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Living Together in Unity

Psalm 133-1

It was like a Beatrix Potter story come true in our own back yard!

Two squirrels were fighting high up in our tree. My son turned to look just as one threw the other to the ground. The victim landed on his back and stayed there, stunned. As Seth was thinking about going to check on the squirrel, the neighborhood cat, who likes to hang out in our yard, beat him to it. The squirrel came to his senses just in time, jumped up, let out a screech of horror, and raced back up the tree.

I’m sure the brother squirrel apologized. The mother squirrel scolded. And everyone drank some chamomile tea.

Because the little squirrels couldn’t get along with each other, they left one of their number vulnerable to another threat. Thankfully, the drama in our backyard had a happy ending—for everyone except the cat.

Sometimes Christians struggle to get along, too. We’re still human after all. There are just so many different ways to not see eye to eye!

Yes. It’s challenging. But when we don’t make the effort to live in unity, we leave each other vulnerable to an even bigger threat:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” –1 Peter 5:8

Not to mention the damage our disagreements do to our testimony.

It’s good and pleasant when God’s people live together in unity. It’s dangerous to all, though, when they don’t. Let’s learn a lesson from the squirrels: be thankful for our shared refuge (for us, in Christ, rather than in a tree)—and stock up on calming, chamomile tea!

Father, thank You for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, for adopting us all into Your family. Though it’s sometimes hard to get along, help each of us with this. Please give us patience with each other and the ability (and desire) to forgive quickly. Show us the bigger picture: we’re vulnerable to Satan’s trickery whenever we fight. Give us a Spirit of unity to stand together in You, come what may, for the glory of Your Kingdom and the good of all humankind. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.”Colossians 1:3-4

Paul starts his letter to the Colossian church with thanksgiving and prayer. He tells them that he is thankful for them and why. He is thankful for them because he’s heard of their faith in Christ and their love for His people.

  • Who are you thankful for today and why?

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.”Colossians 1:9

Because Paul is thankful for the Colossians, he and his ministry team pray for them.* They pray that:

  • God will fill them with the knowledge of His Will (v. 9).
  • They will live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way (v. 10).
  • They will bear fruit in every good work (v. 10).
  • They will grow in the knowledge of God (v. 10).
  • They will be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might (v. 11).
  • They will have great endurance and patience (v. 11).
  • They will be joyfully thankful for the inheritance they share with all of God’s people (v. 12).

What a beautiful way to honor someone you are thankful for!

  • What blessings are you asking God to bestow on the people you are thanking Him for today?

*Click here to read the full passage at BibleGateway.com.

I’m sharing this post with the following sites today: Word of God Speak and Spiritual Sundays. Click on the links to see what others are sharing there too.

 

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That the Fully Committed Will Stay Strong

Parachute Prayer Post“And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” -1 Kings 8:61

After Solomon built and dedicated God’s Temple, he spoke to the people. 1 Kings 8:61 records some of his words. When I read the first phrase of this verse, I started to pray for people I know who aren’t fully committed to the Lord. But then I read the last phrase. Solomon wasn’t urging the people to become committed to the Lord; he wanted them to stay that way. That little phrase, as at this time, reminded me, once again, that while it’s important to pray for the one lost sheep to be found (Luke 15:1-7), it’s also important to pray for the 99 who are safely in the fold.

And Solomon’s own life proves this. Just three chapters later, we read of Solomon’s downfall and death. This king who urged God’s people to remain faithful did not. Tragically, his choices set a series of events in motion that led the whole nation to fall. Likewise, when strong Christians falter, they tend to take others down with them. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” When our enemy gets hold of someone influential, he’s especially thrilled. It’s his opportunity to take a whole herd. For everyone’s sake, we must pray that those who are committed to God will find the strength in Him to stay that way.

Because Solomon was a king and because Christians are God’s “chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), let’s let symbols of royalty be our prompt to pray. When we see crowns, thrones, scepters, news of one royal family or another, let’s ask God to strengthen those who are fully committed to Him. May their hearts remain that way for their good, for the good of God’s Kingdom, and for God’s glory. Amen.


For more prayer prompts, read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Available in paperback or for Kindle.

 

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Praying about Angry Words

Parachute PrayerNot too long ago, my youngest son brought a blog post to my attention. It was written by a Christian entertainer who wanted to encourage Christians to do as Augustine and Wesley and others have encouraged: to be united in the essentials of our faith, but to show love in all else. This young artist simply wanted to see Christians love each other and get along in spite of different points of view.

Sadly, in offering examples of controversy among Christians, he made some vague statements that led some of his readers to question his personal beliefs. He didn’t actually come right out and say what he, personally, believed or didn’t believe about such things. But some of his readers, misunderstanding or misreading his intent chose to fill in the blanks themselves. Next thing he knew, this artist who had simply asked for peace found himself under attack. It was a great big, ugly mess.

It broke my heart.

This artist wrote one response to defend himself which only brought more painful comments from readers. Since then he has been quiet.

