Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 18 Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home...

Our Father and Friend...

In John 14:9, Jesus told Philip, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." The first chapter of John also talks of this: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

One of the lovely qualities of God that Jesus manifests for us is His friendship. When we understand that God truly desires to have a relationship with us, it draws us closer to Him in prayer. When we meditate upon the fact that, in Jesus, God came to be with us and to save us through the cross, it brings us to our knees.

1) When the Pharisees hurled accusations against Jesus during his time on earth, one of the things they pointed to was the fact that Jesus was (is) a friend of sinners. (Luke 7:33-35) Of Himself, Jesus said that He had come to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19). Jesus taught us of the Father's great love for those who were lost in sin. (Luke 15).

It astonished the Pharisees that Jesus sought the company of people whom the religious community had written off as being hopeless causes. However, Jesus purpose was to save people, and, in light of that, He drew all manner of men and women to Himself. He knew that God could bring new life to those who were dead in sin. Where others saw hopeless failure, He saw potential. He reached out to those who were conscious of their need for salvation.

Jesus' merciful, saving friendship is offered to us today. To what lengths did He go to bring us into a relationship with Him? He died for us. This is a comfort to us when we are first rescued from our sins, and it is a comfort to us as we continue in our Christian walk.

I John 1:5-10 tells us, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our High Priest who understands our temptations, because He was tempted, too -- though without sin.

We must not be presumptuous or casual about sin. We do desire holiness, and we also put into practice the great gift of repentance that God gives us through his grace. However, in dealing with our weakness and sin, we must firmly keep in mind God's mercy and his willingness to receive and help us and forgive us when we stumble. We need to remember that, in Jesus, God is the great Friend of sinful men and women.

Sometimes, when we blow it, our instinct is like that of Adam and Eve, who pulled away from God the moment they realized that they had sinned against Him. However, God graciously sought them out, despite their attempts to hide from Him. Rather than waiting for the Lord to seek us out, we can and should run to Him for help.

Even in human relationships, our hearts are warmed when we know someone loves us warts and all. We rest in the presence of someone who overflows with mercy and a desire to help us, whatever our plight might be. We count as our dearest friends those who do not desert us in our times of greatest failure, but who build us up, instead. Likewise, the more we understand God's perfect mercy, which far outweighs any human comfort, the more we will be drawn to spend time with Him in prayer. One way to understand God's mercy is to learn all we can about Jesus, through whom God displayed his awesome mercy and kindness to the utmost.

2) Jesus was a friend to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, among others. He enjoyed staying, eating, and, most of all, teaching in their home. He welcomed Mary as she sat at his feet to learn from Him. He genuinely mourned with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died, even though He knew He was going to bring Lazarus back to them. He gently corrected Martha when her priorities got off track. Jesus loved the three and enjoyed their company.

I can't help but think that this example of the Lord's friendship was recorded for our benefit. We, too, can have homes and hearts in which the Lord delights to dwell.

We often choose and enjoy friends because of they have qualities that charm us or engage us or benefit us or complete us in some way. We most easily love our peers. Yet, who of us is the Lord's peer? Not one of us even comes close! He is infinitely above all and over all. There is no one like Him. It is certainly not because of our holiness, our wisdom, our goodness, our worthiness, our loveliness, or because we are so fascinating that the Lord seeks and enjoys friendship with us!

Paul reminds us of this in Romans 11:33-35: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?"

Yet, the wonderful thing is that the Lord does love us, weak and sinful though we might be. He does take an interest in our lives. He even counts the number of hairs on a Christian's head! He loves us not because we are inherently lovable, but because He is the source of love and friendship. He enjoys those who are truly his children, and He seeks those who are lost.
In human terms, we are eager to talk with someone who welcomes us with genuine interest and friendship. We value those whose companionship is steady, rather than ebbing and flowing with our moment-to-moment performance. We feel most deeply the love of those who possess the quality of being a good friend, rather than those who love us for what they can get out of the relationship. We are hurt by "fair-weather" friends, and draw close to friends who are true.

Likewise, when we understand that God really does want to hear from us, unworthy though we know ourselves to be, we will be eager to pray. When we understand that His friendship is constant because He is faithful, we will find rest and peace as we pray. When we understand that He is the Truest friend we will ever have, we will long to be close to Him. When we understand that He is the Friend who reconciled us to Himself in friendship through the death of His Beloved Son, we will overflow with thankfulness in prayer.

If we are to pray with faith, we must not think we are a nuisance to God or that He hears us with a reluctant ear. Instead, we should remember: "Whoever comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6 Part of diligently seeking Him is to open our hearts to Him in prayer.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Day 17 -- 30 Days of Prayer in the Home

(Photo is section of Atlanta skyline)

Listening to God:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Ecclesiastes 5:1

Have you ever been in a friendship with someone who did all of the talking? Have you ever felt that you were "talked at" rather than "talked with?" Have you ever felt that a relationship with someone was one sided, and that the person cared more about airing their own thoughts to the point of not really getting to know you? Or, have you, yourself, ever been in such distress that you found yourself talking and talking about your own situation? I, myself, have been on both sides of this fence.

