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When You Don’t Know What to Pray

8 Jul

Enjoy this humorous prayer wisdom from a child’s perspective.ChildInPrayer_LOLwithGod_Graphic-Morguefile

Joe went into his daughter’s bedroom and heard her repeating the alphabet, over and over again.

“Honey,” he said, “why are you saying your ABC’s so many times?

His daughter Cheri replied, “I’m saying my prayers.”

Joe couldn’t help but laugh. “Prayers? All I hear is the alphabet.”

Cheri patiently explained, “Well, I don’t know all the words, so I give God the letters.  HE knows what I’m trying to say.” *

Cute … but full of truth, right?

Like that little girl, I’ve also given God “all the letters” and even my confused thoughts many times when I didn’t know what or how to pray in a particular circumstance. I remember a time when the burden was too big for words.

And you know what? My heavenly Father doesn’t frown on that. He knows what I am. (I’m made of DUST! Psalm 103:14.) He knows how weak I am. But my Father continues to welcome me in prayer as He expresses nothing but goodness, compassion, forgiveness, healing, mercy and love toward me (Psalm 103:1-12).

Who would not come to such a loving Father?

The truth is, all of the Trinity comes to my aid when it comes to prayer.

Yes, “The LORD is like a father to his children …” and He knows how much we need his help when we are praying in His presence. 

But what about the Spirit of God?

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).

The Spirit of God takes my weak and inadequate prayers and interprets them to the Father. He prays for me according to the Father’s holy purposes.

This is a special gift of grace.

The Spirit makes sense of my words, straightens and cleans them all up—and corrects them if need be—and then He takes them into the Father’s presence.

This doesn’t mean I can’t come boldly on my own to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16); God invites me to share my heart with courage and humility. He has “grace to help” in my time of need.

But what a blessing to have the promise that if my prayers make no sense, if I am so stricken emotionally that I can’t utter a single intelligible sentence, I don’t have to worry that God won’t hear my cry. The Spirit is my helper (Romans 8:26). He convicts me of sin, leads me to repentance and prays for me in ways I will never understand. And my Father listens and accepts His prayers on my behalf.

And it’s not just the Spirit who pleads my case. The Savior is praying for me too. 

The Bible says He is “always living to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34).  Jesus is my Advocate—my Defender and Mediator (1 John 2:1; 1 Timothy 2:5), allowing me to stand forgiven before the Father.

Not only that, He has given us a helpful pattern for our prayers. Remember when Jesus taught the disciples who asked, “Teach us to pray”? (Luke 11:1-13)

So I don’t need to let the enemy, the Accuser (Revelation 12:10), make me fear for one moment when I don’t know what to pray. I can always cry out to God in repentance and faith.

The Lord Almighty, my Father God, leans in to hear my words, and I have the promise of the Holy Spirit to interpret for me and the Savior’s intercession to come to my aid.

Do you fret that you cannot pray well? What does it mean to you that the whole Trinity is working on your behalf when you pray the simplest of prayers?

 – Dawn

–  Adapted from “Not Knowing All the Words,” The Cybersalt Digest, Issue #3692, 7-14-11

– Graphic, adapted, courtesy of Morguefile

I Wouldn’t Wish It on My Worst Enemy

11 Jun

I saw a sign that read, “No matter how bad your day feels today, remember this:  someone has to clean the bathroom at McDonald’s.”

WorstEnemies_LOLwithGod_Graphic-MorguefileNow I don’t know how bad McDonald’s bathrooms can get—or any other restaurant’s bathroom for that matter. But I’ve been in some public bathrooms I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!

I’ve seen some hairdos I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy too.  And some fat-filled buffets!

My husband used that expression the other day in reference to … well, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is, hubby’s comment started me thinking about what I would wish on my worst enemy.

Not too much, really. I’m a fairly compassionate person. I don’t really have a “worst enemy,” humanly speaking.

God’s people in the Old Testament, on the other hand, had plenty of enemies. One source says Israel and Judah had 8,728 enemies! Wow! Sometimes God protected (1 Samuel 12:11) and delivered (Deuteronomy 23:14a; 2 Kings 17:39) His people from their enemies. And sometimes God used these enemies to chasten (Deuteronomy 28:47-48) them.

I’ve read many passages by the psalmists when they were not wishing their enemies well.

For example, Psalm 69:22-24:

Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,  and make their loins tremble continually. Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.

Strong stuff, right? We have to remember a few things when we read imprecatory verses and prayers. (“Imprecatory” means invoking judgment, calamity or curses on enemies of God.)  The psalmists noted the enemy’s evil, but they did more than that.

The psalmists emphasized God’s hatred of evil; His love, care and protection for His chosen people; and His sovereign control over believers’ lives.

