PERSONAL, PRIVATE PRAYER – DO I HAVE TO DO IT?

When we look at the New Testament scriptures, we see a pattern that reveals the importance of prayer, not just corporate prayer during Sabbath services but private, personal, intimate prayer with our Creator, Savior, Loving God.  In all things, Jesus is our example, so we look to Him for our understanding of personal prayer.

Jesus prayed intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane before being betrayed, arrested, tried and crucified, and He asked three of His disciples to support Him during this time.

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

Matthew 26:36-44 ESV

He was sad, sorrowful, asking the Father if there was a way that His assumption of our sin could be avoided.  In other words, “isn’t there some other way?”  Haven’t we cried the same thing to our Father?

But Jesus’ prayer didn’t stop with a refusal to do what the Father directed – He continued to acknowledge God’s sovereignty, saying, in essence, “Your way is the best.  If you want me to do this, so be itI will obey.” 

We have all had the experience of confronting a huge problem, frightening news that upends our universe.  Perhaps it is news of a deadly disease, or the fracture of a marriage that had seemed perfect.  Perhaps the violent, unanticipated loss of a child or spouse, or perhaps the agonizing vigil with an aging parent who no longer knows who you are.  We pray hard during those times.  We seek the Lord’s face and ask the hard questions, most of which begin with the word “Why”. 

There are a myriad of reasons that God allowed the difficult circumstance and we will never ever know all of them, but we can have confidence that they are all directly tied to His plan for your life.  He loves you and, even in the hard times when all logical arguments fail and it is sheer pain, unadulterated panic, and fear, if you are His child, He is holding you in His hand.  He wants you to understand that His grace is available and that His power is all-sufficient … trust Him and let Him hear all your fears, pain and panic.  Don’t try to sugarcoat your thoughts and feelings — He already knows them.  He will hold you and respond saying “my grace is sufficient for you.”   2 Corinthians 12:9.

USED Giant praying hands in Webb Missouri
Praying Hands in Webb Missouri

Jesus not only prayed when faced with the agonizing ordeal of the cross, He prayed, routinely, regularly, even when His ministry was at its peak and he was beset by many who wanted to be healed and to hear Him teach.  

“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

Luke 5:15-16 ESV

In fact, He often would withdraw from people so He could be alone with His Father, in prayer. 

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

Matthew 14:23 ESV

“In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12 ESV

Jesus even told His disciples and those around Him that private prayer between them and the Father is more important than praying before others, as the hypocrites did.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6 ESV  The disciples understood that prayer was important, so in Luke 11:1 we have the record that, after Jesus had been praying, they specifically asked Him to teach them to pray.  It is this request that gives us what we call “The Lord’s Prayer”. 

Private prayer was important in the Old Testament — David said:

“But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.”

Psalm 88:13 ESV

Private prayer was important in the New Testament — The New Testament church also prayed earnestly for the spread of the Gospel and for the growth of the church.

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Acts 1:14 ESV

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”

Acts 12:5 ESV  This is the humorous scenario that we read about, when Peter was miraculously released from prison and came to the house where people were praying for his release, but the maid would not let him in because she didn’t recognize him as the one for whom they were praying!

If prayer was important to Jesus, if prayer was important to the disciples who lived and walked with Him, if prayer was important to the early church, it should be important to us.

Individual prayer – it is important.  Take time to be away from work, household chores, telephone, television, children, spouse, even well-meaning prayer partners … have dedicated time to talk with God on an intimate, individual basis.  Then listen.  Prayer is a benefit that Christ has secured for His sheep.  Don’t ignore it. 

So, have you prayed today?

Father, forgive me when I have ignored spending time with You.  Forgive me when the trivial has overridden the important, when materialism has crowded out the eternal, when I have sinned by saying a “prayer” that is a thinly veiled demand that You act on my behalf in a certain way.  Forgive me, Father.  Help me to put Your desires ahead of mine so that You will is done in my life and in the lives of those with whom I come in contact.  May I sincerely say “Your will be done”.

AN ACTIVITY BASED ON A RELATIONSHIP

For the past several years, I have been privileged to be included on a prayer list of concerns raised by some precious children in a nearby elementary school.  They participate in The Good News Club, an after school ministry for a couple of hours once a week, and part of that time is spent in prayer.  They then give the leader their prayer requests and it is sent to the various praying participants via email.

As an older adult, it is heart-warming, and sometimes humorous, to read some of their prayer requests. 

  • Praise that a child’s mom came back to be with her family.
  • Prays that his great-grandmother gets better.
  • Pray for her teacher’s daughter, that she stops coughing.
  • Pray that a fever blister in her mouth will go away
  • Pray that he can pay attention
  • Pray that the dog will stop barking

Each request, however, reflects a concern that these precious children have, either at home or at school.  In other words, these concerns touch their entire universe. 

