How Long, Oh LORD, How Long?

Today’s blog is mostly quotes of wiser men and women than me as they try to lift us out of the morass of hatred into which our nation and the world is falling.  My heart grieves for George Floyd, his family, the blacks of our nation; our churches, our cities, our political, religious and social leaders; our law enforcers, our country and the world that is being deceived by the Evil One.  Yes, Virginia, there really is a devil, and he comes to kill and destroy. (John 10:10

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.”
  Habakkuk 1:2-4

In a Facebook post reflecting on the [George Floyd] case, Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James called herself “frustrated and exhausted.” 
“Black Americans like myself sit up at night with all the normal fears any parent would have when their kids are out, but have to add to that worry that they may not make it home just because they are black males.
“I was stunned years ago when I realized that my white friends did not have have ‘the talk’ with their sons.”  

A Prayer of Lament by: Mark Vroegop  
“O Lord, how long will your church be divided along racial lines?  How long will the lingering effects of animosity, injustice, and pride mark your blessed bride?  How long, O Lord, will my white brothers and sisters not understand the pain in those whose experience is different than ours?  How long, O Lord, will my minority brothers and sisters struggle with distrust and feel ostracized?”  (Mark Vroegop has been the Caucasian Lead Pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis since 2008.)

“We must listen to each other, show compassion and empathy and never turn our backs on senseless brutality.  We need to continue peaceful expressions against injustice and demand accountability.  Every one of us needs to be a part of the solution, and we must work together to ensure justice for all.  My heart goes out to the family of George Floyd and the countless others whose lives have been brutally and senselessly taken through acts of racism and injustice.” Michael Jordan

“As the nation’s capital we applaud the American spirit of protest, especially protest to the federal government.  However, we will not allow continued destruction of our hometown.  Every single American should be outraged by the murder of George Floyd.  However, smashed windows and looting are becoming a bigger story than the broken system that got us here.  I want to implore our residents to think of ways to help and be part of the solution and not be part of the destruction.  We want your voices to be heard, but we also want to protect the safety of everyone in our city.”  Muriel Bowser, the African-American mayor of Washington, D.C.

“I’m duty-bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy.  It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you might be a house or refuge in times of organization, and now is the time to plot, plan, strategized, organize and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth.  It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs.  Atlanta is not perfect, but we are a lot better than we ever were.” Michael Santiago Render, a rapper better known by his stage name, Killer Mike

“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal.’ If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.  This can be a real turning point if we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action.
“The small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence in various forms, whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods that are often already short on services and investment and detracting from the larger cause.  Let’s not excuse violence, or rationalize it, or participate in it.  If we want our criminal justice system, and American society at large, to operate on a higher ethical code, then we have to model that code ourselves.”
  Barack Obama, one of our most divisive presidents who did the least to benefit African-Americans since Richard Nixon.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” Martin Luther King Jr, 1963

I am reminded of the Aesop’s fable, “The North Wind and the Sun.”
The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.
“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”
“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.
With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.
Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.
Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.

And finally:
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Apostle Paul to the Romans 15:5-7)

Keep praying and living for peace and justice.  Never stop until we see Him face to face.
We Shall Behold Him sung by Vickie Winans

What Is It Like to be Black in the Time of the Wuhan Virus?

What do I know about being African-American or black of any nationality? 
I have to admit, not much. 

None of my “best friends” are black, although I have several black American friends on my “prayer walk” each night, some who have been to dinner at my house.  Some of these friends worship with me at my church fellowship, others are acquaintances in our neighborhood.  Lots of friends serve black communities in exemplary ways, and others are international workers who live and fellowship as minority white people in other nations.  A couple of inter-racial marriage partners are close to my heart and we consider each other friends, exchanging occasional emails and travel and family information. I would not hesitate to invite myself to stay with them if we went through their cities, and they know they would be welcome here.

But with such limited interracial exposure, why blog on Being Black in the Time of the Wuhan Virus?  Probably because unless you have been living under a rock, you know who George Floyd is.  But just in case some cicadas coming out of 17 years of hibernation are reading, 46 year-old George Floyd was the subject of a viral video as Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the pavement with his knee on George’s neck until he passed out and died.  This despite George’s pleas to the officer that he could not breath and attending witnesses who requested the choke hold be relaxed. (YouTube video with foul language)

Notice, none of the witnesses was foolish enough to assert with force that George needed relief.  The officers involved were armed, and at one point, when bystanders began to get close to Chauvin, he brought out mace which the bystanders recognized and so withdrew.  But they appealed to Chauvin repeatedly to relax the choke hold, and begged Chauvin take a pulse when George stopped speaking.  But Chauvin maintained the choke hold until he released an unresponsive George to the EMTs. 

