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When Praying Is All You Can Do

There’s a phrase I ponder from time to time. It’s one most of us use. I’ve even used it myself, but I’m questioning whether it’s true. It may be very true, but lately it seems wrong to me.

The phrase is: All we can do is pray.

It seems to me that if prayer is talking to the God Who created the universe and all that is in it, the all-mighty, all-powerful, for-Whom-nothing-is-impossible God of everything, that prayer is doing something pretty big. God raised people from the dead. God fed thousands of people with only a few pieces of bread and fish. God pulled a coin out of a fish’s mouth in order to pay His taxes.DSC01220e

And so I would say that prayer is not a last resort. It should be the first thing we do whenever we need help—and, in reality, considering how much power an all-powerful God has, it’s probably all we need to do. We give Him our problems; He doesn’t need our help.

Imagine a little kid facing a big school bully. He knows the bully is bigger than him and will win, but he also knows his big brother is bigger than that bully. Would the kid face the bully alone? Or would he get help from the one who can spare him some pain?

I raised boys, so I know they don’t always go for the logical answer there, but, then again, neither do we. We put up our little fists and try to fix the situation alone while God quietly waits for us to pray. Then, when we’ve exhausted ourselves with the effort, we sit back and tell God that the situation seems pretty hopeless, but He’s welcome to give fixing it a try. If God is God and has all the power to do anything, that seems like living backward to me.

Prayer is not our last resort. Prayer should always be our first move. It’s the most effective action we can take.

On the other hand, sometimes we do pray first. Then we do what we can do—as we should. God may use us to answer our own prayers, so we should do what we can. Yet sometimes we use up all our ideas and exhaust all our resources until finally we know that praying really is all we can do.

But even then, even when we reach that point, there’s more going on than just prayer.

When Praying Is All You Can DoPaul said, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I think he must have been writing about just such a situation. As we wait for God to act, we joyfully anticipate whatever He will do, knowing without a doubt that is it God Who will do it, and that He will get all the glory, honor, and praise as He deserves. We joyfully hope for the best because God is in charge, and He loves us.

As we patiently wait for Him to act, we learn that God’s timing is perfect and that His plans may be different than ours. Have you ever prayed, like I have, “Lord, we’re running out of time here. If You’re going to do something, You’d better do it now. Really, Lord, now. Now would be really good.” But only God knows when the timing is right; deadlines mean nothing to Him for He can work around them easily. Or we may see a perfect opportunity for God to fix everything in one fell swoop. So we tell Him about it, then sit back and watch to see Him work. But His plans aren’t ours, so He doesn’t do what we suggest. He’s working on a bigger, more perfect picture than we can see or imagine. So we patiently wait some more, knowing God is truly in charge. Yet while we wait, we faithfully pray—and we grow ever closer to God.

I leave you today with two thoughts:

Prayer is never a last resort–always pray first, then pray all the way through.

When prayer is a last resort, when it’s truly all that you can do, know God is at work. Trust Him as you faithfully and continually pray.

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Understanding Lent

Lent.

I’ve known of this season on the Christian calendar since high school. My BFF was Catholic—she still is, in fact. When we were growing up, she tried to explain holy days and such to me as her family recognized them. I found their practices interesting but didn’t understand they could have meaning for me.

DSC01152eOne year, my friend decided to give something up for Lent. I decided to join her. Being the teenage girls we were, sugar seemed like the thing to surrender—if you’re going to give something up, you may as well lose a few pounds while you’re at it, too.

Ah. Motives. I don’t really think either of us had a clue why we were giving something up for Lent. We just knew it was something she was supposed to do. And we were completely faithful—right up until midnight on Easter Eve when we didn’t have to wait another second and gorged ourselves on Easter candy.

I can’t honestly say it was a religious experience. But I think we thought it was just the same.

Over the past few years, though, I’ve been striving for a better understanding of the true significance of these days. Practicing Lent is a Christian tradition. It’s a useful practice for worship, but not found in the Bible nor essential for faith. I’ve come to appreciate the practice, though, intended to prepare our hearts for Easter’s celebration in a more meaningful way.

In case you are unfamiliar with Lent, I’ll summarize: it starts on Ash Wednesday (today) and lasts for 40 days plus six Sundays. (These are days of rest. You get them off!) Ash Wednesday is an intent look with grief at what humanity lost in the Fall. God told Adam, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19b). We mourn with ashes as we consider the dust we deserve to someday be.

But Lent ends on Easter with a celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Thanks to Jesus, we look forward to eternal life instead of dreading a destiny as dirt! Lent is a time to consider how Christ gets us from hopelessness to hope, from darkness to light, from death to life, from fallen to someday glorified! We meditate on what He’s done for us while reflecting on what He’s doing in us—and how the two actions are a lot alike. Jesus died for our sins, so that we can die to sin and live forever with Him.

Thank You, Jesus, for life. Amen.

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Counting Blessings

“I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” –Psalm 16:2

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings–name them one by one–
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

These words from the sweet, singsong hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” are still true today. When we’re feeling jumbled, tumbled, and tossed about, mixed-up and turned upside-down, remembering our blessings can help to calm our souls and turn us right side-up. This is true because our blessings are gifts from God. Remembering them reminds us that He cares, that He’s still active in our lives, that we can trust Him to provide all we need–and often so much more!

Just as a little child in a crowded mall will take his mother’s hand for security in the midst of many knees, we can count our blessings for assurance that God is still there. If things are so dark that we can’t see any good, we can call on God for help in that area, too. He is our Lord. Apart from Him, we have no good thing. With Him, though, we have everything.

