Prayer


So teach us to number our days

   that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90: 12

Moses knew something of the strange fragility of life. He lived out his days, and then they were done. He saw many others do the same thing. Some of them did great things in the world, but spent very little time in the presence of the Lord. Others turned toward God’s way through life in their later years; yet, they were true champions for righteousness during their last days. Moses had always existed under the Lord’s protection. His early days were secured in the house of earthly royalty as he was singularly selected for future greatness, and the Lord never ceased to provide that sort of care and apparently angelic covering for him as he traveled and wandered through life. Every experience that Moses had was a part of the Lord’s preparation for what was to come in his life. Each encounter that he had with the forces of this world was another instance in which he was led by God’s hand to his place of destiny.

As the leader of the exodus from Egypt is nearing his last breath on earth, he is sharing great wisdom and truth with us. Each of our days is something precious to be considered as a gift from the Lord. Every hour that we have on earth is time to be redeemed for the sake of God’s kingdom as we follow His will. This day will never come again, and these hours will not be returned to us once they have elapsed. Now, in truth, none of us do this very well. People tend to focus on the immediate and embrace the urgent as our first priorities. This was true for Moses, and it has remained so for people throughout time. Yet, this fact of human functionality does not need to remain true for any of us. We can be trained to consider the Lord’s will as primary and His direction as the path that we will follow in all situations, under any conditions, and for all of the days of life that are to come.

This refocusing of life will not eliminate the existence of that which is urgent from our days, but it will provide us with a new and more fully defined response to these situations and circumstances. As God’s Word becomes our first and primary source for understanding what is true and worthy as a response to all that life has sent our way, we will also turn to prayer and the influence of the Spirit of Christ in forming thoughts and in deciding what to do. God’s Word, prayer, the presence of the Spirit, and the fellowship of Christ’s body are the tools that the Lord has provided for us to use in order to live each moment of our lives in service to the Lord’s will. When we are fully yielded to this form of service, Christ will lead us into using the days that God has granted to us for the sake of His glory so that each hour of our lives can be counted as one wherein the gospel of Christ was on view for the entire world to see. 

 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1: 20, 21

If you or I think that God is caught off-guard or unawares by the struggles that we have in life, then we have missed comprehending the heart of the Father. Should we ever face the issues that lie before us and see no opportunity for redemption in them, we lack a fuller appreciation of God’s commitment to His people. When we feel as if the challenges that those we care about most deeply are insurmountable, whether they are caused by willful disobedience or by situations and actions outside of their control, we need to open our eyes and truly see Christ’s love, grace, and power in their fullness. This world is a harsh and a difficult place to live. There are many traps and pitfalls that we can stumble into, and the landscape is littered with the debris that is the product of broken lives and failed dreams. Yet, God knew all of this before He did anything.

The Father sent His Son as our redeemer. Christ came into the world as a baby, and He left it as a fully formed man, whose life portrayed the intent, will, and power that God continues to pour out into the lives of people that accept His gifts. Christ now leads us into seeking after what has been promised to us from those times before the creation of the world. That is, we are to recognize that all goodness and mercy in our world come from God, and these unworldly qualities are granted to us in full measure through our faith in Christ and by the working of His Spirit in us and in our world. When we face trials, we are to call upon Christ in that faith and expectantly wait upon His understanding and wisdom to provide clarity and direction for any actions that we are to take. These times of prayer and contemplation can seem long when all that we desire is resolution or relief; yet, they serve the purpose of focusing our hearts and minds upon the Lord and taking them out of the naturally self-oriented place where people tend to go in challenging times.

Turning our deepest fears, concerns, and apprehensions over to God can be hard to do. People are generally formed up and function in a manner that is self-reliant and that utilizes our own resources to provide answers to all of the challenges that we face. There is nothing wrong with any of this; however, if we enter into the storms of life with our own skill and capacity as the complete and full set of resources that we have at our disposal, we are missing out on the greatest of all sources for gaining wisdom that overcomes all adversity and for the endurance that we will need to continue a hard journey to its conclusion. Christ can grant us the vision to see beyond the moment and into the glory of God’s redemption and restoration of all that is holy, good, and just in this world. As we place out faith and trust in Christ, He grants us a form of hope that is greater than all adversity, and He fills our weary hearts with a form of peace that id based upon His unfailing and eternal love. 

The saying is trustworthy, for if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

There are things that are really hard to give up. Some fall under that heading that we call “guilty pleasures”. These include such things as certain television programs, candy and ice cream, and buttered pop corn. Actions like smoking and driving too fast can actually cause harm. Other tenacious aspects of who we seem to be are more sinister. These might involve an addiction to pornography, habitual lying, out of control anger, and other forms of attitude and behavior that are rooted in sinful reliance on our selves as opposed to engaging in radical trust in and dependence upon Christ. All people are born into this world separated from God and His truth and darkened in our understanding of actual righteous living. These sinful aspects of our lives that continue on after we come to know Christ are the remnants of our birthright.

