As I walked into the grocery store yesterday, the bell ringer standing outside caught my eye. I was trying to avoid this because I had no cash on hand; I just wanted to sneak quietly by. But he blocked my path just enough to get me to look up, then he wished me a merry Christmas. This determined bell ringer was on a mission to make eye contact with and speak to every person who entered the store. On my way back out again, about forty minutes later, he was still at it. This time he said, “God bless you!” I appreciated the fact that he wanted to offer Christmas blessings to everyone, even those who had no money that was drop-in-the-bucket-able.
I went on about my day and forgot about the whole encounter, but God brought it back to mind this morning. I wondered if that group gets fewer donations now than they used to because people are less likely to carry cash. Then I realized that it is December after all. This is the only month of the year they are out. We know they are going to be there, so if we want to give, why not go prepared? Would it really be so hard to keep a little bit of money on hand for worthy giving opportunities that arise not only for this group, but others we might encounter? —not only in December, but all through the year? God’s instructions to the Israelites on intentionally leaving some of the harvest in their fields for others to gather as they have need comes to mind. (See Deuteronomy 24:21 for one example.)
As I continued to think about this, read, and pray, I came to this verse in my day’s reading: “Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.” –1 Chronicles 16:29, NLT
When we give in God’s name, we enter His presence—even if we’re entering the grocery store! As we prepare to give, we’re preparing to worship anywhere! When the Spirit prompts us to follow through, we’re doing so with our Lord.
Father, thank You for giving me something to think about this morning. Please remind me to be prepared. I want to share the gifts You’ve given with others who may need them. I also want to enjoy Your presence everywhere I go. I’ll prepare, You lead, I’ll obey. Together we’ll encourage others and magnify Your name. Thank You, Lord! Amen.
Worship. Praise. Adoration. Acknowledging the greatness of God and declaring our love for Him. This is what He created us to do! What’s more, doing so reminds us of our place and helps us to keep everything else in its place. Only God is worthy to be over all—always! Everyone else, everything else, must be of less importance than Him. Worship helps us to remember this.
But as a form of prayer, worship hasn’t always come easy for me. Sitting down with God to tell Him how amazing He is often feels like a contrived activity. I can make a list of words that describe God, believe with all my heart that these words belong to Him, and present the list as a prayer, but somehow, for me, this always seems to lack something. God deserves so much more!
Of course, no word in the human language will ever be enough for God, so perhaps I’m experiencing the limitations of language and becoming frustrated with them. But David didn’t seem to have this problem. His worship psalms have inspired countless numbers of lovers of God.
So have many modern hymns and praise songs. I was standing next to a new acquaintance at an event that included a time of worship recently. She leaned over and whispered, “I just love singing! These songs are prayers to God.” She was so right.
This is probably why when my words feel inadequate, I turn to the Psalms or turn on my favorite worship music. I hear those words, take them in, voice them myself, and add prayers of my own to them as I sing. I have a few books of written prayers that help me in the same way. The original words may not be my own, but when I consider the words carefully, then express the thoughts to God in my own way, sincerely from my heart, I can’t help but worship God. Music and written prayers are helpful tools when we allow them to prompt prayers of our own.
I’m coming to realize, however, that worship can go even deeper than that. This morning, I read Isaiah 64:8, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This analogy is perfect for what I’ve been coming to understand. The clay exists for the potter’s use. It has no say in what the potter does with it. The potter takes it as it is and molds it into something beautiful. Then its beauty reveals the potter’s skill.
When we strive to live every moment of our lives in submission to God, making ourselves totally available for His purposes, then all of life becomes a form of worship. Our lives begin to reveal the majesty and worthiness of God. His work in us shows through our lives, effectively demonstrating His ability, His nature, and His character for the world we encounter to see. Under His authority, everything we do becomes a genuine act of worship.
Living this way isn’t easy; we want to live our way. But our God deserves no less than our belief that His purpose for us is better than anything we can imagine for ourselves. When we truly want to worship, we place our lives in His capable hands.
Father, You deserve all worship, all glory, all adoration and praise. Please help us to surrender our lives to You daily, knowing that the result will be better than anything we ever could think up on our own. You are worthy of our trust. Your decisions are the best. You love us more than we love ourselves. Make us over in Your image for the glory of Your name. Please use us as You will. Amen.
