Personal Prayer

In just a few days we’ve got the National Day of Prayer in the US (always the first Thursday of May, this year it’s May 4). Each year it’s a chance for people around the US to come together and pray, or at the very least be more intentional about making (extra) time for personal prayers on Thursday.  Prayer is something we should do on a regular basis, and more than just the popcorn prayers that some or most of us do when things happen or we’re made aware of needs throughout our days. Prayer is something we do individually and as a faith community.

Prayer is an interesting thing because in some ways you could say it’s irrelevant, because God doesn’t need us to tell Him anything because He knows everything, and He can choose to perform a miracle even if we don’t pray about it.  However, throughout the Bible, and especially the New Testament, it’s reminded that God wants us to pray anyway because it’s one of our best opportunities to connect and communicate with Him.  God isn’t the type of god to be all about lording over his people, He’s interested in building personal, intimate relationships with each of us.  It’s pretty awesome that God wants a personal relationship with you and me in my book.

This year the theme and verse for the National Day of Prayer are:

“For Your Great Name’s Sake! Hear Us… Forgive Us…Heal Us!”
“O Lord, Listen! O Lord, Forgive! O Lord, Hear and Act! For Your Sake, O My God…” Daniel 9:19

Daniel was known for his prayer times, prayer times that got him sent to and saved in the lion’s den.  It’s a powerful reminder that even something as simple as praying can have a big impact.  If you’re looking for a miracle in your life or the life of someone else, or are ready to really see the world around you change for the better, one of the things you can do is pray more.

If you’re already planning to attend a National Day of Prayer event this Thursday, great!  If not, the National Day of Prayer website has lots of events listed from around the country you can join.

A Generation Cries Out

This week we have two unique opportunities for students with regards to faith: See You At The Pole on Wednesday, and The Global Week of Student Prayer which began on Sunday.  See You At The Pole has been a practice for the past 25 years and is now done in countries around the world.  This year’s theme is “We Cry Out.”  I think it’s a fitting theme for the things we’re going through as a world, and the pressures that teens are experiencing now more than ever.

Each generation has their own challenges, but thanks to social media and other various kinds of technology around the world it’s easier than ever to know about the challenges that teens today are experiencing, but it’s also made the challenges increase.  For example it’s easier to communicate a secret drug buy with all the apps and text scramblers, and it’s easier than ever to bully or talk bad about someone thanks to social media.  But with that there are also more ways than ever to make your mark on the world, even among all the other people of the world that have great skills, abilities, talents and gifts, so it’s not all bad news for this generation.

Some say that See You At The Pole is more about appearances than actual faith, and that the numbers that show up at the pole don’t reflect or support spirituality all year long among students.  While I know this can be true for some, I think it’s still an important practice, especially if done by people of year-long (and life-long) faith.  I do believe it’s important to stand up and show that you believe at events like See You At The Pole, especially if it’s a practice that stretches your personal comfort zone a bit.  If it’s done by people of faith that actively live their faith, it’s also an opportunity for those who don’t have faith but are dealing with challenges personally or at home to know which of their peers they could turn to for some support and an open ear.

So to follow this year’s theme I encourage you to speak up for those who can’t as well as those who can, speak out against the practices that are harming the world we live in and the people we share it with, and pray for the wisdom to know how to lead as we move forward into the future.  There can only be change if we choose to speak out against the wrong in the world and speak up and make change for a better future.  What’s your cry for this teen generation or even your own?

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.  They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.”  Psalm 24:3-6

When God Takes Too Long

This month one of the topics we’ve been talking about is patience. The big question around patience is always “but what if things are taking too long?”  I agree, sometimes it seems like things are taking too long, especially in our fast paced, fast food, high speed internet world.  While I think by far and large we can slow down with most things, some things definitely benefit from being attended to as quickly as things can be in this day and age, like national disasters, missing people and health issues like Zika.  But waiting 30 minutes to get quality food, especially if you don’t have to cook or grow it yourself seems to seriously pain some people.  I understand we all have things going on in our lives, but sometimes the only thing that can be done is to wait and see.

One of the biggest challenges around waiting is when we’re waiting on God for something.  It can seem like God is taking forever to respond to our prayers, especially since He hears them instantly.  Sometimes God is waiting for us to do something, but all too often it’s just not time.  It’s not easy to wait, especially if you think the answer God is sending is that He’s not sending that miracle cure/job/person/child/freedom or whatever it is you’re praying for or would be an answer to your prayers.  Sometimes the answer is “no.”  Hearing the “no” is almost easier than hearing “wait” because it means we’ve been given an answer and aren’t waiting for things to happen or work in perfect order.

Fortunately or unfortunately, more often it seems like the answer is to wait.  Yes, that gives us hope that a solution is coming, but still challenges us to work on our patience and do what God has called us to do in the meantime.  If you’re in a waiting period, find comfort and hope in the words of Isaiah 60:22: “When the time is right, I, the Lord, will come quickly. I will make these things happen.”  You’ve probably experienced it at least once, that when God gets going, things really move. Sometimes things are revealed over time, other times it’s so fast you almost can’t see it happen.  So if you’re praying and waiting today I encourage you to continue to live your life and to be prepared for things to happen when God’s time is right.  Don’t be discouraged by the “wait”, instead, prepare for what is coming.

