PERSEVERING PRAYER

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. [Psalm 88:1-3 (NLT)]

tri-colored heronLast month, a man crashed his car into the frigid waters of the Klamath River in California. Although the accident occurred around 3:00 in the morning, the nearly submerged upside-down car wasn’t reported until 5:30 AM. The dive team finally was able to attach a cable to its undercarriage and tow the vehicle to dry land at 8:00 AM. By this time, thinking it a recovery rather than a rescue operation and with airbags blocking the windows, no one expected to find anyone alive in the car. When the team commander opened the door, however, he heard the words, “Help me!” The car’s driver had survived nearly five hours in icy water while breathing from an air pocket in the car. I have no idea whether the man was a believer but I imagine he might be one now.

This morning, I thought of that man when reading Psalm 88. Although I think the psalmist, Heman the Ezrahite, was writing metaphorically about death drawing near, being “as good as dead,” standing “helpless and desperate,” in “the darkest depths,” with “wave after wave” engulfing him, in a “trap with no way of escape,” and with terrors swirling around “like floodwaters” that engulfed him completely, those words sounded as if they could have been penned by the driver of that submerged car. Alone, in darkness, in a frigid river, desperately trying to keep his head above water, fearful of running out of air, and thinking he’d met his end, I wonder if that frantic man prayed as passionately as did Heman in his psalm.

In his prayer, the despairing Heman doesn’t mince words; nothing is concealed. He lays his miserable life out for God (and everyone else) with brutal honesty. Grieving and in desperate need, estranged from friends and loved ones, he complains that darkness is his closest friend. Yet, in spite of his list of afflictions, there are no accusations, calls for revenge, or anger; there is just woeful resignation, acceptance, and entreaty.

While this is a psalm of lament, it is also one of trust, hope and perseverance. Freely expressing his discouragement and complaint, the psalmist calls to the God of his salvation. Knowing that God is sovereign over his suffering, he also knows God is sovereign over his relief. Even though it seems as if his prayers aren’t being heard, Heman tirelessly continues to pray, crying out to God “day by day” and at night.

I’ve never been gasping for air in an upside down car submerged in icy water and I don’t think I’ve ever been as desperate as Heman must have been when he wrote his psalm. Nevertheless, that doesn’t excuse me from my often sporadic, passionless and perfunctory prayers. Why does it seem that we must be in trouble, in desperate straits, in need of rescue, or in deep despair before we are as forthright, fervent and constant as Heman in our prayers? Shouldn’t every one of our prayers be said with the same level of urgency, ardor, honesty and emotion? Could some of our prayers remain unanswered simply because we haven’t offered them as earnestly as did Heman? What will it take before we pray with his passion? I certainly hope it doesn’t involve an overturned car floating down a river.

When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart. [John Bunyan]

I am in a trap with no way of escape. My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy. … O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day. [Psalm 88 8b-9,13 (NLT)]

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. [James 5:16b (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

LET’S PRAY

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. [1 Timothy 2:1 (NLT)]

snowy egretsThe eight of us were brainstorming a difficult and heartbreaking situation facing a family we know. We had plenty of ideas about getting them the assistance and guidance they needed but we could only direct them to the resources. They were the ones who needed to take action. Unfortunately, people often want the easy way out of their problems and desire money rather than counsel. Money, however, is usually only a stop gap measure and it frequently enables a bad situation to continue or get worse. The problem we were discussing required change, compromise, work and sacrifice far more than money. These people had to take action and, truth be told, I’m not so sure they wanted to step forward and act.

Those of us sitting around the table that day are people of action. Asking “What can I do? How can I help?” we wanted to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and make things right. This was one of those times, however, when there was nothing more we could do and no way we could make things right. There always will be hurts that we can’t heal, needs that we can’t satisfy, situations we can’t fix, and wrongs that we can’t make right. Sadly, this was one of them.

I learned something important that day, something even more important than understanding when it is time to step back from someone else’s problem. Our discussion had reached a dead end and we started repeating ourselves. At that point, we had a choice. We could beat a dead horse and keep talking which probably would have turned our constructive discussion into gossip and censure. On the other hand, we could stop and pray. Fortunately, understanding we were helpless onlookers and seeing we were dangerously close to becoming judge and jury, someone suggested prayer! Knowing we can’t fix everything but that we can love and pray for everyone, we prayed and handed the situation to God.

The thing I learned that day? While I’ve always believed in the power of prayer, I hadn’t realized the power of just saying, “Let’s pray!” Pausing for prayer changed the entire tenor of the discussion. The next time I’m in one of those conversations that starts to go downhill into the territory of gossip, disapproval, or scorn, I know to say, “Let’s pray!” Prayer can change more than situations and other people; it can change the people doing the praying!

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. [James 1:26 (NLT)]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2019 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT’S YOUR STATE?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. [Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)]

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:13 (NLT)]

african iris

If there were a Hall of Fame for favorite Bible verses, John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11, and Philippians 4:13 would be in it; every year, they are the most popular verses on my favorite Bible web site. This year, in a stunning upset, Jeremiah 29:11 edged out perennial favorite John 3:16 for first place with Philippians 4:13 running a close third.

