For Us or For Us

Language can be tricky, and sometimes when we hear or read something, the words and the wording can seem ambiguous. Then add in our perspectives and frame of mind and our understanding can be different from what was actually meant. 

I experienced this as I was meditating on Romans 8:26. “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” (NIV). I’ve always understood the verse to mean the Holy Spirit prays to the Father for us, as in defending or pleading our case as a lawyer would. Maybe you’ve thought of it this way too. I’ve heard it explained like that. But when I looked at other translations, I found wording that caused me to say “miners, not minors.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, this is a line from Galaxy Quest, one of my top ten movies of all time. When the crew are out searching for a beryllium sphere, they come across some child-sized alien creatures, who extract the beryllium from the ground. Gwen says, oh how cute, they must be minors. Dr. Lazarus says, miners, not minors! 

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way: “In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t pray for us, he prays for us. He takes our garbled, jumbled thoughts that we aim at God and call prayers, and translates them into wordless or inarticulate groanings. 

Even though we often don’t know how to pray, what to pray for or just can’t find any words, we don’t have to worry about it. The Holy Spirit is always helping us by merging our own wordless groans with his. Knowing that he prays for us makes me thankful for the freedom he gives us through his grace, even when it comes to praying.

High on God’s List

As I was praying about something, the thought popped into my head that my request probably wasn’t very high on God’s list of prayers to answer. There are many needs more urgent and dire than mine. And then I wondered where that thought came from. I know God loves me and cares about even the smallest requests, but sometimes I feel like I’m bothering him with my perhaps smaller needs. I even bug him about things like trying to get back to sleep in the middle of the night.

Having those thoughts reminded me of Philippians 4:6 in the New Living Translation: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” I also thought of Matthew 10:31, when Jesus talked to his disciples about what they would be doing when he sent them out: “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (NLT). And Matthew 6:28-30 (NLT): “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?”

These verses reminded me of what I already knew but seem to have forgotten during my late night prayer – I am high on God’s list. My prayers matter to him. He cares about me more than the little birds and takes care of me better than the flowers that spring up and die just as quickly. You are high on his list too. He wants us to bring all of our cares and concerns to him, no matter how small. We don’t ever have to feel we or our prayers are too far down God’s list for him to listen or answer. 

Make a Pearl

The last couple of years have been challenging to say the least. Many have experienced a range of negative emotions and it’s not been easy to maintain our equilibrium. We all have our favorite coping mechanisms (Hallmark movie anyone?) and some are better than others. It’s easy to say just trust Jesus, and yes, my faith and trust in him is how I cope with life. But in difficult situations, I sometimes need a little help to turn my focus back to him.

A devotional from YouVersion (a Bible app with devotionals, different translations and reading plans) mentioned turning our irritations into pearls, much as oysters do. (Sorry I can’t remember which one so I can’t give credit.) Most of you are probably familiar with how a mollusk can cover a grain of sand or other irritant with nacre to form a beautiful pearl. An oyster doesn’t complain, just gets busy covering that irritant with aragonite (a mineral) and conchiolin (a protein). These are laid down in layers and can take two years to form the pearl. 

We don’t have any kind of automatic way to cover irritants in our lives, but we can choose to cover them with prayer, rather than let them wear us down. When I let something continue to bug me, it seems to grow and make me miserable. But I can remind myself to make a pearl, praying for God to lay down a layer of patience, peace and equanimity. By choosing to focus on Jesus and his always sufficient grace, I am laying down a layer of surrender, trust and dying to self. Just like an oyster, I also have to continue covering my irritants over and over in layer after layer, waiting patiently for the pearl to form. 

From now on, when something, anything, bothers me I’m going ask Jesus to help me make a pearl. One day, my spiritual jewelry box could be full of beautiful pearls rather than the sand and grit of bitterness, resentment and a bad attitude.

Breathing as Prayer

All living beings have a few things in common, two of which are eating and breathing. We don’t even think about the latter unless we are having trouble doing it or practicing deep breathing. Our bodies do it autonomically, allowing us to concentrate on other aspects of life.  

