Prayer


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. 

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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. 

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

   to the soul who seeks him.

Lamentations 3: 25

What is so hard about waiting? Patience in times of stress or distress is just not the sort of thing that most of us a wired to engage in, and waiting is hard to do even under ideal conditions. We want answers or we desire relief from the pain, and taking a long view on the presence of these virtues is not something that most of us do not enjoy. Yet, the Lord sees all of human history. He knows its beginning moment, and He is fully in touch with the hour that it all will be transformed back into its created perfection. There is no instant in between that catches Him by surprise. This can be hard to grasp for us, and it can also be difficult to comprehend how the God of grace, mercy, and love can still allow so much hardship, pain, and suffering to exist in an environment that He sees so fully.

For I am convinced that the Lord has the capability, capacity, and power to engage with and to handle any situation or circumstance that He might so choose to do. So, the presence of brokenness in our world is not the result of God’s weakness or of His disengagement or distance from us and from our reality. Instead, the Lord does allow the natural course of life on earth to follow where we have chosen to take it. It was our ancestors that brought about the rejection of God’s perfection, and we are equally involved in perpetuating this process of living outside of God’s will. Still, He seeks after each of us, and He pours out grace and provides the means of redemption for any of us that accept God’s gift of His Son. Even Jesus and the presence of His Spirit with us does not grant immunity to the broken nature of our world, but He does show us the truth of eternity and provide its hope to us even in the midst of our hardest days and darkest hours.

So, the Lord asks us to wait on Him. We can trust in the salvation for our souls that Christ provides, and we can have faith in the reality of a glory that exceeds anything that can be experienced upon this earth. Thus, these moments spent in turmoil and anguished anticipation are nothing more than a brief pause in the journey that this faith in Christ takes us upon. When the place where we are residing in life turns hard and our heart is made heavy by the burden that is placed upon us by the cares of the day, we can turn to the Lord with whatever strength and attention that we can muster up in that time, and we can rest assured that our prayers are heard, that God’s Word will provide wisdom and guidance for that time and place, and that the body of faith will be a refuge of care and companionship through the hours that creep along before the dawn of a new day. Thus, this form of waiting can, in fact, be some of the richest time with the Lord that we will ever experience in this life.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,

   and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment,

   and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for a night,

   but joy comes in the morning.

Psalm 30: 4, 5

David knew a lot about life, for he seems to have experienced a wide range of that thing that we know as living. He knew victory, and he had experienced the direct relationship between faith in God and achieving the impossible. David had lived out human isolation and rejection, which gave him a deeper appreciation of the love and acceptance that came to him from the Lord. He had acted in direct opposition to God’s will and had rejected His Law of Life in thoughts, words, and actions; so, David had also incurred God’s anger and knew that a form of death always follows sinfulness. The king had been raised up by God, and he had become humbled and lowly by the actions of people; actions that the Lord allowed to happen. David had known many nights of sleepless tears, and he had gone through others that were filled with the deep despair that comes when all hope has slipped away. He had also seen many mornings when the sun came up, the song birds sang, and the presence of the Lord was the sweet aroma that filled his heart with song.

This morning song is the part of the on-going process of life that David wants us to grasp and to understand. There will be pain, and we will needfully cry tears along the way. These hard days and interminable nights when worry, fear, and grief are near at hand present us with the need to release emotions and to draw upon resources that come from outside of our strength. These are the hours of life when the Lord’s presence in its many forms can be the reality that takes us through until that first glimmer of the promised dawn’s light touches our troubled eyes. Hope is found in the certain knowledge of Christ’s victory over death and over all of that dark angel’s underlings in the form of disease, injury, broken relationships, and the many other forms of loss that come about due to the fallen nature of this world. We all sin, for we all think, say, and do things that are contrary to God’s will and that operate in rebellious disregard for His Law. Still, Christ has redeemed us from all of this, and God’s grace holds fast to our souls throughout these times.

So, even God’s anger and grief at our wandering away from Him is temporary. The Lord welcomes each of us back with open arms of love as He sings forth a song of restoration and hope. In reality, most of the hard times that we experience during the journey of life are not caused by any personal departure from God’s will. Instead, their presence is the result of the broken nature of our world. We do not bring about illness nor cause it to be present, we are not responsible for most of the injuries that we incur and almost none of them come about due to sinful acts. The pain of loss and the grief that follows are real, but life comes to an end as a result of the fact that this life is nothing more than the temporary first act in an eternal drama wherein our souls continue on into infinity. In Christ, the promise of morning’s approach is present in each of these hard situations. Christ went before us as He went through the darkest of all nights and then gave to us the gift of that resurrection dawn when hope is poured out upon all people of faith. Although we may be living in the dark hour of pain and loss at this moment, Christ’s light of redemption and joy is already poised to break out over the horizon at the dawn of a new day. 

From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11: 36

There are many things that come to mind as the day begins. Some things may be urgent today, or there are issues and concerns that are weighty and complex that demand attention. Some of this even involves the work of the Lord; yet, above all of the rest there seems to be one thing that stands out as most important for me to focus my attention upon. So, here is a truly worthy calling for the day. I should look to God, and listen to His voice in every situation and in all circumstances. Thus, the strength of His truth will overcome all of the wisdom of the world and will redirect my own self-generated logic.

