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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

I went to the funeral today of a man whom I had not known long, but who was the kind of man you could know well in a short amount of time. That’s the way it is with relational people. They relate. You relate. And when there is love and joy and peace, it is good. I also returned a couple of days ago from seeing family whom I had not seen in a long time. That, also, was good. Very good. And I felt badly for all the time that had passed without relationship.

I have been looking at some biblical passages with new eyes lately. I am looking through the eyes of context, reading whole passages and not just a few isolated verses. It makes a difference. It is essential. I want to share with you a couple of insights.

Any of you who are Christian or who have spent any amount of time in church, especially on Communion Sundays, are familiar with the admonition to “judge the body rightly.” If you can’t, we are told, we should not partake, lest we risk sickness or death. (Have you ever seen that happen?) But let’s look at it again. I mean, right now. Turn to 1 Cor. 11:17-33. Yep. The whole thing.

The Apostle Paul starts off talking about division within the church, and how some folks are hogging all the food. They are not looking out for one another, and as a consequence, some go away hungry. He says in verse 22 that if you have homes of your own (stocked with food, is the implication), you should eat there before meeting together, so that those who do not have homes and food may find what they need in the gathering of fellow Christians. Then he reminds them of that first Communion, the Last Supper, where Jesus set the example of serving others first. So what is this “unworthy” bit in verse 27? Being selfish! The examination of self in vs. 28 is about whether you actually need this food or not. So by the time we get to vs. 29, that is what it is to “judge the body rightly.” If I do not regard others in the body, and consider their needs, I heap condemnation on myself. Seems like human relationships are important to the Lord, and He wants to meet our needs through others. Or should I say, He wants to meet others’ needs through us.

The other passage I want you to look at with me is James 4:2. “…You do not have because you do not ask.” Have you always thought of that in terms of prayer? Have you thought that if you just prayed you would have it? And when you didn’t have it still, did you go on to the next verse and figure that God didn’t answer your prayers because you were being selfish?

Back up a bit. What has been going on since chapter 2? Favoritism, partiality, lack of mercy, curses, jealousy, selfishness, arrogance, hypocrisy, quarreling, conflict, murder, envy… If you’re looking at the passage with me, I think you can see how I’ve come to the conclusion that the very next thought is about not having because you don’t ask one another. Rather than being envious of something someone else has, why not ask if they’ll share? And, according to verse 3, if you ask and still don’t get it, perhaps it’s because you were selfish in the asking. James goes on later in the chapter to address more human relationships, and the theme keeps recurring throughout the rest of the book. So why would he sandwich a verse about prayer in there, when the context seems to be about how to interact in a healthy way with others.

So I’ve come to think that perhaps the Bible is a bit simpler than we’ve thought. Perhaps writers then were as writers now, and their thoughts really do flow together. And I’ve come to believe that human relationships are very, very important to God.

 

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Our final words, when we know they are such, are the most profound, the ones we want to be remembered by, the things we want our loved ones to always know and hold on to.  No one ever reminds someone to brush their teeth or add something to the shopping list when they’re on their death bed.  “Oh, by the way, we’re out of bread.”  Doesn’t happen.

There are a few chapters devoted to Jesus’ last words to His disciples.  Among them is a curious little passage about the possibility of them falling away, of not continuing their life of faith and devotion to God.  Come on!  They had just witnessed miracles, heard Jesus’ revolutionary teachings, seen the unlovable loved, the hopeless satisfied.  Their world was rocked, and they were part of it.  Fall away?  Never!  Never.  Never?

Here’s the thing.  Jesus knew they had expectations of what God should do, of how the world should look now that Jesus had come and changed everything.  And He knew of the confusion and disappointment that was about to ensue when their expectations would be unmet.  And who could blame them?  The Man who came to save the world would be killed and things would go back to how they once were, or worse.  Where’s the sense and hope in that?  And so He told them to hang on, the story was not over.

I see this even today.  “If I pray hard enough God will do what I think He should.”  Or, “I will devote all my time/money/energy to charity and God will provide for my family.”  Oh, really?  Here’s how I see it:  He put a lot in His book about wisdom.  Yes, faith is involved, most definitely.  But faith is reliance and trust in Him, not our methods.  And if we trust Him, we will trust in what He says.  If He says we are to use wisdom, then that becomes an act of faith.

