Learning to Pray Flash Prayers – III


Whatever could the Apostle Paul have meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians, “Pray without ceasing?” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That his readers should do nothing else but pray? Not likely.

Yet, the Jerusalem Bible has his words, “Pray constantly,” And J. B. Phillips paraphrases it, “Never stop praying.”

How about this: “Always keep conversation with the Lord at the ready in your heart; and in the unfolding of the day, be quick to turn any blessing or need into a prayer.”

Think of Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes of Persia. He learned that the few occupants back in the Jerusalem he loved were desolate and the city itself in ruins and he sat down and wept. The king saw sadness on Nehemiah’s face and asked what it meant.

In the moment, Nehemiah, “… prayed to the God of heaven,” and then he answered the king …” (Nehemiah 2:4,5)

The king’s question, Nehemiah’s prayer and the king’s answer to Nehemiah, all three, seem to have happened at the same moment. Such praying was instant to him.

We know for Nehemiah the normal course of his life made prayer habitual. Look, for example, at how extensive and impassioned his prayer was otherwise in the previous chapter (Nehemiah 1:4-11)

Or consider the case of the evangelist, Stephen, who died as a martyr. The Scriptures say, “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this against them.’ When he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59). Stephen died praying.

It seems appropriate to assume when the Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing,” he meant both kinds of prayer — first the habitual, daily, ordered prayer that frames our lives, and then the numerous, instantaneous flash prayers launched daily for the thoughts, encounters, interactions, and issues of any moment.

Jesus assured his distraught disciples they always would have access to him. He told them, “I will not leave you orphaned…” (John 14:18). In other words, through the Holy Spirit and by prayer, the resurrected Jesus would be accessible to them all the time.

And he assured them that his Father would make his home with believers. (John 14:23) How could our God offer us greater intimacy than that for our flash prayers? So here are the kind of prayers we can practice:

Flash prayers of affirmation: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” “Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad.” Let such rise at any moment.

Flash prayers of petition: “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “May my associates see the joy of the Lord in me today.” “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.” Strengthen me to be honest in all my dealings. May I be as light to my fellow workers today. Keep me faithful in the hour of temptation. Always appropriate.

Flash prayers for others: Bless my family near and far. Remember my acquaintances in the hospital or nursing home today. Give heed to my unanswered prayers as I repeat them. Give strength and wisdom to my pastor. May those I touch see your grace in me today. Remember leaders of both church and nation. May they seek your wisdom in all things.

Examples: we might entreat for mercy when driving past the site of an accident on the way to work; when an unbelieving neighbor greets us over the back fence; when we note a student’s sad expression in the classroom; when the little children seem unconsolable; before and during a hard exam; or upon receipt of great good news.

We may not be put on the spot like Nehemiah or called to die for our faith like Stephen, but there are many issues each day that invite flash prayers. They can become a style of life.

If we cultivate this habit the depth and richness of our faith and our adequacy for life will be enhanced.

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Teaching A Grandson About Daily Prayer — II

2706269640_2081136b7c_mDEAR GRANDSON:

I hope during the past week your life has been enriched by daily prayer. I now look back with you to ancient writings where prayer was often divided into five elements.

1. ADORATION. Jesus said to his disciples, “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Hallowed means sacred or consecrated. This calls our hearts out to adoration.

Adoration is prayer at its best. We praise God because he is God. God does not need our adorations but we need them because in pouring them forth we affirm a reality about life.

It’s good to take time in our morning prayers to ponder what we know about God, — he is merciful, loving, all-powerful. This prompts us to adore him, and adoration is like the porch by which we enter the grand cathedral of prayer.

2. CONFESSION. When we are converted to Jesus Christ, he delivers us from the life of habituated sinning. Paul said, “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2). And John writes, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). We dare not excuse known sin in our lives.

At the same time, Jesus recognized that in our frailty, carelessness or willfulness we transgress. That is why he said, “When you pray say: … forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:2). James also reminds Christians, “We all stumble in many ways,” referring primarily to sins of the tongue.

That is why we rejoice in the salvation that delivers us from the life of sin. We are acceptable before a holy God because of the offering of Christ’s shed blood on our behalf. But at the same time we make a place in our prayers to confess sins we may have knowingly or unknowingly committed – sinful thoughts, hurtful or deceptive words or shameful deeds.