So many in our hurting world are in need of a listening ear. Think of those who are shut in by illness or by age, or those who have been ignored by the significant people in their lives, or those who are going through an overwhelming trial. We can do people in these and other like situations a service by listening patiently as they talk about their joys, their frustrations, their sorrows, their doubts, and their faith. After we have fully listened, we may need to gently encourage our friends, for their sake and for the Lord's, to break out of a conversational self-focus. Yet, we can be sure that our willingness to listen can do great good in the lives of others.

Even though we serve by listening, we will likely find that our best and deepest relationships are those which are reciprocal, with back and forth conversation. Healthy friendships flourishes when both parties are interested in hearing and knowing each other on a deep level. In healthy friendships, both parties listen to each other and both parties talk with each other.

Thus, we do well when we are speaking to remember that we show love and respect to others when we do not dominate the conversation, but take care to hear the other person. Likewise, we must realize that we cannot learn from others or really know them if we are not paying attention to what they say. Really listening to another can be hard work, for we must focus on the speaker, ask questions to make sure we have heard correctly, and show an interest in the things that interest the speaker. We have to be careful, lest we incorrectly interpret another's words by jumping to conclusions or filtering them through our own biases.

The Bible is full of references to our need to listen, rather than to be full of our own words. This one from Proverbs always convicts me: Proverbs 18:2 A foolish man has no pleasure in good sense, but only to let what is in his heart come to light. The NIV puts it this way: A foolish man has no pleasure in good sense, but only to let what is in his heart come to light. James 1:19 is also one that I think of often: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

If it's important to listen to others and not to dominate conversations with regard to other people, how much more important is it to listen to God through His word! To say that His words are above all other words is an understatement. When God speaks, worlds come into existance. Whatever He speaks stands. Whatever He speaks is true and good and perfect. Because He is Holy and powerful beyond measure, His words are holy and powerful beyond measure, as well.

To think that God graciously speaks to us through his creation, through the Bible, through His Spirit, and through His Son is inspiring. If a celebrity we admired were to take notice of us and say even a few words to us, we'd likely be excited and tell everyone we knew. We might even savor that greeting over and over again in our minds. Likewise, if we receive a letter from a loved one, we eagerly rip it open and read it, then read it again, and , perhaps, save it among our cherished mementos. How much more exciting is it that the Sovereign Creator has written the 66 books of the Bible that we might hear his words to us!

In Jesus, God even sent His Word to us in the flesh! John 1:14 "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

What did God say of His son? "This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" Matthew 17:5

The importance and power of God's word in our lives can't be over-stressed. "The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever." Isaiah 40:8 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 "There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. John 12:48"

God invites us to talk to him about anything and everything. Phil. 4:4-8. However, He also admonishes us to listen. That is an important thing to remember in our study of prayer.

Here are some verses about listening to the Lord through His word:

Isaish 55:1-3 "And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for waht does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear and ocme to Me, Hear, and your soul shall live."

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "

Matthew 7:24-25 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. "

Matthew 13:8-10: "Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear."

Matthew 13:23: "But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

Mark 13:31 "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away."

Hebrews 1:1-4 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs."

Hebrews 2:1-4 "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."

Revelation 3:22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

When we listen to God, we must combine what we hear with faith: Hebrews 4:1-2 "Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard." What is the point of listening to God, if we do not believe what He tells us?

We must also put God's word into practice. James 1:22 says, "Be doers of the word and not hearers only." If we truly believe God, we will act on His word. Real faith leads to obedience. Just as we cannot say we trust a doctor if we will not take his advice, we cannot say we trust God if we do not trustfully and respectfully obey what He tells us.

Listening to God's word must also be combined with a desire to know Him. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." The Pharisees knew the word of God backwards and forwards, yet they did not combine their hearing with faith. Thus, they completely missed the greatest opportunity in their lives. Christ stood right before them, and they did not recognize Him! Likewise, we, too, have an opportunity to recognize Christ, to be saved by Him, and to know Him. What could be more important in life?

Prayer goes hand in hand with meditating and studying the Lord's word. Before we speak, we do well to listen!


