1582) Saying Grace

     A visiting pastor was attending a men’s prayer breakfast in a Mississippi Farm County.  He asked one of the impressive older farmers in attendance to say grace that morning.  After all were seated, the older farmer began:  “Lord, I hate buttermilk.”

     The pastor opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going.  Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard.”

     Now the pastor was worried.  However, without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour.”

     Just as the pastor was ready to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued, “But Lord, when you mix ’em all together and bake ’em up, I do love fresh biscuits.  So, Lord, when things come up we don’t like in our lives, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what you are sayin’ to us; we just need to relax and wait ‘till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be somethin’ even better than biscuits.  Amen.”

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Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11-12  —  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.  

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

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1512) Time for God?

By Joshua Rogers at: http://www.joshuarogers.com/2010/12/07

     I have a confession to make:  it’s been about three or four weeks since I’ve read my Bible for more than 15 minutes.   Believe it or not, I actually like to read my Bible.   But unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally for me to sit down and focus on it – or to sit down, period.

     Yet when I do sit down and prayerfully take it in, God’s words have a powerful, lasting, heart-rending impact.  They make me conscious of His love, more willing to obey, and they inspire awe.

     But unfortunately, the last time I tried to read it, I was on a Metro bus, standing up, and trying to keep from getting carsick.  Three minutes into it, I ended up texting back and forth with a buddy.  So much for Bible reading.

     Come to think of it, focused prayer doesn’t come very naturally either – though it’s a little easier for me than Bible-reading because, you know, at least I get to talk.

     In fact, I had a relatively meaningful prayer time recently.  But it was on the same Metro bus I mentioned above.  So I had to think the prayer, rather than say it.  But it was hard to focus without moving my lips, and by the time we hit downtown DC, I had forgotten about praying.  Instead, I was counting the number of stop lights before we reached my office.  So much for that.

     This morning, I was holding my baby daughter in my lap, reading a children’s book that goes through the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6.  My daughter traced her fingers over the pictures an extra long time before turning the pages, and it left me to contemplate Christ’s prayer more thoroughly than I usually do.

     As I saw the child-like application suggested by the pictures in the book, I thought, “Wow.  That’s deep.  I could get choked up reading this.”

     We read through the book a second time, then a third; and by then, it had been about twenty minutes since we had begun.  I closed the book, held her in my arms, and began singing a lullaby, making it up as I went.  One of the lines was,

I’d give my life for you
for all the big things you’re going to do –
and small things too
I’d give my life for you

     And then I got choked up and paused.  The love I felt for her was too much for me – I didn’t know I could love a child like that.  Although I wanted to continue singing, she was done.  She pushed the book away and started squirming around.  I sat her down on the floor and let her play with her toys.

     I savored the moment, but I wish she would’ve let me sing to her a little longer.  She’s just a baby though – she had no idea how much I was enjoying holding her.

     When it comes to my heavenly Father, I’m not much different from my daughter.  Every once in a while, I’ll crawl into His lap and let Him speak to me through the scriptures – words which are “breathed out by Him” (II Timothy 3:16).  And I’ll occasionally humble myself in prayer – even getting quiet – long enough to sense, deep in my spirit, that He is there, “rejoicing over me with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

     Before long, though, no matter how deep the revelation or how tangible His presence, I’m squirming again.  I’m sure He would like me to keep listening to His words, to listen to His ‘love song’ – but I’ve got toys to play with, texts to send, and traffic lights to count.

     I’m not saying God is some co-dependent dad who gets His feelings hurt when we’re distracted by the world around us.  However, if my experience as a father is any indicator, I believe He treasures our focused, intentional prayers and meditations on scripture.  And when we cut short those times with Him – it’s not just our loss, but His.

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II Timothy 3:14-17  —  Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Zephaniah 3:17  —  The Lord, your God, is in your midst…  He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

Psalm 95:6-7  —  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!   For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.  O that today we would listen to his voice!

