Pray Every Way

Is it just me, or has the world gotten a whole lot meaner?

I had this conversation with a couple in my church as we discussed a situation that had them deeply troubled. We spent some time not just talking about the situation itself, but how we got here. Conversations, text chains, emails, and “information links” via social media were some of the things that we could pinpoint as part of our current conundrum of confusion.

In the midst of this, the wife looked at me and said, “When did it become okay to be mean? There is nothing you see anymore that isn’t followed up with some negative remark.” As I drove home, it really hit me. All I could see were mean bumper stickers, mean flags, and mean drivers. I opened up Facebook and Twitter where anger and name-calling rule the day. When did bullying become okay?

I don’t ever remember it being like this.

I closed social media, and I opened up the lectionary assignment for today, and this is what I found:

1 Timothy 2 (The Message)

1-3 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

Yes, Lord Jesus! Yes, Holy Spirit! All we want to do is go quietly about our business, live simply, and exist together in humble contemplation. I am exhausted with the cacophony of ugliness that shouts all of these things down.

4-7 He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free.

We need to return to this one, seminal, important truth. God wants everyone to be saved. There is only one God, who lovingly sent Jesus to die for our sins and set us all free. When we spend our days spinning truths, pushing agendas, misdirecting the efforts of the faithful, and when we are hell bent on having our way, we fail at this most essential thing.

We are called to proclaim Christ crucified. None of the rest of the noise matters.

Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.

At the end of my meeting, the issue had been resolved and we all felt at peace. The wife mentioned to me that God has been calling her to form a ladies prayer group at our church. That, my friends, is exactly what Timothy is saying here. The FIRST thing we should do is pray and pray every way we know how and for everyone we know.

Eventually the news does get out. May Jesus Christ be praised.

The Light Shines by Kathy Schumacher

Rule Forever

Several years ago I was blessed to travel to Israel. I will never forget this trip of a lifetime. Some of my wonderful memories include watching the sun set over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and riding a camel. By the way, camels are mean! I also remember watching faithful Jews praying at the Western Wall. This historic location is the site of the temples in Jerusalem up through Jesus’ time. It is a space that is shared by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. All three of these religions have significant history there.

On the Jewish side, there is access to the wall itself, and visitors are invited to place rolled up prayer requests between the ancient stones and pray there. We watched as Jewish families prayed, with men and women separated by a thick curtain. One striking feature of the prayers was how people stood as they prayed. They bowed continuously from the waist with hands clasped and heads lowered, murmuring their prayers in a low, harmonic hum. As I stood there placing the prayers that I had carried from my church in the mortar cracks, I closed my eyes and listened to all of the many languages that were being lifted up. I had a strong conviction that this is what heaven sounds like. Watching the faithful Jews lined up and facing the wall as they bobbed and weaved was a marvelous sight. The sound was even better.

The origin of this practice is found in an interpretation of Psalm 146, which encourages us to praise the Lord with our ”whole being.” So rather than sit in a passive attitude thinking their prayers, these men and women gathered at the wall were engaging their ”whole being” in a physical expression of moving through the prayer.

Psalm 146 (Common English Bible)

    Let my whole being praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord with all my life;
    I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.

Now pay attention to this next part, and remember that it was written thousands of years ago in a much different political environment than the one we live in today:

Don’t trust leaders;
    don’t trust any human beings—
    there’s no saving help with them!
Their breath leaves them,
    then they go back to the ground.
    On that very same day, their plans die too.

So maybe the political environment thousands of years ago was not that much different than today! Truth is truth. God’s truth will always abide … the rest is just fleeting breath and temporary manmade plans. The only way to find help is through God. The only way to find happiness is by resting your hope on the Lord. Human beings will let you down all the time, but God gives justice to the oppressed, bread to the starving, and freedom to the prisoners.

The person whose help is the God of Jacob—
    the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God—
    is truly happy!
God: the maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
    who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
    who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
    The Lord: who makes the blind see.
    The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
    The Lord: who loves the righteous.
    The Lord: who protects immigrants,
        who helps orphans and widows,
        but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!

10 The Lord will rule forever!
    Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!

Today, make your prayers active prayers. Move around, take a walk, pray out loud. Let your WHOLE being praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord!

Maker of Heaven and Earth by Beverly Mineo

Don’t Let Go

Can you name a time when you cried out to God and knew that he answered you? Sometimes that answer comes right away. Sometimes it comes after a period of time. Sometimes YOU have to make a change before the answer is revealed. But every time God DOES answer.

In the last seven months I have found myself waking up at 4:00 AM with a burden to pray. In the black of the night I have lifted up a young man whom I love and admire and have prayed for God to answer his situation. This week the answer came. I give thanks to God with all my heart for this. Not only is that situation resolved, but I finally may sleep through the night!

