Looking Up

As a six-year-old, I spent some evenings learning from my mother to write in Chinese. She began by deftly forming several Chinese characters at the head of a large copybook and explaining what they meant. I would then copy each of her characters multiple times in a slightly crooked vertical line below her example.

I quickly discovered that, if I simply looked at the character I had just written while writing the next one, I wouldn’t have to crane my short neck nearly as far to examine my mother’s original work. This strategy seemed to work well until my mother came along and discovered that one of my characters had dropped a line, that the one below had dropped both the line and a little box, and that the third was missing the line, the box AND a central stroke. Relying on my own nearby scrawls instead of on my mother’s smooth models at the top resulted in a sort of Telephone game on paper, where each attempt became less and less like the first example. Accuracy came at the price of taking the time to look up at my mother’s work each time, no matter how confident I felt in my own imitations.

The imitation game changed as I entered teen-hood, full of insecurity over how to behave and what kind of a person I wanted to be. I started looking to role models—teachers and youth leaders, especially—to figure out this crazy rollercoaster called life. Occasionally, I had a phase of intense adoration for some female teacher or young leader. I would observe this person closely for several months, thinking admiringly, “That’s exactly how I want to behave when I grow up. I want her poise, humour, gentleness, confidence…I want to be her!”

Unfortunately, at some point in each of these phases, my blissful bubble of blind devotion popped. My practically perfect role model would do or say something which would make me think, “That’s not what I would do,” or worse, “That’s not what God would want.” There would follow a period of disappointed questioning: did I really want to imitate this person? Or was God calling me simply to be the person He had lovingly formed in my mother’s womb? To look up to His perfect example for how to live my life, even if it meant searching beyond the people around me in prayer and in His Word? In daily life decisions, would it be wiser to ask, “What would she do in this situation?” or discern what Jesus would do instead?

Today, I am a teacher with many wonderful teenage students. As much as I long to do right by them and model God’s love and character through what and how I teach, there are times when I fall short. My prayer is that my students learn to see themselves as God sees them and to know the security of being the perfect Maker’s imperfect, but beloved, child.

Thinking back fondly on my teenage “fangirl” phases, I thank God for the wisdom, character, intelligence and confidence these amazing adult women modelled for me. I believe He brings models into our lives who exude His character—we are made in His image, after all—and whom we can learn from, be it in the church or our neighbourhoods.

I also thank God for those “bubble-pop” moments of disillusionment. Although we are made in the image of God, we are not God: “all have sinned and fall short of [His] glory” (Romans 3:23). To look up to more experienced leaders and Christians is incredibly beneficial for a time, especially as we start on the journey of faith. However, to look only to a fellow human to meet our needs for spiritual and emotional growth, and to fix our eyes on that human rather than on their original Creator, can only disappoint us in the end. If taken too far, it leads to idolatry.

I wonder if the apostle Paul understood this tendency to focus on the close and convenient when he wrote, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

These words used to discourage me. How could I ever be just like God and Jesus? Now, I wonder if Paul was not so much calling the Ephesians to contort themselves towards impossible standards of love and holiness, as he was reminding them of whose they were and whose right example to follow. After all, my mother never expected me to copy her exquisite Chinese characters perfectly from the get-go. All she did was gently remind me to look up.

How can we take the time to look up at the perfect Head who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:18)?

Heart (Re)tuning

My palms burned as I held the tuning peg on my cello in a death grip, tightening it millimetre by stubborn millimetre. Would it stay put? Cautiously picking at the string, I heard a perfectly pitched “A” ring out. The moment I released the peg, though, it immediately backslid to the original position, leaving me with a string hanging limply by a piece of wood. As time-consuming as the tuning process took, there was no shortcut if I wanted the instrument to play decently. I just wished I hadn’t let it sit long enough to get *so* out of tune.

In the daily news, harsh tones of fear and anxiety echo throughout the COVID-19 reports, stories of senseless murders and racist attacks, and accounts of other horrors ranging from the local to global scale. Facing this cacophony, I wonder if we as a church also need to regularly check our built-in instruments of worship–our hearts–to make sure they’re in tune.

