Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prayer Pause

Today's post is not for the faint of heart. I'm not even sure where it's going to take me. I'm heading out on a type of journey I've pursued many times in the past, but the destination is unknown this time. If your courage meter or curiosity dial is registering high, feel free to come along.

A number of references to prayer have come into my life recently. Someone left a message on facebook about the general need for more prayer amongst God's people. A friend sent an email asking for prayer on a particular topic and followed by an update about its effectiveness. A report came in from a contact in another country about the encouragement felt by a family in distress simply by learning that others are praying for them. This morning these incidents combined to lead me to this topic.

For many years as a pastor's wife I put together Bible studies for the ladies in our congregation based on specific subjects. It's a simple enough task when there's a concordance handy. Usually I made my way through the various references and God would bring order to my thoughts that provided an outline for the study. As a matter of fact you can find samples of these efforts at Lifework Forum. Today I've decided to wing it and take you along on my first pass along the passages the Lord has given me.

I've already gone through the concordance of my 1984 NIV Bible and jotted down the references that caught my attention - after sitting in the Father's presence and seeking His guidance. I'm limited by space and time this morning so I won't comment about each passage. Instead I'll list them all and write remarks only on those that stand out as I make my way through the collection. It's been a while since I've exercised these muscles so I have no idea what to expect, except that God will meet me.

Please don't just walk beside me. I encourage you to use this string of verses as a resource for your own spiritual walk. [all emphasis is mine alone]

Deuteronomy 4:7 - What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to Him?
Already I'm moved to tears. God, The God (how can I describe Him or His position), comes near to ME whenever I pray. All I need to do is open my heart in prayer and God is NEAR me. What a holy, wholly, undeserved privilege. And why don't I exercise it more?

2 Chronicles 7:14 - If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Okay, the heart I open in prayer needs to be humble. I need to remember my proper place before The Holy God. I also need to seek His face and turn from my unholy ways. When I do I will hear from Him and forgiveness will be mine.

Matthew 6:5-13 - here's one for you to review on your own

Matthew 26:36 - Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."
Prayer was a way that Jesus communicated with God, His and our Father, while He walked the earth. Jesus prayed with others, but obviously sometimes it was an intimate, personal time together alone. It seems that was the case when the going got tough. I need to keep this in mind.

Luke 22:40-42 - another example of Christ's example of intimate time with His Father in hard times

1 Thessalonians 5:16,17 - Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Sure this wording is familiar, but seeing it together, focusing on it as a unit brings a fresh depth and meaning. I receive the reminder that the circumstances around me are God's will and suddenly see that being joyful, praying continually, and giving thanks in the midst of these "light and momentary troubles" as described in 2 Corinthians 4:17 are also part of His will for me. Lord, please cause me to follow this call to your people, even this very day. Amen

James 5:13-16 - another passage about the power of prayer for you to review on your own

Jonah 2:1 - From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD His God.
WOW, that really grabbed me. Jonah got himself swallowed up in darkness by running away from the path marked out for him by the Father. While he was still in the fish Jonah turned to God and, with a distressed, humble, repentant, thankful, confident heart, he called out, prayed, to the One who was exercising His rightful and ultimate control over Jonah's life. Furthermore, I KNOW how God answered! And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (v. 10)
So what keeps me in the darkness I find when I'm running away?
I'm starting to see a pattern develop. How about you?

I take a deep breath. Boy, I sure do enjoy the richness of the combination of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. There's a depth and beauty that are revealed by a study such as this that embraces the breadth of the Word. It also opens up a view toward the splendor and majesty, immensity and perfection of God that the mundane thoughts of daily life do not arouse.

Psalm 6:9 - The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.
The One True God hears and accepts the cries of my human, fallen, broken heart as surely as He heard the cries of Jonah in the precious verse. I am awed and humbled!
Isaiah 30:19-22 comes to mind. I seek the truth of the kernel that drew me to share the passage at a retreat recently, "As soon as he [God] hears, he will answer you." There are no 'ifs', no 'ands, no 'buts' with God. His Word is Truth and He is faithful to ALL His promises. As soon as The God hears my prayer, His answer is on the way. Hallelujah!

Proverbs 15:8 - The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.
Not only does God hear my prayers and accept them. His Word tells me that they please Him. With all the sinful behavior on the inventory list of my life, I am filled with awe and gratitude that The God would find my communication with Him pleasing. No matter what's going on in my life, nor how rebellious my inclinations, I can please my Father by coming to Him in prayer. I need to remember and practice this process.

Mark 11:24,25 - Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Oh no, now the Spirit is really starting to meddle. It's fine to consider the breadth and depth and meaning and value of prayer, but it's a whole different thing to think about what it might 'cost' me. Evidently this rock that I'm holding so tightly in my hand must be released SO THAT my Father may forgive my sin.
Considering the options, especially in light of the list of sin I pondered in the Proverbs verse, the choice is clear. It's just that the obstacle seems insurmountable at the moment.