Back to the falling away.  Too many have expectations of God that are simply unfounded.  And so it’s no wonder there is a disconnect between their belief and their reality.  When they finally are willing to admit it, a decision must be made:  either continue in the frustration of unmet expectations, walk away from God altogether (wondering if there even is a God), or come to an understanding of who He really is and what living out our faith is really all about.  But let’s stop pretending.  Oh, and don’t forget wisdom.  Then see what God does.

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We’ve all seen the slogans on bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, and even from the lips of its advocates:  “Prayer Works,” or “Prayer Changes Things,” or any number of other catchy phrases designed to get our attention and prompt us toward this spiritual, contemplative lifestyle.

But does it really?  I mean, is it really prayer that works?

What I’m wondering is, shouldn’t it make a difference whether we pray to one god or another, or whether we “keep good thoughts” or chant a mantra or wait for karma to kick in?

I was reading this passage in the Book of John about Mary & Martha’s brother Lazarus dying.  They had gotten word to their friend Jesus while Lazarus was still just ill, asking Him to come take care of things.  Jesus decided to tarry awhile and didn’t arrive until four days after his death.  Not a big faith builder there.  Not the kind of thing you’d expect a friend to do.

Jesus intentionally delayed His arrival so there could be an object lesson for them.  (And by this time, some Jews from a neighboring city had arrived, too, to console the sisters, so there was an even larger crowd of disappointed people.)  Everyone said to Him, “If You’d been here, this would not have happened.”

Jesus talked to them about who He is and asked if they believed it.  They did.  So He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb, which he did, and he told some of the people standing around to unwrap him and let him go free, which they did.  After that, many of the Jews believed in Him and some told the Pharisees, which fueled their resolve to kill Him, which always happened.

So I think about prayer.  Was not their prayer, “Lord, please come heal our brother.  We know You can do it, and we know You love him”?  They were greatly disappointed that He had not done that.  Because they knew what Jesus could do, they had expectations about what He should do.

Here’s what I’m thinking:  Prayer has got to be about more than putting faith in our words, or in our noble desires, or even in God’s ability to answer.  Prayer has got to be about putting our trust in God’s character, His intentions, and His good purposes.  It’s never just about His power.

Too often we trust our prayers and not God Himself.

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Why do we put this odd word at the end of prayers?  Do we really mean “So be it” as its definition and original meaning suggest?  If you say, “Lord, please heal Susie” and I say, “Amen,” that means that I agree with what you just asked.

But it seems like we’ve almost adopted the lingo of radio communications.  “Over and out” or “Roger” might better communicate what we really mean, but who wants to say that?  Or we could end with the closing of a letter:  “Love, [insert name here]” or “Sincerely,” or even “See Ya later.”  (And yes, “Ya” would be capitalized since we’re addressing deity.)  We also use it to alert those praying with us that they can open their eyes now, don’t we?  (“Wake up!”)

But what if we just walked away?  I mean, what if we just got up from our chair or knees and didn’t put that closing remark in our prayer?  Would God have to remain on the line, only to hear static from our end?  Sometimes I do that.  I just get up, or open the car door, or keep walking, depending on where I’m praying.  I don’t say anything to let Him know I’m finished.  Why?  Because I’m not!  I may have run out of things to say at the moment, but I still want to be in communication with Him.  And after all, isn’t prayer a two-way conversation, or more if you’re praying with someone else?

God loves to communicate.  He’s been doing it since before time began.  In the first chapter of John, Jesus is referred to as the Word which became flesh.  Words communicate.  Jesus is God’s living, breathing communication to us, and He communicated on our behalf to the Father, as our mediator.

Now here’s a beautiful thing:  He has given that ability to us, not to mediate on behalf of others, but to represent Him as an ambassador.  It’s called “praying in His name.”  He has given us the ability and authority to use His name when we talk to the Father.  That doesn’t mean I have to say “In Jesus’ name” at the end of every prayer (just before “Amen”).  It means that if I am found in Christ, I already represent Him.  And so I am to pray on His behalf, if you will, talking to God about things that matter to Jesus.  That’s why Jesus said, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

But back to the Amen part.  Let’s not ever think that we don’t have enough time to pray, or are too busy to spend time with God.  Yes, specially designated times with Him are important and nourishing, but life with Him is about more than that.  It’s about everything we do.  When we’re serving customers, or teaching our children, or preparing meals, or emailing a friend, or weeding our garden, or you name it, we can be praying, talking to Him and listening.  And yes, sometimes He will speak to us very clearly, very personally in response.  He still does that.  Listen.  Stay tuned…

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