Too often, whatever thanksgiving my prayers start off with is too quickly buried under a landslide of requests: that God would have mercy on the suffering, that He would keep my family and friends safe, that He would give me a discerning heart for the topsy-turvy challenges of the coming day, that He would give a certain student a helpful nudge to hand his homework in…the list goes on.

God does want to hear us voice our needs. Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father is more than willing to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). In fact, we are encouraged to pray “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). Yet, sometimes, the worries and sorrows and all I want the Lord to do threaten to take centre stage in my conversations with Him, pushing into the wings all that He has already done.

Time and again, the themes of praise and thanksgiving pop up in the Bible. Almost every one of Paul’s New Testament letters opens with a passage thanking or praising God. Curiously, these words of thanksgiving always come first. And I wonder if these joyful prologues serve as heart-tuners. Tuning pegs that pull us away from the “sour notes” of worry, bitterness, shame or irritation lingering in the chambers of our souls. Thought-knobs that limber up the strings of limp, exhausted spirits.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Remember you are talking with the God who:
● enriches you in all speech and all knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:4),
● mercifully comforts you in all afflictions (2 Corinthians 1:3),
● blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, predestined you for adoption as a child through Jesus Christ, redeemed you through his blood, forgave your trespasses and lavished grace upon you (Ephesians 1),
● begins and completes good works in you (Philippians 1:6),
● teaches believers to grow in faith and love (2 Thessalonians 1:3),
● gives us a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:3),
● … (It turns out that the list goes on here, too.)

A friend and I recently discussed what it would be like to begin prayers with at least one minute of praise and gratitude for what God has already done. It’s not always easy. Years of launching into litanies of supplication after only a brief note of appreciation tempts me to spend more time on the “Would you please, Lord,” than on the “Hallelujah! Thank you, Lord!”

But the more I focus on all that this Lord has already done for me and humankind, the more I am awed by His gracious and generous character. Sometimes, the gratitude list gets so long that I never get to the requests. Or, if I do, it is less out of desperation or frustration and more out of trust in the One who gives the best gifts in His time.

While it takes time to tune–and retune–my heart to thanksgiving as it backslides to discontent, fear and other “sour notes,” this promises the hope of living and thinking in harmony with the great Conductor of heaven and earth.

How do you fine-tune your heart to sing in the tones of reverence, awe and gratitude that are due to the loving Creator and Saviour of all things? How can we challenge ourselves and each other to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God” (Philippians 4:5)?

Praying Radically Yourself

praying radically

Have you noticed something different at the end of our last decade? You can see it in services like Doordash and Skip the Dishes. You can see it in demands for services like Amazon and Uber. You can see it in the way food is prepared in
super markets. Many people have moved from doing it yourself to do it for me.

When my daughter was young she got to the place where she would say “do it self.” She was about two. Now, her two-year-old is saying “do it self.” Most of us parents saw this step toward independence as a potentially good thing if it was nurtured and channeled. But something is changing. Youth and adults have become starved for time and overwhelmed by decision making. There is too much information to process everything.

When the average cell phone user touches their screen between 2500-5000 x a day there are a lot of distractions and demands happening and people no longer want to do it all myself.

Canadian author Carey Niewhof says “In a culture where most people feel overwhelmed, overcommitted and overworked, people are willing to pay money for anything that shaves off minutes or does the thinking for them.”

GPS is one example. Pre-sliced apples in stores that cost up to 10x an unsliced apple is another.

Unfortunately,I think, some of this tendency has crept into the church when it comes to prayer. We have become all too willing to let others pray for us and this is sad for one main reason. A praying church is the most powerful body of people designed by God to demonstrate his power and wisdom to the universe.

Superheroes and Starwars rebels have nothing on a church committed to prayer. Paul tells us that Ephesians 3:14-21.