This breaks my heart, too. I fear he’s facing the temptation to build a wall, to hide his gift, to protect himself when he has so much to share with the world. This would be a tragedy.

How amazing could the situation have turned out if those who questioned this young man’s words would have taken the time, first, to try to see his heart, then, if necessary after gentle questioning, to prayerfully respond as Priscilla and Aquila did when Apollos didn’t quite have all of his facts straight? (See Acts 18:24-28.)

Today’s Parachute Prayer comes from this unfortunate situation. Knowing that behind every blog post, tweet, FaceBook update, news headline, and book is a flesh and blood human being created in the image of God, let’s pray fervently for those who come under attack for the words they write—especially for those who come under such attack for simply trying to say something helpful, encouraging, or good. When we see negative comments or hear verbal criticism about something we’ve seen in print or published on the internet, let’s pray both for the heart of the one receiving the criticism and of the one who delivers it. Let’s pray that God will give wisdom to both, that He’ll help the one who receives the negative words to hear anything necessary and to disregard the rest and that He’ll guide anyone tempted to deliver a painful blow to take a step back to prayerfully consider the most Christ-like response. If they’ve already delivered the painful blow, let’s ask God to open their eyes to the wounds they’ve inflicted and lead them to set things right, if possible, and learn a better way for the next time.

People are imperfect, and their words can be messy, jumbled up, and completely misunderstood. Let’s take the time to see the intent behind the words, to clarify what confuses, to show grace and compassion before jumping to judgment, and to correct (when it’s called for) only as Christ would. And when we see angry words appearing in the comments about what we’re reading on our computer screens, let’s always remember to pray.

Father, please help people remember that there are people behind words they see and to respond to those people with love instead of to words indiscriminately. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

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Praying for Churches in Headline Areas

Parachute PrayerI stumbled upon a new Parachute Prayer last week that I am so excited to share with you today. We were visiting a church in our community that we are blessed to attend from time to time. When the associate pastor stood up to pray, after a great time of worship through song, he took some time to pray for churches located near significant headlines of the previous week. For example, if he were to do that this week, he’d pray for churches in Northern California where the earthquake hit, churches in Iraq and Syria where all is in turmoil right now,  churches in Ukraine, Russia, Liberia, Iceland . . . you get the idea.

In previous Parachute Prayers, I’ve encouraged you to pray the headlines for those impacted by them and for rescue workers and decision makers involved in crises, but praying for nearby churches is a great idea, too! We may not be able to go to those places to help, comfort, and encourage, but the people of churches there can and are. And in some cases, they must risk their lives to do so.

When news headlines catch our attention, let’s whisper prayers for churches located nearby as we pray for victims, about conflicts, and for all people involved in trying to set things right again.

Father, when headlines break our hearts, please call us to pray. We aren’t there, but others are. Please use their hands, feet, voices, minds, and hearts to comfort, encourage, and mend as only You can. Amen.

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1 Corinthians 12:26 on My Mind

NewOMM“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” -1 Corinthians 12:26, NIV

Today’s On My Mind meditation is also a Parachute Prayer. I found today’s verse in one of the devotionals I read this morning. The author of the devotional reminded me that part of the body of Christ is suffering. Right now. These courageous members are suffering for their faith.

While it’s true that North Americans may experience some measure of persecution on a small scale, few will ever really know what it means to suffer for Jesus. I can’t even begin to fathom how this is possible, but in some countries, what you believe or don’t believe can actually be a crime punishable by death or imprisonment. In some countries, Christian parents are declared unfit and have their children taken from them. In some countries, teenagers who choose to follow Christ are disowned and thrown out of their homes onto the streets or turned in to the authorities for arrest. Such things are beyond my comprehension–how people could be so cruel! And yet, Christians really do die for their faith. every. day.

So as we memorize 1 Corinthians 12:26, let’s also get in the habit of praying for this suffering part of the Body daily. Here’s how we can do that:

Most of us, I think, have some kind of physical quirk that perhaps causes us pain from time to time. (If you don’t, be thankful! Then call on your own creative nature to come up with a reminder of your own for today’s prayer. In fact, feel free to leave a reply to share your ideas with others who are blessed like you are!) For me, the quirk is a shoulder twinge from time to time brought on by stress. It’s no big deal, just something that prompts me to exercise regularly. Now it will also remind me to pray! You can let your physical quirk be your reminder, too. When we feel a little pain in our physical bodies, let’s pray for those members of the Body of Christ who are truly suffering in Jesus’ name.

Father, our hearts break when we read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for serving You. Please give them strength to stand firm in their faith. Please build them up physically and spiritually. Please let them know that You are with them; comfort them as only You can. And please Let them know, somehow, that there are people in this world who also care. Bless them, Lord, as You have promised to. Thank You for seeing and honoring their pain. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

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Climbing Higher

Climbing Rock“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O Lord, supported me.” –Psalm 94:18

I tried rock climbing once. My senior class in college took a trip to Yosemite National Park where the rock-climbing club from our campus volunteered to give a lesson to those who were interested. It looked easy enough.