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O Almighty God, from whom every good prayer cometh, and who pourest out on all who desire it, the Spirit of grace and supplications; deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind; that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.
–William Bright (1824-1901)

1505) How the Church Moves the World

By Mindy Belz, in World magazine, May 27, 2017, page 28 (www.wng.org).

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How does the church move the world?

An Iraqi boy prays inside St. George’s Church in Baghdad

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     Months into the invasion of Iraq by ISIS, I emailed a friend in Baghdad to check on his family and his church.  Islamic State militants by that time controlled one-third of the country and could reach Baghdad by car in 40 minutes.  Bombings were up in the city.

     Dawlat Abouna is a deacon in St. George’s Church.  He had a library in his home where he kept documents tracing his Christian ancestry in Iraq to A.D. 1117.  He loaned me history books and translated documents for me as I wrote a book about Iraq.  So I asked:  How is your family?  With so much turmoil, are worship services continuing?

     Dawlat answered:  “Oh yes!  We have started two new groups here at the church— one to pray for our persecuted brothers in the north, and one to pray for our enemies.”

     I don’t know any churches in the West with meetings dedicated to praying for enemies.  And if the enemy breathing down my neck were ISIS, starting such a group would not be the first thing to come to mind.  We live in a society so polarized that loving one’s enemies in any active, intentional way is foreign, maybe even a little absurd.

     Yet Dawlat and the faithful at St. George’s know and practice something deeply important, if rare, something history and Scripture tell us is what Christians do, what makes them distinct.

     Not long before Dawlat’s email, the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, preached from a mosque in captured Mosul:  “Terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death.”

     ISIS teaching on terrorizing enemies isn’t a distortion of Islam; it’s woven into the Quran, the sayings of Muhammad (the hadith), and its history, which began as brutal conquest.

     Preaching in Egypt last month on a Muslim Brotherhood channel, Egyptian Salafi leader Mohamed al-Saghir said “suicide bombers” are the greatest resource in the Muslim community, boasting that they are found nowhere else.

     Writer Nabeel Qureshi, himself a former Muslim, writes in No God But One, “The historical Jesus never sanctioned violence and endorsed absolutely nothing like the Crusades, whereas the historical Muhammad engaged in jihad as the greatest deed a Muslim can perform.”

     Jesus made “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” a byword and reconciliation the essence of his ministry:  “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

     Like all things that aren’t natural or easy (or safe), loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute you is a discipline, the work of weekly prayer meetings and day-to-day service in a potentially hostile community.  And potentially hostile communities can inflict real harm, no matter the prayers or good deeds.

     At St. George’s over the years, Islamic militants aimed crippling bomb attacks.  The church built blast walls, planted hedges over them, and continues to hold services and to serve the community.  Hundreds of mostly Muslim women line up to collect food parcels every month as part of one program.

     In the United States we live in a time of political upheaval, social fracturing, and racial strife.  Calling out one’s enemies has become high art.  Checking into social media requires dodging a barrage of insults and ire.  How many of us pause to pray before we post?  How many of us pray for those who make our lives hard, whether they live nearby or far away?  Commit with me to praying for such an enemy this month and next, for someone who is a real pill, making your life hard, undermining a faithful witness in your community.

     Praying for enemies has a dividend:  It tends to cast out fear.  Over and over in the book of Acts we see the early church praying boldly, suffering mightily, thanking its persecutors for scattering its people, and doing it all over again.  It may look as if the church is being pushed around, but in reality it’s how the church moves the world.