George Floyd interestingly was active in Christian ministry in Houston, Texas, and had moved to Minnesota to help with a discipleship and job placement program.  (CT link)  The 6-foot-6-inch tall (200cm) man was called “Big Floyd” and recognized as an unofficial community leader.  He was regarded by the Texans as a mentor and peace-maker in Houston’s notorious Third Ward, a section of the great city wracked with gang warfare and drugs.  The videos deny the policeman’s claim that he resisted arrest.

As a white observer I could talk about the ensuing riots, looting and damage done to the police cars or the precinct station (it was set on fire by a mob), or about the fighting in uninvolved cities where protesters were shot for dangerous conduct (Louisville, just down the highway from Lexington was one of these).   

If only a Martin Luther King would speak to the protesters as the Civil Rights leader did to the marchers before the Selma, Alabama marches. (Selma March News)  I recall hearing his instructions in a speech that I can no longer find online, but the gist of it was that if you could not let a white man strike you with a baton and NOT respond in anger, “Get out of the line.”  MLK wanted no one to validate the abuse of the segregationists and racists who were sure to follow the march.

However, that is not the theme of this blog.  “Now is the time to move past our narrow thinking, worldview, and experience, and to step into the shoes of the other, for the sake of the other.”  (Ed Stetzer)    

  • What is it like to be black and jogging in a secluded community and viewed with suspicion just because you are black and running? (Ahmaud Arbery)
  • What is it like to be blocked from doing your job because you are driving a delivery truck, authorized by your customer to enter, but detained because you are black and therefore must be up to no good? (Travis Miller)
  • What is it like to be over-scrutinized because a black man robbed the store once before?  Did no white man ever rob it? Why am I not viewed with suspicion when I enter the same store?

Remember, Christ-follower, that our best-friend-ever was a member of a minority, likely somewhat swarthy looking, maybe even dark-skinned.  He was in an economically, culturally and politically oppressed group, looked at by his “Roman and Greek superiors” with suspicion and disgust.  How would we treat Him?  Of course, “I would be nice to Jesus,” we glibly say.

Heed His words carefully in this trying time with racial hatred, and social and medical disruption making headlines: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:40) And pray FOR the protesters, even the ones reacting wrongly ().

Ask yourself, What Is It Like to be Black in the Time of the Wuhan Virus?
What is it like to be black and live in America in 2020?

Intermezzo: Haircuts in the Time of the Wuhan Virus!

Last weekend I blogged about patience during this unusual time.  I decline to call it “difficult” because it has been reasonably sane here in Lexington, at least in our neck of the woods.  I have actually enjoyed the quieter time without so many places to go or things to do.  Of course, I have missed our Boomers’ Lunch Bunch once a month and pot luck Sunday night Gatherings.  Having just closed my construction company in December last year, I am kind of enjoying retirement and the virus seemed to put about everyone on the same page for a few weeks, quietly figuring out how to adjust to the “new normal.”

However, I have seriously missed Tiffany, my barber at Great Clips.  Last year I finally found a hair-dresser who tied the apron tight enough around my neck and also cut my hair to look as good as it could!  I usually let my hair grow about four to six weeks between cuts, so I was getting pretty bushy a week ago.  Anita offered to trim me and I guessed the only damage she could do would “heal” in a week or two, not that anyone would see me outside of Zoom or Skype for another couple months.

But her first time out with the trimmers and scissors proved to be pretty good!  Had to ham it for a couple of the pics, but she never pulled uncut hair nor took off any of my skin.  Made me look as good as she could, given what she had to start with!  So all’s well that ends well.  Maybe she can take up cosmetology after retiring! 😉

And as I noted in the last blog, I have gained about 10 pounds (4.5kg) so I need to increase the “outs” if I am going to keep eating ice cream or cheesecake after supper!  So I decided to edge the sidewalk in front of our house without a machine!  Hot work, but over two days with just a couple hours at it, I have depleted half of my gain. 🙂

IMG_0396  IMG_0404 IMG_0410

Patience in the Time of the Wuhan Virus

On March 5, 2020 I went to Turfland Clinic for my INR checkup and was one of very few people wearing a mask.  But that was the beginning of what turned into our self-isolation for the last eleven weeks!  With only trips to groceries and parks, Anita and I have had minimal physical contact with anyone besides each other for over 80 days!

