A Way to Pray for the World

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Every news publication posts pictures daily that capture the horror (and beauty) of the human experience in this world. The temptation for me is to scroll through these pictures for information alone—to know what is happening in the world, to see it with my own eyes. But I’ve started to wonder what good it is to know these things. Is it so I can speak intelligently at dinner parties or with colleagues at work? So I can debate what governments should and shouldn’t be doing? So I can feel sadness or compassion or anger? So I will grow in fear about the evil and brokenness I see? Of course, some pictures move me to action—to protest, spend my money differently, donate to a particular organization that is doing good. There is only so much I can do, though, and I am inclined to withdraw instead and ignore the world.

Withdrawing from the world is not Jesus’ invitation to those who follow him. We are to engage the world, be light, offer hope, and pray—without ceasing, on all occasions, with all types of requests. What good is it to be inundated with pictures of the pain and horror in the world? To pray. To pray for the men and women and children who bear God’s image and who are loved deeply not only by God, but also by mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, siblings, husbands and wives, and friends.

We can pray without pictures. But with pictures, something changes. The Syrian refugees are not just a mass of people without names. In pictures, we see their faces and their eyes. Peace in the Middle East is not something that would be nice one day so we can stop hearing about it on the news. In pictures, we can see the urgency because of the faces terrorized by constant threat and the lack of stability and freedom. Black men killed by gunshots are not statistics. In pictures, we see they are bodies and souls made in God’s image, carefully crafted, formed for a purpose. The victims of natural disasters are not just numbers. In pictures, we can see their faces, their eyes, their hands, their feet. Our political candidates are not just platforms, ideas, and caricatures. They are people, made in God’s image, loved deeply. Concepts, numbers, and statistics are easy to ignore. Faces and eyes are not.

Here’s a way I’ve been praying for the world.

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Father in heaven, I hold every face and soul in this picture in the light of your love and grace and hope. I pray for the mother and son in the foreground. May they feel your presence and love today. Have mercy on them. I pray for all the families and souls that are not shown in this picture, but who are experiencing something similar. May your kingdom break through in the midst of such pain, displacement, and violence. Guide the hearts and minds of government leaders who are making decisions about the broken systems that stand behind what is happening in this picture. May your peace be known.

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Lord, it’s hard to know what to say. There is so much pain represented in this picture. I pray for Laquan McDonald’s family who are mourning the loss of their son, brother, cousin, nephew. Bring them your peace and comfort. Have mercy on them. I hold them in the light of your presence and love. I pray for Jason Van Dyke. Have mercy on him. Forgive him. In your grace, illuminate and heal whatever caused him to act the way he did. I pray for his family and all they are experiencing as a result of his actions. May your kingdom break through in the midst of the pain, the broken systems, the racism and hatred that is triggered or lies under the surface. Guide the hearts and minds of government and community leaders who are making decisions related to this incident and the systems that allow these shootings to keep happening. May your peace be known.

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(Clinton Photo; Trump Photo)

Father, I pray for this woman and this man, made in your very image, and so loved by you that you gave your one and only Son to give them eternal life. I hold them in the light of your presence and love. May you guide their thoughts and words. I pray for every political candidate in the upcoming 2016 elections. May your kingdom break through in the midst of the divisive, vitriolic atmosphere that characterizes politics in our country. Let me be an example of love and kindness so that all will know I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Father in heaven, thank you for your transforming presence in my life and in the world. Without you, I could never live in the ways you are calling me to live. My own instincts lead me to hold grudges, seek vengeance, complain, criticize, and yield to fear. My heart, left alone, wants to pick fights, build walls, and be right instead of loving. Help me, by your power and grace, to see my family, friends, community, and the world with your eyes and perspective. Give me the courage to love, build up, forgive, rejoice, pray, give thanks, and hold on to what is good.

May it be so.

Daily December Devotional — Day 8

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:34-38

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Today’s Questions:

Compare Gabriel’s response to Mary’s question and his response to Zechariah’s question in Luke 1:18-20. Why and how do you think Gabriel concluded from Zechariah’s question that Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s words, but Mary did believe Gabriel’s words to her?

Why do you think Gabriel told Mary about Elizabeth’s pregnancy?

Can you identify any words in Scripture that you need to write down or memorize so that you remember “no word from God will ever fail”? What words?