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Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Luke 6:27b-28  —  (Jesus said), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Romans 12:17-21  —  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I Peter 3:9  —  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

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 Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us.  Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they, and we, learn to love all people as Jesus did.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

1482) Deliver Us From Evil

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     In the final petition of the Lord’s prayer we ask God to deliver us from evil.  Martin Luther’s Small Catechism also refers to such protection from evil in Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed where he says God, “defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”  That sounds good, but anyone with two eyes can see that God does not always protect believers.  We are obviously not delivered from all evil.  Christians also get killed in terrible accidents, Christians also suffer and die from all kinds of painful diseases, Christians also face wars and famines and persecutions and all sorts of evil.  What does it mean to say that God guards and protects us from every evil?  

     In his Large Catechism and also in sermons on this petition, Luther says much more about how we should understand the word deliver in the petition.  Luther teaches that we must remember that God can deliver us in two ways.  One way is to guard and keep and protect us in this life, delivering us in the here and now from whatever threatens to harm or destroy us.  God often, but not always, does this.  The second way is to deliver us out of this whole world of evil.  Many things threaten us here, and someday, one of those threats will do us in and we will die.  But even then, God will keep His promise of deliverance, as death itself then becomes the deliverer, becoming for us the doorway to God’s eternal home in heaven.  Luther says in the catechism: “We pray here that our Father in heaven may deliver us from all manner of evil, whether it affect body or soul, property or reputation.  And then we can know that even when the end comes, and the hour of death comes to us, God will grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.”  Therefore, Luther says, in the end God indeed delivers us from every manner of evil, because even when we die, death itself becomes the method of our deliverance.

     The petition ‘deliver us from evil’ can therefore be for us a either a huge PROBLEM or a wonderful PROMISE.  It becomes a ‘problem’ when we take the short term view, because then we will see all kinds of problems with such a belief.  Everyone could make a long list of things, saying, “Well, the Lord did not deliver me from this and he did not deliver me from that, so what is the matter with the Lord?  He does not seem to be very good at keeping his promise.”  But when we choose to take the long term view, we choose to have the faith that in the end, God will indeed deliver us from every evil for all time, when in death we join him in his heavenly home.

     The entire Bible is written with this long term view, this eternal perspective.  This is the hope in which we put our faith.  In the end, we will be delivered.  In the meantime, we pray that we may keep the faith; or, in other words, that we may not give in to temptation (as we pray in the sixth petition).  In his Large Catechism explanation to the sixth petition, Luther says that one of the most dangerous temptations is the temptation to lose the faith, and to fail to trust God.

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Matthew 6:13  —  (Jesus said), “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Galatians 1:3-5  —  Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Revelation 21:1a…3-5  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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The Seventh Petition

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.

1481) Hallowed Be Thy Name

     The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer (after the introduction) is perhaps the most difficult to understand.  We know what the other petitions mean when they ask for things like daily bread or forgiveness or help in times of temptation.  These are things we might pray for on our own anyway.  But what does it mean to pray “Hallowed be thy name?”  That’s not the kind of phrase we normally use in our personal prayers.  Martin Luther asks in the Large Catechism, “Isn’t God and His name holy in and of itself?  What can our poor prayers add to that?”  Why is this odd petition even included in this most perfect prayer?

     In the catechism Luther brings the meaning down to earth.  Certainly God’s name is holy in heaven, Luther says, but it is on earth where it needs to be honored and respected and hallowed far more than what it is.  How many times, Luther asks, don’t we hear God’s holy name used in a very unholy way, with all the cursing and swearing we hear every day?  This petition is not for God’s sake, but for our sake, Luther says.  We are praying, in other words, that we may keep God’s name holy; that we may live our lives in such a way that it brings honor, and not dishonor and disgrace, to God’s name.  We are CHRISTians, we bear Christ’s name, and when we live our lives in ways contrary to God’s will for us, we dishonor that holy name of God.  In this petition, says Luther, we are praying that God give us the faith and the strength to live our lives in ways that will bring honor to the name of the God we believe in.