As adults, we have learned to be a bit more obtuse when we pray.  Asking for some specific thing for our own selves might be too brash. So, we will phrase it in some other way so that we might be able to trick God into thinking we are praying for others, when it is actually our own desires at issue.  Even when intervening on behalf of someone else, most often we tell God what we want Him to do.

In the Canterbury Cathedral, as in the other cathedrals we visited in England, there were many tombs of various persons and heads of the church.  We found it interesting that the archbishops were, almost always, depicted with their hands clasped in prayer.

canterbury-cathedral-tomb
Ornate tomb of an archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

I don’t know if they were praying for their own soul or if they were praying for their congregation, but I do know that prayers of intervention for others are appropriate.  For example, Paul says:

We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong, and our prayer is for your perfection.

 2 Corinthians 13:9.

tomb-of-one-of-the-archbishops-of-canterbury
Tomb of Archbishop John Bird Sumner, 1780-1862, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury England

In Colossians 1:3-4 he tells his readers that he thanks God for their faith when he prays for them.

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 the saints…

Notice, however, that Paul’s prayers are not a laundry list of things that Paul wanted.  He certainly did not see the Father as a giant Santa Claus in the sky who would give out goodies for his personal benefit  … he didn’t even pray to be released from prison!  Read Acts chapter 16 for the incredible story of Paul in jail in Philippi, which was a leading city in the district of Macedonia.

Rather, Paul’s prayers related to strengthening the spiritual welfare of the believers, to the continued spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for healing to occur so that God’s power would be revealed and He would get the glory.

Paul understood that, fundamentally, prayer is a conversation between two parties … the believer in Christ Jesus and God.  But these parties are not peers:  they are not equal in any manner.   We are the creation, and we are mortal.  We are sinners and the best we have to offer God is likened to giving Him filthy rags. 

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Isaiah 64:6 [NIV]

But for God’s sending Jesus Christ, we would not be able to have any prayer life because we could not approach God due to our sin.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection defeated the control sin has over us when He clothed us in His righteousness.  That is what God sees … sinners clothed in Jesus’ righteousness who were saved by His Grace through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son and our Lord. 

Thank God for the righteousness that has been given to you through Jesus Christ.  Grow in your relationship with the Father, feed it with study of His Word, sit quietly and let Him speak to you so that your prayers are not a one-sided conversation that is a thinly veiled demand that God act in a certain way to satisfy your temporal desires. 

praying hands
Praying Hands.

While we can, and must, pray for the children and their concerns, our prayers must first be recognition of Who God is and we should give thanks for God’s gift of grace, His holiness, His attributes of love, patience, goodness, beauty, … the list could go on. 

Through prayer, we can have an intimate relationship with God, the Creator and Sustainer of all. But we must remember that we cannot just barge into God’s court with our demands even if they are camouflaged as requests.  We must have respect and reverence for the Almighty God.   So, start your prayer with time in adoration of Him.  Then, that adoration will naturally lead to confession of those times when we have fallen short of His desires for us.  This will flow into thankfulness for the forgiveness and cleansing from our sin that He gives to us through Jesus Christ.  And then, and only then, launch into a prayer of supplication.  This pattern of prayer is often referred to by the acrostic ACTS.

  • A – adoration of God
  • C – confession of our sins
  • T – thanksgiving for His cleansing of our sins
  • S – supplication for others and then, and only then, for ourselves

Offer God prayers of praise and thanksgiving multiple times per day.  Praise Him for His love and wondrous works on our behalf.  Praise Him for allowing us to come before Him in prayer. Thank Him and let your spirit be, first and foremost, one of gratitude in prayer.  Then see if your prayer life takes on new vibrancy when you intercede for others.

A singer from my youth was George Beverly Shea, who frequently sang at the Billy Graham Crusades.  On his album Echoes of My Soul, he sings a song entitled “Early in the Morning”.  Listen and think about what you can thank the Lord for today!

 

Father, I thank You for giving me the privilege of coming into Your presence through Your Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I thank You for promising to hear my petitions and I know that You will answer them according to Your divine will.  I praise Your name for Your grace and love, extended to all those to believe in the name of Your Son.  Strengthen us in prayer as we seek to serve you in our world.

THE TEAR

The tear – it can be shed because we are sorrowful, in pain, frightened, or angry. Or, it can be shed because we are joyful, relieved, empathizing, or celebrating. (I will always cry when the Bridal March begins, whether or not the bride has even begun walking the aisle!) Crying is therapeutic – it gets pent up emotions out and relieves tension. You could say that tears are suitable for a host of purposes!

used A Tear
A child’s tear lingers on his cheek, even as a smile crosses his face!  For his grandmother, the tear tugs at her heart.  For him, the tear will be gone soon, but the grandmother’s heart will take a bit more time to heal!