In 2017, John 3:16 easily held first place with Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13 in a hotly contested race for the next two spots. In honor of the Electoral College meeting that year, the website determined which of those two verses carried each of the fifty states and gave them electoral votes. Had it been a presidential election, Jeremiah 29:11 would have won with 302 electoral votes. With the nation split into two camps, rather than dividing us into red or blue states, the site asked: “Do You Live in a ‘God Has a Plan’ State or an ‘I Can Do All Things’ State?” While my residence in is a “God Has a Plan” state, I wondered if that truly is my state of mind.

I’m a voter who splits her ticket. Sometimes, I’m accepting of circumstances, serenely confident in God’s plan, and (usually without complaint) easily can step forward in trust and faith. Other times, I’m sure that God has intentionally given me challenges to overcome—challenges to strengthen and mature my faith. Rather than accept the situation, confident in God’s power, I try to surmount the challenging circumstances. The problem arises when I’m unsure about whether I should trust and accept or trust and overcome.

Most of our decisions are made without consciously thinking about God—red or blue shirt, sneakers or sandals, oatmeal or yogurt, walk in the park or at the beach, and so on. We don’t ask God if we should go through the yellow light, where to park, or whether to buy peas or beans. We don’t consult Him about mowing the lawn, making the bed, balancing the checkbook, going to the grocery, or doing the laundry. Although we’re operating on auto-pilot, many of those little decisions can make a difference in our lives. They may determine if we’re in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, even if we did stop and pray about even the smallest decision, it’s unlikely that God would provide a definitive answer about all of them. I don’t think it’s because He doesn’t care but rather that He expects us to use our God-given common sense and free will to make our everyday choices godly ones.

Sometimes, even when we’ve asked for His guidance, God seems to be silent. We ask who to marry, which job to take, how much money to give, how much to keep, where to live, what cancer treatment to choose, how to deal with the addicted child, where to attend church, or whether to start a new business and His definitive answer just doesn’t seem to come. There’s no angel, star in the East, burning bush, writing on the wall, or wet fleece. The heavens don’t open, a lamb doesn’t miraculously appear, a donkey doesn’t speak, and a neon sign is unlikely. That God knows the detailed plan doesn’t mean He’s going to tell us what it is!

Perhaps knowing the plan isn’t as important for us as knowing the God who made the plan. He has revealed Himself and everything we need to know about living a godly life in Scripture. The more we know Him, the more we know His answers. We pray and proceed, trusting in the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His son for our salvation, the God whose plans are for good and not disaster, the God who wants to give us a future and hope. We do so, confident that we can do all we need to do through Christ who gives us strength.

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

 

THE SINNER’S PRAYER

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [Acts 2:38 (ESV)]

anenome - Canada or meadowIn a book about evangelism I read, the author wrote of bringing a new believer into his office and the two of them saying the Sinner’s Prayer. After the new believer repeated the Pastor’s words, he was pronounced saved. While there is no official version, the prayer probably went something like this: “God, I know that I am a sinner and that I deserve to go to hell. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I do now receive Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen.” Since many evangelical Christians speak of saying some sort of prayer like this at the moment of conversion, I wondered if a specific “Sinner’s Prayer” is a requirement for salvation.

If a special prayer is required, we should find it in the Bible yet, while we find lots of prayers, there doesn’t appear to be a prayer prerequisite for salvation. Jesus told the sinful woman who kissed and anointed his feet that her faith had saved her, the woman with the bleeding disorder that her faith made her well, and the blind men that their faith gave them sight. When the 3,000 were converted at Pentecost, Peter told the people to repent of their sins, turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. After hearing the gospel from Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized. After speaking with Ananias, Saul regained his sight and was baptized. While Peter preached the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his Gentile friends, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and they all were baptized. In none of these cases is there mention of a special prayer before conversion, asking for salvation or taking Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior. The people believed, repented, and were baptized. If a special prayer is required for Christ’s salvation, I’m pretty sure it would have been included in Scripture and it isn’t.

Nevertheless, it is Biblical to repentantly pray and ask for forgiveness; what’s not Biblical is to say salvation comes because of a prayer. Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith. We are justified by faith, not by works and certainly not by words. Even so, there’s nothing inherently wrong with praying some sort of sinner’s prayer at conversion—unless, of course, the person praying isn’t called by the Holy Spirit and genuinely repentant. When empty of faith, that prayer is meaningless and gives the person praying it a false (and dangerous) sense of security. Merely saying a version of the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t like purchasing an insurance policy guaranteeing salvation and eternal life. Even repeating dozens of prayers can’t save us. We’re not saved by the words of a prayer but by the genuine repentance and faith behind the prayer. As Christians, we don’t put our trust in words but in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

In actuality, since we’re all sinners, every prayer we say is a sinner’s prayer. Nevertheless, our faith, hope and assurance should not be in the prayers we say but rather in the God who hears our prayers.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. [Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)]

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. [1 Peter 1:8-10 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