     Saley is an immigrant I met several years ago.  Saley grew up in Cambodia which is 99% Buddhist.  His entire family and all of his friends were Buddhist.  But Saley became a Christian.  Why?  Because he saw how the Christian missionaries in his country served the poor and the downtrodden.  He would say to his friends and family, “We don’t even help our own people like these Christians help them.”  He said to me, “I wanted to know the God that inspired those missionaires to leave their home and family to come to my country and help my people.”

     God’s name was honored by the work of those missionaries.  Saley saw that and became a believer.  That’s what can happen when God’s name is hallowed.  That’s how the early Christians were able to spread his message to all the world.  In an otherwise corrupt and dying Roman society, Christians stood out as people of courage, faith, conviction, hope, and unselfish service to others.  God’s name was hallowed among them, and others wanted to know this God.

     But this does not happen when the actions of believers dishonor God’s name by their lives and actions. 

     Mahatma Gandhi was born a Hindu.  However, he would not accept the injustices of the Hindu caste system.  Instead, he admired Jesus Christ above all others.  In his desire to identify with the poor, Gandhi had few possessions.  He owned only one book– the New Testament.  Yet, Gandhi refused to become a Christian.  He said he would not become a Christian because of the Christians he knew.  When Gandhi lived in South Africa, he was persecuted by ‘good Christians’ because of his dark skin.  When he returned to his native India, the Christian British were in control of his country, and they opposed all of Gandhi’s efforts to bring peace and freedom and independence to his people.  Gandhi, the Hindu who did not believe in Jesus as Lord, wanted to live by Jesus’ principles of forgiveness and love of their enemies and peaceful resistance.  The British, who did believe in Jesus, responded with oppression and violence.  God’s name was not honored or hallowed by the Christian British in India, and a great opportunity for evangelism and mission was lost.  

     We bring honor or dishonor to God’s name by how we live.

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Mohandis Gandhi (1869-1948) as a young lawyer in South Africa

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Ezekiel 39:7  —  (God says),  “‘I will make known my holy name among my people Israel.  I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

Matthew 6:9  —  (Jesus said), “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Philippians 1:27a  —  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

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 The First Petition and explanation from Martin Luther’s Small Cathechism, 1529:

Hallowed be Thy name.

What does this mean?

God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

How is God’s name kept holy?

God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.  Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!  But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.  Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

1428) A Desperate Prayer

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By Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike graves and Richard F. Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, pages 110-111.

     I met a desperate woman the other day.  I had gone to the hospital in Fannin County to visit someone else.  I did not know this lady, and I didn’t know I would encounter her, but when I went down the corridor, I saw her.  Her head was against the door, and both fists were up beside her face, and she was banging on the door: “Let me in, let me in, let me in!”  I couldn’t imagine someone locking her out of the room.  I got there, and it was the chapel door.

     I said, “Let me help you.”  I tried to open the door, but the knob wouldn’t turn.  It was locked.  I stopped a worker, and I said, “The chapel is locked.”

     She said, “We have to keep it locked.  There were some kids in here some time ago, and they trashed the chapel.  We had to get all new furniture and paint the room.  We can’t afford to keep doing that, so we keep it locked.”

     “Well, find someone with a key.”

     She came back a little bit later with another woman, who opened the door for us, and this woman and I went in.  I would say she was about forty.  She had the look of desperation.  I could tell that she hadn’t come to the hospital with any planning; she came urgently, and she came running.  The dress she had on was not typical public wear.  She had no shoes, just scuffs.  Her hair had not been combed, and she had no makeup.  She had the look of desperation.  She had the voice of desperation.  I can’t tell you if she was screaming or crying or moaning or what it was, but it was desperation.  Strange sound.  I heard some of her words. “I know he’s going to die, I know he’s going to die, I know he’s going to die.”

    “Who?”

     “My husband.”

     “What’s the matter?”

     “He had a heart attack.”

     I said, “Can I get you some water?”

     She said, “No.”

     I told her who I was, and I said, “Can I pray with you?”

     And she said, “Please.”