Jesus and Paul quoted some of these harsh-sounding Psalms  (see John 15:25; Romans 11:9-11), and they weren’t motivated by selfishness or sin. They were upholding the holiness and righteousness of the Almighty.

So I wondered, “Is it ever right for me to pray like the psalmists, to pray against my enemies … those who wish me harm … those who would persecute me?”

I knew I had to think about this a little deeper.

1. Definition: Who qualifies to be my “enemy”?

My “enemies” aren’t the people who do stupid things I don’t appreciate—people who cross over three lanes of traffic and cut me off so they won’t miss the off-ramp … people who let their dog bark outside at two and three in the morning when I’m trying to sleep … people who butt in front of me in the grocery line … even Christians who rub me the wrong way.

And “unbelievers” (overall) aren’t necessarily my enemies either. While they may be enemies of God (Romans 5:10 and 8:7-8), in regard to me, it’s usually going to be clash of worldviews. They might be hostile toward God and the purity of the Christian message—and they will usually identify themselves as “against” the Lord in some way. Maybe they’ll push a debate with hurtful words. Perhaps they’ll mock or insult the things I hold dear, or the Lord Himself. For many Christians worldwide, it may escalate to threats or worse, but here in America, that’s not the case. Yet.

Some might say we could also consider people in the church who constantly stand against the Gospel and practice overt sin as “enemies.” I personally hesitate to do that because we do not know a person’s heart—we can only see a person’s actions. (But actions might be a strong indication of an “enemy” heart!)

Recognizing the enemy is a good start in responding wisely. As retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (now executive vice president of the Family Research Council) said, “The church needs to understand the enemy. It’s a fundamental principle of mounting a successful campaign against it.”

2. Instruction: When I feel like reacting, why can’t I retaliate?

So let’s say an “enemy” rises us against me. What am I to do then?

The Bible says vengeance is God’s territory (Romans 12:19). He has this right because He is God and He is the righteous judge who is indignant about wickedness (Psalm 7:11); and He knows all things, even the heart (Jeremiah 17:10) of our persecutor.

Christ-followers don’t have the right to practice vengeance. [That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time to fight.] *

Lt. Gen. Boykin said the believer in Christ “needs to recognize that while there is a reference in the Bible to loving your enemies, there is also a reference in Psalm 94 (verse 16) that tells us to stand up against evil.”

But standing up against evil is not, for the Christian, about vengeance. Not being vengeful seems so hard, so impossible when we’ve been desperately wronged. But people notice when we leave the judging to God. As the Word says, we are to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).

Case in point: America stood amazed as the members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, refused to judge a man who murdered nine of their own. They offered forgiveness instead, and left the judging to the Lord and the courts.

The media couldn’t stop talking about their incredible love when so wronged.

3. Commission: Jesus tells me to pray for my enemies, not against them. 

Jesus made it clear:  He commissioned His people to pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-38).

The Lord didn’t say, “Pray for your enemies if they suddenly ‘make nice.'” No, He didn’t leave it open for discussion.

Paul takes this a step further when he says we are to feed our enemy and give him something to drink. We’re not to be overcome by evil (our enemy’s intent), but instead, overcome evil with good deeds of kindness and love (Romans 12:20-21).

4. Clarification:  Jesus says I’m to pray, but what am I supposed to pray?

Living under grace, I’m not supposed to pray for bad things to happen to people. My prayers are to be motivated by love, not hate.

If I pray in love:

  • I will pray for an “enemy’s” salvation. I can pray God will enlighten my enemy’s mind so he can understand the life-changing Gospel and believe. This might take more compassion than I can muster when I’ve been abused, but it will be the love of God that softens my heart and enables me to pray about an enemy’s eternal destination.

One thing is for sure: I would not wish hell on my worst enemy!

  • I will pray life’s circumstances will cause my “enemy” to respond to the goodness of God and repent of sin (Romans 2:4). These don’t have to be awful circumstances. There are many stories of people moved by love or kindness—things they can’t understand—to seek the Lord.
  • I will pray God’s purposes will prevail. I don’t have to like what’s happening, but I can yield in prayer to God’s sovereignty and trust Him for the outcome. All things will work together for good—my good and God’s glory—even when I don’t understand how (Romans 8:28).

Prayer for my enemy doesn’t make me a wimp. It makes me a warrior of love.

And as I pray, I will take a strong stand against evil in my world. Paul says believers wrestle against many “spiritual enemies” within and without. Beyond prayer, we must stand firm against the schemes of the devil and his followers by putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19).

5. Supplication: I must remember my brothers and sisters.

Finally, I want to spend my time interceding for the family of God—praying the “saints” will stay alert and strong against our ultimate enemy and his strategies to defeat them (6:18).