3. PETITION. Our petitions bring personal needs before the Lord. Nothing is too insignificant to include in our prayers. God sees the sparrow fall. He promises, “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8)

Yet there will be perplexities for us in pray. Sometimes the Lord’s answers amaze us. At other times, divine delays test our faith. Sometimes we don’t get the answers we want, and we may even be tempted at times to believe God doesn’t even hear our prayers.

Jesus taught us an important lesson on this matter. Praying in Gethsemane, he cried out for deliverance from a cruel, anguishing death. But he added, “Nevertheless, Not my will but thine be done.” Even in his great anguish he confessed that the Father rules over all.

Therefore, because we don’t know all that God is doing, we pray with fervor but add to our petitions these words, “thy will be done”. The Hebrew letter exhorts, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:27)

4. INTERCESSION. This word means to plead with God for the needs of others. Ezekiel wrote of a time when the walls of the city were broken down and the dwellers were in grave peril. God looked for someone who would build up the walls and stand before him in the gap (Ezekiel 22:30). That’s the picture of an intercessor.

We make intercession a regular part of our prayers, praying for our nation, our community, our church, for family needs and the salvation of loved ones and associates. Daily intercession keeps our prayers looking outward and upward.

5. THANKSGIVING. If adoration is the worship of God for who he is, thanksgiving is an acknowledgment of the blessings he bestows. Here’s my secret: I sometimes find that when my prayers seem to drag if I turn them into thanksgiving this restores the energy of prayer. It’s amazing what forgotten mercies the Lord brings to mind when we turn our thoughts to thanksgiving.

Well, Dear Grandson, I leave you with a thought from Frank Laubach: “Prayer is likely to be undervalued by all but wise people because it is so silent and so secret. We are often deceived into thinking that noise is more important than silence. War sounds far more important than the noiseless growing of a crop of wheat, yet the silent wheat feeds millions while war destroys them.”

Your Loving Grandfather

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Teaching a Grandson About Daily Prayer

PrayerDear Grandson:

I’m delighted that you want instruction on how to make prayer and Bible reading a part of your daily routine. I’ll first make some practical suggestions, and then next week, focus on the classical structure of prayer.

God has created us with an impulse to pray, and regular times set aside for prayer enrich the soul. The Psalmist wrote, “O Lord, the God who saves me, / day and night I cry out before you” (Psalm 88:1). Paul exhorted the Ephesian church, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18).

Paul met pagan Greek philosophers in Athens on Mars Hill. He declared to them that “In (God) we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If that is true for pagan Greek philosophers, it should be doubly embraced by us to whom God has revealed himself through Christ Jesus.

So here is suggestion one: make time for prayers in the morning (at least five or ten minutes) by planning your bedtime the night before. Then, upon rising, be efficient in getting ready for the day to preserve time for prayer before you leave for the day.

Suggestion two: Read from a portion of Scripture according to a plan. Consider reading through Mark, the shortest gospel account, a few paragraphs at a time. Or pray your way through one Psalm a day. Or read from the Proverbs and James. Pray that God will enlighten your mind to what He is saying to you each time you read.

Billy Graham reported many years ago that, at that time, he was reading from the Psalms and the Proverbs together. His reason for this routine was that the Psalms helped him to worship God – the vertical; and the Proverbs helped him in human relationships – the horizontal.

I follow a Bible guide from the Canadian Bible Society. I’ll send you a copy. I’ve found jumping here and there without a plan will not hold one’s interest. Alternatively: you may look for a Bible reading plan in a study Bible or get one from your pastor.

Suggestion three: In your morning prayer, commit the new day to the Lord and ask for his guidance for every task and responsibility. Pray for your family, colleagues, and friends. If you have special needs, include them in your prayer. James says, “The prayer of a righteous man (or woman) is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Daily prayer nurtures faith and, in turn, growing faith encourages daily prayer.

Suggestion four: For morning prayers, choose a posture that will help you stay alert. I recommend sitting at a table. You can pray in a whisper or a normal voice. I pray aloud when I’m alone. Hearing my voice helps me to remain alert. It protects me from just chasing wandering thoughts, or nodding off.