14-15 Paul prays because he is part of a single world-wide family God has chosen, redeemed and sealed. We pray because of what God hasl already done in adoptin us into this universal family. In doing this we remind the enemy and all who listen that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

I don’t know about you but I found recently that when I get too busy and distracted to pray that my world focuses very quickly more and more on me, what I want, what I’m doing, what I need.

Prayer expands your mind and heart toward the fact that God is reconciling the universe to himself and he is doing it through the church as the body of Christ. through the gospel he is bringing together men and women from every tribe and tongue and nation so that the devil and all his demons realize how wise and loving and powerful he is You and I are ment to be part of that story. Let’s read a few verses.

Ephesians 3:14-15 “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

For what reason? – notice those first few words. Look back at Ephesians 3:1 where Paul says “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”

That takes us back to chapter 2 where Paul says this: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who i now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

But because of his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, mad us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from your, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast. for we are God’s handiwork in Chris Jesus to do good works, God prepared in advance for us to do.

Paul is trying to make it clear that none of us deserved God’s favor. In chapter one he tells us we are chosen before the creation of the world to be adopted as God’s children and that God made known the mystery of his will to us. When we believed we were incorporated into his family we were sealed with the Holy Spirit in such a way that our redemption was secured.

This is why Paul starts off his prayer in 3:14 by saying “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

Most Jews stood to pray lifting up their faces and hands toward heaven. Paul is in a state of awe and so he kneels before the heavenly Father who has brought Jews and Gentiles into one family called the church. This is an incredible mystery which astounds the spiritual forces around us. The enemy and his forces try to destroy, disrupt and divide but in the church, God is bringing all things together.

In 2:13-16 “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

When you and I show up as part of a church family made up of people from different tribes, tongues and nations. When we come together from different social backgrounds.

When we come together with different personalities, different hopes, different political persuasions, different tastes in music and food and education – when we act as one, we confound the spirits who are diligently watching what God is up to. When you keep coming here – despite how crazy your world has gotten you are saying something much more than you realize.

At our New Year’s Eve service, we used a puzzle of the nativity to discern spiritual lessons for the New Year. Someone made the observation that each piece by itself didn’t show much but all the pieces together revealed an image that captured our awe. So, it is true with the body of Christ. Together, we show the beauty and awe of who Jesus is and what he’s done for the universe. We pray together for each other in recognition of the great work God has already done.

16-19 We pray not only to remind the heavenly forces of what God has already done but we pray to remind each other of what he is still doing.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have poser, together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Wouldn’t you love someone to be praying this for you? That you might be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. That you would be rooted and established in love. That you would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. That you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Wow. We need to pray this for each other.

Why? Because of the mystery. What mystery? Paul says God has shown us a great mystery which no one understood before – and which few still understand. The mystery is this:

3:6 “The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

The mystery is that through Jesus God has brought all of us outsiders into his family and all the promises he gave to Israel are now ours.

Paul says in vs. 9-11 that he was given the task to make the mystery plain. “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Did you see this again? God is using us, as the church, to show angels and demons how wise he is in pulling all of us together. In a few chapters Paul is going to conclude his letter in Ephesian 6:10 by saying “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God… vs 18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Do you see why we need to pray now? Not only has Jesus brought us into a family in the past to show the angels and demons how wise and powerful God is but now we are locked in a battle with those demonic forces who are trying to destroy what God is doing.

Our battles are not with each other so don’t let the enemy make you think so. Pray for our strength, unity, power, fullness. Pray that God would bring even more members from every tribe and tongue and nation into this body to prove his wisdom and power.

No church exists to show how great they are. We exist to show how wise and good and loving and gracious and powerful God is. As we pray for each other we are doing this so we see God continue to complete the good work he began in us.

If you were to look at this chapter a little more you would see that Paul says that even our suffering is part of God’s plan to prove his wisdom. By hanging onto our faith when things aren’t good, we show that we love him for who he is and not just for the good he gives us. This confounds the enemy. Even when Jesus faced the worst pain, suffering and torture he didn’t abandon his Father. As we hold onto God in trust through the hard challenges of life, we are again a witness to those forces who won’t believe.