     I started to pray for her and for her husband, and she interrupted me.  She didn’t just interrupt me; she took over.  She started praying herself and stopped my prayer.  I think maybe I was too quiet or too slow or saying the wrong thing or something.  Anyway, my prayer wasn’t getting there, and she knew it.  So she said, “Lord, this is not the time to take my husband.  You know that better than I do, he not ready.  Never prays, never goes to church or anything.  He’s not ready; this is not a good time to take him.  Don’t take him now.  And what about me?  If I have to raise these kids, what am I going to do?  I don’t have any skills, can’t find any work.  I quit school to marry him.  If I’d have known you were going to take him, I’d have stayed in school.”  She was really talking to God.  “And what about the kids?  They don’t mind me now with him around.  If he’s gone, they’ll be wild as bucks.  What about the kids?  This is not the time to take my husband.”  Whew.

     I stayed as long as I felt useful.  I went back the next morning, and she had on a nice dress; she had on shoes; she had combed her hair.  She looked fine.  She was in the hallway outside intensive care.  Before I could ask, she said, “He’s better.”  She smiled and said, “I’m sorry I was such a crazy woman yesterday.”

     I said, “Well, you weren’t crazy.”

     She said,” I guess the Lord heard one of us.”

     I said, “He heard you.”

     She was desperate the day before.  She had God by the lapels, both hands, and was screaming in God’s face:  “I don’t think you’re listening!”  That’s desperation.

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Romans 8:26  —  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Psalm 142:1-2  —  I cry aloud to the LordI lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.  I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.

Psalm 17:1-2  —  Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry.  Hear my prayer; it does not rise from deceitful lips.  Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.

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Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need, and rescue me…

–Psalm 42:6a

1427) Prayer as Nagging

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The Unjust Judge, Eugene Burnand (1850-1921)

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By Walter Sundberg, The Rose magazine, page 26, Spring 1999.

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Luke 18:1-8  —  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused.  But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

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     When we usually think about prayer, we do not think about things such as we find in this Gospel passage.  For most of us prayer means folded hands, bowed heads, stilted language— all taking place in church during worship, around the dinner table before the evening meal, or when we go to bed at night.

     In the Bible, however, prayer is a more wide-opened, undisciplined thing.  Paul tells us in Romans that it does not even require words: as long as the emotion is there— the desire, the need, the sincerity— we can pray the sigh too deep for words (Romans 8:26).  In this parable about the widow about the widow and the judge, Jesus explains prayer by illustrating nagging.  Prayer, says Jesus, is nagging.

     I don’t know about you, but I know how to nag.  Growing up in a household with two doting parents, and experiencing nearly 30 years of marriage, I have become an expert.  When I get a bee in my bonnet— that thing I want or that task I wish someone to perform– I hammer away until I accomplish my goal.  My wife also knows how to nag, as do my two daughters.  I dare say that most of us are talented at nagging because we get so much practice at it.  What is unusual is that Jesus uses this common, unattractive human trait that we all engage in from the cradle to our last days to describe our relationship with God.

     In the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, the woman is presented as wanting justice.  She goes to the judge.  The judge does not care about her one bit.  But he cares about her nagging.  He knows she won’t quit.  And so he gives in.  Jesus says that if a person can get that response from an unjust judge, just think what he can get from the Lord Almighty who has chosen His people and cares about them.

     I do not know of anyone who has explained prayer in this way.  But it is not just anyone who is offering this explanation; it is Jesus Himself.  What are we to make of it?  I wish to say two things.

     1)  When I nag it is because I really want something.  Prayer, insofar as it is like nagging, has to do with something that we really want.  What do you really want?  The widow in the parable wanted justice.  It was fitting therefore that she go before a judge.  So let me refine the question just a bit:  What do you really want that is fitting to be brought before the throne of God?  God is holy.  God is good.  God brings salvation and wholeness.  God does not deal in hate or selfishness.  He is not there just to help you in the piling up of your possessions.  So I ask again: What is it that you really want that is fitting to be brought before the throne of God?  Maybe what you want is not fitting for God.  Maybe what you want is better asked of the devil who claims in the scriptures that he rules the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-9).