 

What tugs at my heartstrings the most, though, is a tear from my grandchildren. Now, I know that children shed tears in the process of growing up, it just happens.   I also know tears can be shed when children encounter something that is unfamiliar to them even if there is no discomfort or danger. I know that tears come as a result of, often very well-needed, discipline. And, I know that children are not above shedding some tears in an effort to get what they want, even if it is abject posturing to get something from their Grandparents!

 

Crying
Sometimes the adult, believing she is giving the child an exciting day, results in frightening the young child so much that tears flow. The adult may explain that there is no danger, but still the tears flow.

 

As parents, we want our children to be healthy and happy. Who has not looked at their sick child and at least thought, if not said aloud, “I wish it was me instead of my baby!” Sometimes we simply cannot kiss it and make it better, and our tears will flow out of frustration, concern, helplessness ‐‐ love.

 

Jesus knew our feelings because He experienced them. He wept when his close friend Lazarus died.  [John 11:35] He wept when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:41 ] knowing that, because they had rejected him, tribulation would come and the city would be devastated. Our Savior experienced physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual pain, during his time here with His creation.

 

And, deep down inside, I believe that His heart hurts when He hears our cry and sees our tears. However, unlike us, He was not “helpless” in the face of sorrow or disappointment. He was, at all time, the God‐man – fully God and fully man. Through His act of obedience to the Father’s plan, He went to the cross so that we would have an escape from the pain inflicted upon us by sin.

 

Further, because of His triumph over sin and death, He knows that our troubles will last only for a short while, that there is a lesson we need to learn from the events that sparked the tears, and that He is with us through the dark times. We simply need to trust Him and hold His Hand as He sees our path while we cannot.

 

I have not been immune from those dark times. I have experienced nights on end with tears as my only companion. I worked to keep the family on an even keel when its support suddenly disintegrated before my eyes. There were times that the tears flowed so hard that I could not breathe, and I relied on the Holy Spirit to pray for that which was best because I could not.

 

I also know that no one can take your tears away; no one stands in your shoes; no one understands the disappointment you have encountered; and no one has endured the dark night that you are in or that you have experienced. It is yours and yours alone. David was well acquainted with the loneliness and pain that difficulties, fearful events, strife, and sin can create.   He refers to it as the “valley of the shadow of death.”

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4-6.

 

But notice the rest of this sentence, even though he was in the valley, he was not bound by fear. David knew that the Lord was with him and was providing comfort to him, even in the darkness of that valley.

 

I certainly am not David, but I can affirm that I have experienced release from the tears and dark times through the grace of God, the love of His Son Jesus, the solace of the Comforter, and the soothing hands of His Church.   Beloved, rest assured that you are not alone as you go through your difficult times.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

The Good Shepherd has given His life for you and He will guard and protect you as His own. [John 10:11]

 

Lift up your eyes and look for Jesus and He will give you strength. As incongruous as it sounds, while you are crying tears of grief, sorrow, fear or pain, you can experience peace and even joy because He has you in His arms and there really is nothing to fear.   Martin Luther says it well in the Hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

 

 

One day you will be able to look in the rear view mirror of your life and see the valley that you climbed out of, and you will be able to praise His Name as you thank Him for His kindness and grace, even in those dark times.

 

Joy is possible even as tears linger on your cheek!

 

Father, I thank You for being with me through your Son, my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and His Spirit, my Comforter. Thank You for the truth that You are sovereign and that nothing will frustrate your plans for me or for your church. Thank You for bringing me through the valley and for holding me even when my tears flowed. Thank You for your love.

 

 

 

PRAISE GOD FOR OUR FREEDOM

Today, Independence Day, July 4, 2016, we celebrate the fact that we are a free people.  We do not have the tyrannical rule of those who subjugate the people for their own profit.  We do not have the fear that our property will be confiscated if we disagree with the sovereign over some issue.  We do not have the fear that the government will prevent us from worshiping God according to our own beliefs and the Scripture.  Indeed, we don’t even have to give honor to those who guaranteed these freedoms for us.

Harold Wittenborn 1943
Harold Wittenborn, my father, loving Christian witness, and veteran of World War II. He has now gone to be with the Lord.

But on this day, July 4, we stop to celebrate all those who served to give us our freedom.  The soldiers who fought in the various wars, World War I and II, the Korean  and Viet Nam Conflicts, and a host of other conflicts around the world, both past and present.

Marine officer
My son, now retired from the USMC, was preserved by God through conflicts overseas.

We celebrate those who survived the wars and returned to their families, and we remember those who are no longer with us, whether they died on the battlefield or in the subsequent years since their service.

But, freedom without some standard, some constraint, some guideline is really nothing other than anarchy – everyone doing that which seems fitting (and profitable for) themselves.

In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:6 (KJV)

When we abandon the governing standard, we have undermined the very freedom that allows us to select that standard as our own.

I suggest that Scripture presents the standard that we should follow – the Old Testament Law of God as given to His hand-picked man, Moses, is the standard that shows us how we are to live.  It applies to those under the Law in the Old Testament and it applies as an indicator of God’s character to those of us who live in New Testament times, following Christ’s death and resurrection.

