Category Archives: prayer

Prayer Requests

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jesus statue kneelingTwo or three times a week, I volunteer in our church office and type up the prayer requests from our weekend services. During that hour or so, I get a glimpse into the deepest, most vulnerable spaces in the hearts of men and women, young and old. I read of great joys – the birth of a baby, a son’s turning to Christ, a new job; and I feel the depths of despair – a miscarriage, a child diagnosed with cancer, a death too young.

Prayers are asked for job interviews, school exams, struggling marriages; for safety in war, peace with finances, release from fears, faith.

Only a few of the prayers come with a request for follow-up from a pastor or a volunteer. Some clearly want guidance in how to deal with the situation; some may just want to know that someone—anyone—has heard and prayed.

A number of weeks ago I came across a prayer request that spoke of violence in the home, abuse the writer didn’t know how to handle. They didn’t mark the “follow-up” box; I don’t remember if they even wrote their name or contact information, or if this was one of the several anonymous requests we receive each week.

It’s not my place to respond in those situations, and I trust our church’s pastors to act even when no action is requested. But that was one of the many times I’ve taken my hands away from the keyboard and lifted them to God in brokenness and empathy, and asked Him to intervene.

Other than the cries from deep pain, the hardest thing about these prayer requests is that there are so few, and so few seem to want anyone to come talk. On a typical Sunday, we receive maybe 20-30 prayer requests; that’s less than two for every hundred people in church. That’s staggering. Do we not believe in prayer, or that God answers? Do we not know that a team of people is waiting every week just to pray for those in our church? Or do we think that no one cares enough to want to read our burdens?

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, New Living Translation)

So many of our prayers are looking for peace – in families, in finances, in work situations. God tells us to pray about it and thank him for what he’s already done, and then peace will come. Peace that doesn’t make any sense. Peace in the midst of the struggles, the questions, the radiation treatments.

Jesus prays for us (John 17) and the Holy Spirit prays for us (Rom 8:26); God also says we ought to pray for others (James 5:14-16) and to let others pray for us (1 Thess 5:25, Heb 13:18).

Today, pray for the people in your church, in your neighborhood, at your school, in your family. Let someone know that you prayed for them. And let them pray for you.

Prayer is not reserved for the “professionals.” It is what we do. It is how we live as family, as community, as church.

The Problem of Intercession (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)

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coffee-prayerPrayer is hard work. Maybe that’s why the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). Or maybe Jesus just knew their models weren’t great (Matthew 6:5), so he showed them another way.

A dozen books on my bookshelves have titles about prayer; certainly as many others include sections about how to pray. It’s hard work, and we need help.

Years ago a man who was training me in how to follow Jesus (a process we call “discipling” or “discipleship”) showed me a way to organize what I would pray for. Back then—in the dark ages!—he was using a file box with 3×5 cards: he had dividers for each day of the week, Sunday through Saturday; other dividers for each day of the month, 1-31; and a section in the front for daily prayers. Each prayer request was written on a card and put in the appropriate section depending on whether he would pray daily, weekly, or monthly. When he prayed, he would go through all the cards in the daily section, then those in the section for “today” (Tuesday), and finally in the monthly section behind today’s date (6).

It’s a good, organized system and for the past few weeks I’ve gone back to that method using a tool in my Bible study program. Being computerized now is an advantage because I can easily add different frequencies like twice a week or every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Here’s the challenge, though: if this becomes the primary way I pray, then it’s easy for me to slide away from relationship and begin treating God more like a vending machine.

Think of it this way: What if the bulk of what your kids said to you was centered around making requests? “Dad, can you help me study? Can you do something to make my day better? Can you give me some medicine to make me feel better?” None of those are bad requests; as a parent, we love to help our kids. And if they were asking for good things for their friends, we’d be okay with that, too.

But if this was all our kids said when they talked with us—or even mostly what they said—we’d get weary of it. We want to hear about their day, the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows. We want to know them, and be known by them. Frankly, we’d love it if they’d ask about us, too. We’d love to be listened to by our kids – for them to hear our hearts and minds.

And it’s not just kids and parents. We want to have heart-and-mind relationships with our friends, too.

