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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Jo 17A couple of weeks ago, our church celebrated its fifth anniversary of being in its renovated and revamped premises. To fill everyone in on the journey taken to get the building to its present state, photos taken at different stages of the remodelling were shown during our services. All up, it was a wonderful testimony to what can be achieved when a community trusts God and works together to bring a shared vision to reality.

Of all those inspiring images I saw that day, one in particular has stayed with me. It was a photo of something that looked like a piece of graffiti scribbled on the floor of the main auditorium. You see, the night before the carpet was due to be laid there, some church members decided they would like to write prayers all over the floor—prayers that God would always be honoured in this space, that all who entered would sense the presence of God’s Spirit and feel welcome and accepted, and that lives would be changed as a result. What a surreal feeling to look down and realise our feet were resting not only on carpet but, more importantly, on all those prayers written and prayed on our behalf!

Later, I remembered a similar but much smaller project I was involved in years ago at a different church. It was in the days when banners were still used on church walls to remind us of certain truths or words from Scripture. I had seen a banner somewhere else that featured a vine covered in fruit and felt we needed one like it in our own church. So some of us created one with a twirling grapevine and lots of bunches of big, purple grapes on it, along with the words ‘Chosen to bear fruit’. Then as we began attaching those grapes, we decided to write the names of all the streets in our area underneath them. We felt this was a way of praying for all those living nearby, that God would touch and transform their lives, so that they would not only become the fruit of our labours but would, in turn, bear fruit for the kingdom themselves.

We prayed and we sewed—then prayed and sewed some more. And that banner hung on our church wall for quite some time, reminding us why we were there in that place and what God could do as we prayed. It was a hard area, but people did come to know God more and see God work in their lives.

Time passed and we moved on—and that banner too disappeared eventually. But I believe God heard those prayers of ours, as well as the ones written beneath the carpet in our current church. Our role is to pray—and God is not deaf to our pleas. That fruit will come, both in our own lives and in the lives of others, as we continue to trust and to share God’s love. How blessed we are that we can pray in all sorts of diverse ways, leaving those requests with our gracious, loving God!

This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Matthew 6:9-10

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Jo 12I missed my friend’s phone call about how her job interview had gone, so my husband passed on her message.

‘On the morning of the interview, she woke up laughing’ he said. ‘She’ll tell you the rest on Sunday.’

I smiled to myself. It sounded good news to me, as I remembered what had transpired after she had asked two of us to pray for her at church the previous Sunday. She had told us how she was feeling about the interview and how it had been a challenging task to compile her resumé, after not having done so for years. So together we bowed our heads and began praying.

Straight away, the other lady present asked God for deep peace for our friend, for the ability to sense God’s presence with her at the interview and for a clear mind to answer any questions put to her. But as I stood there agreeing with her prayer, I found myself feeling more and more joyful. In fact, I almost burst out laughing! What was I to do?

In the end, I prayed for our friend to have a good night’s sleep and wake up on the morning of the interview feeling joyful and refreshed. Then I shared with her how I sensed so much joy surrounding this interview that I had almost laughed aloud! I also told her that I felt she would find herself saying something at one point that she had not expected to say at all—and that, when she did, those interviewing her would heave a sigh of relief, laugh together and say, ‘That’s exactly what we wanted to hear!’ Yet, even as I shared these things, I wondered if they were from God at all or if I had simply imagined them.

How reassuring it was then to see her beaming face last Sunday, as she came to tell me what had happened! Yes, she said, she had indeed woken up laughing on the day of the interview. In fact, she had had a dream during the night that she arrived for the interview in old clothes and with just thongs on her feet. In the dream, she had apologised, but the interviewers had laughed and assured her it didn’t matter!

In the actual interview, however, when asked what she would do if she encountered something she had not dealt with before, my friend, without thinking, simply raised her left arm high, waved it around and let out an anguished ‘Help!’

At that point—you guessed it—the interviewing panel laughed and said, ‘That’s the best answer we could ever have hoped to hear!’

But wait, there’s more! For a long time, my friend has had problems with her left arm—yet this was the arm she had used, with no trouble at all, to raise and wave around enthusiastically!

Yes, Jesus, our Saviour, our Immanuel, has come into this world. Our God is with us, in the midst of our joy—and in the midst of our pain. Our God is with us, whatever our situation. Our God is with us, to the end of all time.

The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:25

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Jo 23You have to hand it to King David. So many times in the psalms, he doesn’t use any softly, softly approach when it comes to asking God for help. I have to say that’s a bit different from many of the prayers I’ve prayed over the years—and from some I’ve heard prayed aloud in public meetings at times.

‘Lord, we just ask you to heal her now, if that’s your will. But if it isn’t, please just show her what she needs to do to get better.’

‘Dear God, we invite you to be with us today. We welcome you to this place. We know you are here anyway, but please just be close to each one of us.’