     2)  To nag is to be persistent.  It is to have the motivation to a pursue a goal.  It means that you won’t quit easily.  Jesus is telling us that prayer is a matter of persistence.  You have to keep at it: engaging the Almighty every day with beseeching, pleading, and confessing.  But when you do that, there is a risk that comes along with it.  The risk is that the Lord will engage you.  When you start hounding heaven, the ‘Hound of Heaven’— as the poet Francis Thompson called God— may start chasing you ‘down the days and down the years.’  God has, after all, chosen you.  He loves you.  He wants you.  God therefore may decide to use your persistent prayer for His purposes.  He may open your heart and direct your desire to the things that He knows you need.  Prayer can be a wonderful thing or a dangerous thing, depending on how you see the possibility of being engaged by God.  If you nag in prayer, you might just be changed.

     If you want a relationship with God— I mean a serious relationship and not just a casual date— then nag Him in prayer.  I dare you.

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 O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  Thou knowest what it is.  For it we pray.

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India

1425) Figure it Out

     My wife and I got acquainted in Chautauqua, New York, with a minister who had no arms.  He was telling us one day there at Chautauqua the experience of learning to put on his own clothes without any arms.  He said his mother always dressed him, and he’d gotten to be a pretty big boy.  She fed him, she dressed him, she fed him, she dressed him.  One day she put his clothes in the middle of the floor and said, “Dress yourself.”

     He said, “I can’t dress myself, I don’t have…”

     She said, “You’ll have to dress yourself,” and she left the room.

     He said, “I kicked, I screamed, I kicked, I screamed, I yelled, ‘You don’t love me anymore!’  Finally, I realized that, if I were to get any clothes on, I’d have to get my clothes on.”  After hours of struggle, he got some clothes on.  He said, “It was not until later that I knew my mother was in the next room crying.”

     I don’t know if God distances God’s self from us, but I know sometimes we feel some distance.

–Fred Craddock in Craddock Stories, page 97.

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From Let Me Tell You a Story, pages 7-9, © 2000 by Tony Campolo  (1935- )

    There are those who say that if God loves us, He should answer our prayers.  But we should recognize that sometimes it may be that God doesn’t answer our prayers because He loves us.

    Sören Kierkegaard tells the story of a schoolboy who refuses to learn.  His teacher tries hard to get him interested in his schoolwork and to apply himself to his studies.  But the boy shrugs off her concerns and pays her little attention.  She begs him to cooperate.  She pleads with him to let her teach him, but he refuses.  He just wants to play.  Eventually the teacher says, “Okay.  Tell me what you want to do, and you can do it.”

    The boy says he would like to just sit in the back of the room and make some drawings and sleep a little bit, and spend some time doing nothing at all.  The teacher tells him that he can, and he is allowed to do exactly what he wants.

    Kierkegaard ends the story by saying, “The boy got what he asked for because the teacher had given up on him.”  He then goes on to say, “Beware when God answers prayer!”  He suggests that we sometimes get what we want because God has given up on us.  On the other hand, God may refuse to give us what we want because He loves us.

    This point is especially real to me because of an incident when my own father did not accede to a desperate request.  I was about eight years old when I went to a Saturday matinee at the movies and saw a cowboy film about Hopalong Cassidy.  I was so impressed with that cowboy hero that I went home and told my father that when I grew up, I wanted to be a cowboy.  I really meant it!  I was intense!  I was passionate about it!

