Prayer-Conditioned Life

I am working on a sermon on the subject of waiting and how we should spend our time when we are made to wait. I think I am pretty safe in saying that nobody likes to wait. I know people who hate to wait in line so much that they study the check-out lines in the grocery store very carefully as they finish their shopping. As they approach, they choose a line but still watch the other lines. If one suddenly seems to be moving, they dart over.

But you know you are really bad when you keep watching the other lines even when your groceries are on the conveyer belt. Some of us get mad if the guy we would have been behind in another line ends up finishing fast. I may or may not be married to someone like that.

I discovered someone who I think could be labeled as a “Champion Waiter.” We meet her very briefly in the second chapter of Luke, at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It was a Jewish tradition that forty days after giving birth, mothers went to the Temple to be purified. Firstborn sons were presented at that time in recognition of their position as the spiritual leader of their siblings. Anna was in the temple that day because, well, Anna was in the temple everyday:

Luke 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

36”There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 

As a first-century widow, Anna certainly knew prejudice, neglect, sorrow, and loneliness. But Anna spent her days worshipping and praying in the house of the Lord. She is remembered by Luke as a prophet, for she saw the Messiah that day and praised God with her joy and her witness:

38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna had a ”prayer-conditioned” life. She prayed every day, all day. In her 84 years of living, she prayed and fasted night and day. That habit prepared her for encountering the miraculous. The minute she saw him, she KNEW.

Anna’s daily acts of service in the Temple put her in the right place at the right time…because she already was in the presence of God. She filled her time of waiting for the consolation of Israel with active service. God is active in our waiting when we open our hearts, our thoughts, and our prayers to his Holy Spirit.

What would happen to you if you prayer-conditioned your life? What difference would it make? Are you putting yourself in the presence of God day and night?

Anna’s story only took three verses of scripture to tell, but she will be remembered forever. As we wait for the second coming of Christ, may we wait with the same patient expectation of encountering the miraculous.

Wait Upon the Lord By Kelley Lynch

At Last

We are finally in the last stretch of our holiday waiting. By the end of this week, Christmas will be here. All of the preparation, decision-making, and cleaning/shopping/wrapping/baking will be presented in their full glory (for better or worse) and the day will arrive.

Think of all the things you have to wait for….college graduations, childbirth, wedding days, the internet guy to come…waiting is hard! But it is often in the waiting that we are made ready for the next step.

Our passage in Hebrews speaks of a waiting time that is finally over. From the first sin until the advent of Jesus Christ, we waited.

We were waiting for absolution.

We were waiting for redemption.

We were waiting for salvation.

We were waiting for a way out.

And then, at last, God sent his Son.

Hebrews 1 (Contemporary English Version)

1 Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. 

God’s Son has all the brightness of God’s own glory and is like him in every way. By his own mighty word, he holds the universe together.

Just ponder that for a moment. God’s Son holds the universe together. On days when it is all falling apart, on days that are dismal and hopeless, on days when there is no light at all, he holds the universe together.

After the Son had washed away our sins, he sat down at the right side of the glorious God in heaven. He had become much greater than the angels, and the name he was given is far greater than any of theirs.

Jesus has all the brightness of God’s glory to shine into our bleakest winters. His word is sure. His word is good…and his word lasts forever.

So no matter where your heart is on this last stretch of waiting, take comfort. The One whose name is greater than any other name holds YOU in his heart.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.

Peaceful Waters by Michelle Robertson

Waiting

Raise your hand if you like to wait! Yeah, me neither.

We all have different tolerance levels when it comes to waiting. I know someone with a very low tolerance for wanting in line. His tolerance is SO low, he actually mentally calculates how many people are in each check-out line at the store, selects the one he thinks is the fastest, changes lines if he spots one moving faster, and then…I’m being serious here…calculates where we WOULD have been if we had chosen a different line.

Nobody likes to wait.

In Psalm 130, the psalmist is also waiting. He describes his waiting period as being in the “depths.” He is crying out to be heard. He begs God to listen:

Psalm 130 (New King James Version)

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.

Truly, the entire world is waiting right now. We are waiting for this pandemic to be over. We are waiting for life to return to normal. We are waiting to be able to worship together, send our kids off to school, take a trip, have a nice dinner out, hug our grandchildren, and not wake up in the morning feeling afraid.

While we collectively watch for the morning, remember this: with the Lord, there is mercy. He is filled with forgiveness. With him is abundant redemption. He will redeem us. And in his Word, we do hope.

Because we are one day closer to the end of this thing.

Waiting for Morning by Michelle Robertson

When the Sound Returns

Winds and storms in the Outer Banks are notorious for causing flooding. As my hairdresser explained while holding up a comb, “the Outer Banks are as thin as this comb, with the huge ocean on one side and the huge sound on the other…it is literally THIS thin!” she exclaimed. Indeed, there are parts of Highway 12 south on Hatteras Island where you could throw a football with your feet in the water of one and hit the water in the other. At high tide. If your name is Trace McSorley.

The dynamics of this ribbon of land between two massive bodies of water are especially heightened during hurricanes, Nor’easters, and large storms. The winds are capable of literally pushing the water out of the sound to the point where you can walk across its muddy bottom. The Albemarle and Pamlico sounds are 2,900 square miles of water fed by ten major rivers and numerous creeks. They are large enough that in certain locations, you can stand at one of the few points on the East Coast where you have unobstructed views of the sun setting into water with no land in sight. In fact, the Spanish explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano mistook the Pamlico Sound for the Pacific Ocean when he arrived here. It’s that big.

So the conundrum of the winds pushing all the water out during a storm is this: When it returns, it can come back with such force that it will create massive sound-side floods and high water that can cause more damage than the storm itself.

This is the way we live. This has been part of the cost of the beauty of our location for centuries. We know how it works, and we wait, often for days. I read a meme on Face Book recently that said, “Waiting for a hurricane is like being stalked by a turtle.” It is the not-knowingness of the situation that will slap wear you out.

I think this echoes what many people experience in other ways. A test result is suspicious, so further testing must be done. Wait. A spouse has been unfaithful and the couple doesn’t know if divorce will be the answer. Wait. A terminal diagnosis has been given, with a two-to-four year life sentence. Wait. A young woman receives an engagement ring and begins to plan her wedding and dreams of her married life. Wait. Another finds out she is pregnant. Wait. A military family sends their service member off for months to an unknown destination. Wait.

Psalm 27 (NRSV)

13 I remain confident of this:

    I will see the goodness of the Lord

    in the land of the living.

14 Wait for the Lord;

    be strong and take heart

    and wait for the Lord.

David’s assurance that he would see goodness in the land of the living is a pretty bold statement, considering the fighting going on all around him and the fervor with which his enemies were pursuing him. Just a few sentences earlier, he describes his situation this way:

2 When the wicked advance against me

    to devour me,

it is my enemies and my foes

    who will stumble and fall.

3  Though an army besiege me,

    my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

    even then I will be confident.

I would say he was under a fair amount of stress, wouldn’t you? Yet he counsels us to wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart, and WAIT. How can David be so sure? Because David was a man after God’s own heart. He knew the Lord, loved the Lord, danced for the Lord, and had a lot of experience in waiting and being delivered.

So while you wait, do not fear. In this in-between time of not-knowingness, don’t let your heart be troubled, and neither let it be afraid. God is mightier than the besieging army, faster than your foes, and stronger than the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds combined. When the Sound returns, you will see the goodness of the Lord.

The Pamlico Sound bottom, waiting for the water’s return. Photo by Tim Fitch.