Suggestion five: I find it helpful to have a pattern as a background for prayer even though I don’t follow that pattern every morning. If I get distracted or lose concentration I revert to it, following the pattern for several days.

Next week I’ll write about that pattern — the five classic elements in prayer. I’ll tell you in advance that you may not need to make all five a part of every morning’s prayer time. But I would like you to get familiar with these elements and keep them as a background when you pray.

Until then, may your faithfulness in daily prayer enrich your life in ways greater than you expect!

Your loving Grandfather

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Re-post: What is Faith — Really?

A Sunday School lad was asked what he thought the word “faith” meant. He said, “Faith means believing what you know ain’t so.”

The boy’s response may seem extreme, but not entirely off-base because, at times, what you call faith may seem almost non-existent. There is a God; of that you’re sure. But when unexpected adversity strikes, the robust faith that others seem to have is just not there for you. It leaves you asking: what is faith — really?

Here’s an answer right out of the Scriptures: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb. 11:1).

The first word of importance here is hope. We usually use the word in mundane ways: “After college. I hope to go to graduate school.” Or “I hope the doctor’s report will be positive.” What we get from such sentences is that hope means optimism about our unforeseen future, and we all need some of that.

But the author of Hebrews uses the word in a much more comprehensive way. It has to do not only with the world our five senses experience but also with the unseen world our spiritual senses engage – the world where God dwells. Elsewhere the writer says that hope is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” and this anchor binds us to where “Jesus who went before us” is (Heb. 6:19,20).

Faith insists that there is more to reality than what we perceive in the moment. In fact, this broader understanding of reality makes one think of St. Paul’s caution to the Corinthian church: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:19). We believe that Christ was raised from the dead, and based on that belief we must hold our promised resurrection dear.

So, when the author of the Hebrews says “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” he is saying that our trust in Christ for both time and eternity gives us a certainty that anchors the life we live here and now – this life with its hurts and disappointments as well as its pleasures and surprises. This faith makes us sure of Christ; we are sure of our salvation; we are sure that Our Lord will not leave us alone in the tough times; and this faith makes us sure that our faith in Christ makes our eternal future in him secure.

The author of the Hebrews tells us also that faith makes us “certain of what we do not see” — at least what we do not see with our physical eyes. Here again reality for Christians has a broader perspective than just the here-and-now. We have eyes to see in this life and we use them with joy, but there is a larger reality that goes beyond the physical act of seeing. When Jesus promised his disciples that, “where I am you will be also” he was thinking with this larger vision (John 14:3). When this faith is fully exercised, it grounds our lives in a certainty. Call it Heaven.

We need not be in a hurry to get there. We don’t have to renounce the goodness of our present life or our challenges as God presents them in the here-and-now. The call to faith is never a call to be gloomy. In fact, our life needs this broader perspective in order for us to function with strength and joy in the present. So, authentic Christian faith makes us “certain of what we do not see.”

Is there another way to say this? Eugene Peterson in THE MESSAGE paraphrases the verse from Hebrews this way: “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.”

And Oswald Chambers had a fix on the realities of this kind of faith when he wrote, “Faith is a deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”

Again, Rabindranath Tagore understood that faith makes us adequate and keeps us calm when the stresses of the here-and-now are severe. He wrote: “Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark.”

So, the faith we are called to in the Scriptures is really the opposite of “believing what we know ain’t so.” It is being assured of the reality of what we hope for (in Christ) and made certain of what we do not see (with our physical eyes but do see with our spiritual eyes). We know what faith is and, taken this way, it gives us solid footing for life!

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The Church’s Oldest Song Book

2143980427_c96f3ee879_m“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … ” When a minister recites these memorable words before a congregation grieving a tragedy that has struck them, that minister is repeating a psalm that has comforted God’s dear children for more than 3000 years.

Psalm 23 is attributed to David, the shepherd king, and has been recited across the centuries in public worship by those rich in faith or whispered in lonely places by the imprisoned, sick, forlorn or betrayed. The shepherd psalm has great power to inspire faith.

