Being Led to True Uncertainties

“The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many ‘safe’ gods to the God whose love has no limits.”

--Henri J.M. Nouwen

When the church decides to pray it is often frightening.  What I mean is this.  Prayer is perhaps the greatest power offered to believers as they attempt to follow after Jesus and proclaim the Kingdom of God.  If we’re being honest, that’s not really a revolutionary idea--people always talk in cliché fashion about “the power of prayer” (in your best Bible Belt, Southern accent).  But when people talk about prayer in this way they are very often referring to God’s power to give them what they want, if only they would ask.  It’s very often self-centered attempts to reach one’s goals or aspirations.  But when prayer becomes this selfless, sacrificial act of humility before the Lord, the possibilities of the Kingdom are endless.  Prayer is perhaps the greatest evidence that we are truly sons and daughters of God.  This greatest privilege of Jesus the Son has become our own.  And if we are given the freedom to ask in the same way that Christ has been, then how much awaits those of us who choose to ask!  That’s why I like what Nouwen says here, that prayer leads us to “true uncertainties.”  All the things we gave up on long ago are much more possible than we initially realized.  As uncertain as they seem, they are true.  

But this means prayer is frightening in another way altogether.  It’s scary to let go of our certainties, and to stop relying on ourselves.  Prayer is a powerful act of self-denial, whereby we fully surrender our will to that of our Father in Heaven.  That kind of surrender is scary for people who are convinced they are in control, and like living under this illusion.  It is frightening to give up on our striving and simply ask.  We prefer strategies and vision statements, when the most strategic and powerful thing we could do is come like children to our Father.  That kind of humility is hard for believers.  Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time praying--because prior to praying we are too busy securing whatever outcome we want via our hard work and ingenuity.  But understand prayer is not merely “letting go and letting God” (again, best Bible-thumping accent).  Prayer is active, it’s persistent, and it is more productive than it appears at first glance; and yet, it is nothing more than the opening of our hands to receive from the Father.  Each time we humble ourselves to pray we find that God accomplishes through us that which he intended, whether by the means we would choose or not.  This humble opening of the hands is perhaps the most productive thing we can do as we look toward a new year serving the Lord together, scary or not.  

Isaiah 58

1“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In line with our morning prayer sessions this is the best way to end our series of blog post for the 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. 

Hopefully we can continue to find ways to blog.

Specifically we would love to hear from you.

If you have stories or experiences that you want to share, shoot them our way and we would love to post those on this blog in the coming days.

But, for now enjoy this passage again a few more times today. 

The Blessings of Heaven

Malachi 3:6-12

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

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There is something interesting about how we all read this passage. 

As we think about giving and sacrificing things in order to give more as the Lord has commanded we know that the Lord promises blessings right? Well, yes. 

But, how often do we think these blessings are for our own personal gain? 

Umm. Guilty here! [raises hand, asking where all the money is]

The thing we forget about this passage is that first this is a promise to a people. Not a person. God's intention was for the people of Israel to be blessed so that the poor would be fed, the homeless housed, the widow taken care of, the orphan placed into a family. 

When the Israelites robbed God of their tithe, they were robbing the poor of their food and the widow of their provision. This was the system, and this is what it looks like for the floodgates of heaven to be opened. 

It is not poverty for all but provision for all. It is blessing on the people of God to get to see unity, justice, and righteousness. 

The blessing was not for one person, but the blessing was for heaven to begin to break into the everyday reality. Heavenly blessings most likely do not come in the form of candy apple red and 450 horsepower. Though there may be nothing wrong with that. The blessing of heaven is healing and restoration, it is new life and the freedom, blessings of Heaven are Shalom, peace on earth. 

Praying in the Spirit

Romans 8:12-30

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Present Suffering and Future Glory

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groaninwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

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Is it not a bit like fresh water to a dry tongue when we are reminded of the promises that God has for us.

It seems like you can't have more than two or three conversations on a regular basis with believers until someone will talk about how they feel like they are just going through a dry spell - it happens to all us. 

The thing is, sometimes what we think is a "rough spot" may simply be a longing for knowing that there is more. Especially in times of fasting and prayer, we think that life should just be oh so sweet and good as we pray, but the fact is sometimes there is even more tension. We begin to get a taste of eternity on our lips and we begin to see how so much around us is off.

We are joining in with creation which is described as having birth pains in anticipation of all things being made right. Rumor has it birth pains are no small joke. Drawing near to God draws us into His suffering which often times looks like longing and anticipation of what can, and will, be. 

But thank the good Lord that we do not suffer on our own. It truly would be to much, but instead we live our life in the Spirit, He gives us freedom, He gives us our seal and promise of our inheritance. The Spirit even prays for us on out behalf when we are so overwhelmed that we don't even know what to pray.