Please pause here as I go about the releasing process. Feel free to hum the theme from Jeopardy or take care of any tasks you may have on the side, such as forgiving . . .

I'm back.

Now I have to admit that I've looked at this forgiveness thing and it's not all that easy. The offenses are pretty big, ya know, and painful and undeserved. Yes, I know that God is aware of all these incidents and that He's weaving these transgressions into my life in ways that produce good. Romans 8:28-39  I also know that God is perfectly just and "rewards those who earnestly seek Him". Hebrews 11:6  God loves me and has plans for my life that include "hope and a future" that I may seek Him with "all my heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13  I did, am, and will continue to chew on these truths as well as others.

I've made some headway, but I think I need to be realistic about how much time and effort true forgiveness is going to take. In light of that, let's move on to the next reference.

Acts 6:3,4 - Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
The role of deacon was instituted in the New Testament church to free up the apostles to attend to 1) prayer and 2) sharing God's Word. If prayer was this important to the men who walked with Christ, my Savior, I'm thinking it should be pretty high on my list too. The Spirit is pointing out that there are others who can attend to many tasks and details around us/me, but only our/my own personal communication can keep the spiritual fire of our/my life burning brightly. I need to ponder this some more.

John 17:9 - I pray for them, I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
This verse comes from Christ's final recorded prayer. His disciples were present. They heard His words as I read them today. How powerful to realize that Messiah prayed . . . for "all those" the Father had "given him." (v. 2) Jesus talked to the Father not about all the people in the world, but the very ones He had chosen whose names were already written in the Book of Life to spend eternity with Him. That's ME!! Jesus prayed for the disciples that were there that day, but He also prayed specifically for Sandra Elizabeth Allen Lovelace. Again I am overwhelmed by the Truth. Thank you, Father, for meeting me right where I am this morning. Amen

Philippians 4:6 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
For the first time I notice the words "prayer and petition". Hmmmm . . . sounds like petition is different from, added to, or an adjunct (provision) of prayer. So, when I pray I can/should include things other than pleas and requests when I'm talking to God. I think I've got that taken care of. I mean, after all, I start with "Dear Heavenly Father" that's pretty good. I add in there some other nice things about how much I love Him and enjoy His Word. . . . Okay, I need to do a better job of communicating, share my deeper thoughts and feelings, what's really going on inside me. I get it. My prayers have been pretty slim in that area lately. Lord, please help me address this weakness by the loving power of your Spirit. Amen

1 Peter 3:12 - For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Not only are God's eyes on me due to the righteousness Christ has ascribed or credited to me. His ears are attentive to what I offer Him through prayer. It is amazing to consider that The God cares enough to notice and pay attention to the things I, a fallen human being, just contemplated sharing in my response to the previous Philippians passage. Thank you, Father, for more motivation to come into your open arms. Amen

1 Chronicles 5:20 - They were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in Him.
Once again God leads me into a balance and draws me to Himself. These guys prayed while they were in the thick of battle. I can't imagine that these were long and well thought out prayers. They were probably the brief and dramatic variety that I often find myself uttering. Yet . . . yet . . . God answered their prayers by giving them the victory over their enemies as well as "all their allies". Two specific reasons are given: because they cried out to him during the battle, and because they trusted in Him. God doesn't have a set way to come to Him. Well, not in the manner we like to think of a 'set way'. The criteria have more to do with the condition of my heart and my attitudes than length or place or timing. These warriors were granted a resounding victory BECAUSE they called out to God in their NEED and BECAUSE they TRUSTED Him. My need is great, Father, I know that full well. Please grow my trust in You to put me in the place of victory. Amen

Ephesians 6:18 - And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Thank you, Lord, for your reminder about the role of the Holy Spirit in my prayer life. I know that He 'translates' my words and "groanings" that they might be moved over in line with Your will. Romans 8:26,27 Thank you for this precious, intimate service performed for me over and over and over again. Amen   And once again I am reminded that I need to be praying ALL THE TIME.

Phew! I'm feeling pretty drained, but what a refreshing time in the Word. I've been encouraged and uplifted, convicted and challenged. My heart is more humble and my eyes are a bit more clear. My morning is all but spent and there's a full day's work ahead of me. That's okay, I feel revived and ready to take it on with prayer.

I trust the Spirit has blessed you at least as much as He has me. If you've only read through what I've written, I encourage you not to be limited by what I've been able to record here. Instead set aside some personal time of your own with the Lord. Have your Bible open and search through the Scriptures for yourself.  There are plenty of other verses on the topic of prayer. The word 'prayer' will appear in some while alternate words may be used in others. As you adventure off, let me echo what I said at the beginning of this post. I have no idea what you should expect, except that God will meet you.