Category Archives: prayer

A Reminder

Why do people whisper in an art museum?  Never could figure that out but suppose it has something to do with awe.  Stand in front of a Rembrandt and somehow you don’t feel like talking.  At least not out loud.  And yet, in most church settings, as people come bopping in, laughing, calling to their friends, there seems to be no sense of awe.  This is nothing new and it is understandable.  You can see a Rembrandt and you can’t see God.  It’s easy to forget where you are and what you are doing.

But God is here.  Not just in church, but here, with us as we go through life.  And when we pause, to talk things over with Him, here’s a reminder from Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2)

There’s a great scene in the movie, Papa, where a cub reporter, who idolizes Ernest Hemingway, and has sent him a fan letter, answers the phone and discovers it is his hero calling.  Once he’s gone through the “Who is this really?” routine and knows it really is Hemingway on the phone, suddenly he can hardly form a single word, much less a sentence.  That’s the idea here.

That is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, I guess we better start with a quick word of prayer.”  Or, “Ralph, would you say the blessing?”   If we could open our eyes to see Jesus, Himself, seated in the meeting or at the table, such lines would seem insulting.  Like, “Before we tell you what we think you should do, God, we’re just going to say a few religious sounding words to kind of set the right tone…”

If we are in our right minds, we fear God.  This means treating Him with appropriate reverence, respect and a willingness to let Him call the shots.  It means recognizing He is God and we are not, not even close.  There is no more important setting for the fear of God than when we are about to address Him and listen.

Why God Won’t Listen

Don’t bother praying for those people; it won’t do any good.  That’s what God said!  He said, it’s a waste of time to pray for them because I’m not going to listen and I won’t help them.  Really?  Who was He talking about?  ISIS?  Babylon?  Nope.  He was talking about His own, Chosen People.  He’d had enough.  Here it is, straight out of the Bible:

16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.  (Jeremiah 7:16)

Obviously His own people had done something very offensive to lead to that attitude from the same God Who rescued them from slavery, provided them a land “flowing with milk and honey,” and protected them from their hostile neighbors.  What had they done that was so bad?

17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.  (Jeremiah 7:17-18)

Today, this same evil masquerades as religious tolerance.  “All gods are the same; all religions are equally valid.”  “I won’t teach my children about God because I want them to choose which god to worship – if any.”  Go far enough down that road and you can forget about praying.  The real God won’t be listening.

But, in case this sounds to you as though God has an ego problem, consider, when He brought His people out of slavery, the first thing He taught them was this:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2-3)

His motivation was not for His own fame or esteem but for their well being.  Here’s the rest of what He said to Jeremiah:

22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.  (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

Laced through all the tough, “don’t bother praying” passages in this prophecy, is the invitation and plea for His people to turn back and be restored.  God isn’t being cruel.  He alone is God.  He knows what works and what does not.

Not so “Meek and Mild”

Jesus chased people out of the temple courts with a whip.  Why?  They were using the place to make money.  Another time, as He tipped over their tables and chased them away, He said:

“‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’  (Matthew 21:13)

If those guys had been paying attention to God’s Word, they’d have known better. Jesus was quoting from a complaint by God written several hundred years earlier.  Here’s the first half of what Jeremiah wrote:

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?   (Jeremiah 7:11a)

Religious shysters were nothing new in Jesus’ day.  They are still at it today.  A quick Google search, using “pastor” and “swindling” will give you 401,000 hits!  Apparently those crooks aren’t paying attention either.  Instead of shaking down the flock they’d be shaking in their boots.  Here’s the rest of what God said:

Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.  ( Jeremiah 7:11)

God wasn’t kidding…

The Dumb Thing

One of the oldest bits of wisdom in the Bible says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Except God didn’t say it like that.   Speaking through His prophet, Jeremiah, He said:

13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  (Jeremiah 2:13)

Cisterns hold water but they can’t fill themselves.  You have to do that.  If the cistern is leaky, then you have to keep filling it, even if you haven’t used any of the water. Moreover, have you ever tasted water stored for a long time in a cistern?  Funky stuff.  So then, why would anyone exchange a continuous spring of fresh, clear water for a cistern they had to dig and fill which would give them brackish tasting water?  Be dumb, right?