Now I’ve discovered God is truly gracious and does hear and answer such prayers. Despite our slightly weird theology at times, God sees our hearts and knows what we need before we even ask (Matt 6:8). God isn’t confused by the words we use when we pray in public either. And David knew that, since in Psalm 139:4 we read: Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

But how refreshing it is to read those honest, gut-wrenching cries from David’s heart! Recently, I came across Psalm 35 again which begins:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.

There I was, cheering David on as I read and thinking about how this prayer could apply to the challenges in my own life, when I was stopped dead by his words at the end of verse 3:

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Hmmm … could David actually be telling God what to tell him in return? It’s as if he’s saying to God: ‘I think you said you’d save me. I was convinced of that—but now I’m not so sure. I want to know that deep down inside me, so please tell me it’s true.’ In The Message version, Peterson puts it this way:

Reassure me: let me hear you say, “I’ll save you.”

But I think there might be a bit more to it too, given David’s bold approach in the rest of the psalm. It’s as if David is calling God to account—as if he’s saying something like: ‘God, this is what you told me you’d do for me, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening. So if you tell me you’re my salvation, you’d better make good on your promise—because if you don’t, then you won’t have lived up to your name!’

What a challenge David is to me in the way he talks with God! And God doesn’t seem to have been offended, but rather sees David as ‘a man after his own heart’ (1 Sam 12:14). Surely it is that David understood God’s heart very well and, because of that, knew he could be completely honest and that God would not turn him away.

I want to pray big, fat, bold prayers like David did. I want to be a person after God’s own heart. Don’t you?

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My family will tell you I am not the world’s best patient. There is too much to do to lie still for long – after all, I have my latest novel to edit and speaking engagements to prepare for. And yet I know the severe sciatica in my right leg has a much greater chance of improving if I look after myself, apply heat to the affected area and stay off my feet as much as I can. I know too that pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will help – and yet I am reluctant to take them. I try to remain stoic – and not too grouchy and grumpy!

So what’s to be done? Well, eventually I do rest and take medication – but I also pray. And when I pray, I have two things in mind. Firstly, I ask God to bring healing and relief from the pain – at least enough to enable me to speak where I’m supposed to speak.  I know God can do this, because I have experienced it before. Several years ago, I was about to head to Turkey to visit a friend, when I ended up with excruciating lower back pain. We had planned a holiday together in the mountains near the Black Sea, which I knew would involve carrying a heavy backpack, climbing on and off buses, sleeping in hard beds – plus lots of walking. How would I ever manage? I couldn’t let me friend down – and besides, I really wanted to go. So I finally asked someone to pray for me at church one day for healing. At first, nothing seemed to happen – and I must admit I was slightly sceptical about it all. But later that afternoon, the pain lessened and finally lifted altogether. And during my time in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem doing all the things we had planned to do – praise God!

But the second thing I ask God as I pray is what I can learn through this time of pain. Is it perhaps that I have become a little too self-reliant, thinking I can do everything in my own strength? Is it that I need to learn to empathise more with others who are going through painful times? Or is it merely to develop more patience and perseverance in me? After all, writing novels does need both these qualities in vast measures – especially when it comes to that painstaking editing and re-writing process I have just begun.

And while I wait for God to answer both aspects of my prayer, I try to relax, knowing God is listening and will never forsake me. I am held in God’s loving arms, now and forever. I don’t know how or when God will answer, but I will keep praying and not give up, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18). Jesus ends this story with some words I always find quite sad and challenging:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

I want to be among those who are found to be full of faith. I want to learn to trust God more, whatever the circumstances. And right now, I pray for you too, if you are persevering through pain in any way. May God bring healing to you, just as you need, and the strength to stand firm until the end.

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In a recent blog, I described how one of my granddaughters has a unique theological approach to playing Snakes and Ladders. I have now become used to listening to her anguished pleas for God to help her throw a six and to observing the desperation on her cute, little face as she does so.

The other day, however, I discovered she has further refined her attempts to win. She now has a couple of additions or ‘postscripts’ that follow on after these heart-wrenching pleas to God.  When I heard the first one, I was a little shocked, I have to admit. You see, it was in the form of a veiled threat:  ‘Pleeeeeaaaaase give me a six, God – or I won’t be your friend!

It occurred to me, however, to wonder if some of us respond like that when God doesn’t seem to give us what we have asked for. How many of us feel really short-changed when things we have prayed about don’t happen – or at least not in the way we had hoped? Do we perhaps pull back and distance ourselves just that little bit from God? Maybe we choose to serve God just that bit less. Or perhaps we simply spend less time with God in prayer or bible reading.  But of course we’d never acknowledge this even to ourselves.  At least my granddaughter is being honest.

Then her next words made me think too. After threatening God with the withdrawal of her friendship, she decided God needed reminding who was actually doing the praying. ‘It’s Olivia here!’ she muttered, kind of under her breath as an afterthought. In other words: ‘Just in case you can’t quite tell who’s asking, God, or are a bit hard of hearing, I’m letting you know my name’s Olivia!’

