Out Loud

I will never forget the first time my prospective husband met my parents. He and I met at the beginning of my freshman year of college. Courtship was going very well, so I decided to bring him home to meet my family. That’s when he got the full picture of what he was getting into. We stepped inside the door and I yelled at the top of my lungs, “I’M HOOOOMME!!” I noticed him flinching, but I thought nothing of it. Then my mother responded full volume from upstairs: “I’LL BE DOWN IN A MINUTE!” and my dad hollered up from the basement, “BE RIGHT THERE!” I think the poor boy’s ears were bleeding. He looked at me and said, “Oh, good Lord. I’m dating the LOUD family.” Yup.

Being loud and articulate was how I was raised. There are times when we have to be loud in order to accomplish something that “quiet” can’t do. The writer of Psalm 77 agrees:

Psalm 77 (Common English Bible)

I cry out loud to God—
    out loud to God so that he can hear me!
During the day when I’m in trouble I look for my Lord.
    At night my hands are still outstretched and don’t grow numb;
        my whole being refuses to be comforted.
I remember God and I moan.
    I complain, and my spirit grows tired. Selah

We raise our voices because we want to the heard. But as I read this, I wonder: do we ever really need to be loud with God?

It is obvious that the psalmist is in some kind of deep distress. He extends his arms in prayer and supplication night after night. The cause of his anguish is not known, but it is bad enough to have kept him awake at night and eventually rendered him speechless:

You’ve kept my eyelids from closing.
    I’m so upset I can’t even speak.
5
 I think about days long past;
    I remember years that seem an eternity in the past.
I meditate with my heart at night;
    I complain, and my spirit keeps searching:

In his rumination, he began to question everything he knew and understood about God. This is not uncommon when the answers to our prayers are not coming as fast as we would like. Have you ever felt that way? Do you ever wonder “when will this torment end?”

“Will my Lord reject me forever?
    Will he never be pleased again?
Has his faithful love come to a complete end?
    Is his promise over for future generations?
Has God forgotten how to be gracious?
    Has he angrily stopped up his compassion?” Selah
10 It’s my misfortune, I thought,
    that the strong hand of the Most High is different now.

Fortunately for us, the psalmist finds a way out.

He remembered.

11 But I will remember the Lord’s deeds;
    yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past.
12 I will meditate on all your works;
    I will ponder your deeds.
13 God, your way is holiness!
    Who is as great a god as you, God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
    you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people;
    redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph. 
Selah

And with the memories of all the great things God had done for Israel, he recalled God’s strength and his mighty arm. He recalled the great miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and how God delivered Moses, Aaron, and the entire nation:

16 The waters saw you, God—
    the waters saw you and reeled!
        Even the deep depths shook!
17 The clouds poured water,
    the skies cracked thunder;
        your arrows were flying all around!
18 The crash of your thunder was in the swirling storm;
    lightning lit up the whole world;
        the earth shook and quaked.
19 Your way went straight through the sea;
    your pathways went right through the mighty waters.
        But your footprints left no trace!
20 You led your people like sheep
    under the care of Moses and Aaron
.

So, here’s what I think. When you are in deep trouble, get loud. Go ahead and yell. Beat your fists on your chest. Weep and wail away until it’s out of your system.

If you still feel as though God has abandoned you, stop yelling and remember God’s goodness. Make a list of God’s miracles. Will any of this change God? Nope. But when you remember God’s unlimited power and strength by making an inventory of what God has done, you will be changed.

And that makes all the difference.

Night into Day by Michelle Robertson

Prevenient Prayer

Do you know someone who has an admirable prayer life? Whenever I think about people who center their lives in prayer, I remember a beautiful lady named Betty Brown. Betty was a part-time church secretary for many years at the church where I heard my call to ministry, and she was active in almost every aspect of church life. She participated in the choir, Sunday school, Disciple Bible Study, Welcome Ministry, and of course, the Prayer Ministry. She was so revered, when the time came to open a new young mother’s circle of United Methodist Women, it was named after her. I had not heard my call to ministry yet, but God was moving me toward something new and I joined the Betty Brown Circle as a very young mother. I know that many seeds were planted there for me and the other young moms who participated.

Betty was invited to give a talk about prayer at a UMW gathering, and I will never forget the wonderful advice she gave us young moms. She told us that we should start praying for two things for our babies: (1) that they would have good college roommates who will be positive influences in their lives; and (2) that they would marry Godly men. I remember looking at my 9-month-old daughter on my lap, and I couldn’t imagine a time when college and marriage would ever come, but I began to pray that way.

It was a kind of “prevenient prayer” … in other words, a prayer that came before it was needed, paving the way to the answer in God’s time. And many of you know the rest of that story: my daughters are still best friends with their remarkable college roommates, who were selected at random, and I have the two best sons-in-law that a mother could ever hope for.

That’s what prayer can do.

Jesus tells a parable about what happens when we pray continuously that demonstrates the power of NOT GETTING DISCOURAGED in our prayers:

Luke 18 (Common English Bible)

18 Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people.In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” 

We can be sure that if an unjust judge will acquiesce to the persistence of a widow’s plea, how much more will a God who loves you enough to sacrifice his son for you hear and answer your prayers!