    The good news is that my father didn’t give me what I wanted.  Wouldn’t it have been a weird situation if when I was seventeen and asked him about going to college, he had exclaimed, “College! What do you mean you want money for college?  When you were eight you told me you wanted to be a cowboy.  You said it with such passion, and you pled with such earnestness, that I made sure your dreams would come true.  I spent the money I had saved for you on a thousand acres of land in Texas, along with a horse and a hundred head of cattle.  It’s all waiting for you, because that’s what you pled for.  That’s what you said you really wanted.”

    I’m glad to say that my father did not give me what I thought I wanted when I was eight years old, so that he might one day give me something I really needed.  He didn’t want me to have what I though I wanted, because he knew, eventually, it wouldn’t be what I wanted at all.   And so it is with God.

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Drawing of Søren Kierkegaard. The Frederiksbor...

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

    Sören Kierkegaard also told the story of a boy trying to learn arithmetic.  The teacher gives him a book full of problems to solve.  In the back of the book there’s a listing of the answers to the problems, but the teacher instructs the boy never to look at the answers in the back of the book.  Instead, he is to work out the answers for himself.

    As the boy does his homework, he cheats.  He looks in the back of the book and gets the answers beforehand, finding it much easier to work out the problems if he knows the answers in advance.  Kierkegaard points out that while it is quite possible for the boy to get good grades this way, he will never really learn mathematics.  As difficult as it may prove to be, the only way to become a mathematician is to struggle with the problems himself not by using someone else’s answers, even if those answers are the right ones.

    It’s obvious that on life’s journey we are faced with problems, and we sometimes wonder why Jesus doesn’t just spell out the answers so that we know exactly what to do.  That is what we might want.  According to Kierkegaard, however, God doesn’t give us the answers because He wants to force us to work out the problems, and figure them out for ourselves.  It is only by struggling with the problems as they present themselves, day in and day out, that we can develop into the kinds of mature people God wants us to be.

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Romans 1:18-24a  —  From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth.  They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them.  God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen.  But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made.  That’s why those people don’t have any excuse.  They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him.  Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark.  They claim to be wise, but they are fools.  They don’t worship the glorious and eternal God.  Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.  So God let these people go their own way…  
Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.
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    Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; thou only knowest what I need…   I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee.  Behold my needs which I know not myself.  Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them.  I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to Thee.  I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.  Teach me to pray…   Amen.     –Francois Fenelon, French priest, (1651-1715)

1323) ‘Much Obliged, Dear Lord’

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“We should devote 364 days a year to being thankful and set aside only one day for grumbling and complaining.”

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     Fulton Ousler (1893-1952) was a journalist, author of many novels (including The Greatest Story Ever Told), and editor of the Reader’s Digest.  He wrote in one of his books about Anna, born into slavery in Maryland, who as an old woman worked as a maid in the Oursler home when Fulton was a boy.

     Oursler remembered mealtimes with Anna.  She’d always begin by folding her hard, old black hands and praying, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for my vittles.”

     “What’s vittles?” he once asked.

     “Vittles is whatever I have to eat,” Anna replied.

     “But Anna,” he pointed out, “you’d probably get your vittles whether you thanked the Lord or not.”

     “Sure,” she responded, “but it makes everything taste better to be thankful.”

     “You know,” she said, “an old preacher taught me to play a game about being thankful– and the game is to just always be looking for things to be thankful for.  You don’t know how many of them you pass right by unless you go looking for them.  Take this morning for instance.  I wake up and I lay there wondering what I got to be thankful for now.  With my husband dead and having to work every day, I couldn’t think of anything.  What must the good Lord think of me, His child?  But the honest truth is I just could not think of a single thing to thank Him for.  Then, my daughter opened the bedroom door, and the smell of coffee came from the kitchen.  Much obliged, dear Lord, I said, for the coffee and a daughter to have it ready for an old woman when she wakes up.

     “Now, for a while I have to do housework.  It’s hard to find anything to thank God for in housework.  But when I dust the mantelpiece, there is Little Boy Blue.  I’ve had that little china boy for many years.  I was a slave when I got it as my one Christmas present.  I love that little boy.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for Little Boy Blue.