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Day 16 -- Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home.
(photo of Corduroy, our miniature poodle)

More tips for praying for and with family members:

1) Use the Lord's prayer as an outline for your own prayers.
2) Adapt prayers and verses in scripture as prayers for yourself, for your family members, and for others.
3) Avoid being "rote" in your prayers. Even if you use prayers others have written or scriptures to inspire your prayers, personalize them and make them your own. Always pray from the heart and avoid vain repetition.
4) The lyrics of hymns and spiritual songs provide great inspiration for prayer. Many are actually prayers that are sung. Thus, you can use the lyrics as inspiration for prayers or even sing them as part of your prayer time. When singing songs in church, don't let your mind simply go through the motions, as is so easy to do. Remember that you are likely singing a prayer to the Lord. Pay attention to the lyrics even if you have sung that particular hymn or song myriad times.
5) Teach your children how to pay attention when someone else is praying aloud in a group. They may find it helpful to mentally repeat each phrase that the person who is praying says, giving assent in their hearts. Teach them to make the prayer your own. If you are of a tradition in which those who are listening add an amen here and there when someone else is praying, teach children how to do that meaningfully and not out of habit.
If you are of a tradition where everyone is silent through another's prayer or perhaps joins in a final amen, teach your children also to keep their mind focused on what is being said to God. Help them understand that God is listening.

A few great prayers from scripture to adapt in praying for your family. (Note, these are also great for adapting as parts of letters written to encourage others):

2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (An example of how to personalize: Father, may the grace of your son Jesus Christ and your love and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with our family....or with ______...or with _____ married child's family unit....or with our church.)

Ephesians 3;16-19
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 115
May the LORD make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

John 17 (from Jesus prayer before cross)
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17 (from Jesus prayer before cross)
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctifyb]">[them by the truth; your word is truth.

How much more happily could a wife and mother be employed than in being close to God and petitioning Him on behalf of her spouse, children, neighborhood, church, and the nations?


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Quick post about the Nashville flooding:

This is a small pond that formed in our common area during this past weekend's flooding. It's actually pretty and was especially so when two wild ducks took up residence.

However, we live on high ground, and were not affected by the flooding as so many of our friends were. We know many whose homes were damaged or even completely lost. Some of our friends had to be evacuated, including an older couple we know who had to be evacuated by boat over road which are normally dry. Different groups of our friends were out of town for the weekend and could not get back into Nashville for a bit.

At least some of the entrances into our area were flooded, but we just stayed put until the water in those areas receded.

It will be some time before the city can assess the total amount of the damage done here. So far, 29 lives have been lost across the storm-affected areas of Tennessee, and emergency workers suspect that the final tally will be larger.

People have been stranded in homes without food. Many have run out of medicines. This is horse and farm country, so many large animals had to be rescued and evacuated and, perhaps, some are lost. Smaller animals have been separated from owners and are pouring into the animal shelters. Whole sections of roads, parking lots, and other surfaces have been destroyed. Our famous Grand Old Opry, as well as the Opryland hotel and the Opry Mills shopping center were greatly damaged by flood.

Many people are still without lights and electricity. Our county's schools are closed, as are those in many other counties. Also, there are still some areas around here where people are in need of food and medical help, that as of yesterday, could not be reached by emergency workers.

Speaking of emergency workers, many police, fireman, utility personnel, medical personnel, and others have been working round the clock, going without sleep, in order to rescue people and try to minimize the potential harm to life and property. Often, new crews could not make it to the areas where they were needed, so the ones in place just had to keep on going without sleep. Many risked their lives to help others. A few ended up in situations where they were overcome by flooding, and, they, themselves, had to be rescued.

In perhaps the most famous news image of the flooding here, a school portable broke loose from its place and floated down a major Interstate. Portions of our major Interstates had to be closed. Since Nashville is a connection point for I-65, I-24, and I-40, this affects not only our local citizen, but an amazing amount of through traffic.

Well before the two day storm was over, they were announcing on the news that we had already received over one third of the amount of rain that we would normally receive over the course of a year. Since we live in an area with frequent rain, this is quite a lot of water.

We are having to conserve water, as treatment plants have been underwater, making it impossible for all that water to be treated.

The food waters rose so quickly that they spilled over a wide area. Most of the flood damage occurred in places that have not experienced flooding before. Thus, most victims of the flood don't have flood insurance and will not be able to collect insurance money for lost homes and possessions.

Since Nashville is a tourist area, many tourists were among those who had to be evacuated to temporary shelters. We also depend on conventions for a lot of our revenue. Yet, many scheduled conventions will have to be moved elsewhere, as the facilities will not be in shape to receive them.

Many companies have not been able to carry on as usual. Even government buildings and operations have been affected.

We do have a series of dams around here, and fortunately, our dams held strong. The Corps of Engineers were able to control the release of some of the flood waters in an effort to minimize their path through the area. As unimaginably bad as the flooding has been, it could have been worse. There's been some controversy about the Corps management of the flood, as some think that they could have done a better job and prevented some of the flood deaths. I'm not qualified to speak to that. However, as some of the havoc in New Orleans was due to burst dams and levees, I'm counting it as a blessing that the dams did not crumble under the power of this unprecedented flood.

On a happy note, this is the third day of sunshine, so we are all rejoicing. Though there are still plenty of floodwaters around, the sun is helping to dry things. Another great thing to see is how the people of the city have pulled together. Many volunteered to help with rescues and evacutations. Others have volunteered at the animal shelters or have donated supplies. Many are helping friends clean up and salvage what they can.