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A Christmas prayer

Reading the first few chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke are a yearly tradition for me in December. The words are ancient and familiar, yet like a drink of pure spring water they quench my thirst. And this morning I was parched.

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I opened the Book to the story of Zachariah the aged priest who just so happened to be chosen on this particular day for a special assignment. He entered the Holy Place of the temple to offer incense on an altar that represented prayer and petition to God. The people were praying outside while the priest prayed inside.

I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again, the one for a child, a son from his loins.

Yet here he stood, an old man whose wife was equally well along in years, childless the two of them. Because Elizabeth was barren.

God’s timing for answering prayers are so often out of sync with what I envision.

The angel’s appearance was awesome, causing fear, but his announcement must have been confusing to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

What prayer? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I quit hoping to be answered in the way I was expecting? The prayer that would have been in a timetable right for me? That prayer?

Zachariah and I, we have things in common.

The prayers I am grappling with sometimes grip my heart with their urgency. I cry out to my Father, my eyes filling with tears, longing for an answer. And please, can it be today?

How many times have I read that God’s ways are not my ways, that His time is not my time? And yet, I want Him to do it by my prescription and on my schedule.

Faithful Zachariah and Elizabeth had lived blameless lives, following the commands God gave to His people. Surely their prayers would be answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not go unheeded.

After so many years they became resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs must have been hurtful. People can wonder when trouble beats us up and we are not being blessed in the conventional sort of way.

And yet, on this day in an old man’s life, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, was on a mission to proclaim wonderful news to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

 

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He says He answers when He gets good and ready, because He alone knows when the time is right and all things are in place.

So, my fellow traveler, don’t let discouragement weigh you down. Don’t give in to doubt and unbelief. Throw off the lie that you are forgotten and forsaken. Keep being faithful. Keep going on your knees. Keep trusting that your God hears your every plea and preserves your tears in a bottle.

Believe that your prayer has been heard. In the fullness of time, and according to the perfect plan of God who does all things well, there will be an answer.

And it will be spectacular.

See the source image

 

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Sunday grace

I pulled out the small black spiral notebook where I sometimes write prayers. In it was a written request from January of this year.

I read my heart cries and remembered the difficulty of the situation. I was pleading and desperate for God’s help.

And He answered my prayer.

Did I ever thank Him for that? I didn’t write anything else on the lone piece of paper. Did I think to respond to the God who hears my prayers and answers them?

I feel ungrateful and forgetful. I don’t want to be like the nine lepers who were healed and kept right on going toward the temple. They did not return to give praise to God. Let me be like the one who came back, fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

On the back of the page, I wrote a prayer of thanksgiving:

Dear Father,
I never wrote a praise for this answered prayer. . . . You are good and faithful. You hear prayers and You answer.
So I thank you. Summer is ending. and it has not been an easy year. But You are with us. Your strength will carry us.
Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
—  Me

Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.

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A week after

After last weekend’s celebration of a risen Lord, a joyful afternoon spent with extended family, and counting multiplied gifts from the bounty of God’s blessings, the week after is fraught with things difficult. My mind whirls and tilts like an amusement park ride. But I am not amused.

I hear of an untimely death and sorrowing parents. Sweet William underwent a minor surgery, but nothing is minor when one has been in too many hospitals to bother counting. News about a dear one’s jarring diagnoses leaves us in shock and questions. Yet another one close to our hearts battles dreaded disease and the pain that accompanies.

And we pray. What else is there to do?

We ask in faith, believing God already knows and nothing takes Him by surprise. We trust in His goodness and His strength because He is a good and strong Savior. We know we are His children and will not be given a stone when we ask for bread and fish. We petition a Mighty Warrior who fights our battles with a powerful arm.

We pray and wait to see what will be His answer.

“And we know with great confidence that God, who is deeply concerned about us, causes all things to work together as a plan for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” — Romans 8:28 Amp.

I have recognized this week that trials bring people together. Texts and phone calls run to and fro through space, keeping us updated, friends and family expressing their love and offering help in some way. As a result, prayer is our connection to those we care about and to the Father who loves us with an everlasting love.

If trials bring people together, then prayer binds us to one another, brothers and sisters reaching heavenward as the family of God and the body of Christ. One one hurts, we all feel the pain.

Jesus offered reassuring words just before He disappeared into the sky as astonished followers watched:

” . . .  and lo, I am with you always, remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:20 Amp.

In all of our trouble, trials, testing, there is only one consideration:  Jesus.

Jesus with us, in pain, in uncertainty, even in death.

Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering and runs to our cry.

Jesus, the One and only who came from the Father’s loving hand to open the way into His presence.

Jesus, dying for us so that we might live free and abundant.

Jesus, showing us how to love one another by His own extreme love and servant hood.

Jesus, holding onto us when the rope we cling to frays at the end and we lose our grip.

Jesus with us at all times, “regardless of circumstance and on every occasion,” giving us His strength and comfort and answers we cannot even imagine.