How do you think you would have responded if you were Mary to Gabriel’s description of what was going to happen to her? What does her response reveal about her?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, help me to believe your words, those you speak in Scripture and those you whisper into my heart. When I doubt you, your goodness, your love, your presence, remind me of the ways you have blessed me, loved me, and revealed yourself to me in the past. Help me to respond to you the way Mary did. After all, I too am your servant, and I pray that the words you speak to me are fulfilled, whether they seem impossible, difficult to believe, or contrary to my desires.

Daily December Devotional — Day 7

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:29-33

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Today’s Questions:

Why do you think Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s words: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you”?

Have you ever been fearful about hearing the Lord’s voice or receiving a calling from him? What do you think caused that fear?

What emotion is stirred when you read the words: “he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end”? If it doesn’t stir any emotion, why do you think that is?

Today’s Prayer:

Father in heaven, thank you for Jesus, the king whose reign will never end. Thank you that I can place my hope in you and that although everything around me changes, shifts, and fades, you stay the same and your kingdom will never end. Give me courage, Father, when you call me to action. I want to be a person who says yes to you without delay, without hesitation, and without fear.

Daily December Devotional — Day 3

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 1:11-17

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Today’s Questions:

What would it have been like for Zechariah to walk into the Most Holy Place for the first and only time in his life and be greeted by an angel of the Lord with the news that he would have a son?

If I had the opportunity, like Zechariah, to enter into the Most Holy Place, would I have prayed as I replaced the incense? What would I have prayed for?

Is there any area in my life in which I am responding with fear? Is it possible that God would say to me, as he did to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid”?

According to the angel, what characteristics would make people prepared for the coming of the Lord?

Today’s Prayer

Father, open my ears to hear you when you speak to me. Dispel all fear from my heart. I trust you. I trust you to do what I believe to be impossible. I trust that you hear every prayer I pray and have ever prayed. The desire of my heart is to be prepared for the day Jesus comes again. Remind me of the wisdom of righteousness and give me the strength to walk according to your ways.

Life This Week

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My trip to South Africa and Zambia is upon me now. This is my third trip to Africa, yet in some ways it feels like the first. I know more what to expect, but the fears, anxieties, and uncertainties about the travel are no different. The trip is no less significant in its impact on me than it was the first time. God is faithful to grow me on this trip, when I am out of my comfort zone, totally reliant on him and those he places on my path. In quiet moments, my stomach tightens at the thought of relying totally on God. I wish it came more easily, but it is always a struggle. There is only so much letting go I can do in the routine of my life because I know how to manage things. I operate much of the time (knowingly or not) under the illusion that I control my circumstances. On a trip across the world, there is no such illusion, all control, imagined or otherwise, is stripped away. This week, I am in prayer and surrender:

I’m praying. Father, keep me safe. Keep my sweet girl safe and feeling loved while I am gone. Make the skies smooth. Defend my body against sickness and ailments. Guard my heart against fear and anxiety. Show me beautiful things, new things about who you are. Make my time fully glorifying to you. Bring me home safe, filled with your love, aware of your character, and quick to give you thanks and praise.

I’m asking for prayer. Please pray for me, especially in the moments the Holy Spirit brings me to mind. You won’t know why, but I will need you to carry me into God’s presence in that very moment.

I’m relying on God’s promises. In particular, I’m holding onto this one: “Do not be anxious, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.

I will be writing as much as I can when I am gone because I know I won’t be able to help it, God will show me amazing moments, introduce me to beautiful faces, and place in me a deeper understanding of his love and provision.

What does your week look like?

Life This Week

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I know this is not something I’m supposed to say, but God does not satisfy me. I still look for other things that will do a better job. People, activities, books, food, poems, music. And each time I think, maybe this is finally it. Maybe this will satisfy me once and for all. But the longing is still there, pulling, drilling, rising, aching. Oh, I have had moments of satisfaction, days even, and it is hard to believe they are real in the hours when the longing returns. In those hours, I beat myself up – God is enough, what’s wrong with you? As Tenth Avenue North sings, “You’re all I need, but you never seem to be enough.” (Lovesick)  Psalm 103:5 says that the LORD “satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  Jesus said “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35) So, why the longing and thirst? I don’t know. But I know I’m not the only one. My practice this week is a simple one. Just two prayers.

I’m praying Psalm 90:14-17:

Satisfy me in the morning with your unfailing love, that I may sing for joy and be glad in all my days. Make me glad for as many days as you have afflicted me, for as many years as I have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord my God rest upon me; establish the work of my hands for me – yes, establish the work of my hands.