But it’s just one of 150 psalms, though likely the best known and most loved of them all. There are many more in this ancient collection that give renewed strength to go on. For example, “The Lord is my light and my salvation — / whom shall I fear? / The Lord is the stronghold of my life — / of whom then shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

You may be curious as I am to know how God used humans to bring this collection of his inspired word into existence. No one knows for sure but one possibility is that Cyrus, ruler of Persia played a role. Late in the sixth century B.C. God moved him to give permission to the exiled people of Israel to return to their native land with the weighty task of rebuilding their demolished temple and restoring their practices of worship.

Certain Jewish patriots among them must have asked from whence would the worship music come for this rebuilding. It is possible that Ezra, the priest, saw the need and set about sorting the thousands of sacred poems of the nation to arrive at the 150 finally chosen.

Another possibility is that a company of cult-prophets may have anticipated the need and set into motion the search, and it was they who did the sorting.

Whatever the case, we know the psalter has selections from many sources composed across more than 1000 years. Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. At least 73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to David, who lived three centuries later. It is believed some psalms were even composed after the exile.

In the 16th century A.D., Martin Luther called the Psalter “The Bible in miniature.” As such, it holds a special relationship to both Old and New Testaments. For example, there are 207 verses from the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament, and 116 of these are from the Psalms.

The psalms are unmatched instruments for worship. Consider how our Lord leaned on them for strength. At the close of his last meal with his disciples, he and the eleven sang together the Hallel, Psalms 113–118. From his cross, and feeling abandoned, our Lord Jesus chose to cry out in the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Despite all this history, we sometimes neglect the psalms, perhaps because they may not meet our sense of what poetry should be.

If this is the case for you, it may help you to understand that in their construction, Hebrew poems follow the major principle of parallelism. That is, a second line often repeats the sense of the first using different words: “I will extol the Lord at all times; / his praise will always be on my lips.” (Psalm 34:1). Or a second line may complete the first line: “Save me, O God, / for the waters have come up to my neck” (Psalm 69:1). There are other variations of parallelisms but this may give you a start.

The themes of the psalms are diverse, yet, diverse as they are, they are gathered together under one title. The word, “psalms” in the Hebrew language means “praises.” The psalms are meant to help us reduce to worship all of life’s experiences — the good and the bad — and in all circumstances to praise the Majesty of Heaven who is always accessible to his people.

It is always good for believers to say, “The Lord is MY Shepherd,” because the God of the psalms has declared himself a personal presence to us and has proven his trustworthiness throughout the ages. So we turn to this rich source of worship to “praise” the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether our faith is ripe and growing, or life’s wounds have left us with situations we don’t understand.

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Have You Ever Wondered Why a Bride and Groom Stand at the Marriage Altar with Their Backs to the Congregation?

14157224552_d054b78e05_mThere are reasons for this stance and the account of Solomon’s dedication of the just-completed temple gives us helpful hints (1 Kings 8).

To understand fully, we must visualize this magnificent building. Built in a rectangular shape, it was entered from the east into a large courtyard where the huge brazen altar stood for the offering of sacrifices. Then inside the building proper was the nave, called the Holy Place.

The inner sanctuary was deepest into the building and called the Holy of Holies. Here, the ark of the covenant had yet to be placed. God told his people that he would live among them, and this ark symbolized his presence.

Before King Solomon could begin the dedication, the Ark of the Covenant had to be carried by the priests from its prior resting place in the city of David and into the Holy of Holies.

The procession moved slowly and the courtyard was filled with great numbers of elders from throughout the nation. Solomon led the priests carrying the ark of the covenant toward the Holy of Holies. All the while, sacrifices were being offered extravagantly.

When the altar was finally placed in the Holy of Holies, and the priests withdrew, the Scriptures say, “… a cloud filled the temple of the Lord.” (1 Kings 8:10,11 NLT). Priests could not work because of this visible demonstration of God’s presence.

Now, notice how Solomon proceeded with the dedication. He faced the Holy of Holies with his back to the throng of elders. It was as though with mind, heart, and even position, he was focused first not on surroundings or the throngs, but on God as he prayed, “I have built for you a glorious house where you can live forever!”

Only then did he turn around to face the large gathering and bless them, following with explanatory sentences (1 Kings 8:11 -21 NLT).