We pray to remind angels and demons about what God has done and we pray to remind each other what God is still doing.

Vs 20-21 We pray to declare what God will still do.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Some of our youth have stepped out and want to make a difference on our planet and that’s a good thing – but it’s a small thing compared to what God designs and desires for us. Some of you are engaged in causes which might make a difference for a short time on a few people but God is calling you to something even longer lasting and more impactful. Some are working hard to alleviate injustice and suffering among people and that is good but God is wanting us to engage in alleviating on a grander scale.

Because we believe that God is alive, aware and attentive to what is happening with us we come boldly before his throne of grace for help. He can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. What can you imagine? Sounds like a commercial… but God can do more than you can imagine. Why would he do so much for his church?

Paul tells us in his letter to 1 Timothy (3:14-16). “I am writing you these instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”

The church is the pillar and foundation of truth. We are the vehicle through which the good news about Jesus gets out to all the nations. We are the ones whose prayers unleash the power of the Spirit to transform hearts and minds. Some of our missionaries and ministers, like Paul and Jesus, will suffer great things to get that message out there. They need our prayers.

Is there someone who you can’t imagine would come to Jesus? Perhaps that is the one thing you can do at the start of this year. Change what you can imagine and start praying for that.

God’s Design and desire is to form for himself one people from all over this planet.One people who will join the long line of prayer warriors and praise givers who he embraced his wisdom and power throughout all the generations.

He wants you to step into the family with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel, Esther, Mary and Paul. Don’t settle for sharing God’s goodness with those around you. Step out and start making a difference in the universe.

Estimates say that there are 17,000 ethnic people groups. Of these groups over 7,000 have less than 2% of their population who know Jesus. 40% of the world’s people groups have no recognized churches for people to worship, witness, grow and pray. The largest 50 of these people groups include 1 ½ billion souls. How will these people join God’s family?

I want to finish by highlighting what the gospel did in Korea. Missionaries went to Korea in 1885. In 1974 Korean churches sent out 24 missionaries. 40 years later there were 27,436 Korean missionaries serving in 170 countries around the world.

Korean tradition has people going to church at 5 am to worship and pray before work and in those dawn prayers many have been called to mission service. This priority of prayer and obedience has been transformative in our world.

In Africa, evangelical Christianity, with its focus on the Bible, the cross, conversion, justice and mission has led fights against slavery, poor health, lack of education, famine and oppression starting in the 1700’s and beyond. Africans from the earliest days of the church have played a significant role in leadership. Now, in Latin America, the Philippines and China, God is raising up his church. Some areas are still a challenge in the face of persecution.

What does Paul want us to remember as we start off a new decade in God’s church here?

Why kneel before our heavenly Father as one family together? 1. As a witness to all the universe about what God’s wisdom and power has done in bringing every tribe and tongue and nation into one church through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God has done the impossible.

2. We pray as a weapon on behalf of each other in our spiritual war against enemy forces and to bring power and courage into our efforts to live out our faith before a hostile world. 3. We pray as a work that expands our vision for what God can still do beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Let’s take a few minutes as the church to come boldly before the throne of grace. In this time pray for the realities we’ve reviewed. Prepare for communion.

Restorative Justice?

Years ago, I was part of a community which was given responsibility for the health, education, spiritual life and relationships of 500 students. We had 100 staff members working together to attempt to provide a sense of Christian love and care. Not everyone got this right and students felt the impact of the fallenness of their leaders and their peers.

That school is attempting to adjust its discipline system to one called restorative justice. Restorative justice, according to Howard Zehr and Henry Mika in their focus on principles, sees the primary issue is one of a violation of people and interpersonal relationships. As Christians, we would say that the main problem with the fall was not that Adam and Eve broke a rule but they made a choice which broke relationships. The purpose of restorative justice then is to move from punishment for a broken rule to restoration of a broken relationship. We see that God did all that was necessary through Christ to restore our relationship with Him.