Psalm 138 (Common English Bible)

I give thanks to you with all my heart, Lord.
    I sing your praise before all other gods.
I bow toward your holy temple
    and thank your name
    for your loyal love and faithfulness
        because you have made your name and word
        greater than everything else.

When is the last time you cried out to God?

On the day I cried out, you answered me.
    You encouraged me with inner strength.

I realize now that when the answer wasn’t given right way, God was encouraging both of us with his inner strength. The young man whom I love and admire had to keep trying and I had to keep praying.

Let all the earth’s rulers give thanks to you, Lord,
    when they hear what you say.
Let them sing about the Lord’s ways
    because the Lord’s glory is so great!
Even though the Lord is high,
    he can still see the lowly,
    but God keeps his distance from the arrogant.

Here the Psalmist takes a step away from his own rejoicing and looks at the world around him. This is interesting to consider in the midst of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. We are about to elect a leader. The world’s leaders are watching. It is amazing to think what would happen if all the earth’s rulers would hear what God says and give thanks to him.

But then the warning comes…God keeps his distance from the arrogant. How many world leaders do you suppose that leaves out?

Whenever I am in deep trouble,
    you make me live again;
    you send your power against my enemies’ wrath;
    you save me with your strong hand.
The Lord will do all this for my sake.

Are you in deep trouble? Are we in deep trouble? Is the world in deep trouble? Take heart. God will make us live again. God sends his power to fight everything that assaults us, including bad politics and a deadly virus. God will save us with his strong hand.

Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
    Don’t let go of what your hands
    have made.

Yes, Lord. Please don’t EVER let go of what your hands have made! We need you to never let go of us.

What God’s Hands Made by Bonnie Bennett

A God-Listening Heart

Can you imagine God coming to you tonight and asking you, “What can I give you? Ask.” Whoa. I have no idea what my answer would be. What would yours be? Wealth? Riches? A clean house? A car that doesn’t break down? Two hours just to yourself? A year’s salary without having to work? The pandemic gone in an instant? Your baby sleeping through the night?

This passage in 1 Kings presents us with this exact scenario. King Solomon has just taken the throne from his father David, and has gone to Gibeon to worship. God meets him there in a dream and tells Solomon that he can ask for anything.

1 Kings 3 (The Message)

4-5 The king went to Gibeon, the most prestigious of the local shrines, to worship. He sacrificed a thousand Whole-Burnt-Offerings on that altar. That night, there in Gibeon, God appeared to Solomon in a dream: God said, “What can I give you? Ask.”

Of ALL the things a person might request, Solomon chooses something very unexpected…he asks for a “God-listening heart.”

Solomon said, “You were extravagantly generous in love with David my father, and he lived faithfully in your presence, his relationships were just and his heart right. And you have persisted in this great and generous love by giving him—and this very day!—a son to sit on his throne.

7-8 “And now here I am: God, my God, you have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom in place of David my father. I’m too young for this, a mere child! I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this job. And here I am, set down in the middle of the people you’ve chosen, a great people—far too many to ever count.

“Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?”

Indeed, who on their own is capable of leading God’s people? Who alone is able to discern the difference between good and evil? Can anyone lead well without listening to God? A God-listening heart is what every leader needs. Leaders need wisdom, patience, discernment, and the ability to set aside personal agendas in order to follow God’s plan to the letter.

This passage today is a reminder to us that we need to pray that our elected leaders, from the White House to Capitol Hill to the local mayor’s office, would have God-listening hearts. Our prayers should be focused on asking God to help them lead and govern well. And we need to pray that our church and school board leaders have the ability to discern God’s direction and plan things according to his wisdom.

Friends, pray for your leaders…and pray for the rest of us, that we, too, would tune our hearts to listen to God.

Watch what happens next and see how God blesses Solomon’s humility with things he didn’t even ask for:

10-14 God, the Master, was delighted with Solomon’s response. And God said to him, “Because you have asked for this and haven’t grasped after a long life, or riches, or the doom of your enemies, but you have asked for the ability to lead and govern well, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for—I’m giving you a wise and mature heart.

A wise and mature heart. Oh God, grant us this as well!

There’s never been one like you before; and there’ll be no one after. As a bonus, I’m giving you both the wealth and glory you didn’t ask for—there’s not a king anywhere who will come up to your mark. And if you stay on course, keeping your eye on the life-map and the God-signs as your father David did, I’ll also give you a long life.”

May we all stay on course and keep our eyes on the life-map that God himself has already laid out for us. Give us your wisdom, oh God!

Keep Your Eyes on the God-Signs by Michelle Robertson