Tag Archives: prayer

Closer than you think

The relational God. The invitational God. How close is He? Jesus responded to the query of the soon-to-be disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39). To the dispirited and confused, He said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

In his impactful book, God is Closer than You Think, John Ortberg quoted Frederick Buechner: “There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not … because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

The waiting God. The beckoning God. The gracious God. How close has God come? Ortberg writes: “So close that your heart will be beating with life because Someone is walking around in there. God is closer than you think.”

All of us have known times when God has seemed distant. Perhaps He is too busy. Perhaps I’m not important enough. Perhaps He cannot love me after what I have done.. Perhaps He doesn’t care. Perhaps He cares but chooses not to act.

If God seems distant, it makes sense to ask a simple question: Who moved? My dad used to tell me a story about how relationships change. An elderly couple was riding together down a country road. The man was driving. The woman was leaning against the passenger door. They had been quiet for some time when she glanced over at him. “Fred, do you remember when we used to sit close and cuddle in this old car?” He paused for a moment before muttering, “I ain’t moved.”

I have to admit that most of the time I’m the one who has moved. We get distracted, overscheduled, and complacent. The relational, invitational, waiting, beckoning, and gracious God hasn’t moved.

Nicholas Herman was unhappy with his life. He felt a disconnect with God and wanted to change. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.” He joined a monastic order and was given a new name, Brother Lawrence. After he died, friends gathered his writing and produced a book that has been widely read for four centuries, Practicing the Presence of God. One friend noted, “The good brother found God everywhere, as much while he was repairing as while he was praying with the community.”

Perhaps we’re not looking like we should. One thing seems certain: God is indeed closer than we think.

Of course I pray

Following a Sunday morning service, a man said to his friend, “I’ll bet you can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer.” The other man responded, “Yes, I can! Listen: ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep …'”

“Wow!” said the first man, stunned. “I was sure you wouldn’t know it!”

Do you remember how you learned to pray? Did it start at your bedside or at the table? Was church the place you first began to pray? Was it a crisis that brought you to your knees? Was there a moment of awe and wonder that made you shout for joy and pray with praise?

Sometimes I think we make it more difficult than it needs to be. Prayer should be so natural. The psalmist wrote, “I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy. Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1,2).

It is just that simple. God loves each of us like He loves all of us. He cares about His children. He invites us into an intimate relationship with Him. He wants us to share our lives, our hopes, our fears, our needs, our hurts for our sake. He knows. He really does.

Jim Cymbala noted: “I have discovered an astonishing truth. God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need Him.”

The week ahead offers us opportunities to pray in private and together in community. Prayer should happen naturally in a fellowship of believers. It should be characterized by expectancy and confidence. We approach the throne of grace boldly, said the writer of Hebrews (4:16). Robert Smith wrote: “You want prayer to be something that’s a powerful expression of faith and belief that God can touch those around you.” Prayer changes us as we pray for things to change. Here are some key factors for praying churches:

  • Praying churches experience breakthroughs – barriers are torn down, pathways are cleared, new directions are forged
  • Praying churches have praying leaders – leaders must first be followers who seek the true Leader
  • Praying churches anticipate answers – stories are told, answers are celebrated, a climate of expectation is fostered
  • Praying churches attempt great things for God – when God’s people pray, God works. When God works, transformation occurs

It’s time to pray!

Lessons Learned?

William Sloane Coffin, pastor and author, was known for his activism in civil rights issues and war protests. He was also a dad. In 1983, his son Alexander was killed in a car accident when the young man was 24. For all his political arguments and actions, Coffin was humbled by the violent death of one of his children.

In the days soon after the tragedy, he and his family received a healing flood of ministry and messages. One cherished letter ended with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

In the wake of 9/11, it did not take long for some to become strong at the broken places. First responders, construction workers, medical volunteers, and many others swarmed New York after the towers fell. People donated blood, gave money, organized community events, gathered in houses of worship, volunteered for military service, reached out to neighbors and strangers …

For a time, our nation and much of the world pushed aside differences and disagreements to become a human family. Many countries lost citizens on that dreadful Tuesday. Most people saw the face of evil that day and chose to respond, not just to vow vengeance but to draw close to those devastated by the attacks.

How has our world changed in 15 years? I wish I could say we learned our lesson, we realized how fragile life is, we work harder to build strong, safe communities, we pay attention to the hurting and displaced, and we refuse to surrender to fear. One of the common declarations following 9/11 was “Never again.” It seems we are as vulnerable now as ever.

Our enemy is not just the radical Islamist. Our enemies are complacency, selfishness, willful ignorance, lack of empathy, faith, and grace. For a short while, churches and temples were full of people on their knees in prayer. Today, the scene is far different. Someone wisely said, “Before we stand for anything, we should kneel about everything.”

“Lord, listen to Your children praying.”

Let us pray because …

Prayer is both simple and profound. It can be just conversation between two who seek to deepen a loving relationship. It can be wrestling with the great imponderables of life. Prayer can be selfish or selfless. We know our prayers are not full of information that is news to the Father. He is never taken by surprise. So why do we pray?