An obscure childhood memory popped into my mind this week regarding this theme. I was only five- or six-years-old when this happened, so the details may or may not have happened exactly as I recall. If my mom reads this and calls to correct me, I promise to post an update. For now, here’s the story as I remember it:
My mother, little brother, and I were at the check-out stand at the grocery store. While mom was paying for our groceries, the somewhat elderly (from my point of view, at least) gentleman who was bagging the groceries leaned over to offer my brother and me some candy. (This was back in the days when this was still considered a nice thing to do, not something that should get you arrested.)
He asked me if I wanted a piece of candy. I looked at my mom. She nodded, so I said, “Yes, please.”
He started to hand over the treat, then pulled it back and asked, “What else do you say?”
What else was there to say? Confused, I said the only thing I could think of: “Yes, I want the candy, please.”
The man gave my mother one of those looks that all moms of young children hate. You know the one. The one that says, “Haven’t you taught your children any manners, Ma’am? What’s wrong with you?” I looked at my mother, too, just because I had no idea what this strange person wanted and figured I needed a cue.
The man repeated his question, “What else do you say?” I told him I didn’t know. He put his hands on his hips and said, “You say, ‘Please and thank you.’ If you want the candy, you have to say, ‘Thank you.’” He gave my mom a pointed look.
I realized this man was confused and needed to be set straight. Evidently, his mother was the one who forgot to teach manners. I said, “I’m not supposed to say, ‘Thank you,’ until after you give me the candy. I say, ‘Please,’ before and ‘Thank you’ after. That’s the rule.” I may have crossed my arms over my chest in stubborn indignation at this point.
The man looked at my mom then laughed out loud. I didn’t know what was so funny and was feeling kind of mad. My little brother just wanted some candy. Poor kid!
The man leaned over again and said, “I’ll let you get away with it just this once. But next time, say, ‘Please and thank you’ when you want something.” He gave us each a piece of candy, refusing to release mine from his grasp until I spoke those last two words. (And, if I remember correctly, my wise mother took the candy away when we got to the car with a promise of something better when we got home. I guess people didn’t completely trust strangers bearing candy for children even then. She handled an incredibly awkward situation with patience and grace.)
Unlike the man at the grocery store, our God gives good things lavishly. He even gives good things to those who deny His existence! Everything we have . . . every . . . single . . . thing . . . comes from Him. The man at the grocery store wanted his please and thank you up front, demanded good manners—by his definition—before giving the offered treat, and gave my mother a hard time in the name of teaching her children. She had nothing to thank him for, and in the end, neither did we. But our God just gives . . . abundantly . . . because He loves us. For example:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” –Romans 5:8
The man at the grocery store held on to the candy until I said, “Thank you.” He wasn’t taking any chances that he wouldn’t receive his due. But God sent Jesus to die for us—so He could offer us salvation—while we were still sinners, and He continues to give good gifts to everyone with or without their gratitude.
Does He want us to thank Him? Of course! He loves us and wants us to return His love. He knows us and wants us to know Him. He wants us to recognize His involvement in our lives and to thank Him for all He does. But He won’t insist on a response. Thanksgiving has to come from a person’s heart.
Let’s not wait until tomorrow! Let’s start right now, this day, and continue for the rest of our lives. Let’s learn to recognize God’s gifts, and thank Him continually.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! I thank God for you.
My hope as I write this series is that it will encourage anyone who stumbles across it to discover how easy it is to talk to God. I want people to become comfortable with prayer because I know that the thought of praying to the One and Only, Almighty Creator of the Universe intimidates some people. But God encourages us to come to Him. Anyone who sincerely wants to can talk to Him about anything on behalf of anyone at anytime, anywhere. As we do this, seeking to share our lives with the God Who loves us more than anyone else ever can while attempting to get to know Him better, we’ll begin to recognize His response.
But that’s getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. First we simply need to begin to pray. So, just in case you are still feeling a little bit intimidated about talking to God, today I want to show you the help He provides. That’s right. God will actually help us to pray; He is that serious about wanting us to come to Him.
- Let’s look at the Holy Spirit first. Romans 8:26-27 is one of my favorite passages on prayer:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
If ever we want to pray but find ourselves at a loss for words, God’s Spirit is right there with us uttering exactly the right ones. He reads our hearts and serves as a translator, of sorts, communicating just what we would say if we could. He knows what we want even better than we do and intercedes on our behalf. I have found this meaningful in times of deep heartache, when I knew that something needed to happen but had no clue what. The Spirit knows what we don’t and intercedes in accordance with God’s Will. This makes crying your heart out in God’s Presence an extremely powerful prayer with few, if any, words.