We have a narrow view of rule breaking. The Apostle Paul and the Corinthian church wrestled with these realities in the area of church discipline. We don’t see that while there may be primary victims of a harmful action or offense there are also secondary victims – like family members, witnesses or others in the affected community. The ripples of the rock thrown in the pond of choice travel far broader than we imagine. All these relationships must be addressed in line with the harms resulting from the choice made.

Can this process work in a church as a way of thinking in line with the grace and compassion given to us by God through the gospel? Victims and offenders together provide input into the process so that restoration, healing, responsibility and prevention are all verbalized. Everyone involved is a part of the process so it doesn’t take much to see that there is a lot more investment by the community than one individual declaring the penance for the offender while the victim is left to find his own way toward healing and recovery.

The offender is responsible to make things right – as much as possible. Victims have a big say in what this looks like. The harm to individuals and to the community needs to be understood and processed. Ideally, the offender and victims participate voluntarily. The purpose of everything is to try and make the relationships right. While the process may be painful and humbling it is not designed to be vengeful. Restitution would be a primary goal in many instances.

Community support for victims of offenses, as a way to meet their needs, is accepted by all participants. The community carries the weight of care for members to provide a safe, welcoming and healing environment for all. Reintegrating offenders back into fellowship is a clear goal as is encouraging and reconciling the victim.

Restorative justice seeks to foster healing and reconciliation. The process may bring out “information, validation, vindication, restitution, testimony, safety and support” as starting points. Safety for the offended party is a priority and their input is maximized. Offenders must be involved in the repair of harm as much as possible. Some personal exchange of offender and offended may be anticipated but the offended sets the boundaries of how any verbal exchange may happen. Remorse, forgiveness and reconciliation is a desired outcome.

Offenders also may need to have their own needs for healing and integration into community addressed. The desire is for “personal change over compliant behaviour.” The resources of the community are crucial to this process so that the community is encouraged and strengthened. One goal of the process is to build enough awareness and sensitivity into the community that such actions are limited from happening again.

There is no cookie cutter solution to human relationship problems. Each may find its own unique solution and pathway for community integration and wholeness.

As we share the grace and compassion of the gospel with each other in our community it is good to remember that we are loved more than we can imagine.

We prayed

praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd

Well we did it. We celebrated Resurrection Day. We affirmed that Jesus is alive in this universe, in this world he made, in this country he rules, in this church he leads, and in us individually. He is alive.

He is alive and so we prayed. We prayed in our small group Wednesday night; we prayed in our Thursday morning prayer time from 8-10am; we prayed in our staff meeting; we prayed in our accountability sessions; we prayed as we sat down for meals and as we started our meetings. We prayed because we know there is no one else who can handle all that is happening except the one who lives.

He is alive and listening to our prayers. He is alive and responding to our prayers. He is alive and prompting our prayers. He is alive and interceding for us.

In this past Thursday morning prayer group we started praying for those who needed some specific care from the Good Shepherd. We started at 8 am and by 10 am – with only one break for a few songs – we prayed continuously for person after person after person… It became clear. Every single person in our church family and beyond needs the gracious touch and care of Jesus.

We took time in the middle of all that to reaffirm who we believed God is. That was crucial to keep us from feeling overwhelmed.

Tim Keller (prayer, p. 97-98) reminds us of John Calvin’s first rule of prayer which focused on the principle of reverence for God. In helping focus on the magnitude and seriousness of prayer he says “it is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the Universe.” He draws us to consider the sense of awe and reverence we experience as we realize that the one we dare to approach is such a glorious majesty that we dare not grieve him – and so we experience a strange mix of joy, grace, humility and fear of grieving or dishonoring him.

He is not only alive but he is near. The insert in our bulletin reads as follows:

God continually moves into our neighbourhood. He is not a God who can be restrained or reduced. He can’t be managed or manipulated. He can’t be contained or confined.

I can celebrate a God like ours because when He says something He means it. He does not change. When He promises something, He can do it. When He puts me under His protection there ain’t nobody going to get through to me. Our God is an awesome God. He’s a Rock and a Refuge. He’s a Savior and a Sovereign. He’s the Creator of the Universe and the Conqueror of Evil. He’s the High and the Holy. He’s the One and only Hope of Humanity. Do you know Him?