The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”

God is never slow to help us. He hears us when we pray and answers according to his will and what is good for us. Sometimes that can be confusing, if we are praying for things that he knows will not serve us well in the long run. But Scripture, and Betty Brown, were right. Just keep on praying, and when you’re done, pray some more.

Are you discouraged in your prayers? Never mind. Just keep at it. God is here.

Good prayer requires STILLNESS. Read what my friend Shannon says about that.

Morning Bird by Michelle Robertson

Anointing

I remember my first healing service like it was yesterday. I was a very young pastor, fresh out of seminary, and the prayer ministry had asked the pastoral leadership to do a healing service for the church. There is a service in our United Methodist Book of Worship that involves prayer, the laying on of hands, and the anointing with oil.

I had never experienced a healing service growing up in the Methodist church as a child, and I was very curious about what would happen and how we would proceed. Visions of dramatic and overblown ”healings” from pentecostal television filled my imagination, and I tried to reconcile those images with how we methodical/Anglican-based Methodists would do such a service.

The service began, and after a homily, people were invited to come forward to kneel at the altar and be anointed with simple olive oil from a bowl. The pastors made a sign of the cross on the foreheads of those who came, and offered a prayer for each. As I laid hands on the people who were directed to me by the ushers, I felt the power of God in the words and the anointing as they knelt and received. There are very few moments in a worship setting that can be as powerful as a healing service.

James 5 (Common English Bible)

13 If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. 14 If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 

This is where churches receive authority to offer healing services. James lays it right out: Call out the leaders. Pray. Anoint. Do it in God’s name.

15 Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. 

So here was my conundrum. If we all gathered and prayed from our collaborative faith for healing, surely the Lord will restore the person to health. That’s what it says, right? So what happens if healing doesn’t happen after a healing service?

My thoughts were immediately put to the test as a woman in her final days of terminal cancer was brought over to my side. Her husband pushed her wheelchair to the altar, and as I leaned over to anoint her and lay hands on her head, I realized she was wearing a wig. Of course she was. Chemo had stolen her hair many months before that. But that detail has remained in my memory for decades. I can still feel the surprise of that false hair under my fingers and palms.

Two days after the healing service, she died.

So what did that mean? Why wasn’t she healed? What happened to her anointing? Did our prayers not work?

A few days later, her husband sent us a note to thank us for the healing service. He said it was the first time his wife had been out of the house in over a year, and her first time back in the sanctuary since her diagnosis. He went on to thank us for allowing her to receive healing that night. When she got home that evening, she was filled with joy, peace, and hope in ways that she hadn’t felt in years. Her appetite was back and they shared a late night supper. She had confessed her sins at the altar, and knew exactly where she was going the minute the oil touched her forehead. Right before she passed two days later, she told her husband that she was finally healed.

Prayer had healed her. Hope had healed her. Jesus had healed her. Death had healed her.

17 Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. 18 He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

I am glad that this happened early in my ministry, as it taught me to never be afraid to boldly ask for healing in the name of Jesus from that point on. It also taught me that Jesus will ALWAYS heal….and it may not look anything like what you were expecting.

What aspect of your life needs healing? Remember that the prayer of the righteous person is POWERFUL.

Just Pray by Michelle Robertson

Step By Step

“Step by step, inch by inch…” this phrase from an old Three Stooges movie reminds me of how some people approach faith. There is nothing wrong with a methodical process, says the Methodist minister! The blessing of pursuing incremental progress toward a goal ensures that you continue to move forward, and that’s always a good thing.

In his book based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Because of This, I Rejoice,” writer Max Vincent leads us to find joy in our Lenten disciplines as we participate in the serious work of moving step by step, inch by inch toward Easter.

In discussing Paul’s approach to prayer in his letters, Vincent neatly breaks it down into four discernible steps. See if you can spot some of them in this passage:

Philippians 1:1-11 (Common English Bible)

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. 10 I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. 

11 I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

Paul used a four-step method, starting with THANKSGIVING. This is key, as it focuses us on God’s activity in our lives and in the lives of the people for whom we pray. When we concentrate on thanking God for the blessings he has poured out first, it helps us focus on God’s POWER before we even begin with our list of wants and needs. Giving thanks at the beginning of each prayer puts us into a spirit of praise, joy, gratitude, and humility. By starting our prayers with words of thanksgiving for all of our blessings, we remind ourselves of how good God is.

The second step is INTERCESSION, where we petition God for the needs of others and ourselves. We ask God to intervene in our lives and our situations to bring healing, mercy, comfort, and grace. We are reminded here that we exist in fellowship and connection with others. By putting the needs of others even before our own, we again focus on the power of God, and practice the type of humility Jesus taught from the cross.

The third step is CONFESSION, a necessary part of every prayer. We confess our distance from the righteousness to which we are called. We confess our willfulness. We confess our sins. We confess it all in the sure and certain knowledge that God hears our confessions and cleanses us of our sins.

And then we finish our confession with the doxology, or a word of PRAISE. God is worthy of our praise every day, and it’s important to let him know that! We praise God, from whom all blessings flow, and that moment reminds us that we are not self-reliant, but indeed we rely on God for everything that we have and need.

Try this pattern in your prayer time this week. Remember that God ALWAYS answers our prayers, so be persistent. Prayer changes things…mostly it changes US.

Step by Step by Kathy Schumacher