Flag
Old Glory flying high.

Today, it is right that we should honor our flag, our military, our Constitution and our Country.  God has blessed America with incredible riches, beauty and power.

However, it is also right that we offer our thanksgiving to God for the country in which we live.   The men who founded our Country had incredible vision and were confident that they had been led by the Hand of God in their decisions and focus for the new land.

President George Washington, in his first inaugural address delivered April 30, 1789, stated:

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aides can supply every human defect; that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes; and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.

In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow citizens at large, less than either.

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

Today, let us give thanks for the vision of our Founding Fathers and for the courage of the men and women who forged the way into the land, who established this marvelous country, and who preserved it, some with their lives, for freedom to be upheld and sustained for future generations.

USED praying hands
Praying hands.

Today, let us also give thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who died for our sins so that we could be covered in His righteousness before God the Father Almighty.   His death and resurrection grants us freedom not only for the here and now but also for eternity.  His sacrifice granted us freedom from spiritual death, from sin, from the power of Satan and from the power of our sinful nature.

Father, we give thanks to You for this day, as we celebrate our Nation’s independence. The song “America the Beautiful” reminds us of your constant blessings on us. Your grace and your mercy have been given to us in full measure, abounding fully to your glory.  As we celebrate our independence today, may we be aware of your hand in the workings of our country and, moreover, may we be aware that true freedom comes only from You, and for that we give You thanks.

How firm a foundation …!

Reverend Franklin Graham stated, in an article for the National Day of Prayer,

“I believe our nation is in trouble today, probably more than I’ve seen in my lifetime. We are contending with issues that are causing the very foundation of our country to crumble. Our moral and spiritual roots are eroding, the economy is misleading, family life is disintegrating, and political forces are at unprecedented odds. There seem to be very few leaders who will take a stand for God and for His Word.”  http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/how_to_pray_for_america

 

Foundations are important. Without a firm foundation, the whole structure falls, whether it is a building, home, career, church or country.

 

Most of us have experienced the lack of a foundation. The easiest to recall may be the first time you went to the beach and have stood, ankle deep, in the ocean. As wave upon wave rolled through your legs and over your feet and ankles, you can feel the sand shift under you. Soon, if you stood there long enough, you will be knee deep in sand because the water has “rearranged” the “ground” upon which you based your stance, and there was nothing secure underneath you.

 

Ocean - standing
Boy standing in ocean as waves move the sand under his feet.

 

In what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus Christ talks about the need for a foundation as he spoke to his disciples and the people gathered around him. In Matthew 7:24-27 [NIV] he provided the following parable where He particularly was speaking about those who hear his words but do not intend to follow His teaching:

 

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

 

Clearly, Jesus’ parable has a multitude of lessons encapsulated in these four verses. But the focus here is on “foundation”. What is the foundation that the wise man used for his house? What foundation is secure so that the house did not collapse even during difficult times?

 

Scripture states that this Rock is Jesus Christ Himself. In Isaiah 28:16, the writer states that there is a rock provided for us to build this house upon, and that rock is Christ. He is laid for a foundation, and other foundation can no man lay. The church is built upon this Rock, and every believer is secure on this Foundation.  I Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20.

 

foundation
Rocks forming the foundation of the porch at cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.

 

The foolish builders in Jesus’ parable based their hope upon anything but Christ, and you can rest assured that such unsecured foundation will certainly fail them on a stormy day. This picture of rocks as a foundation for the front porch was taken at the Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove, Tennessee.  While the porch has been sturdy with this “rocky” foundation for a very long time, such foundation for your life will yield no true comfort and satisfaction for times of trouble in this life or at the time of death and future judgment. (There is more information about Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains National Park that can be found at the Parks’ website, at http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/cadescove.htm.)

 

This dilemma was described eloquently in Job 27:8 [KJV]:

For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he may gain [much], if God takes away his life?

 

Job continues to compare the foolish builder’s hope with the spider’s web.

Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web. They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it but it does not hold.

Job 8:14-15. [NIV]

 

Clearly, having the right foundation is of paramount import. Indeed, it has eternal consequences.

 

The Psalmist says:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:12 [ESV]

 

The writer of Psalms 11 then asks this question:

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalms 11:3 [ESV]

 

The answer, Beloved, is to pray … to look to the Lord who is the only foundation that will stand, no matter what happens. When things look bleak, Scripture tells us that God is not hindered by the leaders of men, see Proverbs 21:1 [ESV]:

 

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

Even the king, who is the most powerful person in the kingdom, is subject to the sovereign will of Almighty God, whether he recognizes it or not! The Lord turns the king’s heart however He desires.

 

Are you going through difficulties now? Have you in the past? In the unlikely event that the answers to these two questions are “no”, in all likelihood you will have difficulties in the future. But you do not have to be terrified or dismayed.

