help me turn off the television, the internet, stop fussing about having a perfect house.  Keep me from the things that would distract me from time with you.  Then, help live in practice of what I profess to believe.  Help me treat others so that they will know I have been with You.

 

 

 

 

Thankful for the Lion – Thankful for the Lamb

In our worship today we sang about the Lion and the Lamb.  Those two terms are often used in Christian circles to describe Jesus.  But what a contrast!

Think of a lion.  The mighty king of the jungle.

lion

He is big, he has a tremendous roar.  He symbolizes power and strength.  Lions have often been used as symbols of royalty.  Many of the ancient palaces of kings and temples of pagan gods were decorated with statues of lions.

And these descriptions describe Jesus Christ in His role as king and resurrected Lord.

Old Testament prophets foretold of a coming Messiah who would be king.

Micah told us:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

Isaiah spoke of Him:

“There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”

Daniel had a vision of this coming king and told us:

“And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.

Jesus Himself accepted the title of “King” when confronted by Pilate:

“Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth”

But then there is the lamb.

lamb

Lambs are considered to be meek animals.  They have no sharp teeth, no claws, no physical way to defend themselves.  They run from what frightens them and the only protection they have from predators is to band together in large groups for protection.  Sheep were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated.  Dependent on protection from the shepherd, it is doubtful they could ever survive in the wild.

Yet the Bible often refers to Jesus as a lamb.

Isaiah in describing the coming suffering of the Messiah, described Him as a helpless lamb.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth;  He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.

When John the Baptist declared Jesus to be the one coming to deliver he referred to Him as a lamb.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And Peter spoke of Jesus as the lamb without blemish or spot.

“knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” !

I am so thankful that my Savior is both a lion and a lamb.

Powerful yet meek.

Majestic yet humble.

Calling for justice and righeousness yet standing for grace and mercy.

lamb 2

I’m glad my God is a powerful and mighty God.  So glad when I go to Him with my problems, I know I am going to a God that is able.  His strength is mine.  How often I have called on that strength –

  • When my father left my mother and me when I was only 14 – He became the source of strength and love I needed to go on with hope.
  • When my husband was killed in an accident and I was left to raise two little girls, He promised to never leave me and He gave me the wisdom and courage to go on with hope.
  • When the doctor said my cancer was very advanced and aggressive and there was not much hope I would live long, He assured Him that He would walk with me though this “valley of death” and gave me the determination to fight with all my might this dreadful disease with hope.

I am also glad He is a meek and loving God with mercy and grace.

  • When I became all stressed out about my future and my aging body, He assured me that just as He has been there for me in the past, He will not leave me now.  He understood my worry and concern and did not condemn me for my lack of faith.
  • In the many times I have allowed my own thoughts and feelings to lead me to gossip, not forgive others, to be disobedient, He has never stopped loving and drawing me back to where I need to be in Him.

It was His love (the lamb) that led Him to the cross – thank God for the Lamb!

It was His power (the lion) that brought Him out of the tomb – thank God for the Lion!

 

 

 

He’s Dead – or Is He?

This is from the message my husband gave today at Hazel Findley Assisted Living:

The Gospel of Matthew as well as other Gospel writers presents the reality of Jesus’ death as an absolute certainty.

Those standing around the cross watched as Jesus “breathed his last.” – John 19:30 tells us He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

They heard him cry with a loud voice. – Mark 15:37 tells us Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed His last.

Roman authorities, acting on instructions from Pilate, broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus to hasten their death; but coming to Jesus, they discovered He had already died – John 19:33 says “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

Having received confirmation of death from the Roman centurion, Pilate released the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus for burial.

  • The callous Roman soldiers said “He is dead.”
  • The curious crowds, unconscious of the eternal significance, said “He is dead.’
  • Pilate got the word, “Jesus is dead.”
  • Mary, feeling the pain like a dagger in her heart, said, “My son is dead.”
  • His disciples, numb and stunned with the events of the last few hours said, “The Master is dead”

Everybody had written Jesus off – gone forever.

Dead.

Dead.

Dead.

Get on with the same routine.  He’s dead.  No one expected to see Him or hear His voice again.

It’s Friday….but Sunday’s coming.

What separates Christianity from all other religions is an empty tomb and the words of Christ who says “I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore.”

 

The Miracle of Mount Calvary

The following is from a Good Friday sermon my husband shared this year.  I thought it was so good I wanted to share with my readers:

There are many great mountain top experiences in the Word of God.

  • On Mount Horeb, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush
  • On Mount Sinai, God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone
  • On Mount Hor, Aaron transferred his priestly robes to his son Eleazar
  • From Mount Nebo, Moses looked over into the Promised Land
  • On Mount Moriah, Solomon built the Temple
  • On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw Jesus in His radiant glory
  • From the Mount of Olives, Jesus would ascend into heaven

But the greatest of all of these is Mount Calvary, where Jesus was lifted up and died for our sins.

  • On Mount Calvary, Jesus of Nazareth was lifted up, bled and gave HIs life for me
  • On Mount Calvary Jesus, who walked the dusty roads of Judea, who could have called 10,000 angels chose rather to suffer and die
  • On Mount Calvary, God let this sinless, spotless lamb of glory, the Messiah thirst to quench the spiritual thirst of ll mankind
  • On Mount Calvary, God, who clothes the lilies of the fields, let His son hang naked and in shame for all to see and mock in derision and shame.
  • On Mount Calvary, this precious little child who lay so innocently in a cradle in an animals’ stall in Bethlehem, now hung helpless and dying on a criminal’s cross in view of friend and foe alike.
  • On Mount Calvary, earth has no darker sin, history no blacker page, humanity no fouler spot than the crucifixion of Jesus.

the cross

The old hymn states:  “He did it all for me.  When the Savior cried, bowed HIs head and died, He did it all for me.”

 

What is the “Joy of the Lord?”

Jesus laughing

We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.”  Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

But I wonder what does that mean?  What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength?  I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.

If I would just adjust my attitude.

If I would just think positive thoughts.

If I would just “put on a happy face.”

Then, God would give me joy.

So – strength from God depended on me.  If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength.  Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.

Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude.  Look at the Psalms.  They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.

for you are my God, my only safe haven.  Why have you tossed me aside?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
    Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
    Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.

As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude.  Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD.  It is something that comes from God.  True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.

The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts.  I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work.  Paul wrote in Philippians:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

And the writer of Proverbs told us:

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.

But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord.  It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life.  That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target.  However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.

So – what is the joy of the Lord?  And how do we get it?

Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.

In the Beatitudes he told us:

 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven. 

One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us.  This life is not all there is for us.  Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort.  This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.

But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.”  Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future?  Can I find joy in this life now?

The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:

in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:

At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express

The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create.  I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:

  1. When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
  2. When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
  3. When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?

As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.

Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.