An even more challenging sort of change involves the attitudes that we hold toward our world and the people in it. Christ came into this world to bring an alienated humanity back into intimate relationship with our Creator, God. This salvation and reconciliation are for everyone. There are no exclusions, no exceptions, and there is absolutely no greater and lesser order to this acceptance of people by God. Most of us struggle with this idea. Even if we can readily say that we think that Christ came, suffered, died, and was raised for all, we simply don’t actually believe that this is true. There are always some people, either individuals or groups, who we do not like or trust. It is human nature to consider those who are different and who believe differently as being suspect. We tend to find that it is much easier to extend grace and reach out in loving embrace to people who we do not fear and who look, speak, and think essentially like us. Yet, Christ did all of these things for all of the people He encountered. God’s love, mercy, grace, and redemption are offered to each and every person on this earth.

Whatever it is that each of us is dealing with by way of unrighteous thought and action, big things and small, the foundation for change is ours to pursue. First off, we need to desire that change. Truth is God’s catalyst for change. His Word contains the narrative account of the way that our Lord desires for us to think and to live. Emersion in it is the starting place and the ongoing road to discovery of who God is and who He calls us to be. Time in God’s Word is best accompanied with prayer and meditation. These are times of speaking our hearts to God and of listening to His voice. Study of the word and prayer are inseparable, and these are times when the Holy Spirit speaks God’s deep truths into our hearts and minds. Additionally, God desires for us to live in community. Although real transformative work in us is done by God through His Spirit, He often uses the agency of His body, the church and its people, to support, counsel, and bring accountability to that journey. God has called us to join Christ in death, that is, the death of our birth-life of wastefulness and sin, and then the Lord takes us into the new life of freedom that comes in following our Savior through every step of the day.   

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.

Ephesians 6: 16-19

As Paul is closing this great letter to the churches that he has poured so much of himself into, he asks them to be praying for him in a very specific way. Paul wants to be bold in the manner with which he proclaims that great eternal mystery that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it does not seem as if Paul is asking for much, for he has been a very bold person for a great many years now. In fact, one might say that the Paul that we see and know from the bible was always bold. Even before Christ forced Himself into the trajectory of his life, no one would have mistaken the young man Paul for a shy and retiring personality. Yet, now, at this final juncture of his life, Paul wants to be held up by others before the Lord as he desires to be bold one last time. 

He seeks out boldness, not comfort or even salvation from his seemingly certain date with an executioner. Paul wants to live out his days by proclaiming life-saving and eternity-giving truths to anyone that he comes into contact with. He desires to do this even with the probability that his actions will hasten his own demise. These are not foolish or rash actions on the Apostle’s part; rather, he knows that speaking out regarding the only true path to salvation is exactly what God has called him to do. Additionally, it is why he has been placed where he is and with the people with whom he is in contact. All of Paul’s day to day life is the result of God’s plan and is an outworking of the Lord’s will. As Paul looks back over the years of his life and considers the places he has been, the people he has engaged with, and the adventures that he has known, I have no doubt that he can see God working in each twist and turn of the journey. Now he wants to finish it all with the words of the gospel of Christ upon his lips and the realization that he was bold to his last breath as his final earthly thought.

Paul was truly unique. God crafted him with a specific intent in mind, and the Lord used him to fulfill those purposes. Each of us is also specifically created by the Lord with intentional purpose and with a plan in place for the ways that we will serve Christ with our lives. Regardless of where we are in our journey through life, whether just starting out or rounding that final turn, Paul’s request for boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is fitting and appropriate for each of us. None of us will have Paul’s skill, Spirit directed inspiration, and capability to write out explanations of the gospel for the world to read and consider. A few will be gifted with the ability to preach and to speak of these truths before groups and crowds, and all of us are called into lives of service to Christ and within His kingdom. Each of us can be bold in the way that we conduct our days. That is, we can love without reservation, seek justice for all, care about the needs of those that are powerless, and provide the comfort of grace and hope when life has overwhelmed people. We are to live righteously when our culture implores us to do otherwise, and we can bring the glory of the face of Christ into the dark corners of our world so that eternity touches the wounds of the day with its healing balm of grace, love, and mercy. In short, we can enter into the fulfillment of Paul’s final request and live out the gospel of Christ as our bold proclamation of its wonderous and mysterious truth.  

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10: 17

Some days seem really noisy; for they are completely filled with surround sound quality words and images. Some of this is of my own choosing; as, I turn on the TV, turn up the car sound system, and read the signs along the road. Some of this is the new version of the natural harmonics of the earth; it is an always with us, fill up our auditory processes level of background noise that can saturate our minds with its persistence.