IMG_0375We are up to walking three miles a day without pain.  Once we walked to Boston Road Kroger, about two miles away, and both of us ached after covering four miles for that hike.  So we backed off to two miles and have slowly been expanding the lengths.  This is similar to what we have to do in spiritual disciplines.

Discipline does not happen overnight anymore that that last ten pounds I added came on in an hour, and those pounds will not go away in an hour either.  Even fasting a couple meals will not take them off.  They have to come off one at a time by eating a little less (maybe skip the cheesecake tonight?) or exercising a little more (maybe go for 3.2 miles today and eat the cheesecake? 😉).

The formulas for weight control are simple:
calories in < calories out = weight loss;
calories in > calories out = weight gain;
calories in = calories out = no weight change.
The challenge comes in how I control those “ins” and how I control those “outs.”

Patience as a spiritual discipline is very similar to weight control.  The formulas are simple, but the challenge of how I learn patience, those little “ins” and “outs,” is somewhat more complicated.  Bear in mind we are not talking about salvation here.  No amount of spiritual discipline can add or subtract anything from the completed work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection.   As my brother says, “That boat has sailed.”  It is over and done, and whether you develop any spiritual discipline will not change what Jesus has done for you.

Kind of like weight control and being in a family.  Whether you go anorexic and down to 75 pounds (34kg) or if you balloon up to 400 pounds (180kg) your DNA is still from your dad and mom, and no alteration in diet will change that.  And my wife is going to love me (and I her) whether we weigh 75 or 400 pounds.  (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeM7o0IeMZk for BeautyBeyondBones’ amazing story.)

However, think a little more about this and you will realize that weight control can influence your familial relationships.  Participation in family sports or games, going on trips together, staying up to the same time at night, even sex in a marriage can be affected adversely by unregulated weight, down or up.  In the same way, patience can significantly affect one’s interaction with the Family over which Christ is the head (Colossians 1:15-20).

The most satisfying life with the family of God will come from exercising spiritual disciplines, patience being a major one (See January 8, 2017 and its sequels for more).  A word search on “patience” in https://www.biblegateway.com reveals what the Bible teaches about this important discipline.

Please do not rush to your prayer closet and start praying, “Oh, God, give me patience.”  We need to realize what we are asking for and how He will deliver on His promises!  (James 4:3)  When you ask Father for patience do not expect Him to suddenly wake you up to discover you can endure almost any trial.  Just as in weight control, do not expect to go to bed one night and have Jesus “heal” you by adding or taking off pounds.

What He most likely will do is provide you with those circumstances that will call you to greater patience than what you had last time you needed it.  I could have asked Father for strength to walk four miles the other day, and in special circumstances He has gifted people with unusual physical abilities (See 1 Kings 18:41-46).  Instead, the Holy Spirit told me to stop walking so far in one day and work my way up to it.  (He sounded a LOT like Anita that day!)

When the Wuhan Virus first became a global phenomenon, I was in full agreement with the idea that governments should step in to inform and guide their populations with what businesses could stay functioning and what type of meetings should be allowed.

But now we have more information than what we know to do with, and even if some of it is misinformation, it is time for our government to step back and stop trying to protect us from ourselves.  As C.S.Lewis wrote so eloquently, “A tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometime be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience.”

Thomas Jefferson echoed the same sentiment when he penned, “If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” 

And Ronald Reagan seemed to be on the same page when he said, “Government exists to protect us from each other. Where we have gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.”
SO:

  • Have patience, first with government busybodies who are trying to protect us from ourselves.
  • Have patience with our churches as they attempt to reopen the meeting buildings (which are not sanctuaries; those went away with the Jerusalem Temple in 70AD – – – And have patience with religionists who insist on calling their meeting buildings “sanctuaries.” 😉)
  • Have patience with family, friends, and business associates as you all navigate when it will be best to resume previously normal activities.
  • Have patience with leaders who may move slower than you prefer, or who may move faster than you deem wise.
  • And have patience with me as I work my way up to four miles per day.

I’ll Bet!