     “Almost everything I dust reminds me of something– even the pictures that hang on our cracked, unpainted wall.  It’s like a visit with my family who are all gone.  They look at me, and I look at them, and there are so many happy things to remember.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for my memory.  Then, I go for a walk downtown to buy a loaf of bread and some cheese for dinner.  I look in all the windows, and see so many pretty things.”

     Ousler commented, “But Anna, you can’t buy them.  You have no money.”

     “Oh, but I can play (pretend).  I think of how your ma and sister would look in those dresses, and I have a lot of fun.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for playing in my mind.  It’s a kind of happiness.

     “Once I got caught in the rain,” she said, “and it was fun for me.  I’ve always heard about rich people who take showers instead of baths, but I never had one.  But that day I did.  You know, God is just giving Heaven away to people all day long.  I’ve been to the park and seen the gardens, but I like the old bush in my back yard better.  One rose will fill you with all the sweetness you can stand.”

     Oursler finished the story.  “Anna taught me a great deal about life.  I’ll never forget when word came to me that Anna was dying.  I remember taking a cab over to her place and standing by her bedside.  She was in deep pain and her hard old hands were knotted together in a desperate clutch.  Poor old woman, I thought.  What did she have to be thankful for now?  She opened her eyes and looked at me.  ‘Much obliged, dear Lord, for such a fine friend who comes to see me when I’m dying.’  She never spoke again, except in my heart, but there she speaks to me every day– and I’m much obliged, dear Lord, for that.”

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The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.

–Milton, Paradise Lost

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Happiness is not created by what happens to us, but by our response to each happening.

–Water Heile

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Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise him for putting roses among thorns.

One can alter one’s life by altering one’s attitude.  Gratitude is the key.

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How small, of all that human hearts endure,

That part which laws of kings can cause or cure!

Still to ourselves in every place consigned,

Our own felicity we make or find.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 9:1  —  I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —   The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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“A single thankful thought toward heaven is the most perfect of all prayers.”

–Gotthold Lessing, German author  (1729-1781)

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O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 136:1

1307) Answers to Prayer

By Joshua Rogers, November 6, 2016 blog at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     When I was little, our family hit hard times and we didn’t even have money for groceries.  I was just five years old, so I wasn’t sure what was going on — all I knew was that the cabinets were empty.

     On the day we ran out of food, a couple from Main Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, drove up to the house in a big car.  We didn’t know them, and we didn’t go to Main Street Baptist (in fact, we weren’t even Baptists).

     They popped the trunk and began unloading bag after bag of groceries.  I’m pretty sure it was summertime, but it felt like Christmas, especially when I realized they had gotten us Fruit Loops.  I sat down on the couch and began looking over the box like it was a toy.  Then after they finished delivering all of the groceries, they left, and we ate.

     I don’t know how they found out we were in need, and it doesn’t really matter to me.  We needed some food, and I’m just thankful someone listened when the Lord nudged them to come through for us.

     When you think about it, we all have the opportunity to be the answer to someone else’s prayer today.  Maybe they don’t need groceries, but they need some encouragement, a friend, an invitation, someone to listen.  Maybe they don’t even know what they need — they’re just hurting and need someone like you or me to be present in their lives.  Maybe we will be the evidence that Jesus sees them in their hurt and that He deeply cares for them.

     So many of us pray that God will use us in a big way.  What if He wants to use us in a small way that will be big in someone’s life?  Is that enough?  If it is, then today is full of opportunities to love Jesus with an unexpected knock on the door, an open trunk, a box of Fruit Loops.

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“The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.  You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

–Louie C. K.

Image result for louis c. k. quotes neighbor's bowl

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The Israelites prayed to God:

Exodus 2:23b-25  —  The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

God heard their prayer, and called on Moses to be the answer to their prayers:

Exodus 3:7-8b…10  —  The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

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PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.