But if you’ve never prayed before and simply want help as you give it a try, God’s Spirit is there for you, too. God understands the weakness of beginning something new. Therefore, you also can claim this Bible promise as you pray; God’s Spirit will help you.
- Hebrews tells us that Jesus intercedes for us, too:
“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” –Hebrews 7:25
If you are a child of God, Jesus is praying for you. He gave His life so you could have an eternal relationship with God. Therefore, no one is more motivated than He is to see you succeed at growing in Him daily. If you’re struggling with temptation, He’s praying you’ll claim the strength He offers to resist. If you’re trying to understand God’s Word, He’s asking God’s Spirit to clarify your thinking. If you’re attempting to communicate with God, He’s part of that too. How could He not be? He Is God—God the Son, full-fledged member of the mysterious Trinity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, inviting us to pray, helping us as we do, and praying for us, too.
- Finally, let’s consider those who’ve gone before:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2
I know that some people believe that there is a literal cloud of witnesses watching us and cheering us on. Others say this isn’t possible for one reason or another. Rather than get into that debate, let’s look at the verses just before these two and let them take us to the author’s point:
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” –Hebrews 11:39-40
Hebrews 11 is often called The Faith Hall of Fame. It tells about people in the Bible who showed great faith in God. The conclusion of this chapter tells us that God’s plan is still in motion. Whether these witnesses are actually watching us or not, they knew when they were living that they were part of something bigger than themselves, part of something that would continue after they died. Their actions, their prayers, their hopes were all on God and what He would be doing in the future—currently our present (to be handed off to future generations until Jesus comes). In a sense, the people who lived before prayed for us—and may still be praying for us.
And God is adding our prayers to their prayers as He continues His work in our world. Our little prayers are part of something bigger than we can imagine and, one way or another, they are boosted and bolstered by those who’ve already lived their lives.
My words seem very insufficient right now, but I hope I’ve given you just enough of the idea that you can think about it and let the concept grow. God invites us to pray, and He helps us. When we pray, we share our lives with Him, we get to know Him better, we help others to come to know Him, and we participate in His Kingdom in ways we can’t even begin to understand. Our prayers matter more than we know. This doesn’t need to intimidate us, though. God couldn’t have made it easier. To pray, we simply talk with Him.
“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?
Two more W’s! That’s all I have. Two more questions starting with one of the five W’s and then we’re moving on in this series to explore as many different kinds of prayer as I can think of. (There are 23 on my list so far.) For fun, I invite you to brainstorm your own list, keep it to yourself for now, check off the kinds of prayer I write about each week, then let me know at the end if I missed anything, so I can add it to my list. I may even invite you to write a guest post about it!
Today, however, I want to talk about when. When can we pray? My short answer, of course, is anytime we want to talk to God. He’s always present. He never sleeps. He will hear our prayers whenever we want to talk to Him. One of my favorite Bible verses about prayer shows this: “But Jesus often slipped away to be alone so he could pray” (Luke 5:16, NCV) Whenever Jesus felt the need to talk with His Father, He made Himself scarce so He could. God invites us to do the same.
Though we are welcome and encouraged to talk with God anytime, setting aside a specific time for prayer each day, when possible, is a helpful discipline. What time of day is best for this? Whatever time works best!
I once read a book for women on disciplining every area of life. This book had some helpful tips, but I found myself arguing with the author often as I read. She seemed to believe that whatever worked for her would work for everyone, and so she presented her ideas as rules for all women to follow. When she got to the chapter on prayer, she wrote that everyone must pray first thing in the morning. To make her case, she cited several Bible passages in which people were praying in the morning. Unfortunately, she ignored all the Bible passages about people praying in the middle of the day, in the evening, all night long, and at other random times of day. Using her method, I could have made a case that the Bible says we all have to pray at just about any time of day I preferred.
But that would have been a misuse of Scripture. The Bible doesn’t tell us when we have to pray. It simply tells us that we can and that God hears us and that we’re blessed when we do. Remember this: talking to God is something we get to do because He has invited us to. He loves us and He loves it when we want to talk with Him. If my kids or my husband only talked to me because they felt they had to, that they had some kind of duty or obligation to fulfill, my feelings would be hurt. Of course, if that were all I could get I would take it because I adore my family! But I wouldn’t feel we had a healthy relationship. And I would be right. I want the people I love to talk to me because they love me and want to share their lives with me! (And I am so thankful they do!)