There is little that we can do about much of this. Sure we can turn off or turn down our own electronics and we can focus on the road ahead rather than the signs along the side, but there will still be all of the rest of it. What we can do is choose which voices and whose words we allow to have access to our minds and to our hearts. God talks to us during as much of the day as we will let Him. He answers questions and He speaks words that are encouraging, words that remind us of His eternal love for us. The challenge for me comes in my selection of input to tune in to and in my willingness to listen. 

God tells us to hear Him, for He does speak. God tells us to listen, for He has words of truth for us. This is where personal choice comes in; for me, this involves reading the bible, to take in truth from an unchanging source; it involves prayer, to engage in conversation with God; and it involves opening up my mind and my heart to let truth sink into the center of my being. Then, it involves the continual process of life-prayer; talking with God and listening to him speak through out the day. The Holy Spirit walks in my skin with me, and Christ speaks continually to me with words of truth, wisdom, and love that are His alone. My part comes in focusing my hearing on God’s voice. My reminder for the day is to listen.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6: 18 

The drive to achieve freedom is an ancient one in both the history of people and in our individual stories. It is an essential urge that runs deeply in our hearts and that helps to define the boundaries of our existence. From Icarus to modern astronauts we have been compelled by this urge to rethink and to expand the horizons that create a physical perimeter around our worlds. People will risk all in order to gain even a momentary taste of the air on the outside of a prison cell; while, oppressive governments grind away the spirits of their subjects to the point where we can be fundamentally changed when living under their rule. 

We can strive to gain freedom throughout life. Yet, there is always an illusive quality to it, for regardless of how much freedom we have, it is never satisfying. There will always be something that ties us down and that inhibits us. We will never have enough resources to acquire all of the land that our hearts desire to roam. We can jump on the largest motorcycle made, ride as fast as we can to catch the sun, and there will always be an ocean in our way. If we rely upon this world’s devices and methods, true and lasting freedom will always elude our grasp. 

Yet, beyond all of the other boundaries and stronger than any ropes that might tie us down, there is one aspect to life that is supremely constraining. There is one law of nature that is stronger than gravity. This is the law of sin and death. We are all born into bondage to sin, and we will all live out our lives in a constant struggle for freedom from it. However, Christ gives us the only freedom that actually matters, for His freedom has no boundaries, no horizon, and it is not defined by time, by space, or even by death, itself. In and through Jesus we all gain a freedom that cannot be purchased with anything that we could ever earn, and as we surrender more fully to being slaves of Christ, our hearts and our minds gain an ever-increasing degree of this unimaginable freedom. We can turn to the Lord in prayer continually for understanding of the things that are enslaving us; then, surrender the control of them to Christ, and live in His total freedom. 

The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,

   and he makes known to them his covenant.

Psalm 25: 14

Friendship is a very special thing. It is also rather rare, for most people do not know all that many really close friends during the course of their lives. If there are a few people that can be reflected upon from the past and counted upon in the present to always be there when life’s events come along, then that person has been fortunate. A friend is someone who is in this journey of living without reservation or restriction. That is why most of the people that we would call friends would be more suitably defined as close acquaintances than they are truly deep friends. Friends know as no one else can, and they are people that can be counted upon to tell us the truth without considering the cost, and we can know that they will still love us even when we are not so lovely, ourselves.

The idea that God could be considered as a friend may strike some of you as difficult to imagine, for I admit that It is hard for me to get my hands around that concept. Yet, David was able to do this very thing. He describes a relationship wherein God knows David well and in which the Lord shows Himself to David, too. The fear that is referenced here is a form of respect and reverence that means that when God speaks, David listens. Where the Lord has set out standards for living and gives guidance for the way that people should love and care for each other, David seeks to go about his day in a manner that reflects God’s desired rules of life. As David walked through his days in this close friendship relationship with God, the Lord demonstrated and explained the truth of the extraordinary depth and breadth of His promised commitment to love, care for, and protect the souls of His people. People like David, himself. 

This same form of friendship with God can be ours as well. Following the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and strength also places each of us in a place where God’s deeper nature is revealed and wherein the Lord guides us into living out the details of His will. This journey of faith is not necessarily an easy one. If we look closely at David’s story, that becomes very clear, for he had many challenging and difficult times in his long friendship with the Lord. Still, God was faithful and true to His promises to David. There were times when David was lonely or living in a form of exile, but he was never alone as God was always present by his side and was tangibly so in the way that He prepared the way for David to travel forward. We, too, can know God in this manner of friend. As we talk over life and its joys, burdens, and challenges with God, this prayer becomes the language of intimates. Reading God’s Word brings the Lord’s words of living truth to bear upon all that life throws at us, and living out each day as a person that is dedicated to following the leading of the Spirit, brings that intimate friendship with God into the present reality where we each dwell. 

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