The ten-dollar word for “prayer requests” is intercession; it means “going between” – when you pray, you are going between a person and God. It is good and right and necessary. Jesus taught, encouraged, and praised people who intercede for others. In fact, the Bible says that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are presently interceding for us. (See Romans 8:26-39, I Timothy 2:1, and Hebrews 7:25.)

But intercession is only one part of prayer, and maybe not even the most important part. We need to love God; and love is born and grown in relationship, talking to and with God, listening to Him, reading His Word. Have a cup of coffee with God.

So intercede for your friends and family. Pray for them, their needs, their hopes, their hurts. But when you find yourself just slipping prayer coins into the prayer vending machine, stop! Take a break from the prayer requests and just spend time with God. Talk to Him about Him. Praise Him for who He is. This is different, by the way, than thanking Him for what He’s done – try to focus on who God is; it’s harder than it sounds! (More helps on this kind of praying in another post at another time.)

Another Prince, Another Pauper

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prince and pauperTwo men came to Jesus, each with a request. One man was blind and poor, and wanted to see; the other was rich and sighted, and wanted eternal life.

Both requests were good and right, and Jesus offered answers to both. So why did one man walk away praising God and the other walked away sad?

The difference between the two men was not in their wealth, but their heart. Yes, the blind man was poor; unable to see, his only income was the coins he begged from passersby at the city gates. Yet his poverty went deeper than his wallet. Downtrodden and outcast, all that his blind eyes could see was the rejection of those walking past him each day. And it was in this poverty of spirit that he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” His request was both simple and impossible: I want to see.

The rich man may well have been one of those who tossed a few coins at the nameless, faceless beggars he daily rode by. Doubtless honored both for business savvy and his commandment-keeping righteousness, his request was no less honorable than the blind man’s: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Though both petitions were good, the difference between them was stark. Where the blind man knew he was could do nothing to bring about his own healing, the rich man believed his prayer could be answered by some good deed, some noble gesture, some further mark of his own power and wealth and righteousness. His perfect eyes and fat money-purse blinded him to the poverty of his own soul.

Jesus answered both men’s requests just as they wanted him to: He did for the blind man what he knew he could not do for himself; and he gave the wealthy man a very simple task – a good deed that was very do-able yet proved impossible for the seeker of life.

There is a deep irony in these two encounters (read them in Luke 18:18-43): a penniless blind man sees his poverty, and purchases by his faith the new eyes that no king could ever afford. Across town a wealthy man, blind to his own destitution, refuses to trade his affluence for the only thing that could make him truly rich.


It is easy to read these stories in the Bible, to celebrate the healing of the one and groan at the obstinacy of the other. But God does not want us to merely read, cheer, and groan. He wants us to see ourselves in His Word, to decide how we will respond. Who are you?

Are you the man without eyes, convinced of your unworthiness and the impossibility of your situation? Or are you the one with both eyes and money, wondering what else you can do to earn God’s favor and presence?

Will you come to God in helpless faith, pleading for mercy first and sight second? Or do you come with wallet open, looking for yet another spiritual tax deduction?

Will you walk away with Jesus, glorifying God? Or will you just walk away, sadly looking for an easier way?

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, Part II—Soaking it In

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Hot tubA couple weeks ago I said different ways of reading the Bible could be compared to taking a walk, driving a car, or flying across the country. Just as different modes of travel will give different perspectives on the land, so each way of reading the Bible offers unique insights.

Today I want to talk about one way, but I’m going to change the metaphor—from taking a walk to soaking in a hot tub. Some might call this meditation; but because that word can scare some people away, I prefer to use the hot tub image: we soak in the Word (the Bible) so that we can soak the Word in.

Soaking in the Word means sitting quietly with a short passage for a long time. Maybe it’s a dozen verses; maybe only one or two. Read it. Read it again. Read it aloud. Read it in different translations.

Then sit quietly. Does one word or thought penetrate your mind? Look again at the text and find that word or phrase. Turn it over in your mind. Chew on it, as it were.