2020-05-16 Pascals Wager

I say daily prayers with The God Who Is There and as I get older, I feel a sense of urgency to encourage others to consider the claims of Jesus and what that could mean to their lives.

My mother used to scold me when I would use the phrase, “Well, I’ll bet that . . .”
“You should never gamble; do not bet!” would be her retort.  But here is a bet which I’ll bet even she would approve 😉.

Consider “Pascal’s Wager.”  (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/)  In its simplest form it is the challenge that one who seeks to believe that God exists and lives as such will have lost very little if he is wrong compared to one who does not seek to believe in God and will miss Heaven if he is wrong.  In contrast the former will gain Heaven if he is right, and the latter gains very little if he is right.

Of course, Pascal’s Wager does not address the issue of whether one truly believes God exists or genuinely submits his life to a Creator. (See Hebrews 11:6 and .)

This blog is not out of any sense of being “holier-than-thou” or having any advantage.  Very few of you know anything about my life before Anita, and frankly, I plan to keep it that way.  It was not a good time in my life, and I was not a very good person.  But Someone got hold of my life and led me to changes that have showed how much He loves even the worst of sinners. (Romans 5:7-8; 1 Timothy 1:15)

The wonderful thing about Jesus is His exclusiveness and His inclusiveness.
He is exclusive in that He claims to be the only way to get to know the Creator God.  He is inclusive in that anyone (even I!) can get to know the Creator God.

One of the strongest arguments against following Jesus is that He only appeared to His disciples, people who might have a vested interest in proving He arose from the dead.  However, all of them suffered immeasurably and most were killed because they would not renounce their claims to have seen Him alive after His crucifixion.  This lends credence to the idea that they believed what they had seen.

Chuck Colson, Nixon’s ‘hatchet man’ went to prison for his crimes and there met Jesus.  He says of his experience: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate [the criminal enterprise for which he was in prison] proved it to me.  How?  Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.  Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned or put in prison.  They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.  Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks.  You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years?  Absolutely impossible.”

The attached page (https://wordpress.com/page/capost2k.wordpress.com/16919) gives more perspective on this issue in that it details views of skeptics who do not believe in Jesus, but grudgingly admit that the disciples saw “something” though they admit they do not know what.

So I’ll  bet that if you try Pascal’s Wager, you may find more that you bargain for.

Do You Ever Refuse a Prayer Request?

Again this week I am going to be lazy and abdicate writing a blog.  Actually, it is less laziness than recognition of another author with words of wisdom about prayer, about which I still often feel like a kindergartner (or younger!).  I have blogged many times on prayer ( for one), but sometimes it feels too theoretical, like the conference speaker who talks about evangelism when it has been ten years since he led anyone to accept Jesus’ leadership of his life.  So here is Wayne Jacoben’s challenging advice on prayer that I really want to follow.  “Father, teach me to pray.”
______________________________________________
Sometimes people’s wishes run counter to God’s painful path of transformation.
by Wayne Jacobsen

You would have thought I had just cussed by the way the mouths around the table soundlessly fell open. And all I had said was “I don’t think I can pray that for you.” The woman who had just asked us to pray was perhaps the most shocked of all. My home group had just finished eating dinner, and we were sharing prayer requests. With obvious distress, Kris had told of her daughter’s plan to move in with a boyfriend that weekend and asked us to pray that God would not allow it.

I usually try not to take exception to people’s prayer requests, but I have a low tolerance for requests I think God clearly will not answer. On this occasion, I did not keep quiet. Once they all caught their breath, I explained. “I think all of us here can understand why you want God to stop her from doing that. If anyone here feels that’s what God wants, you’re free to pray that way. I’m wondering, however, whether asking God to override someone’s ability to make moral choices isn’t akin to witchcraft.”

I could see Kris was near seething at my bluntness, so I hurried on. “What I suggest we pray for is that God would reveal himself to your daughter. That he would let her see clearly the choice she is making. And that God will show you how to trust him and love your daughter, even if she makes the stupidest mistake of her young life.” I had hardly finished before Kris blurted out through tears, “That’s exactly what I need.”

We gathered around her to pray. Instead of praying for the situation not to take a distressing turn, we prayed for Kris. What could have been a sympathetic but shallow exercise in prayer became a marvelous discovery of discerning how God works in difficult situations.