 

Are you concerned about our country and the course it seems to be traveling?  Pray.

 

Read the Word and pray that the country will return to the foundation upon which it was founded. Pray that God will be allowed to return to the school, the governmental body, the court. Pray that God will shower His grace upon our country and that we would repent of our arrogance and insistence that we would ignore His Word and His Son.

 

God rescued Israel when they prayed to him and repented of their sin … let us do so now and pray that He will not depart from our land.

 

Beloved, pray and then trust Him and praise His Name even when things are hard … the Lord will be blessed and you will be glorifying Him in all things.

 

                                                

Father, I know that You are sovereign and that no leader rises to power but for You allowing him/her to do so. I know Scripture says that You can turn the leaders’ hearts because they are like a stream of water in your Hand. Lord I pray for our country, for our leaders and for our people. Prick our hearts that we would turn to You and not trust in our own power. You gave us this land; may we be stewards of it as we rely on You to guide our course.

OUR PLANS AND PRAYER.

 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”  Proverbs 19:21 [ESV]

I am a self-admitted planner. It is difficult for me to just “go with the flow”. Even when I am “going with the flow,” I am planning what I will do whenever the “flow” gets to wherever we are going.  Digression from the task ahead is difficult for me to allow … but praise the Lord that my planning confronted  divine guidance through prayer today.

praying hands
Praying Hands.

I was scheduled for surgery and a number of beloved friends and family members said they would be praying that all would go well, that I would be protected from complications, and that healing would be sweet. As usual, there is a great deal of preparation for surgery and we did all that stuff, as directed, including packing the overnight bag, taking the book and Bible along with the Ipad, etc.

 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 [ESV]

 

The hospital directions were that I could have nothing to eat or drink after midnight, but a note stated that I should take my morning medications before coming to the hospital with a sip of water. I drink milk with the medicine due to the taste if I use water: so, I took the meds with 2 sips of milk, much less than ¼ cup, and we were off to the hospital.

At the hospital, we were conducted into the surgical wing and I received the beautiful gag-green hospital gown to replace my clothing. Then I was placed under a warming blanket and was getting ready for the IV and monitors, etc.  That’s when my plans went awry but God intervened in His providence and answered prayer.

The anesthesiologist came in and asked what meds I had taken. I told him, and he said, “ok”.

Then the nurse came in and went over most of the same questions again and confirmed I had taken the morning meds at home.  She then asked when I took them. I responded “my husband poured the milk about 7 and I took them right after that.”

The nurse’s head popped up from her clipboard and she said “Milk?” and that was the beginning of the end of the surgery as planned.

She left the prep room saying that she needed to talk with the anesthesiologist about the milk. I was stunned – all this havoc over 2 sips of milk?

The answer to the prayers for protection and no complications became apparent when the anesthesiologist came in and told me that even a small amount of milk causes acid in the stomach. When you go under the anesthesia, all muscles are relaxed and that includes the muscle that keeps stomach acid in the stomach.  So, if you have acid there (like from milk) when laying on the flat surgical table under the anesthesia, you can have reflux of the acid into your lungs without anyone knowing it is happening. [Without getting into the science of it, even I know that this is not something that would be considered a good thing!]

I don’t know if God directed me to take the meds with milk so that surgery could not be done on the day that was planned, but I am confident that He answered prayers in prompting me to mention the milk so that I would be protected from adverse consequences otherwise.

The surgery is now rescheduled and I will not be using milk for my meds.

Praise the Lord that He answered prayer by bringing to mind the milk that I had consumed at just the right time so that unwanted complications could be avoided. God has been in the business of hearing and answering our prayers since the beginning.

Back in Genesis, Isaac prayed for his wife:

“And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” Genesis 25:21 [ESV]

Many years later, David said:

“O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.” Psalm 54:2 [ESV]

“But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” Psalm 66:19 [ESV]

 

Then, in the New Testament, 2,000 years ago, we have the church praying for Peter.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”  Acts 12:5 [ESV]

As a result of those prayers, God sent angels to the prison and released Peter at night. He went to the house where the church was praying for him and almost did not get in because no one believed that their prayers had been so miraculously answered!

Prayer at Westminster Cathedral (C)
Prayer at Westminster Cathedral, London, England

 

In speaking of prayer to God the Father, the writer of Hebrews 4:16 tells us:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” [ESV]

Beloved, the same God who answered Isaac, and who answered Job, and who answered David, and who heard and answered the church’s prayers for Peter, hears and answers the prayers of His children today when we come boldly to Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Think praying is only for old people?

Think praying doesn’t do anything?

 Think praying is a boring waste of time?

 THINK AGAIN!

 

Father, forgive me when I take lightly the gracious gift of prayer. Forgive me when I fail to recognize the awesome privilege of coming in prayer to the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Forgive me when I forget that I can only come to you because of Jesus Christ, my Savior, who covers me with His righteousness and has forgiven me of my sins. Thank you Father for hearing the prayers of your children, even those raised on my behalf. Praise your Holy Name!