Our God is the God who overcomes unbeatable giants, unscalable walls, and uncrossable seas. Our God is the God who brings something out of nothing, who breaks the chains fo the captives, who walks us through the valley fo the shadows without fear. Ur God is the Shepherd and the Shaper, He’s the Guardian and the Guide. He’s the Lover and the Loved. He’s the Almighty. Do you know Him?

God personally has moved into our neighbourhood and He does expected us to represent Him there. That’s why we spend so much time on our knees.

What Should I Ask For?

The Lord’s Prayer is a great template for us as we begin to grow in our intentional communication with God. We see him as our Father, someone to be honored in his place of authority as we submit ourselves to his designs for our life and our world. We express our trust in his protection and provision. We anchor our hope in his commitment to bring glory to his name.

As we turn the focus of our intercessions onto the others around us we look at how Paul prays for believers. He seems to focus constantly on the importance of a rich personal relationship with a Sovereign Savior who will never let anything get in the way of his love. He constantly focuses us away from the challenging outward experiences we endure and refocuses us on the Lord who walks with us through those hardships. This is the only way to find peace in the world we live in.

It’s who we are in secret, when no one else is watching, which counts – How thankful, how thoughtful, how gracious, how generous, how peaceful. Our time in prayer is what mirrors our internal reality as we walk back into our circumstances. It’s who we are in secret, but it is also who we are in community as we join in corporate prayer. The balance of public and private prayers are essential to growing as a disciple of Christ.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 25), says “When your prayer life finally begins to flourish, the effects can be remarkable. You may be filled with self-pity, and be justifying resentment and anger. Then you sit down to pray and the reorientation that comes before God’s face reveals the pettiness of your feelings in an instant. All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces. Or you may be filled with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about. You laugh at yourself and thank God for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective. Eventually, this can be the normal experience, but that is never how the prayer life starts. In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until … we get through duty to delight.”

Finding creative ways to pray with each other can encourage this intimacy of communion with Our Father in heaven. Try popcorn prayers – short sentence prayers where others can pop in – focus on who God is, on what you’re thankful for, on specific intercessions for others.

What do the following verses say to you in their context?

John 14:13, 14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

John 16: 23, 24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Now, what will you ask for in Jesus’ name?

Does Prayer Change Anything?

One of the most frequent requests I get as a pastor is for prayer. Regardless of whether the issue is sickness, finances, relationships, housing, spiritual confusion or lack of wisdom the natural desire for many of us is to ask for prayer. But does it really change anything? Is it supposed to change something?

Significant parts of our North American culture seem to have regained some curiosity around issues of connecting with some form of spirituality. Mindful meditation seems to be the buzz word for the current trend. Eastern forms of mysticism, First Nations’ spirituality, and new age philosophy have infiltrated our culture and even superseded disciplines of a crumbling institutional church.

Within the growing and emerging churches there is a reflection back on ancient practices of contemplation, centering prayer, listening prayer and divine readings designed to promote communion with God. Francis Chan focuses us toward the intimacy of relationship with our Father God through prayer.

Throughout the centuries Christian thinkers have recognized that prayer involves heart, mind, soul and even body. Prayer intertwines intellect and emotion with will and experience. It is a conversation of love between two persons committed to each other.

The apostle Peter (I Peter 1:8) says “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Perhaps this is the first thing that is changed – us. Prayer reorients my heart toward God and what his desires are and it engages my spirit in wrestling for truth in a world that works hard to distract, discourage, and raise doubts in me.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 18), says “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

I watched, with pride, as a group of young professionals gathered in the balcony prior to our Sunday service to pray. They were praying for our technology problem when everything else they’d tried hadn’t worked. Moments later, and seconds before our worship team began its first song, a button was pushed and everything worked. God’s grace wasn’t lost on any of us who saw that moment.

Clearly, prayer changed something. What has it changed for you?