And why, God asks, would anyone turn away from the continuous interaction with God, Who gives strength, peace, joy, insight, love and life itself, in order to make up his or her own god out of dead stuff?  Dead stuff like wood, stone, metal, plastic… or money.  One of most common reasons people turn away from God is to pursue more money.  But money is very much like a broken cistern.  You have to fill it yourself.  It leaks away when you aren’t looking (If you don’t believe me, check your wallet:  Not as much money in there as you thought, right?)  And money doesn’t satisfy like it promises to do.  Most of the time the aftertaste of money is brackish.

Don’t be dumb.

Impudent Prayer

How often do you check your cell phone?  A recent study done by a screen locking app discovered an average of 110 times a day.  If you spread that evenly over 16 waking hours, that’s about every 8 minutes or so.  How do I know?  I checked it out on my cell phone.  I got thinking about that when I read this parable of Jesus about being persistent in prayer.  He told this right after teaching His disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”

5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Luke 11:5-10)

The word translated, impudence, has an original meaning of shameless persistence.  Apparently Jesus encouraged us to pray as often as we ask our cell phones for things.  Not long, flowery prayers but simple, quick questions.  If you are skeptical, go back and read verse 9.

20-17 Vision

Remember Y2K?  How much needless worry and panic was spilled over mostly nothing?  That’s my impression of 2016 – people got all stirred up over first one thing and then another, wasting countless hours watching “news” about what might happen and wasting a lot of energy shouting about it.  

Imagine what news channels would have done with the circumstances of Roman occupation and oppression in Jesus’ day.  Public whippings and crucifixions, unjust demands by soldiers imposed upon ordinary citizens.  And yet, Jesus largely ignored all that, focusing instead on more important aspects of reality.  Such as loving one’s neighbor.  Such as learning to see the world through His eyes, so “the truth will set your free.”  Such as learning not to worry but trusting your Heavenly Father.  What if, in 2017, we dared to follow His example?  What if we dared to stop defining reality by what the media says and instead asked God to show us what really matters?

20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.  (1 John 5:20)

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Grace and peace to you all this new year!

Peace on Earth 4

The “piece of cod that surpasses all understanding,” Swedes talk about is lutefisk.  It’s an apt description, but the whole thing is a pun from this bible verse:

 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:7)

Three questions:

  • What is the “peace of God?”
  • How does one attain it?
  • What does “surpasses all understanding” really mean?

The “peace of God” means a peace that is given to us by God, a kind of peace that is superior in all ways to what the world thinks of as peace.  It’s not an absence of conflict but a genuine wellness of soul which gives the wherewithal to go through seasons of strife without losing it.  That’s because it “guards our hearts” from going off into unproductive second guessing and “if only.”  Instead, it keeps our hearts and minds settled in Jesus.  That’s not some emotional trick.  We make our home in Christ, in His mindset and in His care.

This peace is given to us in response to our genuine prayers:

“…The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)

Mixing prayer requests with thanksgiving – real thankfulness – is a key to this kind of prayer and that kind of peace.  When we turn computer problems over to an expert, knowing he has the knowledge and skill to take care of it, we don’t waste time futilely trying to figure out how to fix it ourselves.  Same thing when we turn problems over to Almighty God, only so much better.

The phrase, “surpasses all understanding” probably means it is impossible to understand the peace that comes, much less to explain it logically.  But I suspect it also means the peace we receive is better than the understanding we yearn for in tough circumstances.  We cannot explain why God would allow this tragedy to have occurred but as we pray and, as He blesses our souls with peace, we discover that understanding why it has happened is not so important.  We have peace that comes from God, comes from knowing the God of sovereignty and grace, knowing He is on the case and somehow that is enough.  More than enough, it’s better.  It surpasses the mere desire to understand.