Pain and suffering draws people together. Sometimes we sing the song of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion in the minor key. As God’s family, we sing united.

Prayer binds us as brothers and sisters. And our chorus, ascending upward, is heard and is answered. We sing the song of the redeemed. And the world will hear the melody.

Perhaps that is part of the plan.

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When I don’t get what I want

What I want and what I get are sometimes roads apart.

I could make a list of the things I’ve wanted, prayed and hoped for that did not come to fruition. I could. But I won’t. We all have our own lists because life has a way of surprising us.

I am thankful I didn’t get some things hoped for when I was young. It could have been disastrous.

Growing older, and hopefully wiser, my perspective and my prayers have changed. I pray more “Your will be done” prayers than “I want it my way” demands.

I still believe in healing and miracles and angels unaware coming to the aid of God’s children. I ask for those things. And I know He is able.

It’s just that I don’t always get the answer I want.

Such was the case this week. People for whom I prayed hopeful prayers got less than hopeful answers.

I’m disappointed and hurt. This is not what I asked for. I know it isn’t what my friends wanted.

We live in a troubled world that bears the scars of sin and disease, of fear and anger and bitterness. Bad things happen to good people. And we wonder why.

The maxim is familiar: God is good. All the time. And all the time, God is good.

Do I believe that when the test results are not desired, when there’s pain and suffering at every turn, when people die because of predjudice and hate, when the road we travel suddenly takes a nose dive downward and we are holding on for dear life?

It is not given to me to understand it all or the reasons life is not always pretty. My purpose is not to figure it out. My purpose is to faithfully believe that God is good all the time and that He is in control; that what He allows and what He does has a bigger purpose than I can understand; that He is always working toward the ultimate plan for mankind and is not a genie to fulfill my wish list.

Yet at the same time, I believe He is fully focused on His purpose for me and those whose names I lift in prayer. I believe He is constantly working out His divine will for individuals through the circumstances of life. I believe He is personally involved in my life and that He wants my faith to grow in the bright light of day as in the dark night of my soul.

The Psalmist declares God hears prayers, and that He answers prayers. We are assured we will be satisfied with the good things He has prepared for us, even when the good is not wearing a smiley face and carrying balloons. When what stands in front of me is hard and painful, I can still expect good from a God who is wholly good, fully righteous, and always loving.

Exercising my faith-eyes means trusting Him for the outcome when I see the storm clouds gathering. It means leaning my entire self into Him, against the wind of tribulations. It means believing He is the all-wise God who will not fail to complete His purpose in me and in others.

I will continue to pray and hope and believe. I will expect an amazing-grace outcome.

Because God is good. All the time.

But I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.  — Micah 7:7

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Sunday grace

And Jesus told them to pray.

This is our Father we are dealing with, and He knows better than us what we need. With a God like this loving us, we can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.  Show us Your glory!
Set the world right; do what’s best— as in Heaven, so here on earth where we live.
Give us what we need for today, food, clothing, shelter.
Forgive us again, and help us keep forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and from the devil.
You’re in charge.  You are the King most high.
You can do anything you want.  And we want You to.
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.     And amen.

Sunday grace.

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[from Matthew 6, The Message]

 

 

Sunday grace

Another Sunday.  Another church service.  Another week begins.

How will I spend the precious time I’m given?  A day, an hour, a minute, a moment.

There is no promise of tomorrow.  There is only today.  Will I fret and worry, let me heart swirl, uncontrolled in anxiety?  Will I plan and organize and purpose to do things, build things as a monument to myself?  Will I love, forgive, encourage?  Will I invest in the temporal or the eternal?

God gives me the choice.  It is His gift of freedom.  But He offers me the wisdom and the Word to see a better way, the best way to live out this one wild and beautiful life I have.

Dear Father above,

You are gracious, merciful, and full of compassion and understanding.  You are good.  You are holy.

Forgive me for squandering your gift, for using it in senseless and worthless ways.  You know my heart.  You know the things that frustrate me and get me off track so easily.  I cast down every thought and imagination that exalts itself above the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord and Savior who lived His wild and beautiful life to the full.  Abundantly.  In complete submission to Your will.

I want to live like that.  I am weak and helpless to do it on my own.  Fill me with the fullness of your Spirit and let me recognize once again that You have already provided everything I need to live a life pleasing to you.  A victorious life.  A life worth living.

It is in Jesus’ name I ask,

Amen

Sunday grace.

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Photo by Elena Walls

 

 

A prayer

Dear Father God,

You promised, and You kept the promise.

Your Spirit hovered, enveloped the womb of a virgin, and she conceived.

Your holy, sinless Offspring  was born.  They called Him Jesus.

Your expressed Your very self by a living, breathing Word.

This Word became flesh and blood and bone and sinew.

He lived with us in the dust and dirt, the muck and the mire.

He was life.  He is life.  Eternal.  He offered it for free.

He showed us the Father, the expression of Your love.

He opened the way and invited us in, into the Holiest.

How precious did that Grace appear.

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And now, we come to adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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