What if prayer were as easy as breathing? Sometimes we make it more complicated and difficult than it really is. I know this from personal experience, as many others do. I used to believe the time of day, position, duration and location were all prerequisites for proper prayer. I have learned otherwise since I discovered that grace is a major factor in prayer. God is more interested in what’s in our hearts than any of those above listed “requirements.” 

The good news is prayer really is as easy as breathing. Some call short prayers that can be said with one inhale or exhale breath prayers. They obviously don’t take the place of regular, more-than-a-few-minutes prayer, but they are helpful as you go through your day. They direct your heart and mind back to God and can be any type – praise, worship, lamentation, friendly chat or simply reconnecting with him during a long day. 

Here are some of my favorites: your mercies are new every morning; I have been crucified with Christ; I am in you and you are in me; the Lord liveth and blessed be the Rock; I love you because you first loved me.

Any verse (or song lyric) can be made into a breath prayer. It’s as easy as inhaling – Lord, you’re my shepherd; and exhaling – I have everything I need. Easy as breathing.

Divine Awareness

God, are you there? Are you listening? Can you hear me? Many prayers have begun this way, especially in movies and books, to show the character’s doubt or disbelief in God. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t wonder if God listens, because you know he does. We can be sure of this because of the many times we are told to pray, by even Jesus himself, and the many examples of prayer in the Bible. We can read of answered prayers and the times God has spoken to his people.

I read an enlightening little book called Whole Prayer by Walt Wangerin. In it, he says “God’s listening precedes our praying, so that we pray into a divine and merciful awareness, already waiting and knowing what we are about to say.” I found this encouraging for those times (I must admit) when it seemed I either wasn’t communicating very well with God or I wasn’t hearing anything back. Even though prayer is so simple children do it successfully, it can sometimes seem difficult and even uncomfortable.

To know we pray into a divine awareness can change our perspective on this mystery of prayer. He’s not just listening, but actively aware of us, already knowing what’s on our minds and in our hearts, and not just knowing, but understanding in a deeply intimate way. He doesn’t disconnect with us when we finish our prayer, like we’re on some kind of cosmic telephone call, and then wait for us to start praying again to reconnect. His awareness of us doesn’t end, has no limits, is divinely merciful, compassionate and loving. We don’t need formulas, positions or rules. Prayer is his mind to our minds, his thoughts to our thoughts, a more incredible experience than a Vulcan mind meld.

We don’t have to wonder if he’s listening if we remember we pray into his divine awareness. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be as aware of him as he is of us?

Not Merely Communication

Verbal communication is unique to humans. We communicate differently with the various people in our lives. I speak and share differently with my daughter than I do with the postal clerk. We don’t talk to babies the same as we would to a coworker. We seem to know instinctively how to communicate with people, but we sometimes have trouble knowing how to pray effectively.

Prayer is normally thought of as the way to communicate with God and it is. It’s how Jesus kept in constant contact with his Father and it’s how he told us to do the same. But it goes deeper than just casual communication, doesn’t it? Talking to God is more like communing or having communion with him. Dictionary.com says commune means “to converse or talk together, usually with profound intensity and intimacy” and intimacy is defined as “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group; a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding.”

Jonathan K. Dodson, the founding pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, wrote in an article that communing with God cements us together. “Prayer fosters this bond [of closeness] with God, cementing our souls with him through shared delight in the gospel of grace.” I like that idea, being cemented to God.

I can’t give you three easy steps to deeper communion with him, but I do know it takes time, solitude and silence – good ways to start. Speaking with God is unlike any other communication we can or will ever have, but it’s not rocket science. Just start talking – and keep talking (listen too) – and trust the Holy Spirit to take you deeper.

Another Reason to Pray

People pray for many reasons – help, encouragement, praise, gratitude, desperation. And we’ve probably prayed for all of these, in different prayers or even in the same one. We pray silently, out loud, through tears and sometimes laughter. God listens to all kinds of prayers, said for all kinds of reasons.

Maybe you don’t need another reason, but this quotation might give you something to think about. It sure struck me as worth consideration. “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life” (Paul Miller, A Praying Life).

