I Don’t Know what To Say

Do you ever get nervous praying in public? When you know someone is looking around the room to select someone to pray do you immediately break eye contact with them? Does praying out loud in front of others just scare you?

Because of my job, folks often ask me to pray at events. It usually starts like this: In a very quiet voice someone leans over my shoulder at the table and says, Would you be willing to start the meeting with a prayer? The person who asks this is often a bit sheepish as though somehow I am doing them a great favor by saying yes so they can get to the next item on the agenda.

I was at an event not long ago and when it was time to open in prayer, the man who was asked to pray bowed his head, carefully took out a piece of paper that he kept concealed behind a podium, and read his prayer. The interesting thing was he pretended he wasn’t reading. He kept his head bowed and it was hard to tell if he was praying or reading but when he turned the page over the secret was out. The prayer was beautiful…full of flowery, lofty words…but it just didn’t seem like this man meant any of it. It was a show. The prayer was a scripted prayer that seemed to be given to present a good image for the giver rather than to present a contrite and humbled heart to the creator of our universe.

Thinking about this I was reminded of Luke 18: 11-14. This is a very powerful section of scripture that tells us what Christ thinks about prayer and how to pray. Listen to this passage:

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.

Just like the man in my story, this prayer was for the benefit of others. Now listen to the rest of this passage.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Some folks tell me they don’t pray because they don’t know what to say. May I just encourage you by saying there is nothing special to say in a prayer. There is not a script for your discussions with God. The story of the Pharisee is a perfect example of this. Just be yourself when you pray. Prayer is an intimate communication between you and your Creator. Just tell God what is on your heart. Talk with Him and then listen. If you get into the habit of constant prayer you will be a part of the most remarkable conversations you can ever imagine. What could be more exciting, enriching, and rejuvenating than connecting to the heart of God. Go ahead…start a new habit of continuous prayer and see how your life begins to change.

Are You Stuck In Winter? Here Are Three Ways to Break Free.

Spring is here and most of us are ready for some warm weather and the change from winter to spring. The dogwoods are in bloom, tulips look beautiful, and I’m ready to put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

As I think about the change in seasons and how much enjoyment this brings, I can’t help but think about spiritual seasons. Spiritually, I wonder how many of us are stuck in winter and can’t seem to find the beauty of spring.

In the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis uses this phrase; …always winter but never Christmas. Spiritually, do you ever find yourself in this situation? In other words, do you find yourself locked in the cold of winter but never experiencing the joy of Christmas? Never experiencing the joy of knowing Christ. Never experiencing the fullness in life that only comes from a relationship with God. For some, it’s always just a spiritual winter. I hope this doesn’t describe you because this is certainly a miserable position in life.

If you are spiritually stuck in winter, here are three ways to get to a joyous spring:

Release control of your life to God: Recognize that if you try to keep the control of your life you set yourself up for a life of spiritual winter.

Spend time reading the Bible: You can’t move into a new season if you have no way to listen to God.

Cultivate your prayer time: Communication is a two-way street. Just as you need to listen to God, you need to spend time talking with Him. Tell God how you’re feeling and ask for spiritual direction. Prayer is powerful.

As spring is upon us, will you consider your spiritual season today? As the flowers bloom this spring I am reminded of the verse in Luke chapter 12 that says this:

And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Knowing that God cares even for the flowers, won’t you allow Him to direct your life? Develop your relationship with God and watch your spiritual life move from a cold, drab winter to a warm and exciting spring.

Are You Scared? Try This.

If today I asked you what you fear, how would you answer? What are those things in your life that really scare you? I’m not talking about spiders or the dark, I’m talking about fears that you face as a part of who you are. Deep inside, what really scares you? Death, sickness, a ruined career, financial devastation…what is your secret fear?

During civil war battles, General Stonewall Jackson always had the habit of riding his horse right on the lines where the shooting took place. Bullets hit all around him. His aides were frequently trying to get Jackson to move to the back and direct the fighting from there. Yet, General Jackson would never move to the back of the line. He was always right out in front encouraging the troops and giving directions. Finally, one of Jackson’s aides again urged General Jackson to move to the rear and here is Jackson’s response.

Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.1

Maybe General Jackson was on to something. Maybe we fear because we are trying to take control when we should be turning the control of our lives over to God. Perhaps deep down inside we all know that we can’t control much of anything that has real eternal significance. We need God in our lives. We need to acknowledge that it is God who has ultimate control and not us.

I suspect that as we release control of our lives to God, we also hand over our fear. Those fears that nag at us will start to disappear. I am reminded of Philippians chapter 4 that says this:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.

Are you looking for relief from your fears and the chance to experience God’s peace? Be like General Stonewall Jackson and turn your fear over to God. Then you can truly focus on the exciting life God has planned for you instead of spending each day of your life in fear and worry.

 

 

1 Speaking to Captain John D. Imboden (24 July 1861), as quoted in Stonewall Jackson As Military Commander (2000) by John Selby.

 

 

I Remember…

Recently I have been thinking about the faithfulness of God.  There have been things in my life that I have been diligently praying about.  One by one, I have seen God continuously answer my prayers.  Yet, sometimes I move right on to the next thing…asking God now to intervene in my next troubling situation. Sometimes I even begin to forget about the many times God has answered my prayers.

I do believe that God realizes that the human mind is just naturally forgetful.  I am reminded in the fourth chapter of Joshua where God commands Joshua to create a memorial of twelve stones to remember how God helped Joshua and the people of Israel through a particularly difficult time.  In fact, God said this to Joshua, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ In other words, God is saying create a memorial so that you will remember what I did here.

So what about you?  Have you created any memorials just to remember what God has done for you?  The next time God does something powerful in your life, I encourage you to get a small object to commemorate the occasion.  Put it on your desk or a bookshelf. Every time you see it you will remember the power of God in your life and be encouraged.  When someone asks you about the items, you will also have the opportunity to tell them about the power of God and the miracles He has performed in your life.

I suspect in very little time you will have quite a collection of memorials representing the work that God has done in your life.  These memorials will serve as an encouragement to you as you continue to seek God.

Just like Joshua and his descendants, as you look at your collection of memorials you will always be reminded of God’s faithfulness and his deep love for you.

Prayer…Really?

There are folks who constantly talk about the separation of church and State, and oppose prayer in our country.  There are those who maintain that the United States was not founded on Christian principles and was never intended to be a Christian nation.  Historian John Fea said this, The idea that the United States is a Christian nation has always been central to American identity. He said if the United States was not founded on the Christian religion than someone forgot to tell the American people.

 As you think about prayer and the history of our country, remember that many of our most popular United States presidents supported prayer and a Biblical worldview.

Abraham Lincoln said this, It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow.

 Ulysses S. Grant, said, Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts and practice them in your lives.

 Theodore Roosevelt had this to say about Biblical worldview and prayer:

Truth and righteousness are of no value to the world until they are embodied in a personality. And there is only one Source of Truth and Righteousness. Except as they flow from the Almighty God Himself, they do not exist.

Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the nation to join him in prayer on D-Day.

Dwight D. Eisenhower stopped for prayer during his 1953 presidential inauguration.

Ronald Reagan said this about prayer, We must also seek help from God…our Father and preserver… the morality and values such faith implies are deeply imbedded in our national character.

This week we stop our activities and celebrate the national day of prayer. If you hear folks say prayer is not a part of our country or even that our country has not been founded on Biblical principles, remind them to check their history.  Even remind them what historian John Fea said…that if the United States was not founded on the Christian religion than someone forgot to tell the American people.  

 If our country was not founded on Christian principles and prayer is not an important element of those principles, I think they also forgot to tell our presidents.