Prayer snares
At most prayer meetings a host of requests are made, then a handful of people offer quick prayers until the list is covered. Rarely do we stop to ask if a particular prayer request is in line with what God is doing. Rarely do we follow up to find out how God answered. We are often left praying a list of wishes, not pondering how God might use these situations to shape us or build his kingdom.

My young son awakened me to the folly of this. We were reading John 15 one morning for a family devotion when he suddenly blurted out, “That’s not true!” I had just read the verse about God giving us whatever we ask of him. But my five-year-old was already aware that most of what we prayed for as a family did not happen. I wondered if our prayer practices were teaching him, whether we liked it or not, that prayer is only verbalizing our wish list.

While the exercise of prayer itself offers comfort for the moment, I am afraid many prayer requests teach us to use God like a genie in a bottle. I do not want my son, or my brothers and sisters, to get that impression. I am no longer comfortable praying for things that I am not convinced are in sync with God’s heart.

Five ways to pray with God in mind
Prayer enables us to discover what God is doing, to trace his hand in the circumstances of our lives. Through the vital communication of prayer, he transforms us in the process. Prayer, therefore, is not so much a means of manipulating the master plan, but of being shaped by the master’s hand.

Not all prayer groups are conducive to that kind of prayer. Not all requests follow that understanding. Consider five guidelines to direct your prayer times to foster a transformational, ongoing walk with God.

1. Focus prayer on the people involved.
The temptation at “prayer-request time” is to think only of action points we want God to undertake for us or gifts we want from him. That misses what God considers most important.

When the news arises of a brother going to a war zone, the opportunity for prayer is not to ask God to keep him home. That limits the scope of prayer to events, when it should be focused on people. It also limits the prayers to a specific request, without offering an opportunity to discern God’s heart in the matter.

Instead, address the fears of his sister, the worry of his mother, and the faith of the soldier himself. We can pray that God will mold our courage and our ability to trust, that he will help us overcome fears, and that the brother will recognize God’s presence and serve God in this situation. These are the evidences of God’s work and the kinds of prayers he answers.

I have discovered that smaller groups give us time to process someone’s struggle and help identify God’s work. Even some home-sized groups can be too big for this kind of prayer. I have always found it more effective to break down in groups of two or three where people really take the time to explore the situation together.

2. Seek God’s perspective.
Many prayer requests fit what we think is best but often run counter to what God is actually doing. I no longer pray for things that I am not convinced are in sync with God’s heart.

I love how Peter and John responded to the Pharisee’s threats that they stop proclaiming Jesus or face punishment. When they gathered later with other believers to pray, they did not pray for what would be easiest. They could have prayed God would convert the Pharisees or wipe them from the face of the earth. But they did not see either of those options as fitting God’s design. Instead, they prayed for boldness to continue to do what God asked, even when they knew they might be beaten, imprisoned, or executed for it.

The primary step in prayer is asking God to reveal what he is doing in the situation and pausing long enough to let him answer. One of the things I most appreciate about Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God is that it invites us to trust God to show us what he is doing in our lives. Prayer should be directed by talking together to see if anyone has a specific insight about how to pray for the people involved.

3. Let trust, and not fear, fuel your prayers.
Fear is the death of prayer because it is the opposite of faith. Most of my prayers, even well into midlife, were driven by my anxieties and fears.

I remember praying through our finances, and though we had enough to supply our needs for the present, I was concerned about the long term. I trusted him enough for today but kept praying that he would do something to take my anxiety away for tomorrow. But God did not want me to trust in my savings or the state lottery for security; he wanted me to trust in him.

What most enhances my relationship with Jesus is my ability to trust him, no matter what circumstance I am in. He rarely answers prayers that ask him to fix my circumstances so that I can trust him less. His desire has always been that I would trust him more.

Prayers permeated with a faith-filled security in God’s love and confidence in his character will be more effective than petitions for him to appease me. When I am fearful, I have learned to pray first for my fear and for a fuller revelation of God’s love before I pray for the specific outcome I might want. When I am praying for others, I do the same.

4. Pray in agreement.
I learned this fascinating aspect of prayer from a group of Christians in the Australian bush. The man leading the prayer meeting offered some unusual instructions: “When I’m fearful, I pray first to know God’s love before I pray for the specific outcome I might want. Tonight, as we pray, we’re only going to pray for what we agree upon. If one of you feels led to pray over something, ask the group if that’s something we all sense. If it is, we can pray in agreement. If not, we’ll pass over it for now and move on to other requests.”