DIFFICULTIES CAN PRODUCE BEAUTIFUL FRUIT

I was in prayer this morning asking the Lord for comfort, strength, peace, healing and His presence for several of the people in our church who are going through very difficult times. I truly believe that prayer is the “best thing” that we can do for others, and as I was considering the various situations facing these brothers and sisters in the Lord, I was reminded of a video‐essay I saw about Yosemite National Park. This program captured my attention because my husband and I had been to Yosemite several years ago and we found it to be an awesome manifestation of our Lord’s creativity and beauty.

What really captured my attention was the discussion of the Park’s Giant Sequoias and the role that fire plays in their sustainability. The Narrator discussed fire in the Park as being a necessity for the forest, and I recognize this as a correct generalized proposition that is true of any forest woodland. Without fire, the underbrush would become so dense that seedlings would not be able to take root, etc.

Fire scar completely through the base of Giant Sequoia Tree

This is a picture that we took on our visit to the Park which shows a fire scar that is so severe that the inside of the tree has been burned out and the tree resembles an old‐time wooden clothespin, perhaps for Paul Bunyan’s laundry! The Narrator of the video-essay stated that the Giant Sequoia tree’s bark was extraordinarily thick and the cambium layer, just beneath the bark, has fire resistant properties to enable the trees to survive severe forest fires.  This statement is consistent with one of the plaques in the Park.

Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.
Giant Sequoia Tree plaque for the tree Tennessee Tree, with explanation about cambium layer beneath bark that enables trees to survive forest fires.

The Narrator continued to describe how the Giant Sequoias cannot survive without periodic fires. I thought I misunderstood what he said – why would these majestic trees require fire for their survival – they might successfully endure the wildfire, but to say that they require it is an entirely different proposition, and one which surely must be incorrect!

I was intrigued by this statement and, after doing some research, I found that one of the primary requirements for Giant Sequoia seedlings to grow is full sun. A glance at the forests in which these trees thrive reveals that, while the mature trees have full sun due to their towering height, there are multitudes of trees around them which, although dwarfed by the Giant Sequoias, are tall trees in their own right. The result of this, of course, is that the Giant Sequoia seedling is beneath the neighboring pines, oaks, and whatever – without the benefit of full sun.

In short, the Giant Sequoia Trees require periodic wildfires so that the underbrush and smaller tree vegetation can be cleared so as to provide the correct environment for successful germination of the sequoia seeds in full sun.

Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.
Giant Sequoia fire scar with seedlings nearby.

But, as the television marketer says, “Wait, there’s more!”  Not only does the wildfire provide the open nursery for the seedlings, the fire actually is required to release the seeds from the cone in the first place. It is no secret that extremely hot air accompanies a forest fire; for me, the surprise was that the hot air in the canopy of the massive trees dries and opens the trees’ seed cones causing the release of large numbers of seeds to the forest floor, which, because of the clearing accomplished by the fire, has been transformed into the optimal seedbed for the seeds to take root and grow into images of their ancestors.

Seedlings in Yosemite National Park
Seedlings in Yosemite National Park

Also, the Lord provided even more help for these seeds to grow to maturity. The post‐fire loose ground ash operates as a blanket to protect the seeds from ultraviolet radiation damage. [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoiadendron_giganteum accessed 8/28/2013]

Besides being an interesting aspect of the Lord’s natural world and besides showing the care that He took to insure the sustainability of His creation, the soul‐searching began when I considered the illustration provided by the Giant Sequoia Trees in the connection between the fire and the resultant beauty.

It made me consider how I respond to the fire circumstances in my own life? Am I able to look past the immediate pain and difficulty so as to see the beauty ahead? Do I endure the difficulty with anticipation for the good that our Lord will accomplish through it? Or, do I, like Jonah, run in the opposite direction so that I avoid the problem and pain? Do I even recognize that there is a cost for avoiding the trial … lost lessons learned and more agonizing trials ahead for which I could have been prepared, or perhaps which could have even been avoided, if I had paid attention to the initial difficulty?

Do I say what Joseph said to his brothers?

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “… And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.… But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

Genesis 45:4-7. Or, as my own paraphrase would render this passage, you may have meant to hurt me, but actually you were fulfilling God’s plan to provide a way to protect you and your families from the death that would surely have come during this severe famine.

When we are in the midst of the maelstrom, when we can’t see where things are going, through faith we can have confidence that God is sovereign and that He is working things out for His purposes and the Christian’s ultimate good. Even if scars remain, there will be beauty that will come.  The nail piercings in our Lord’s Hands reflect just some of the excruciating suffering He endured for us on the cross, but they are beautiful for those who believe in His Name for salvation.  But for what those scars represent, we would not have His righteousness to cover our sins and we could not call God “Abba Father”.  Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6.