It wasn’t.

Swaddled in harness and ropes, I began my ascent, quickly realizing that the strength I needed would have to come from my fingers and arms–every little muscle in each would be required for the task. My legs existed for balance and support as my hands sought a sure grip for lifting myself to the next level. Halfway up the rock face, I thought I could go no further. I felt exhausted, but had to go on. I began to rely on a voice from above.

That’s where my instructor was.

Below, I could hear friends, my fellow first-time climbers, shouting much needed encouragement as I struggled through my shaky situation. But my instructor was giving the advice I most wanted to hear:

“Move your hand a few inches to the left, Janet. There’s a great handhold there. Do you see it? There! Now place your foot in that crevice and push yourself up. Keep going! Now move your other hand to that small ledge just above the other one. You’ve got it!”

I depended on these words and followed them as precisely as I could. Of everything he said, though, the words that comforted me most were:

“Don’t be afraid. If you start to slip, I’ve got hold of the rope. You will not fall.”

Life is like that climb. We lift ourselves up, one handhold at a time, while listening to that precious Voice from Above. Our fellow climbers shout encouraging words as we make our way to the top. God’s voice is the One to listen for, though. He is there to help us find our way. Better yet, He’s got hold of the rope. We can depend on Him; if our feet start to slip, He’ll never let us fall.

Precious Guide, thank You for holding me tightly with the harness and rope of Your love. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays.

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Strength for More Than a Game

Salmon Flowers“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ . . . From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Raise your hand if you remember Red Rover, Red Rover, the infamous, school playground game.

I truly hope there aren’t too many of you who do. I remember the day when the playground monitor came out to stop us from playing it and to tell us that the school had decided it was just too dangerous. Someone was going to get their arm pulled out of its socket—or worse!

Part of my then ten-year-old self was outraged that the school would stop us from having so much fun. A bigger part, a part I kept quiet at the time, was oh-so-relieved!

That game was absolutely terrifying!!!

For those who’ve been blessed to have never heard of it:

Two teams line up facing each other on opposite sides of the playing field. Children on each team link arms to make a chain. One team yells, Red Rover, Red Rover send [unfortunate child from the other team] right over. That unfortunate child, often me (I’ll explain why in a minute.), then has to run as fast as she can across the field to try to break through the other team’s chain. If she succeeds, she triumphantly gets to choose one member of the opposite team to join her team. If she fails, she gets caught up in the chain like a convict snagged at the top of a barbed wire fence. Then, when everyone finishes laughing over this child’s humiliation, she reluctantly becomes part of the team she failed to break through. The other team then takes their turn, hopefully not calling the same, unfortunate child back.

Why was I often that unfortunate child? Because I was little. Think about it. A smart team is not going to call the big, football-player-type kid to come hurling at them as fast as he can from clear across the field. No. They’re going to call the child least likely to break through, aka the little girl.

On the flip side, the child who is running across the field is not going to try to break through between two giant, playground jocks whose arms are solidly linked. No. That child is going to try to break through two little girls. That’s right. Me and my best friend, Anne. If we weren’t the runners, we were targets, bracing ourselves for the on-coming blow and praying it wouldn’t hurt too much.

Oh, yeah. We were sorry to see that game go.

Spiritual warfare is kind of like that game of Red Rover. Satan is always looking for the weak link in the Body of Christ. He targets it and throws everything he has as it, hoping to break through to claim someone for his side. But as the Body of Christ, we are one. We are joined and held together by supporting ligaments. We are growing and building ourselves up in love as each of us does our work.

I see two ways this works:

1. Just as someone who wants to excel at a physical sport will eat right, exercise often, and get plenty of rest before a game, Christians train for spiritual warfare.

I don’t think either Anne or I could have built ourselves up enough to stand against the playground jocks in a game of Red Rover. No protein-rich, muscle-building diet or amount of strength-training would have made much of a difference for us. We were just too small. (And we didn’t take the game that seriously!)

But Christians can build themselves up. Bible study is our healthy diet. Prayer, worship, and fellowship with other Christians are essential strength-training. Honoring the Sabbath assures we rest.

2. Just as a team must work together, with every member contributing his or her strengths, Christians help each other succeed.

Think about that game of Red Rover. What if, just once, instead of leaving Anne and I to stand alone against the oncoming runner, one of stronger players on our team had linked arms between us. That person’s strength added to ours might have made the difference to keep the other team from breaking through. Evidently, we weren’t smart enough to figure that out in grade school. (Or maybe, at ten, we were still afraid of cooties.)

But we Christians can apply the principle now. By serving one another in love, we help the weaker links among us to be built up and grow. The whole body benefits when we strengthen each other this way.

We build ourselves up through Bible study, worship, fellowship, and prayer. We build the body through faithful service to our brothers and sisters in Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Father, thank You for drawing us together in Christ as one body of believers. Help us do our part each day for individual and community growth. In You, we stand firm against the enemy. Thank You, Lord. Amen.

To read more devotional thoughts today, visit Spiritual Sundays and Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.