I’m praying Psalm 63:1-5:

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

What does your week look like?

Have you ever asked God to satisfy you with his love?

Photo Credit:  http://jmitchloves.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/open-hands/

How to Pray with Someone

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My step-father is a quadriplegic and cannot move a muscle in his body other than those in his neck. What this means is that someone has had to feed him every bite he eats. Someone must put him into bed and get him out of bed. Someone has to brush his hair and brush his teeth. Every single thing he needs to do in his life, someone else has to do it for him.

But, my step-father does something that is really remarkable. He races sailboats. He is the skipper, the director, if you will, on a sailboat during regattas. The way this works is that he has a chair fastened to the back of the boat and he gets strapped into that chair for the duration of a particular race. The interesting part comes when he is put onto the boat. Four grown men lift him out of his wheelchair, one guy under one arm, one under the other, one guy under one leg, and one under the other. They carry him this way down a very narrow dock, with water on both sides, and then they transfer him to a couple other guys who are on the boat. During the transfer, my step-father is over the water being moved from one set of arms to another while these men carefully step aboard the boat. The boat is in the water, don’t forget, so when you step on, it moves. Eventually, the men maneuver my step-father to his chair. By the end, these men are sweating and out of breath.

I have watched this process on and off since I was 10 years old. Shirts come up, people lose their footing, sunglasses fall into the water. And every time, no matter how many times I have seen it, I cringe, watching through half-closed eyes, thinking, “They’re going to drop him!” But, they never have.

I wonder if my description reminds you of a story we read in Luke 5 when some men carry their friend, a paralyzed man, to where Jesus was teaching in a home. The problem was that it was too crowded and they couldn’t get their friend into the presence of Jesus. So, they climbed up the roof and lowered him down to the floor. Can you picture what this must have looked like? I picture four men who pick up their friend, one man under one arm, another under the other, one man under one leg, another under the other. While carrying him, instead of walking down a narrow dock with water on both sides, they climb up a roof. They are sweating and out of breath. They lose their footing, and their sunglasses. When they finally get their friend up onto the roof, they begin the process of lowering him to the floor below. I imagine some kind of harness and pulley system. I imagine them breathing heavily, worried. I imagine others watching and thinking: “They’re going to drop him!” But they don’t.

When the man lands at the feet of Jesus, Scripture says: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” And later, he heals the man completely so he can walk again.

So, what does this have to do with prayer? I read something not long ago about a man dying of cancer who said that the the pain from his cancer overwhelmed him so much that he lost the ability to pray. When friends came to visit and asked what he needed, his answer was prayer. Some people in our lives have lost the ability to pray. They are in too much pain. They are overwhelmed by suffering caused by financial, relational, or emotional stress, by poverty, by joblessness, or by hunger. Or, maybe they don’t know how to pray and they are stuck. Often, though, we decide not to pray with people (preferring to do it in our head or alone) because we are worried about our words. We think we are not eloquent enough. We don’t pray as well as some other person we know. We don’t know enough Scripture. We fumble for words when put on the spot. We will be clumsy and awkward and embarrassed.

Have you ever seen four men carry a paralyzed man onto a boat? Or up onto a roof? It is the most awkward, clumsiest thing you will ever see in your life. In the story told in Luke 5, when the men carried their friend up onto a roof so that they could place him in the presence of Jesus, Jesus did not compliment their technique. He did not say, “Wow, what a pulley system you have put together!” or “You are strong and graceful men!” What Scripture tells us is that “[w]hen Jesus saw their faith, he said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’”

It’s not our words. It’s our faith. It’s not the words we say in prayer. It is our faith to bring people into the presence of Jesus. There are people who have lost the ability to pray and they need not our words, but our faith. Our most powerful prayers are not necessarily the most eloquent, where all the words are right. Our most powerful prayers are the ones where we use the full measure of our faith even if it is clumsy and awkward, in order to present someone at the feet of Jesus for the help only he can give.

How do you do this when Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth? You don’t have to pick anybody up, but you could:

  • Hold their hand.
  • Put your arm around their shoulder.
  • Describe Jesus to them based on what you know from Scripture.
  • Say, “Lord Jesus, we are in your presence. Thank you for life. Forgive us for the ways we fall short. We need your help, healing, and peace as we struggle with [insert whatever the need is]. Deliver us.”

Is there someone you could help carry or walk with into Jesus’ presence?

Picture source: Mary Warren, The Lame Man Who Walked Again (Concordia, 1966)