Making Time for Prayer

Lately a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot is prayer.  Prayer is this unique communication tool that can bring all different kinds of people together.  It’s been something done by just about every religion throughout history, from the Israelites and Egyptians on to Christians and Muslims today.  I thought I’d start off by sharing a few thoughts on prayer from others:

“Express to God the deep desires of your heart and your real emotions. Tell God of your trouble, even if you have had a hand in bringing it about. Honest prayer is a mark of intimacy. It is a characteristic of a relationship that is authentic and real.”  Br. David Vryhof

“[Church is] where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.”  Eugene Peterson

“When you pray for anyone, you tend to modify your personal attitude toward them.” Norman Vincent Peale

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Prayer is a gift, an opportunity and a challenge.  It can be done in groups or by ourselves.  Prayer can be vocal and it can be silent.  Prayer can be about praising, reflecting or supplication.  We can pray about ourselves and others.  But perhaps most importantly, like any other tool, it must be used to have any effect.  You can’t put it on a shelf, you can’t take it out once a year, you can’t rely on others to do it.  It’s something you need to be doing on a regular basis if you want to see results or be able to call yourself someone who prays.

This week I encourage you to make time for prayer, for focused and specific prayer.  You can continue doing the “popcorn prayers” and other brief thoughts, but set aside time to really work on your prayer life and establishing that relationship between you and God and you, others and God.

A Patriotic Celebration

I’m in a patriotic mood with July 4th, Independence Day, being today in the US.  So it’s got me thinking about the nation we live in, the other nations around the world, the nation of Israel and nations of Jesus’ day, and about the nation that is yet to come when we get to Heaven/when Christ comes back.  With the exception of the nation yet to come, within every nation there are times of unrest and change. I don’t know about you but I’ve been following the news about the UK vote to leave the EU last month and you can’t help but hear about the presidential election we’re gearing up for in November here in the US.  Both are of interest to me because they indicate that people have a desire for something different, that they’re telling the world with their votes that they aren’t happy with how things currently are.  Maybe the changes that follow won’t be great or what people are really expecting, but not only is it important for us to stand up to what we think is wrong, if we can do something about improving our lives and the lives of others, we should!

What does Independence Day mean to you?  Does it remind you of the history lessons you heard years ago about the founding of the nation? Does it make you say prayers of thanksgiving for the brave people who chose to leave their homes and travel by boat to this new land?  Does it make you think about what the nation could become?  Does it make you think about and pray for the leaders that are in charge?  Are you flying a flag at your house, putting a poppy in your car or otherwise visibly displaying your patriotism?  We have this holiday for a reason: to remind us of where we’ve come from and to motivate us to make a better future.

What does Independence Day mean to us as people of faith?  It’s also a call to remember the spiritual leaders who have come before us and have made an impact on our lives.  Throughout the Bible God reminds us to celebrate Him, the good things He does for us, the great world He created for us, and each other and the good things we do.  He didn’t create us to be alone, nor to ignore each other.  Instead we’re to work together, live together, partner together and celebrate together.  What will you celebrate today?

“Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”  1 Chronicles 16:8

Faith in Fasting

This past Monday Ramadan started. It’s not a holiday I participate in, but it is one that many people around the world care about. Ramadan is a month of fasting by Muslims to celebrate, remember and honor the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  Today though I wanted to talk a bit about the topic of fasting and what it says about Ramadan as well as the other times that people may fast.

Let’s talk about what this type of fasting is all about. It’s really a religious commitment to purify yourself, remember the founders of your faith, return to spiritual beginnings, ask for answers or intervention about something, ask for forgiveness and/or shake off the evil that may have become part of your life. Most spiritual traditions include fasting in one way or another. Depriving yourself of food, sleep, and even sometimes drink can be an effective way of helping you refocus and get reconnected spiritually in a very raw way that isn’t usually something you experience.  Other types of fasting can include taking a technology fast, chocolate fast or other type of fast, also with the goal of finding freedom, focus, or practicing sacrifice.

I’ve mentioned fasting before in talking about Ash Wednesday, but it’s not something I talk about much, nor is it something we do as much as maybe we should. What stood out to me as I was thinking about Ramadan is that Muslims give up a LOT to fast for this holiday. They fast for a whole month and not just the food as is typical of most fasting practices, but drinks as well, and they totally alter their days to partake of food before and after the daylight hours.  It shows true commitment and even gratitude towards Muhammad and their faith, but not in a way that would harm or be disrespectful to others, it’s a commitment they keep in and of themselves.

What about you?  When was the last time you made a sacrifice like that?  Maybe you didn’t think about it as a sacrifice or didn’t realize what a big sacrifice it was until you were involved in it.  Are you as committed to things in your life as the Muslims are to honoring the Quran and Muhammad?  What do you value enough in your life, physical or spiritual, that you would make such a life change for?  If there is something that is that important to you, make sure to express your gratitude today and give something back too.

What is Prayer for You?

Last week around the US people gathered for National Day of Prayer. Prayer is an important part of our faith lives, it’s how we primarily communicate with God. We don’t always get the answers through prayer, but the words that we share with God are important and valued by Him. It would be easy to just pass off prayer as mundane and a regular task we have to do, but it’s so much more than that (although it is a task we should be doing regularly). It’s an opportunity to share our lives with God, to share with someone who truly cares about what goes on in our days and the things we’re dealing with and to celebrate the things that we enjoy or that go well.

There are many verses throughout the Bible that talk about prayer, one is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

This Bible passage is interesting because it sandwiches prayer between two very positive instructions: being joyful and being thankful. Are you joyful and thankful about what goes on in your life? Yes, circumstances can be challenging and can be depressing sometimes, but prayer is a great opportunity for us to really analyze and work through the details of the circumstance, which allows us to move beyond the possibly negative emotions and first reactions to the circumstance and see how God could be working in and through it and what we might learn from it.

So how do you view prayer? Do you see it as a chore? Maybe you’re just frustrated because you’re expecting something specific in return instead of seeing it as a great opportunity to share with someone who won’t look at us in judgment and interrupt our telling of the story, and find some quiet time and peace in a turbulent world. What are you thankful for about prayers?