Next, he turned away from the people and again faced toward the Holy of Holies and “with his hands lifted toward heaven before the altar of the Lord and before the entire community of Israel” he prayed a moving prayer for the nation (1 Kings 8:31 – 53 NLT).

But he also acknowledged with awe that the holiness and majesty of God were infinitely beyond any man-made structure, saying, “… will God really live on earth? Why even the highest heavens can’t contain you. How much less this temple I have built?” (1 Kings 8:27 NLT)

From that ancient time to the present, whether God is worshipped in lofty cathedral or humble frame church building, believers have taken their cue from Solomon’s dedication. At a wedding, for example, the bride and groom marry facing where communion table, open Bible, or mounted cross might stand as major symbols of the faith.

In a real sense, the officiating minister guides them as they exchange vows before God in his majesty and holiness. All of this explains why bride and groom face forward, with backs to the people, as though facing the “holy of holies” for their vows, and in a real sense saying: this is the house of the Lord, and by his living presence he is here with us.

In a Christian service, we who minister always hope the bride and groom will rise above the stresses of wedding detail and be moved to say their vows with an elevated sense of the presence and blessing of God.

And all of this is why the parties to a marriage stand with their backs to the congregation, looking forward, knowing in their hearts they are making vows in the presence of Almighty God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Re-post: About Weddings and Such

Photo credit: Oh mon héros ! [Kenya express) via flicker.comI got a note yesterday from a longstanding friend in a midwestern city to remind me that 40 years ago this month she, her groom, and I stood at the altar in the Greenville church where I administered their wedding vows. The bride’s father, an ordained minister, assisted. Her note was warm to both Kathleen and me, with other comments about that special day and our visits together that led up to it, and how much it had meant to them across four decades. Ministerial moments like that create a bond for a lifetime.

It so happened that about one month earlier Kathleen and I had shared a celebratory mail with a couple here in Ontario, for the same purpose. In a restaurant overlooking beautiful West Lake, we remembered that I had led them in exchanging their vows in New Westminster, B. C. 50 years earlier that very month. In the glow of the late afternoon sun we had reviewed our memories of the wedding and certain features attending the event. Those memories too are precious.

In a sense, each wedding was a one-of-a-kind event, never to be duplicated. Each was planned by the bride and her mother. (Grooms often show little interest in the details of the wedding itself; they just want to get through it.) In another sense, both weddings were the same in that, from a Christian perspective, all weddings are the same. That is, they all celebrate the wedding couple’s entrance into the “institution of marriage.” We Christians believe that God himself set the standards for marriage when he brought Eve to Adam with the intent that “they too shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24b). That truth is declared at every Christian wedding.

Across our 67 years of ministry there have been many weddings, some private, some public, some joyful, some vaguely sad, some lavish some simple but beautiful. There was the wedding of the bride who had been abandoned by her father in her early childhood, and whom she had never seen again — until he turned up unexpectedly on the morning of her wedding. This brought on a paroxysm of tears, a panic, and, for her, it took the bloom from the day. Once, a couple came to my study to tell me that they had divorced four years earlier prompted by a foolish fight that got out of hand. Over time and with the cooling of their pride they had realized what a mistake they had made. A week later I took them into the Luzader Chapel along with their children to be the first couple married in that facility. It was a tender moment of reconciliation.

Kathleen served as the wedding hostess at our weddings, coaching the bride and bridle party, and thus relieving their stress, and endearing herself again and again to the brides’ mothers. This was one of the most pleasant of pastoral duties for which we teamed together. Her services certainly made my part of the task easier. And by our generous services we signalled to the families that this event was very important to us – not just something ministers do on Saturdays.

I could not have foreseen all this as a challenging and enjoyable part of the work when as a 16-year-old boy I made my first affirmative responses to a call to the ministry. Nor could I have grasped the broad assignment of Christian ministry and the breadth of its challenges. Kathleen couldn’t have either when she consented to marry me. But recalling it now reminds us of what some young people will miss if they disregard or resist the call God places on their hearts to enter pastoral life in the service of the Master. It’s not just wedding and such, it’s entering deeply into people’s lives at their big transitional moments in life. What a rich blessing. Recalling it fills us with thankfulness to the Lord for the trust.

See my piece on how to conduct a wedding here: http://pclm.freemethodistchurch.org/

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