ANSWERED PRAYERS – St. Nicholas – Part 2

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” [Matthew 26:39 (NLT)]

Sometime near the end of the 3rd century, the Bishop of Myra died and a conclave was held to elect his replacement. St. NicholasLegend has it that the bishops kept praying and voting but could not come to an agreement. In a stalemate, they prayed all night for God’s guidance and He revealed how they should make their selection. They were told that the first person to walk into the church that morning would be the one God wanted to shepherd His flock. A young man was the first to come in the door and, when asked his name, he replied, “Nicholas, the sinner.” He was brought into the sanctuary and placed on the bishop’s seat. Nicholas, who would eventually become both saint and Santa Claus, was then consecrated the new Bishop of Myra. In spite of the odd manner of his selection, from what we know of Nicholas—his good deeds, wisdom, generosity, and deep faith—God seemed to know what He was doing.

When those bishops first got together to select the new bishop, I suspect each man had his favorite candidate and his prayers probably were that the other bishops would see the light and vote for his man. Busy telling God the outcome they desired rather than asking Him to reveal who He wanted, it’s no surprise the bishops came to an impasse. Once they agreed to ask God for His divine wisdom, their prayers were answered.

There’s no point asking God for His guidance, however, if we’re unwilling to accept His answer. Granted, selecting the first man into church seems rather strange but God knew who that would be. While there are variations in the story’s details, most agree that Nicholas was quite young and, while he was devout and well versed in Scripture and may have been a monk, he was unknown to the bishops and not a priest. Could some of the bishops have had second thoughts at that point? Here was an unknown entity: someone who’d never been deacon or priest, inexperienced in the church and its politics, who would now be in charge of deacons and priests, and on an equal footing with the other bishops. And what of young Nicholas? Many stories mention his hesitation at taking on such an undeserved honor. Nevertheless, both the young man and the bishops were obedient to God’s plan; Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra and history tells us he was the right man for the job.

Do we really think God needs our advice in running the world and our lives? When we pray, do we tell Him what we want Him to do and the outcome we desire or are our prayers open-ended, leaving the end result up to God’s will? God is not a cosmic vending machine and even He can’t please all the people all of the time. If I get every green light, then someone else is getting all the reds! We all can’t get what we want but we all can get what God wants for us! In Gethsemane, Jesus asked for release but He finished His prayer with acquiescence to God’s will. We must do the same in our prayers. When we say, “Thy will be done,” however, we can’t have the unspoken proviso of, “as long as I like Your answer.”

For me, the story of his ordination is the best part of the St. Nicholas legend and yet the saint plays a minor role in it. It’s a story of faith—faith in a loving and wise God, a God who answers the right prayers and a story of submission—submission to God’s will and the willing acceptance of His answer, strange as that answer may seem.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [James 1:5-7 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved

 

THANK YOU NOTES

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. [Psalm 107:1 (NLT)]

wild turkeyWhen I was a girl (back in the days of pen, paper and postage stamps), my mother insisted that I write a thank you note for any gifts I received. Whether birthday or Christmas, I was not allowed to enjoy my gifts until the necessary notes had been written. Moreover, each note had to be personal. I couldn’t just write a generic, “Thank you for the nice present.” I had to say something specific about the gift and, if it was money, I had to say how I planned on using it. Even if the present was something I really didn’t like or want (and we’ve all had those kinds of gifts), I had to express gratitude. My mother reminded me that, while I might not value the gift, someone else’s time, thought, love and money had gone into getting it for me. Therefore, I should take the time to properly acknowledge and show my appreciation for the giver’s generosity. The thank you note rule also applied whenever someone did something special for me. If a family took me to an event or I’d spent the night at a friend’s house, a note of thanks had to be written.

Eventually, once I was old enough to buy the gifts, do the good turns, and host the guests, I appreciated the time, energy, money, thought, and love that goes into those things. My mind set changed from “I have to write a note” to “I want to write a note.” Rather than an obligation, thanking someone became a privilege.

Whenever I get a note of thanks, I relish it, especially when it’s from a grand. Misspellings and poor penmanship don’t matter to me; I love knowing that they (and their parents) appreciate the gift and the love that came with it. Unfortunately, nowadays, people rarely write thank you notes or even thank you emails. We seem to take people, their gifts and kindness to us, quite for granted.

As rare as hand-written notes are today, how much rarer is it for us to remember to send our thanks regularly to our Father in Heaven? What if we couldn’t play with our toys, enjoy our health, use our talents, spend our money, live in our homes, hug our family, eat our food, use our intellect or accept God’s grace until we had properly thanked him? Thanksgiving is our national day of thanks but every day should be a day of thanksgiving. That means seriously thinking about our many blessings, specifying the gifts for which we are grateful, and then actually giving God our thanks and praise.

Tomorrow, when you take that walk in a vain attempt to work off those extra 2,000 or more calories, try listing your blessings and offering your thanks as you walk. You just might find you’re still thanking God for his gifts by the time you return home.

It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do. [Tim Keller] 

Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone. [Gertrude Stein]

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2018 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.