That sounds like fresh water to a dry and thirsty soul.  

A Scripture for the Day

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who callsyou is faithful, and he will do it.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

A Tribute to the Day.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s - "I have a Dream" Speech

 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

 

A Daily Praise

Psalm 145

A psalm of praise. Of David.

I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

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There seems to be something about daily praising the Lord for who He is.

David seems to think it is so important that he proclaims he will praise the Lord every day forever and ever. 

And this praise, it has some way of not just being between us and the Lord, but it is a proclamation to those around us. As we recognize what God has done for us, as we look around and recognize that all comes from him and He has chosen to reveal himself as redeemer, and  as we come to praise him for our redemption we are proclaiming God to those around us, 

This is what we are doing when we praying. We are praising, we recognizing that all good things have come from the hand of the Father and we are humbly placing ourselves before hime in this recognition.

So, remember when you are praying you are praising. Praise Him everyday, for He is the Lord and He is good.

Praying the Way Jesus Taught Us

Matthew 6:9-14

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,[a]
    but deliver us from the evil one.[b]

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

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So fact, we have all heard about the fact that people call their Dads when they need things right?

Well at least this is a common stereotype. 

If we are honest that is how we often approach prayer. Like a phone call when we need something, or maybe its that we feel guilty so we will call to small talk that way when we need something we will get it. 

Truth is, Dads can probably see through the game and because they love us they don't mind.

God definitely does not mind our coming and asking. But just as the phone call to our Dads could be so much more, so can our prayers. 

We have all probably heard the Lord's prayer if we have been in church very long. In fact it is often a prayer that we teach our children, and why not, it is simple and right out of scripture as a model. 

But, are we missing what is really there. 

The Our Father is getting at something profound and life changing. The creator of the universe wants to break into our lives and bring His Kingdom here to earth just as it is in heaven! All of Heaven and the will of the Father coming here. This is more than a courtesy call because Jesus seems to be implying that are prayer has something to do with this happening. 

So as we pray remember that our pray time is bring Heaven here on earth.

Prayer is Knowing God

Ephesians 1:16-23

16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

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When we come to prayer to often we come with an agenda. 

We come hoping to have things figured for us, plans come together, blessings (preferably in the form of something new and shiny) rained down from. Seems a little different than Paul's prayer huh?

Paul's prayer is that those that he is writing to in Ephesus may know God, and know the power in which God moves in works, and he is saying, "yes that very power that raise Jesus Christ from the dead and announced the good news of redemption." 

Paul is praying that people come to know God is this mighty way,

Is this what we are praying for? For people's eyes to be opened, for lives to be healed, for christ to be revealed?

Far to often it is not, and far to often (at least for me) it is because we lose sight of knowing God in this way. We lose sight of the fact that God is a relational force in our life, he wants us to know him intimately and deeply. 

Prayer is one of the best ways for us to do this, in prayer when coming before God we commune with the creator of the universe, and the redeemer of the broken. This is what we are doing!!

As we know God in this way, we will hopefully join Paul in his prayer. 

Praying is Waiting

Psalm 27

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

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Let's be honest.

The thought of waiting on anything really bothers us. We want what we want, and we want it now. We are culture and society of instant gratification. 

Prayer challenges this notion. 

Prayer is usually not the type of thing that we see immediate results. It can be, there is the miraculous, but it is not normative. Prayer is a discipline of coming before the Father, knowing He is good, knowing He is in control, believing in His promises, and humbly coming before Him. Prayer is a daily necessity though it is not culturally en vogue. 

As we pray together, and as the Lord gives us dreams and visions, as we call upon His name, remember that prayer is waiting on the Lord to speak, and to fulfill that which he has given to us as dreams and promises. 

Our job? To be faithful to what He has given us, to trust in the Lord, to know that we can believe that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, and to wait upon the Lord.He moves, He acts, He speaks, we respond with faithfulness.

So as we pray together, let us remember that we wait together. 

It is Not a Show

We started the week with a post on Isaiah 58. 

We have kind of made that THE passage defining our 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. If you come to prayer, we close each morning by reading it aloud. Here it is … 

Isaiah 58

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

There really is a very similar sentiment in another one of the Prophets, albeit a much harsher tone. The people of Israel were meant to be a beacon of hope and reconciliation and God did not take kindly when they began to make it about them and their religiosity instead of His will and intentions. 

Amos 5:21-24

21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

 

Many of you may recognize this passage from this song.

May this be a reminder of why we fast. That it is not for our own increase of spiritual "points", and it is definitely not for a diet, but instead we pray and we fast to break the chains of oppression, to let justice ring, and to see the kingdom of heaven come here on earth as it is in heaven. 

