Meditating on the Commands of Christ (51): One Prayer Worth Repeating . . .

There is one prayer that can never be repeated too often. It’s so simple a young child can learn it but so profound that only those who have surrendered their hearts to God can confess it with sincerity. Through this prayer, we affirm God’s fatherhood, our sonship, and His holiness. We bow before Him in submission to His will, asking for his blessed kingdom to come to earth and for His will to be done on earth. We acknowledge our dependence on Him for the most basic of our needs and ask for His forgiveness based on our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us and are indebted to us. We ask for relief from temptation and deliverance from evil. We confess these truths as self evident: God is the rightful king of the world; all power belongs to Him; all glory is and ever will be His. In this we rest content and live at peace.

This was our Lord Jesus’s prayer, and this is now our prayer! There are no end of reflections that could be made on this prayer. It is a model for us. Do we need to repeat it word for word? No, but why not? Was it intended as a model for what we should be praying for? Yes, but it also encapsulates all that we usually fret about, and all our needs are subsumed under this rainbow. It expresses our faith in God and our eagerness to see His perfect will accomplished. In this simple prayer, all of our material needs are reduced to the only thing we really need for continuing life: sustenance.

Years ago, I worked with a group of people bringing Bibles to believers in China. Many of the Chinese Christians were severely persecuted, and most suffered deprivation for their faith, as they were discriminated against by the Communist Party. Above all else, I was moved by one of the songs they sang, which said they didn’t need any bread but the manna from heaven (the Bible). It isn’t a song we sing in America, so I don’t even know how to share the lyrics with you, but the message always brought tears to my eyes. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oh, to be so focused on the Word of God as that which nourishes our souls! Is it even more critical to our existence than physical bread? Do we treasure the Bible above any other earthly possession?

And, what about forgiveness? My sister sent me this bit of tongue-in-cheek wisdom from Orlando: “A happy home is one in which each spouse grants the possibility that the other may be right, though neither believes it.” Or, how about this rather pompous thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I suspect most of the time, we’re not 100% in the right, but even when we are, God calls us to forgive. That’s one of the hardest things we’re ever asked to do, because we have to absorb the shock of injury and suffering at the hands of another person. But, that’s what Jesus did for us, and that’s what He wants us to give others as a gift of love from God through us to them. Mercy. Help us to be merciful!

What about this one? “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” This isn’t just about keeping us from getting shot when we’re innocently walking down the street. It isn’t only about helping free us from addictions that enslave us and make us miserable. It’s also about resisting that delectable piece of pie that we don’t need after we’ve already eaten an excellent dinner and are full. It’s about avoiding the mall when we don’t need a new blouse. It’s about cooking dinner at home when we’d rather eat out. It’s about visiting the sick or grieved when we’d rather sit at home because we’re tired. It’s about living out the life of Christ when we’d rather indulge ourselves. Are we willing?

What an amazing prayer! Have you learned it? Do you repeat it at church or before you get up in the morning? The prayer our Lord taught us to pray gets right to the heart of who God is, who we are, and what we really need. It’s worth repeating!!

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Combining Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. )

“Our Father Prayer” Sung by Andrea Bocelli at the New York DreamCenter

(Photo of painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (50): A Consideration in Prayer

Do you have a favorite prayer you recite at certain times of the day? When I was ten, my two best friends were both devout Catholics, and one wanted to be a nun. No matter what we did during the evening, Susie would always end her day by repeating a cycle of prayers on her rosary, explaining that if she could fall asleep without sinning after this recitation, she might be able to go straight to heaven without needing any time in purgatory. Being a cultural “Christian” (based on being born in America), I knew nothing about the mysteries of purgatory or rosaries or the meaning of “Hail Mary, full of graces,” but I did admire her devotion and would definitely try to fall asleep quietly (at least most of the time) to honor her wishes.

A few years later, after hearing the best news ever—that Jesus died to save us all from our sins and wants us to turn to him in faith, accepting his gift of eternal life—I began to pray too, although I went to a little baptist church, where we were taught that praying is more about talking to God, who is our Father. Instead of reciting prescribed prayers, we were encouraged to open our hearts and let all our thoughts tumble out, the way a small child pours out his heart to a tender-hearted parent.

I don’t want to deny the efficacy of memorizing or reciting prayers, but I do want to encourage anyone reading this to consider praying to God the way you would talk to your father. (Or, if your father was unavailable or not good to you, then pray to our heavenly Father with the recognition that He is better than the very best father who ever lived on earth!)