God wants us to view prayer the same way. He wants us to love Him, respect Him, tell Him what’s going on in our world, seek His wisdom and help, and enjoy just getting to be in His Presence. King David says it best: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Nothing gave that man more joy than to be in God’s Presence.
That said, I really do like to pray first thing in the morning. I love starting my day with God, and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. If you can’t form a complete sentence before noon, though, you might find another time of day more beneficial; that really is okay. I think there’s something to be said for bedtime prayers, ending the day with a conversation with God about all that went right and all that went wrong and all that we’re hoping for come the new day.
Then again, if you have lots of littles in your house, practicing a consistent prayer time may be an exercise in futility. Instead, keep a prayer journal and pen on hand, then watch for those rare moments when everyone is happy and occupied. Grab your journal and pen, sit down quietly, and pray while the moment lasts. Some may think this is just asking for chaos to ensue, but if you’re serious about finding a daily time to pray, ask God to give you these moments on occasion, then learn to make the most of them. Be thankful for however many He provides.
To summarize: we can pray anytime, anywhere, about anything. God is with us. He loves us, and He loves to hear us pray. Whenever we’re ready to talk with Him, God is ready to hear the words we’ll say.
Father, thank You for the privilege of prayer. Call us to it! Help us to choose a regular time for prayer and to develop a consistent routine. Then remind us to talk to You throughout the day. Prayer is how we share our lives with You, the One Who loves us like no one else can. We love You, too. Amen.
I’m sharing this post with the Thought-Provoking Thursday link-up. Click here to read more posts shared there.
If you’ve been following this series, you already know the answer to this question. We can pray for anyone whose name or face comes to mind. In fact, if their name or face comes to mind, we can get in the habit of considering it a call to prayer. If we’re aware that God’s Spirit is with us always and learn to pay attention to His prompts, He’ll call us to pray for others more often than you may think. I’ve written about this in Parachute Prayer: the Practice of Praying Continually. I invite you read that book to learn more about this discipline.*
Here are a few ideas for now:
- We can pray for God. Jesus did! In The Lord’s Prayer, He prayed that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done. We can ask for this, too. Does God need our prayers in order for His purposes to be accomplished? Ultimately, I don’t think so. I suspect the prayer for God is really for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us. When we ask for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done, we’ll become more aware of ways we can participate. We’ll become more willing and eager to participate. God’s Spirit will work through us to draw others into the action, too.
- We can pray for our families.
- We can pray for our friends.
- We can pray for ourselves.
- We can pray for our churches.
- We can pray for our communities.
- We can pray for people who serve our families and communities.
- We can pray for our nation.
- We can pray for our world.
- We can pray for strangers we encounter while out and about.
- We can pray about needs we see on the internet, in the paper, or on TV.
We can pray for specifics if we know them, but if we don’t and sense a reason to pray, we can pray generically. God knows what’s going on in other people’s lives even when we don’t. Going one step further, we don’t even have to wait until we sense that someone needs a prayer. If we’re sitting in the airport waiting to board a flight, we can talk to God about the fellow travelers who come into view. If someone treats us with unexpected kindness—or undeserved grumpiness—we can whisper a prayer for that person as we go on our way. One deserves a blessing; the other may need it desperately.
Father, please make us sensitive to Your Spirit’s call to pray—for anyone, anywhere. You know the whole world’s needs. Thank You for inviting us to participate as You work in our world. Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.
*If you’re starting to think about Christmas, Parachute Prayer even has a section on praying through the holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and more. To order a copy from Amazon.com, click here.
I woke up early this morning. Following my usual routine, only earlier, I got my first cup of coffee, sat down with my Bible, devotional books, and journal, and started my day. I asked God to show me His message for me today. Then I opened my Bible to find this:
Our God has a sense of humor. I laughed right out loud. Thankfully, I know that life isn’t meaningless and that the author of Ecclesiastes knew it, too. At least he’d learned it by the time he finished writing his book. From some of what I read today, though, I think he knew it sooner, too.
In chapter 2, verses 24 and 25, he wrote, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Then in chapter 3, verse 14, he wrote, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”
Before these verses, he had written about all of his failed experiments in finding meaning in life. He concluded that wisdom, pleasure, folly, and toil are all meaningless, meaningless, without any meaning at all. Between these two verses, he wrote about there being a time for everything, about God making everything beautiful in its time, about God putting eternity in the human heart. In 3:13, he came to the conclusion that finding satisfaction in life is a gift from God.