I asked him later why he gave the unusual instructions. He said they had learned that praying for someone can become a subtle form of manipulation. “If a man is depressed, then others pray for him to be happy. He’s pressured then to smile at the end of the prayer and say, ‘Thanks. I feel better,’ whether he does or not. Maybe he doesn’t need to ‘feel better’ right now. Maybe he needs to learn to cling to God in the midst of suffering. You don’t know unless you ask.”

If the person being prayed for did not agree or understand the insight, the prayer group would set it aside and see what others might have on their hearts. Often, they told me, two or three weeks after someone had declined to be prayed for in a certain way, he or she would return convinced that was just the prayer that was needed.

By asking permission of one another to pray in certain ways, these Australians were able to maintain a more authentic and honest form of prayer. They also had a chance to share insights and see what God might be saying. It gave them the freedom to pray with boldness when they knew that all were seeking the same thing.

5. Follow up.
Nothing expresses our concern to someone in need more than following up with a phone call a few days later to see how they are doing and what might have happened after our prayer.

If nothing has seemed to have happened since, we can ask God for wisdom. Is he doing something else in this situation than we thought? Is he teaching us to persevere in what we started? Staying in the process until something is resolved will not only be a blessing in that instance but will train us for future opportunities in prayer.

Philippians 4:6 invites us to make any request of God, but it does not tell us to expect him to answer each request the way we want. God is not our fairy godmother who waves a magic wand to conform every circumstance to our whim. Real prayer is the process of getting involved with someone’s need, praying as best we understand God’s work, and then staying in the situation until we see God act.

It is a risk to pray in that expectant way, but it can lead to some incredible prayers. One of Henri Nouwen’s spiritual directors once prayed over him: “May all your expectations be frustrated. May all your plans be thwarted. May all of your desires be withered into nothingness that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the love of God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.”

While I do not recommend praying that for someone you do not know well, here is someone who understood God’s heart in prayer. Teaching people to move beyond their own agenda to touch the heart and passion of God will be a challenge, but it will deepen and enliven your prayer life.

‘My Will Be Done’ Requests
Certain types of prayer requests reflect our human desires more than the desires of God. Do any of these sound familiar?

The trivial: “Let’s pray I can get over this cold” or “Give us a rain-free day for the church picnic.” Our comfort and our plans seem important to us, but might God have something larger in mind? Might the farmers around us desperately need the rain? Our requests should reflect our growing awareness of God’s larger purposes, not just our thoughtless hopes and whims. Some requests trivialize the awesome gift of prayer.

The self-centered: “My brother’s unit just got called up to go to Afghanistan. Let’s pray he won’t have to go.” While I understand the emotion behind the request, it is still misplaced. If he is in the military, why should he not go? God’s purposes frequently include hardship and risk. Should we ask God to trump his purposes for our peace of mind?

The controlling: We are spitting into the wind if we ask God to make other people act according to our will. God does not even force people to adhere to his will. Why should we ask God to make them act according to ours?

The mass-produced: I do not know why we think we have a better chance of getting prayers answered if more people are in on it. Like many of you, I receive prayer requests on the internet begging me to pray for people I do not know, about needs I am not involved in. God’s answers to prayer are not based on a tally sheet. Prayer was designed for two or three faithful believers to focus on, agree about, and fervently intercede, rather than enlisting large numbers of uninvolved people.
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Wayne Jacobsen, a pastor for 20 years, is now director of Lifestream Ministries in Oxnard, California. http://www.lifestream.org.

“Going ‘to’ Church” by Dana Vogel

Very well said, and lovingly presented, I happily relinquish this week’s blog to Dana Vogel to share what the Holy Spirit is teaching her about “Going ‘to’ Church.”
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2020-05-02 Going to Churchby Dana Vogel
We all know it’s important to meet together often as believers for our mutual encouragement. This is true and good. What’s not necessarily true and good, is that many of us equate this with a Sunday worship service. My submission to you is this: weekly service attendance is too much and not enough at the same time. What do I mean by that?

TOO MUCH:
It’s too much simply because there is no command in the Bible to “go to church.” Or to go once a week, or to attend any specific kind of service. In fact, at certain times a believer may not even have the privilege of any Christian fellowship whatsoever (think of Paul in prison, as an example). Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about this a great deal in his book Life Together, where he stresses that fellowship is a GIFT, not a promise.