If this seems irreverent to you, or uncomfortably intimate, consider that we are instructed in Hebrews 4:16 to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” If you have never asked God to become your father and Jesus to become your savior, please do! Come to him for mercy and grace! His arms are wide open! No matter who you are, God loves you with an everlasting love and longs to receive you into his family! Last week a friend said there had been just 18 inches between hell and heaven in his life . . . the distance between his head and his heart. Until well into his adult life, Randy had a head knowledge of God, but it wasn’t until he embraced Christ with all his heart as his Lord and Savior that he was born again and on his way to heaven.

On the other hand, if you are already saved by faith and a child of God, then the omnipotent creator of the universe has become your “Abba” Father! According to Strong’s concordance: Abbá – “Father,” “is also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; ‘daddy,’ ‘papa‘.”

So, prayers don’t have to be anything fancy or formal, any more than you’d ignore your two-year-old unless he could speak with the eloquence of an adult! God knows what’s in our hearts, and He wants us to share with him, just the way we long to share with our children . . . even our adult children! My “kids” are now 28 up to 44, but I will never stop wanting to hear “all about” whatever’s going on in their lives! Right?!

I have a girlfriend whose kids sometimes say she’s too nosy about their business. I love her response: “I ask too many questions because I love you too much!” God loves us more than the world’s nosy-est, most loving parent! Please, please talk to Him!! He’s here! Because he’s omnipotent and omniscient, He has all the time in the world for each one of us! He’s not too busy! He can carry on an infinite number of conversations at the same moment! He’s available. He’s knocking at the door of your heart! Have you let him in? If not, will you let him in? May we not only let Him in, but may we make the King of the Universe welcome as the resident King of our hearts as well!

Matthew 6:7-8 “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

“Abba Father” sung in Korean (with English subscripts)

(Photo of the painting of Jesus praying by Yongsung Kim is used by permission of Havenlight.com.)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (49): Where to Pray

Since the essence of genuine prayer is communion with God, we can pray anytime and anywhere. We can pray kneeling by our bed or lying in our bed, while speaking to our boss at work or sitting alone at home, as part of a gathering or as part of a retreat, with arms extended on a mountain top or arms folded in a closet. It’s like eating green eggs and ham. It’s good whether we’re with a fox or in a box. God is here and there and everywhere.

Prayer is like breathing. It’s the spiritual life-giving exchange of ideas with God, like receiving oxygen when we inhale. We don’t have to speak; He can hear the silent cry of our hearts! No one can stop us! We don’t have to move a single muscle. If we’re too tired to form thoughts, we can simply rest in His presence. We don’t need light; we can pray in the dark. We don’t need wisdom; we can ask for wisdom. We don’t even need faith; we can ask for faith too! Whatever we need, we can ask. He invites us to ask, but truly, we don’t even need an invitation!

However, Jesus does give this instruction: Prayer is to be genuine. Pretending to pray isn’t praying. You can pretend to pray anytime and anywhere, but it will get you exactly nowhere every time. Ingenuous prayer may catch the attention of others, but God will not hear: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Prayer must come from a sincere heart, directed straight to the heart of our sincere Father. Honest, earnest prayer from a humble heart offered up in secret will bear spiritual fruit. God will hear us and reward us for seeking Him and His help. What a blessing to have this most intimate and immediate resource available to us every moment of our lives! We can commune with God!

If you’ve never read the little book by Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God, I’d like to commend it to you. Your library may have a copy, or you can buy it for $5.95 on Amazon. It’s short and sweet, and it walks readers through the practice of focusing spiritually so we’re more fully aware of living in the presence of God and can better apply the injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to, “Pray without ceasing.” Sound good? It’s great! In fact, it’s the greatest thing in life to me!

Text for this Meditation: Matthew 6:5-6 “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (45): “Pray for Them”— Which “Them”?

The “them” is “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I’ll tell you, the concepts Jesus taught are so radical it’s no wonder he was both amazingly popular and singularly hated at the same time!

I just finished listening to an interview between Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson. Prager identifies himself as Jewish; Peterson identifies himself as a “Christian” who does not believe in God. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) So, I don’t exactly agree with either of these men spiritually, because I do believe in God, and I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, despite religious differences, I still respect what they are attempting to do, which is to live out their understanding of truth, and most of their understanding of truth comes from both the Judeo-Christian scriptures (which they believe is corroborated by their research and life experiences).