And so, if “everything that God does will endure forever” and “nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” and if satisfaction “is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” then our lives and activities only have meaning and purpose if we are participating in God’s work at His leading. He doesn’t need our help, but He invites us to join in because He loves us. He created us with a desire for Him. He created us with a need for meaningful work, for relevance. We find the second when we seek Him first.
Wait! Haven’t I read that somewhere else? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” –Matthew 6:33. Those are Jesus’ words from His Sermon on the Mount. To find meaning and purpose, we need to seek God and do whatever work He has for us to do. With Him, daily drudgery becomes a relevant contribution to His kingdom. Challenging opportunities become joyful privileges because we know they show our Father’s recognition of our growing maturity. We find our life’s significance in living every day for Him.
Father, thank You for inviting us to participate. Open our eyes to whatever activities You have for us to do. All of life is meaningful when we’re serving next to You. Please find us faithful. Amen.
Welcome to the fifth installment of The Conversation Begins, my 31+ non-consecutive-day series on prayer. (If you missed the first four posts, you can click here and scroll down to read through them. The oldest posts will be at the bottom of the page.)
Today I want to talk about how. How do we pray?
We simply talk to God.
God doesn’t make prayer complicated; He loves us and He wants to hear our voices. He also wants us to learn to listen for His, but that’s a subject for another post—or two—or more. Learning to recognize God’s voice is a skill to develop over the course of a lifetime, perhaps the most worthwhile skill we can develop in the time we have on Earth.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He didn’t tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes, to kneel or lie prostrate. He simply gave them words. We call these, The Lord’s Prayer, of course, and they model prayer perfectly! (Of course.) Many books and sermons have been written on this prayer, so I’m not going to analyze it here except to note that this prayer acknowledges God’s Fatherhood, sovereignty, and holiness, surrenders our will to God’s, asks God to meet needs, asks forgiveness and forgives others, seeks protection from temptation and evil, and ends in worship of our always-worthy God. These are elements of prayer we can strive to cover in our conversations with Him every day.
But we don’t have to cover them all every time we pray. There are a lot of helpful formulas out there that we can use as tools for prayer, but please remember, they are tools—not rules. When you learn about a friend’s tragedy, make that the focus of your prayer. If a conflict arises or a financial need, talk to God about it right away. If you’re fighting temptation or catch yourself in a sin, tell God what’s going on, confess your wrongs, ask Him to help you choose right or to make things right. We don’t have to focus on every aspect of prayer every time we pray. Instead we have many conversations with God covering different subjects throughout each day.
And we don’t have to wait until we can kneel or close our eyes or get to church to pray. If the clock tells you it’s time for your dad’s surgery or your son’s test while you’re sitting in a meeting, think a prayer right where you are. Kneeling, bowing, and closing our eyes can help us to focus or remind us of our position before God. Praying at church allows us to be heard with other believers who are all talking together to God about the same thing. It’s important to pray in these ways sometimes, but they aren’t essential every time we pray.
There is one how that is essential to every prayer, though. This concerns our attitude. Whether we’re approaching God on our knees or while driving in the car, we need to approach Him with respect, humility, and a sincere heart. If we don’t believe He is listening to us, that He loves us, that He is able to keep His promises, and that His plans are perfect whether we understand them or not, our prayers will be hindered.
Suddenly I’m remembering the climactic scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is ill. She has just suffered a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She’s been crying out for Rhett, but no one has heard her. When someone finally does, when she finally has the opportunity to ask for him—something he’s desperately waiting for—she says, “Oh, what’s the use.” And that’s the end of the relationship. If Scarlett had only believed that Rhett would come if she called, he would have, and the story could have ended happily.
That said, our God will never give up on us like Rhett gave up on Scarlett, but He will wait until we call on Him . . . in faith . . . with the right attitude. Desperate for more of Him in every area of life, eager to see His Kingdom come and His Will done, that is how we pray.
Father, thank You for making it so easy to come to You. Thank you for encouraging us to do so. Thank You for waiting patiently. You are God, and there is no other. We need more of You. Amen.
Today I’m sharing this post at the Thought-Provoking Thursday Link-up. Click here to see what other posts are being shared there!