God is sovereign in all things. He provided for the Giant Sequoia Trees, and He will provide for His children. See Luke 12:22-31.  Praise His Name as we trust in Him and in His unfailing grace, even as we go through the flames of trial that confronts us, by whatever name it is called.

As the Psalmist said: “Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 106:1.

DRIFTING!

During the last eight days we have prayed often for the two teenagers who were off the coast of Florida when their boat capsized. The news media showed their pictures repeatedly as search and rescue efforts were detailed.  The Coast Guard and family searched tirelessly for the boys but to no avail. The boat was found drifting miles away from where they were last seen, but there was no sign of the boys.

I am sure I am not the only one who thought of the horror and fear that these young men likely felt when they realized that they were drifting farther from shore, farther from their families, farther from safety, with no way to change their path.

These thoughts reminded me of a song I often heard as a young child when my father sang in a men’s quartet at church. Drifting Down. The song depicts where we are in our natural sinful state without the Lord … far from shore, drifting from the heavenly Father’s loving care. Daddy is with the Lord now, and I am long past being a “young child”, but I still hear that song in my memory’s tape recording!

Ocean waves and rock formations, Oregon coast
Ocean waves and rock formations, Oregon coast

Drifting Down was written by Jessie Brown Pounds and composed by W. E. M. Hackleman, in 1898. The words to the first verse and chorus are these:

You are drifting far from shore, leaning on an idle oar, you are drifting, slowly drifting, drifting down; you are drifting with the tide, to the ocean wild and wide, you are drifting, slowly drifting, drifting down.

Ocean with far distant shore
Ocean with far distant shore

Chorus:

You are drifting down, drifting down (You are drifting, slowly drifting, you are slowly drifting down); to the dark and awful sea; you are drifting down (You are drifting, slowly drifting,). From a Father’s loving care, to the blackness of despair, you are drifting, slowly drifting, drifting down. [Obtained from: http://www.freehymnal.com/lyrics/drifting-down/, accessed March 8, 2013] (Emphasis mine)

Atlantic Ocean Waves
Atlantic Ocean Waves

The definition of “drifting” includes the concept of being carried along by currents of air or water; moving unhurriedly and smoothly; moving leisurely without purpose; to wander from a set course. [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/drifting, accessed May 9, 2013] In other words, when you are drifting slowly, there is the implication that you are not struggling; you are not working to correct the situation; you are drifting. No concern, no recognition of imminent peril. The shore is becoming less and less apparent, the voices are more and more distant as you just drift away!             

What a dramatic contrast there is between the message of the old-time hymn Drifting Down and another age old hymn How Firm a Foundation. Beloved by millions of people through the ages, this hymn eloquently describes the foundation that Jesus Christ provides. I have not included all the verses here, but the words are taken from Isaiah 43:1-7 and, in its entirety, the hymn describes the foundation for the believer from birth through death.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, To you, who to Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health; In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth; At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea, As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,  I will not, I will not desert to its foes;  That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,  I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

[Words: From A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, by John Rippon, 1787; hymn attributed variously to John Keene, Kirkham, and John Keith]

In short, the hymn writer encompasses every condition of our life. Sickness, poverty, sorrow, deep waters, fiery trials, old age stating that in all cases Jesus Christ will be with His children. The hymn ending, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake” is the complete counterpoint to Drifting Down.

Which song depicts my life? Your life? Are you drifting down, going away from the Father’s love and security or are you leaning on Jesus as your Savior?

Anchor
Anchor

Are you afloat without an anchor or are you confident in His saving Grace?

Certainly, there may be times that even the most secure in Christ feel that they are drifting. But, the remedy is not to lay hopeless in the drift away from Him: the remedy is to turn and cling to the anchor, His cross, where you will find restoration and forgiveness with the secure anchor holding you steady even as you endure the storm.

We must continue to pray for the families who are still searching for their sons off the coast of Florida and we must give thanks for those who so diligently conducted the search for the young boys all last week.  Pray that the Lord will be near to these families and rescue personnel and that His comfort and peace will overwhelm them during this time.

Further, let us also praise the Lord for the security and salvation He provides, that He is the answer to the drift that so many experience in their lives, and may we live always ready to explain how to obtain that security to those who may inquire.

HAPPY 239TH BIRTHDAY, AMERICA – WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU.

Yes, I know that today is July 5th and I am one day late for posting about our national celebration of independence – I should have posted this on July 4th.   But I couldn’t do it for a variety of reasons, the most significant of which was that I could not come up with a way to express my thoughts this Independence Day.

Patriotic Trifle
Patriotic Trifle

As a family, we have a proud heritage as Americans. My paternal ancestors came from Germany, and my maternal ancestors originated in England. I am a Daughter of the American Revolution, meaning that one of my ancestors fought in the war for our freedom from the English King. My mother’s sister enlisted in The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II and both of our fathers fought in that war, surviving by the grace of God so that we, their progeny, would have life and freedom from tyranny. Our son is currently serving in the USMC as well.