We want answers. We want direction. We want assurance. We want comfort. We want intervention. We want to praise and thank and worship. We want to gripe, complain, and blame. We worry, we wonder, we admit we cannot make it alone.

Sometimes we’re just stumped. A little girl named Alison offered this prayer: “Dear God, I read the Bible. What does ‘begat’ mean? No one will tell me.”

Sometimes we want to make suggestions, like Jane: “Dear God, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you got now?”

Sometimes we’re just trying to figure things out, like Dennis: “Dear God, My grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?”

Sometimes we just need help, like Frank: “Dear God, I’m doing the best I can.”

Prayer is an indispensable need in our lives, both personal and corporate. The prayer guides we have been using in our devotions covered these past few months. We keep praying. We keep seeking God, His wisdom, and His direction. Paul wrote that we should pray without ceasing. His words encourage us to have the mindset and the lifestyle that stays in contact with our gracious God; that seeks to care for the things we think God cares about; that daily surrenders to a higher purpose and greater good.

We pray because we can. What an awesome gift!

Thirsting for God

Psalms, the hymnbook of a nation, not only contains 150 songs, it also is partitioned into five books. Psalm 42 and 43 open Book II. These two have a recurring theme in verses 42:5, 11, and 43:5. In the midst of doubt and despair, there is this resounding proclamation: “Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again, my Savior and my God.”

Life can get us down, knock us down, but our faith urges us to remember: “Through each day the Lord pours His unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing His songs, praying to God who gives me life” (42:8).

Psalm 42 begins with a word picture of a deer searching for a refreshing stream to quench its thirst. The psalmist is clearly using that image to call his readers to turn to the source of living water.

As our church gathers for prayer and worship this Sunday, may we slake our thirst in the One who loves us and gives us life. Indeed, let us find our hope in God!


Put the device down

The commercial caught my eye this morning. The exciting news that was being shared was that now, with the latest technology, you can take your favorite movies and TV shows wherever you go. Not a new concept, I know. But I thought it was ironic that people were pictured carrying their tablets, phones, and laptops to the beach or the park or the mountains.

It reminded me of a certain canoe trip we took a number of years ago. Two of us were paddling (I won’t mention names in this brief tale) and two of us were reading magazines while making our way down a picturesque view of a glorious Spring morning on the river. The two with the paddles kept saying such insightful things as “Would you look at that?” or “I’ve never seen anything like that.” The other two were engaged in very different activities. With the sounds of birds singing, fish jumping … the sights of new foliage and sparkling water, we could hear the clear sounds of pages turning and comments about fashion or recipes. There was thought of shocking the two with heads bent over the magazines with alarming shouts of “shark!” or “squirrel” but cooler heads prevailed.

In our modern day, we cannot seem to enjoy the moment without dependence on technological and, I think, artificial stimulation. Do you really need to take “The Walking Dead” to the beach? Can’t you enjoy some time away from the normal rush without the latest episode of “Empire?” Is surgery required to separate us from the ever-present device that seems to provide so much of the entertainment we cannot live appear to live without?

We need someone to tell us to go out and play … or sit down and talk … or get by yourself and think, meditate, and pray. A friend told me of a long drive she had with her husband. They decided to spend the time in conversation! No radio, no iPod, no tablet, just talk. Wow, Samsung wouldn’t be happy about that.

Technology is great, but it can be too invasive. Put down the device and have a real conversation with a real friend. Spend time in solitude without checking your email. Jesus would spend all night in prayer. We have a hard time spending five minutes in prayer. Who would you rather be connected to? The Internet or the Incarnation?

How does He do that?

“Hush, Rachel’s talking to Me.” It was a line in a children’s musical from years ago. A little girl was kneeling by her bed, saying prayers before she went to sleep. The scene shifts to heaven where the angels are singing and praising God. Holding up His hand, God calls for quiet so he can hear what Rachel is saying.

The point isn’t that God has trouble focusing on a little girl’s prayer or that heaven’s throne room is loud and chaotic. The message was that God cares for each of us so much that our every prayer is important to Him.

The psalmist wrote: “I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath” (116:1,2).

I know when we pray we are not passing on news to God. He is never taken by surprise. He knows all there is to know about each of us – our circumstances, our fears, our joys, our minds, our hearts. The ongoing conversation called prayer is an invitation into a deeper relationship with One who cannot love us more or less.

This past week, Kim and I attended a presentation at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The universe was displayed before us in all its majesty and immensity. As we traveled deeper into space, we quickly passed through our solar system and began a journey into the vastness of the cosmos that staggers the imagination.

The narrator spoke of billions of stars and systems, characteristics of various constellations, overwhelming distances, and humanity’s attempts to penetrate further and further. The one thing he didn’t mention was the most important detail. Creation doesn’t happen without a Creator. Science that seeks to exclude God is just bad science.

Gazing at the incredible sights in the presentation, we both felt small … but not insignificant. Like Rachel, when we pray, the God who created the universe pays attention. In Isaiah, we find these words: “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine” (43:1).

We may live on a small planet in the midst of a huge universe, but each of us matters to God.

“Hush, Rachel’s talking to Me.” You can fill in your name, if you want.