Thank You, Father, for comfort in the midst of strife. I’ll look for the blessings and know they come from You. Amen.

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When You Struggle to Find the Right Words

I don’t know how it is for you, but of all the elements of prayer, I struggle most with worship and praise. It’s not that I don’t feel worship and praise or believe that God deserves all worship and praise. All glory and honor and praise are His! I just sometimes struggle to find the words.

DSC01019eThat seems like kind of a strange comment for a writer to make.

Yet our almighty, all-knowing, ever-present God Who created the whole universe, Who exists in a realm we can only imagine for now, seems so far beyond any words I might be able to arrange as a loving offering to Him.

Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to live up to my personal perception of what such an awesome God should expect. He gracefully accepts whatever I have to offer when I choose to offer Him my best.

Yet sometimes I still feel stumped. Prayer requests—I’ve got those. Confession—God’s Spirit lets me know what we need to discuss. Intercession—I’m aware of the needs of my friends and family, world, church, and community. Thanksgiving—This one is often mistaken for praise because it’s just so easy to slide from telling God how amazing He is into thanking Him for all He’s done. Thanksgiving is simply counting blessings and giving God due credit for each.

These elements of prayer (requests, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving) are essentially a matter of presenting the facts of each to God, anticipating His response when we have asked for one. Praise and worship, however, requires contemplation, creativity, even a touch of poetry. Praise and worship is a gift! God deserves to hear us express our deep love.

I wonder if David or Solomon or Asaph or any of the other psalmists ever struggled with this. Wouldn’t it be interesting to read some of their first psalm attempts? I wonder if they tried and tossed out some lines from first drafts, playing with the words until they sounded just right. I suspect they probably did!

We may not be able to read those first drafts, but God has given us a collection of their completed projects in the book of Psalms. When we struggle for words of our own, we can read these, pray along with them, and let them prompt words from us. Here’s an example, using the first four verses of Psalm 8 (The words in brackets are mine.):

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
[People all over the world can see your glory, Lord, just by looking up into the sky!]

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
[Your name alone is so powerful that even the most vulnerable find strength and courage when they praise You.]

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
[I can’t even begin to imagine how big You are, Lord! You’ve held planets in Your hands.]

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
[And yet You do care! You see each person You’ve created. You even know us intimately.]

DSC01029eWhen we pray this way, we’re agreeing with the psalmist’s words about God, offering extra praises as we think of them. We clarify the psalmist’s thoughts with our own words, cementing the understanding of our amazing God in our minds.

Since psalms are actually hymns or songs, we can also turn to the words in our hymnals for praise and worship words to agree with and expound upon, using the same technique:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.” 
Blessed Assurance
[Jesus, Your Presence in my life gives me a taste of Heaven. I’m looking forward to living there with You someday!]

If you don’t own a hymnal of your own, you can Google the words to your favorite hymns and pray from your computer. Better yet, ask your pastor if there happen to be any retired hymnals hanging around in forgotten places at your church. As a pastor’s wife I know first-hand that most churches have some hiding somewhere where they aren’t doing anybody any good. Now that many churches have switched from traditional hymnals to overhead projectors there are even more! Your pastor may let you borrow one or have one to keep. (If your pastor lets you keep it, put a little extra in Sunday’s offering plate.)

[Dear churches that have no-longer-in-use hymnals lying around collecting dust in storage closets, please consider clearing out the clutter by giving them away to members of your congregation for personal worship and praise.]

I have one last praise and worship idea to share with you. This also comes from the Psalms. David wrote many of his psalms while sitting outside watching sheep. We may not have any sheep to watch, but perhaps we have children or pets we take outside from time to time. Or maybe we just like walking or running or sitting in the park and watching or flower hunting. If so, noticing the created world around us will fill our minds with words of worship and praise. If bowing your head and closing your eyes leaves you sitting in the dark with nothing to say, open your eyes and make note of all the wondrous sights around you that reveal the greatness of our amazing God.

Next thing you know, you’ll be writing psalms of your own. And God will be delighted to receive your worship and praise.

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Thanksgiving Prayer Thoughts

“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” –1 Chronicles 29:13

If ever we could think of nothing else to thank God for, we could thank Him for His Presence. He is with us always—wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.

That said, let’s be sure to thank God for His Presence today!

To do so, watch for an opportunity to slip away from the chaos and spend some time thanking God for Who He is. Make a list of every attribute and biblical name for Him you can think of. Reflect on what each means to you personally.

Next, thank Him for what He’s done. Think back over your life journey, and look for God’s fingerprints all over it. Thank Him for His work in and through your life.

Thank Him also for what He will do. This is an act of faith—anticipating His work in this world, in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones. We don’t know what this will look like when God’s finished, but we know we’ll be amazed when the work is done! Thank Him for this hope.

Finally, if the weather allows, take a walk outside. Thank God for everything you see that reminds you He is there.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” –Psalm 19:1

Thank God for revealing Himself to You through His creation and for drawing your attention to it this day, that you won’t take it for granted, but will hear the rocks cry out that God is here, that God is great beyond comprehension, that God is in control of everything.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” –Psalm 11:4b

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith says, “It is a fact that we see what we look at, and cannot see what we look away from; and we cannot look unto Jesus while we are looking at ourselves.”

It’s good to thank God for our blessings. Let’s continue to do that, especially today. But let’s start by thanking God for being God. Let’s take our eyes off of that which cannot last and thank God for the Presence we’ll enjoy through eternity!

Happy Thanksgiving! Bless God today!