Well, I tried to put her straight at that point and tell her God knows who she is and what she needs, so doesn’t need reminding – obviously she thinks God is perhaps like one of her grandfathers, who sometimes can’t quite tell which of his granddaughters he is talking to on the phone. And of course when he asks, she tells him in a hurt voice – ‘It’s Olivia here!’ So why not treat God like that too? Besides, God might be a bit absentminded as well and not quite remember her.

Olivia’s too young to understand fully yet that God in fact knew her long before she was even born and is intimately acquainted with us. In Psalm 139:2-4, we read:

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

So God knows our names and will hear us. Yet that doesn’t mean we will always get the ‘sixes’ we think we want or need – or at least not immediately. And it also doesn’t mean that when this happens, we sulk because we can’t control God. But I can’t help wondering, as I listen to my granddaughter, whether God would be more honoured my life if I were equally honest with him about my thoughts and feelings when I pray. After all, God knows them anyway – why pretend?

So let’s be God’s true and honest friends – all the time!

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Have you ever played Snakes and Ladders with a pre-schooler?  Perhaps you too have had the job of explaining that if you land on a square with the end of a ladder in it, then you can actually climb UP the ladder!  On the other hand, you might also remember the deflated look you received when you passed on the bad news that landing on a snake’s head means you have to slide DOWN said snake and thus lose a lot of the hard won ground you have gained!

Snakes and Ladders is definitely a game of fluctuating fortunes, so when our granddaughters first learned to play it, I was quite happy to help them along and ‘let’ them win.  Nowadays the game still has its tricky moments for my four-year-old granddaughter – sometimes it’s a challenge to work out which way she is supposed to head.  After all, is fifty really the next number after forty-nine? Yet on the other hand, she has also become quite resourceful even at her tender age and occasionally tries to employ a couple of original techniques to aid in winning.  One is to throw the die behind her back or somewhere far away and then miraculously when she picks it up to turns out to be a six!  But the other is much more ‘spiritual’ – it involves fervently praying aloud to God to give her a six!

‘Please God – I really, really need a six!  Pleeeaaase listen to me!’ she entreats in an agonised voice, with screwed up face and hands cupped plaintively around the die.

And when, as happened yesterday, she does throw a six, she lets out a sigh of relief and exclaims in a delighted voice: ‘Oh, thank you, God – you did listen to me!’

Now I thought I had better put her theology straight at this point. So I tried to explain that whether she ends up throwing a six or not, God is still listening – and that God doesn’t always give us what we think we want or need.  But I didn’t get much further than that.  For some strange reason it seemed to be going over her head – and anyway, she had lost interest, since she had won the game.

I came away from this experience with the humbling thought, however, that perhaps God was trying to say something to me through it all. At times I’m sure I treat God like a ‘Snakes and Ladders’ God, crying out for help when disaster threatens and only giving thanks when I am rescued – if even then.  Yet I don’t want to be like that – I want to live in a place of rest and peace with God, knowing that whatever happens, God is still the same loving, holy, powerful and awesome God and will be forever.  And I want to ensure that Paul’s words are true of me at every stage of my life – as I hope and pray they will in our granddaughters’ lives:

Do not be anxious about anything, 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)

How about you?  Are you into ‘spiritual’ Snakes and Ladders?

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‘Bothering’ God

The other day I heard a radio announcer talking and laughing about a particular group of politicians in our federal parliament he derisively called ‘God-botherers’.  It wasn’t so much what he said, but the tone in which he said it that ‘bothered’ me.  These people were dangerous, he seemed to be implying.  These people should not be allowed to gain the upper hand.  This was some kind of ‘plot’ to force their ideologies on others and to take the majority of Australians in a direction they do not necessarily want to go.

This announcer did not seem to be talking about an actual Christian minority party, but rather politicians across the board who happen to have a genuine faith in God, who want to govern with integrity and in a way that they believe honours God, who actually spend time praying, meeting with other Christians in and outside parliament when they can and even reading the bible.  And there are quite a few of them, apparently – enough to ‘bother’ this announcer anyway.

It isn’t the politics of the matter I’d like to comment on, however.  It’s more the implied criticism of the whole idea that people seriously think they can ‘bother’ God.  Is it that this announcer feels it’s ludicrous to believe in a God who isn’t even there, or for some other reason is unable to listen to our piffling problems?  Or is it that this God might really be out there somewhere, but is obviously uncaring about the world and what goes on in our little lives?

Strange, but this isn’t what I glean from the bible.  In Matthew 6, we see how Jesus himself showed his disciples how to pray by giving them Lord’s prayer.  In Philippians 4:6 we read:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told simply to ‘keep on praying’.  Just as succinctly, James 4:2 tells us: ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God’.  And even way back in the Old Testament, God seemed pretty keen on being ‘bothered’.  ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land’, 2 Chronicles 7:14 says.

So I’m into ‘bothering’ God in a big way.  How about you?

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