If You Tarry till You’re Better...

Verse 1

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r.

Verse 2

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Chorus

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.

Verse 3

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

Verse 4

Lo! th’ incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

We sang this song this past Sunday at church, we actually sing it pretty regularly.

It is a beautiful anthem that is inviting all to come to Jesus.

One of the most profound lines in the song is

"If you tarry till you’re better, 

You will never come at all"

We love this song in theory, right? Yet, so often we don't apply this to ourselves in our daily lives. Especially when it comes to prayer.

To often we try and approach prayer with this idea of "yes, I am so good for praying." But, Jesus is calling us to pray and to worship out of our brokenness, out of our dryness. Too often the thought process is, "Well, I'm just in a funk, and so going to prayer wouldn't be beneficial."

FALSE.

There is no better place to enter into prayer than from here. If we avoid prayer because we think we don't have it all together, or because we aren't good enough, than maybe we are missing the point of prayer.

So come one and come all to meet with Jesus in prayer. Don't check your problems and difficulties at the door, but bring them with you. Allow the Spirit to take you right into the holy of holies, right into the throne room, right to the feet of Jesus with your problems and all.

 

I Prayed

Exodus 34:29-35

The Radiant Face of Moses

29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the communitycame back to him, and he spoke to them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34 But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

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Every four years, or every two if you are a really good caring citizen, we make a big deal about getting out and voting. One of the best reasons for doing so is you get this iconic little sticker that lets everyone know that you voted.

This morning during prayer this image was brought to mind.

Wearing that "I Voted" sticker is a badge of honor. Heck, you can even get free coffee and doughnuts at a lot of places just for wearing it!

Sometimes, especially during our 21 days of prayer and fasting, getting up praying or telling someone that I can't go out to eat with them because I am fasting can feel a little like this I Voted sticker.

It becomes this badge of honor, something letting others know that I am a "good Christian."

Then I thought of Moses.

Moses didn't need a sticker.

Moses went up on the Mountain and met with God. He came back down different. The text says that his face was shining and that the people all noticed, and yet Moses was unaware.

I think I try to make my face shine.

Because its still about that sticker.

But what if prayer became about meeting with Jesus; about coming into the presence of Glory.

Paul seems to think that this is what we are called to; meeting with Jesus, being changed from glory to glory, and becoming more like Him. I want to pray like this. And, I hope that our prayer times now, during this 21 days, and for years to come could be less about checking a box, just to say, "Check. Did that." But that these prayer times would be about meeting with the Savior and evermore allowing Him to let his glory invade us; that we might become beacons of hope, witnesses of the resurrection, reflecting the Glory of Jesus even as we draw near to him and rest in his presence. 

 

Called into the Valley

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

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The picture does little justice.

Ezekiel would have been called into a valley full of bones.

Death and destruction would have been the words to describe what he was seeing.

I imagine the scene would have been dark. Overcast. Spooky. Can you imagine? Not a sight that one would necessarily want to see. I think of Aragorn in the Return of the King when he goes into the canyon to call the Army of the Dead to his service.

Thats thing that hits me with this passage.

The Lord called Ezekiel, a prophet and messenger, into this valley and asked him to see it.

What do we see when we look around?

Are we missing the mess around us.

I know I do. I try to make my life so neat and orderly that I miss the death that is around me. I miss all that the Lord is wanting us to speak life into.

But take heart; take courage! Ezekiel did not wander there on his own, he was led. And, he did not ask, "Lord, what shall I say?" He didn't assume that he knew how to fix things. No, Ezekiel waited and God, the creator of all things and the One with the power to speak life, he told Ezekiel what to say.

God invited Ezekiel into doing what He had been the first to do. He wanted Ezekiel to play his small part in God's grand redemption narrative.

What then are we missing?

What is God inviting us to speak Life into?

Or have we ignored the call into the valley because we do not want to go where so few will?

Are we afraid of the valley?

A Fast that is Not About Us

Isaiah 58

1“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

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Isaiah 58 is our passage for the next 21 Days.

It isn't just a passage about fasting, but it is a text that is calling us to see the heart of the Gospel.

It's calling us to see that worship, prayer, and fasting isn't about us, but its about giving what we have to God so that we can be used to bless those around us. It's not about our self-promotion and making sure that we are always moving up and up and up.

Instead this text reminds us that the heart of the Gospel is to break the chains of oppression, to bring the broken into healing, to take the lonely and place them in families. Even if it means being a little inconvenienced, or better yet, even if it means living a life that does match up with the dream that we are being told we need to pursue.

So, over the next 21 days, join us in wrestling through this passage each day. Let it begin to shape and define our prayers, our attitudes, and the culture of our community.