Read the passage again, slowly. What’s happening in your heart? …your mind? …your soul? Do the words encourage you? Do they bring refreshment or peace in the midst of chaos? Or is there a challenge in them—a behavior to change, a sin to confess, a relationship to mend? Talk with God about what you are sensing. Ask for forgiveness, courage, or strength; or say thank you for the encouragement. Praise Him for reaching into your soul.

Finally, sit quietly with God. Sometimes I imagine Jesus sitting on the couch with me, or across the table, just being quiet and enjoying each other’s company. Other times I imagine myself curling up in Abba’s—the Father’s—lap and resting my head on His shoulder. Enjoy God’s presence.


Further thoughts: I’ve been spending some time soaking in Colossians 3 over the past few weeks. It is a rich, challenging, and encouraging passage. Let’s look at the first few verses.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-3, English Standard Version)

If then: Sometimes if means, maybe you have, maybe you haven’t; and sometimes it means, since or because. That’s the sense here—Because you have been raised with Christ…. There is a confidence here, a certainty about our relationship.

So what? So, seek…[and] set your minds on things that are above, not … on the earth. It’s a matter of perspective. Am I seeking only what’s on earth—job, security, home…? What does it look like to seek what’s above—the things of God? What does He want me to seek?

Take some time today to soak in this passage. See what God does in you.

Spiritual Rhythms: Prayer

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"Grace" by Eric Enstrom

“Grace” by Eric Enstrom

Two images from my childhood are seared into my mind. One is this painting-like photograph that hung over our dining room table for as long as I can remember. Little did I know then that the picture is ubiquitous, hanging in homes, churches, and even offices throughout the world. (Read its story here.)

The other image is similar, but even more life-like: it is my father, seen through the cracked-open door in his study at home, sitting at his large oak desk, bowed in prayer; or in the easy chair in the same room, Bible open on his lap; or kneeling in prayer at that chair, hands clasped under his head like the old man in the photograph.

Anyone who has grown up around church has some concept of prayer. Most Americans, in fact, undoubtedly have some concept, even if it comes more from stereotypes and Hollywood caricatures than from the devout practices of faith. Actually praying, however, is a different matter.

“Praying is simply talking with God.” Or is it? There is truth in the statement, but it is woefully inadequate and short-sighted: it reduces prayer to task and information; it shifts the focus and the power of prayer away from the relationship that God wants to have with us and puts the focus on us, on me, on the one “doing the praying.”

The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]. (James 5:16b, Amplified Bible, 1987)

But how do we pray? We begin with a heart that desires a relationship with God. Adam and Eve used to walk with God in the evening, but when they sinned, they hid…until God said, “where are you?” Those first words of grace in the Bible invited them back into the relationship that had been broken by their disobedience. And they are the words God speaks to invite us into a prayer relationship with him.

There is a place for words in prayer. There is even a place for asking—for healing (Mark 10:51), for life (2 Kings 20:1-11), even for success and prosperity (1 Chronicles 4:10). But the asking flows out of relationship. When King Hezekiah prayed for his life to be spared, he prayed, “I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart” (2 Kings 20:3, emphasis mine).

The hard work of prayer begins with relationship, focuses on relationship, and builds relationship.

Prayer, as Jesus taught his disciples, begins with recognizing the One in whose presence we stand (“Our Father in heaven”) and his character (“may your name always be kept holy”). In prayer we submit ourselves to his will (“your kingdom come, your will be done”); that’s the really hard part, because those words rarely line up with our heart.

And only when our eyes and mind and heart are truly aligned with God’s are we set free to say, “give us this day….”

There is no magic formula for prayer, but Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, this was his response:

Our Father—Daddy, Papa—in heaven, you are holy; let us keep your name holy. You reign in heaven; reign here on earth, too, even now. Do what you want to do, what is best; I willingly submit to your will. Give us today [no sooner, no later] what we need for today [no more, no less]. Forgive us our debts, our sins, our disobedience; even as we forgive those who owe us, have wronged us, have hurt us. Don’t lead us into temptation [Jesus already went there for us], but deliver us from evil and the evil one. Amen. [Which simply means, “I agree”—it isn’t just a period at the end of a sentence, it is a word of submission to God’s will. Use it well!]