When I was a child, there was no need to discuss whether we could talk about God in school or in public arenas – America was identified as a Christian country; thus it was understandable that we would communicate with God, in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. Today, if you hear the name of Jesus on the television, in music on the iPod, on YouTube, or out in public areas, it is likely being used as a curse and not as the name of our Lord and Savior.

The opening lines of the Declaration of Independence declares that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” and we were taught that this foundational document recognized that God was the underpinning of our nation. Today, the “all men are created equal” is much talked about by advocates for change and in the media, but the role of the Creator in our country’s founding is ignored.

I fear that this 239th birthday finds our country’s Christian foundation in serious trouble. Indeed, it seems as though we are trying to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity from its conscience so that America will be turned completely away from Christianity. The argument, in very simple terms, seems to be that, since the Constitution guarantees separation of church and state, the church and especially the Christian’s God must not enter into the equation for resolution of any issue, consideration of any question, or discussion of any policy for the nation, or even for the individual or family. Thus, there can be no prayer to God in schools or at the athletic competition; there are no Ten Commandments in public buildings. The Bible is not taught as a book containing the Word of God … it may be moralistic but so is Aesop’s Fables.

The argument continues that the Christian’s God is not necessary because we are Americans … we can go to the moon or create babies in test tubes. We are independent, fully sufficient for anything … God is simply irrelevant and a waste of time. He is not necessarily dead (a philosophy popular several decades ago) but we certainly don’t need Him around and we really don’t need to worship a deity that is irrelevant.

The building for the Supreme Court of the United States
The building for the Supreme Court of the United States

The catastrophic shift in the accepted point of view was illustrated by the Supreme Court’s recent decision about gay marriage. The decision was hailed as a progressive move by some and was received with saddened hearts by many others.

Symbols of Justice at The Supreme Court Building
Symbols of Justice at The Supreme Court Building

I am an attorney, and I know that a single fact can change the result of a case or the fashioning of the appellate argument can focus the bench in various ways, depending on the argument. Thus, I am not going to analyze or comment on the decision itself.

My difficulty in fashioning my thoughts about Independence Day is based purely on what appears to be the systematic removal of God from our nation’s life.

In an article published on July 4, 2015 in the Washington Post and various other media, including The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee, Newt Gingrich countered “Five myths about the Founding Fathers.” The first myth noted is that our Founding Fathers wanted to have a secular nation. Gingrich cites several of our Founding Fathers who firmly believed that God was the foundation upon which this country rested.

The Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC
  • Jefferson who asked: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”
The Washington Monument, Washington, DC
The Washington Monument, Washington, DC
  • George Washington who thought that religion was essential to supply a higher authority for the rule of law. In Washington’s Farewell Address he stated that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
  • Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The politician who loves liberty … knows that morality overthrown (and morality must fall with religion), the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man.” [My own translation of Hamilton’s quote is “when morality and religion are gone, so is freedom because we will have traded freedom for rule by a despot.]

I hate “gloom and doom” thoughts – I know my Lord is Sovereign. Even when I am confused and at a loss for words (which does not happen often, as you can see by the length of this post), He is in control and He has me in His hands, so I don’t have to worry!   But, watching my country turn its back on God is distressing.

In Jeremiah 11:14, when the people were being disciplined for trading God for the idols of the heathen societies around them, God instructed the prophet: “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.”

It appears that this is what America is in the process of doing/has done. So, what as Christians can we do?

PRAY!

This is not a cop-out or platitude – it is a call to action. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God says:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

In James 5:16, we read:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Prayers by the Christian sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, through His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ, will accomplish much for our country.

The Presidential Prayer Team Seal
The Presidential Prayer Team Seal

For your prayer effort on behalf of our country, I would highly commend to you the Internet organization entitled Presidential Prayer Team. It is not a church and membership in their website is free. Here is a quote from their web page about PPT:

We are a national ministry dedicated to a focused mission of encouraging, inspiring and practicing PRAYER on behalf of our President, nation’s leaders and our troops. We also seek to be a catalyst in the development of a robust prayer lifestyle. We do this by finding and PROVIDING tools to encourage prayer – through email, web, mobile phones and other communication tools. Ultimately, we believe that prayer will TRANSFORM our nation, one heart at a time.

The website address is http://www.presidentialprayerteam.com/index.php. Please take some time and look at this website – it offers many historical insights about our country and God, and it identifies specific people and issues to be in prayer about for each day. If you feel led to pray for our country, you can sign up on this site and you will receive information to remind you to pray for America.

The Presidential Prayer Team notes that the Founding Fathers were not all Christians, but they “were firmly committed to biblical morality, to public prayer and praise, and to the conviction that God is the Creator of liberty.”

I challenge you to be a 2 Chronicles 7:14 praying Christian.

Blessings to you and our country.  May God bless America!