Got any “enemies” you’re praying for today? Are you praying for the family of God?

– Dawn

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Morguefile

* A short word about war: It’s a topic that divides the body of Christ, and I’m not going to get into it in a big way here (“just war” or otherwise) except to say:  While Jesus did say to “turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:29) and the principle there is forgiveness; on the other hand, I do think there is a time to go to war (Ecclesiastes 3:8b). It may be a matter of self defense (Exodus 22:2) or protecting innocents and our loved ones (which is a godly response). It’s not a matter of selfish conquest or wicked aggression. (For more on this, check out an article by Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM), “Should a Christian Go to War.”)

 

 

 

6 Strategies to Deal with Distractions in Prayer

24 Apr

ChildPeekingDuringPrayerThe home group Bible study met at her parents’ house, and little RoseAnn decided to join the prayer circle at the beginning of the meeting.

As each person prayed, RoseAnn peeked and studied each man and woman around the room.

Then, as the prayers ended, she announced to the group, “You all looked really bored. You kept playing with your hair, Mrs. Green. You were doodling, Miss Willow. You even yawned, Mr. Hancock!”

“Well, little miss,” Mr. Hancock said, “you must not have been paying much attention to the prayers yourself, if you spent all that time peeking.”

RoseAnn’s mouth dropped open. She was so embarrassed. Apparently, she’d never thought about her own distractions in prayer!

I’m little RoseAnn sometimes. Most of the time, I’m focused on the Lord and what I’m praying about. But then it’s like I’m “peeking” into other scenarios.

  • “I’ve got to remember to put out some hamburger for dinner.”
  • “I wonder when Bob will be home?”
  • “When was that doctor appointment?”
  • “Do I smell chocolate?”
  • “I’ve got to get new shoes for the conference.”

Ugh. I have such a short attention span.

It’s like the dog who has the attention span of a gnat. In obedience training, he’s so easily distracted. DidYouSaySquirrel_Maltese

“OK, Master, I’ll heel. Such a nice day. I love walking right next to you all over the neighborhood. OH LOOK … a squirrel!”

And the well-meaning doggie is on the chase!

I don’t want to be like that dog, chasing after squirrely thoughts. So as I’ve thought about distractions in prayer, here are six strategies that help me have better prayer times.

1. Retreat: Find a Place that Makes Sense.

Obviously, although you can pray anywhere, you don’t want to have an extended time of prayer in a crazy-busy place. That doesn’t make sense.

If possible, find a private place, something that becomes a place of retreat from the distractions of your life. Matthew 6:6 says, “…when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place….”

2. Remove: Shut Off Other Sounds

The Psalmist said it’s in the “still” place where we come to know God (Psalm 46:10). This is stillness toward distractions from outside you. (There’s another kind of stillness in #5.)

To encourage stillness, shut off electronics — television, computers, the phone ringer, music, etc. — so you can listen for God’s voice in your heart.

3. Refocus: Lift Up Your Soul.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look away from yourself and look to God. Then, focus your attention away from the things of earth and “lift up” your soul — give your full attention to the Lord (Psalm 25:1).

Practice His presence and rest there. It’s a choice! Let it become a joyful habit!

4. Resist: Don’t Give In.

The simplest solution, once you realize you’re distracted, is to turn your heart and thoughts back to prayer. Don’t take time to “entertain” or examine the distraction.

Recognize that the enemy, Satan, wants your mind to wander. Resist him (James 4:7) and capture your thoughts for the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5b). Another way to say this is, refuse entrance to anything that hinders during your quiet time with God.

5. Relinquish: Yield Over Stresses and Struggles

Carol, a friend of mine in college used to say “Be still” near the beginning of her prayers. This “be still” was a message to her own heart. It was like she was saying a stern “Shhhh!” to remove the inner distracting rumblings of her troubled spirit.

This is stillness that is more internal, and the best way to arrive at this stillness is to yield (hand over) all worries or anxieties to the Lord as they arise in your heart (Psalm 55:22; Matthew 6:25-34; John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7). Stillness comes when we cast all our anxieties on Jesus (1 Peter 5:7-8).

6. Record: Jot It Down.

Be prepared with paper and pen when you go to prayer. If a distracting thought returns, one strategy may be to write a simple phrase to help you dismiss the thought and pick it up later.

(Be careful with this one. I once wrote half of a blog this way because I couldn’t seem to shut my mind off to distracting thoughts! I’d pray a sentence, jot a note, pray a sentence, jot a note. Maybe that’s a good strategy for writing — to pray before we write — but it’s not very effective for developing intimacy with God. Imagine if you did that in a conversation with a good friend!)

What distracts you when you pray? Which of these strategies might help? Can you think of another strategy?

– Dawn

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