In all of the noise and the clutter of the world around me, Christ is the source that is worth seeking out, and His Spirit is the filter for what I need to know. The Spirit leads me to the truth that is found by listening well to God’s voice as He speaks to my mind and into my heart. He guides me into the center of the Word of Life so that what is true and holy and righteous overwhelms all the other voices that attempt to distract me from God’s purpose. Even the smallest of my activities and the simplest of interaction with others can be carried out in the wisdom of the Lord and for Him. All that I think, say, and do constitutes an act of worship that is consecrated to the Lord.

My prayer is that this day will be lived in a manner that demonstrates my relationship to Christ. Each person that I encounter is precious to Him, and every interaction that I have is one whereby that love, care, and understanding can become central if I subordinate my will to His as I engage with others. During this day I desire to touch the world and in a manner that leaves the fragrance of Christ behind and that leads people to seek out the source of that heady perfume for themselves. I widh to know nothing that He has not given to me; yet, I also know and recognize that the Lord has already given me everything that I will need to take me through this day. O Lord, let this day be one where my thoughts and what I do and say are pleasing to You. So, Lord, I surrender my all to You in the desire that who I am will bring glory to Your name. Amen. 

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

Romans 6: 13

Now make no mistake about this, the work of transformation in our bodies is done by Christ. However, we are willing participants in this process of change. God has never wanted people to enter into a relationship with Him through compulsion or by means of coercion or force. There are beneficial consequences that come about when we do surrender ourselves to Christ, and there are also correspondingly negative ones if we reject or deny Him. Yet, even these earthly and eternal out workings of our relationship with God do not carry with them the idea of force or of compulsion. Just as we will live throughout our days here and on through the expanse of eternity with our decision regarding the person and the nature of Christ, so too we are allowed to freely choose to follow Christ or to not do so.

This is not just a singular or momentary choice, either. We will continually encounter decisions that involve our desires and will and their conformity to or deviation from God’s Word and His will. For, in all honesty, most people want to think, say, and do things that are pleasing to ourselves but not so to God, that are momentarily pleasurable for our bodies but are contrary to God’s law of truth and grace, or that satisfy inner desires and fill voids within our hearts that would be better filled by Christ and by His redemptive love. Some of these choices are small and the outcomes have limited impact upon the conduct of life; yet, they all matter for even these small things accumulate and grow in their aggregate into systematic ways of thinking, and they become wedges that drive us ever farther away from God’s heart and from serving His gospel. Other decisions that we can encounter in our journey are large and impactful at the level of reshaping the course of life, itself. 

As we are in Christ, all of the process of living belongs to Him. We have been purchased away from slavery to death and ownership by Satan and his worldly forces. This transaction was entered into by God, and the price that was bargained and sealed was the death of the historically singular innocent one, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As God’s great love for each of us was poured out in the form of sweat and drops of Christ’s blood that thus formed the medium for our baptism of grace, we are called upon to fully commit our hearts, minds, and bodies to following Christ and to serving His will throughout the moments and the years of our lives. This is a decision that we are given to make continuously along the way; do I surrender my flesh to Christ to be consumed upon the holy altar of service to the Lord or do I hold onto those aspects of it that make me feel safe or that bring personal pleasure and temporary fulfillment? Holy Spirit, inform and guide my choices today so that they will be pleasing to you, Lord, I pray.  

Gather to me my faithful ones,

   who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.

Psalm 50: 5

When Asaph set down this psalm, what he was discussing by way of sacrifice would have seemed clear. There were sacrifices that all righteous people were required to make, and they were done in a specified manner at certain designated times. Yet, even that formal or ritualistic idea of sacrifice would have been limiting and so only partially true for what the priest had in mind here. It is the general idea of sacrifice that is on display in this verse rather than the specifically assigned obligations that came due as a part of the calendar of events or occasions. This matters for us as due to Christ’s sacrifice we are no longer required to make the ritualistic sacrifices, but God calls us to follow Christ into the sacrifice of all in order to fully serve Him and to follow His will in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the world.

The act of gathering before Christ leads to sacrifice. This act requires those who seek to do it to change direction in life and to set out on a new course that has its navigation oriented upon the cross and its objective established as eternity. This new heading may take its followers into dangerous waters and along the edges of deep and precarious precipices. It might cause us to travel far from the company of loved ones and outside of the comfort of familiar places and their customs. This journey might also be one in which relationships define risk and wherein entering into closely connected and caring interaction with strange or with difficult people is exactly what Christ is asking us to do. There is enormous variety in the places that He might send us and in the tasks in which the Lord might ask His people to engage, but their commonality will be found in the need to make personal sacrifice in order to follow Christ’s will.

However, we are not alone in this process as we are never asked to do something without the care and the support of the Spirit and by extension of His holy body, the church. Sacrifice is a personal decision and an individual act of faith in Christ, but it is generally carried out in the company of other followers of Christ, and so it is also supported and encouraged by those people through tangible support, words of truth and encouragement, and in prayer. It is in this way that the modern practice of sacrifice is most like that of the ancient world. In those times, sacrifices were made by individuals in the public setting of the temple. Now, we follow Christ and exercise faith in Him by means of living in a manner that leads to sacrificially giving up of ourselves in service to Christ and to His gospel; yet, we do this in the context of fellowship with others who follow Christ, and it is always best for us to make sacrificial decisions in relationship with that faith community. In serving God today, sacrifice is no longer an event, it is now a way of entering into the new life that comes to us in and through Christ.     

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