Now of course we are encouraged to meet together if we are able, as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10:25, “and don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten in the habit of doing.” And Paul certainly talks a great deal about “when you come together,” assuming that the believers were gathering on some sort of frequent basis. But this does not mean our gathering has to be regularly scheduled or look anything like what we have grown accustomed to today. We have self-imposed these regulations, these restrictions. This is the “too much.” As it says in Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”

What does it mean, then, for us to “come together”? While there is not much Biblical instruction regarding the format of our gatherings, the apostles certainly did not mean for us to simply “hang out” either. Paul continues in that same passage, “and when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” It is clear that a large part of our gathering together should be to build each other up in a variety of ways. But this can be done in any context, not just a Sunday worship service. In fact, if you simply “attend” a Sunday worship service as your principal expression of church life, you may be severely lacking in being built up.

This is where the “not enough” comes in.

NOT ENOUGH:
Let’s brainstorm various elements of church expression we find in the New Testament: prayer, worship, instruction, encouragement, spiritual gifts (prophecy, tongues, healing, etc), fellowship, confession, breaking bread, communion, serving the poor, spreading the gospel, etc. etc. etc.!

Or consider the “one another” passages. Here is an incomplete list:
Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11);
Admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16);
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19);
Teach one another (Colossians 3:16);
Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18);
Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11);
Employ the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10);
Pray for one another (James 5:16);
Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16);
Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13);
Stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24);
Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9);
Greet one another (Romans 16:16);
Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25);
Serve one another (Galatians 5:13).

These are the things Paul is referring to when he says “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”  Wow. Consider that: everything must be done! Weekly services are not enough simply because most Sunday meetings can only facilitate two of these elements (worship + teaching, sometimes communion). Not only that, but Paul says that “each one” is to bring a hymn, teaching, revelation, etc. If you are always the recipient of teaching and encouragement, you are not truly being built up! For everyone must participate and everything must be done. Is that what your current church experience looks like?

If not, please quickly guard yourself against self-condemnation or accusation against your brothers and sisters. Instead, ask the LORD to give you insight into how you might engage with his body outside of or in addition to your “main gathering.” It may be as simple as making a phone call to a friend to encourage them or inviting people over for a spontaneous prayer gathering. Think of Acts 12, where believers were gathered at Mary’s house praying for Peter while he was in prison. That was a special gathering for a special purpose. Let us be attentive to those opportunities as well.

Is it wrong to attend a Sunday meeting? Of course not. Is it wrong to forego the service and meet with the body more spontaneously? Of course not. We should not judge each other for how or when we are meeting with other believers – such things are trivial. It’s OK to meet regularly, and it’s OK to meet spontaneously, as long as we are meeting together and doing the “one-anothers”!

So I invite you to consider this idea: perhaps the context/format/environment of our gatherings matters very little, and all that truly matters is that we are
1. gathering,
2. experiencing a rich variety of church expression, and
3. engaging in those expressions as both the giver and receiver.

Let us all be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit into the ‘further’ and the ‘deeper’ of all these things. Let us recognize that the level to which we experience church life is the level to which, whenever we meet another believer, we ask for prayer, offer encouragement, and glorify God; despite the time or place being priorly deemed as holy, important, or “appropriate” for that kind of activity or not.

When I meet up with my siblings who are believers, how often do we read a psalm, or offer encouragement in the faith? When I meet up with a friend to see a movie, do I also ask for prayer or share what the Lord has been speaking to me about that week? This level of devotion takes either an enormous amount of self-motivation and discipline, OR it takes an enormous amount of love for God and his body. The level to which we love him is the level to which we talk about him. And the level to which we love each other is the level to which we encourage each other. If this is difficult for us, perhaps our love for the Lord and our brothers and sisters needs more growth? And perhaps that can be the next prayer of our hearts?

In everything, let us not judge each other. Let us not be ruled by meetings. But let us not stop meeting with each other. Let us listen to the Holy Spirit for how he might want us to meet with his body. Let us be willing to be inconvenienced. Let us look for the ‘more’ of this great Family. Let us love each other deeply. Let us love the LORD most deeply.
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Dana is from Lexington, KY, where she is a part of a simple church community with her husband Diego and son Ari.  She also happens to be a wonderful singer and songwriter.  You can find her music online everywhere and follow her on Instagram @danavogelmusic.