More than a reason to pray, this is an underlying attitude to a life lived in and for Jesus – surrender of our wills, dying to self and acknowledgment of the sovereignty and supremacy of God. Our time, money and talents all come from him anyway and on our own, aren’t worth much and don’t get us very far. But in the hands of God, they are like the loaf and bit of fish Jesus used to feed the multitudes.

Prayer, Pure and Simple

(Sorry about no post Tuesday. We were without power for over 24 hours due to fires in the area.)

I decided to give equal time to showing the positive side of devotionals. I’m reading one on prayer by Pete Briscoe, who said we might need to throw out our old ideas about prayer and think of it in a new way. It’s not new to some of us, but the implications are far-reaching enough we could all give it some thought – and prayer.

He said, “Most of our traditions, teachings, and examples miss the simple, pure, liberating essence of prayer: prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you.” This understanding changes the way we pray – a conversation is two way; an intimate one is between two people or in this case, one person and a Father, who love and know each other well. And it’s not just one chat a day during your quiet time, but “a never-ceasing intimate conversation.”

Briscoe also points out that it’s liberating to realize we don’t have to follow any of the traditions and teachings we may have heard all our lives. I don’t pray the same as you and you don’t pray like me. We all relate to our Father God in our own unique way so it makes sense we would all talk to him differently and have our own way of relating and being with him. This also eliminates the guilt most of us have carried or still carry with us. In Christ, we can converse with him freely, simply and purely, from our hearts, with no reservations or inhibitions, just as we would with a close friend, because that’s what he is.

Praying Psalm 63

Psalm 63 (NIV, 1984) is one of my favorite psalms—but only the first eight verses. I must admit I stop reading there. I have memorized these verses and often make them my prayer or my meditation. For me, this psalm contains and highlights the goodness of God and helps me focus on him rather than on myself or my problems. I hope you find this psalm as inspiring as I have.

“O God, you are my God.” Only you are my God, not money or fame or any of the glittering idols this world offers. Help me be more single-minded in my devotion to you.

“Earnestly I seek you.” Help me desire and seek you more than anything my fickle heart wants.

“My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” I need and enjoy you. Please give me a stronger desire to spend time with you in prayer and in your Word and remind me simply to enjoy your presence.

“In a dry and weary land where there is no water.” This world is like a dried up leaf, in great need of your healing, soothing balm. I get dry too; lead me to the river of your Spirit and quench my thirst.

“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” When I look at the moon and stars and gaze on the beauties of nature, I am in awe of your majesty, power and glory.

“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Nothing is better or stronger than your unconditional love. I have experienced your love and grace and know you will never leave me or stop loving me.

“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” You deserve continual praise; I lift up my face to receive your blessings and lift my hands in surrender to your love.

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.” You and your goodness are a feast for my weary soul; you fill me up with heavenly delights and satisfy me as only you can—with yourself.

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.” You watch over me as I sleep; when I awake, you are there. I am always in your tender loving care and feel your loving kiss on my cheek as you sing me back to sleep.

“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” I have nothing to fear from my safe place near your heart.

“My soul clings to you.” I hold on as tightly as I can. Help me never let you go.

“Your right hand upholds me.” Thank you for holding me with the ferocious love that went to the cross for me. Amen.

God adds faithfulness to love

“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness” (Ephesians 6:23, NLT).

English: The apostle paul reading by candlelig...

Prayer is how Christians participate in the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. It is as easy as simply talking to him, but sometimes, especially when praying for people in difficult situations, we find ourselves at a loss for words. In this short prayer, tacked on to the end of Ephesians, Paul gives us not only a sample prayer but insight into the heart of God.

God is love (1 John 4) and he is faithful. Because we know this about him and we know he hears us when we pray, asking him for love with faith is a prayer he will always answer. We all need both, so we can pray this for others and ourselves in any and every situation with complete confidence. God doesn’t withhold himself from us but is eager to share and help us through life with these and every fruit of the Spirit—and all we have to do is ask. I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind if we echo and even copy his prayers. They are timeless, insightful and reflective of God’s heart for us.