Although I’m not politically savvy, it was obvious from their discussion that Peterson has come under a lot of fire for his stand against “political correctness” pressuring American and Canadian society to conform to speech regulations that are contrary to “biblical correctness.” I haven’t followed either of these men closely enough to know what all they believe or teach, but one clear message that came out of the interview was that Peterson is both immensely popular and immensely hated. He mentioned that at one time 200 of his fellow colleagues signed a petition trying to have him fired from his position at the university where he was teaching. But, in the next breath, he said that no matter where he goes, people thank him—often with a great deal of emotion—for what he’s taught about the fact that we are individuals who are responsible for our own lives and decisions and need to accept and act on our personal responsibility for self-control and self-improvement.

I definitely agree with Peterson’s understanding of individual person-hood and responsibility, and the great ambivalence surrounding Jordan Peterson helps me understand the tremendous emotional upheaval that Jesus caused. The religious leaders hated him, and the common people—who experienced the healing benefit of his teachings—loved him.

I have no clue if Peterson prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him, but I know that’s what Jesus did . . . and what he tells us to do. Peterson professed being afraid to say he believed in God, because if he truly believed, he would have to live out the Christian faith, which seems impossibly hard to him. In fact, it is impossibly hard, but that is okay. Jesus died to bridge the gap between our best and perfection. We are works in progress. We are challenged to be perfect, but we fall short. Jesus paid the price for our failures. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to become a child of God through faith in Christ. But, just like Jesus, we have the wonderful capacity to find help and grace through God who helps us take responsibility for self-control and self-improvement! Through God we can learn how to humbly “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We may end up dying for what we believe, like Jesus, or we may end up with a thrilling triumph of good over evil (such as I’m going to write about this coming Tuesday). Either way, it is our job to be faithful to the truth as we understand it, to do good and not evil to others, and to pray for (rather than physically bully or attack) those who oppose us.

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:45, “and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Luke 6:27, “Pray for them which despitefully use you.”

(Reproduction of the painting, “Jesus Praying in Gethsemane,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com)

So You Don’t Like Going to Church Anymore?

Have you drifted away from being involved in a church? If so, I would love to hear your “why” and if there is anything you can think of that would make the Church so appealing to you that you would want to go again.

My grandchildren keeping busy during a message at church

I am thankful all my kids are involved in church communities, but it almost seems like this is now unusual rather than the norm for those between twenty and fifty. When I was a young mom, I very much admired a woman whose husband had been the pastor of our church. They had eight grown children who were all involved in churches, but in very different denominations. I thought that was really strange and wondered how the children of a minister could possibly end up going to such diverse churches. A generation later, I am no longer amazed. In fact, I’m sort of like that pastor’s wife!

Alan and I always attended very conservative evangelical Baptist/Bible/Brethren churches, and I assumed our children would follow in our footsteps. Totally not so! Now, I will say that I’ve attended almost all the churches where my kids fellowship (except our military kids, who moved to Belgium last summer), and I almost always feel blessed and instructed by what I hear, but a few of them have found church homes quite different from those in which they grew up.

What happens? Well, for one thing, as we mature, we have to decide for ourselves what we believe and what we’re going to prioritize in life. We aren’t born with spiritual life, we are born again into spiritual life. We may grow up in a Christian home, but we aren’t born with faith in God. We may be taught about God (as in the case of my children), or we may become curious about whether or not there is a God (as in my case, who did not grow up in a church). Either way, as we grow up, we have to evaluate what we believe about God, the Bible, and spiritual life.

For most of us, spiritual life is largely explored and lived out in community, and the “community” God has given us is the local church. If you want to learn more about God, read your Bible and pray, but also get involved in a church family. Like coals of fire, we burn brighter and longer when sharing the heat with other coals in the fireplace! Embers that explode and fall off the grate usually burn out very quickly.

Some of our kids visiting Calvary Church with us in Grand Rapids

That being said, as we approach the beginning of a new school year, I hope you make being part of a local church one of you priorities. If you live in the Grand Rapids area and don’t have a church home, I would like to invite you to visit my church, Calvary Church (on the East Beltline). We have a fabulous Sunday school class called Heirs Together that is really helpful for ages 55-75, but there are excellent classes for all ages. Please consider visiting our class if you’re in town and around that age!

This past Sunday our pastor, Jim Samra, just began a new series on the Book of Titus. It’s the first of a series of topical messages that will find their roots in Titus but cover a plethora of very practical topics, such as “What is Godliness?” The first message can be found here:

If for any reason you are disabled, have to work on Sundays, live in a country where there is no local church, or are otherwise unable to attend church in person, this sermon series will be online each week. (The new message is downloaded each Tuesday morning.) If you’re looking for a prayer group, I am part of a weekly “Zoom” prayer group that you are welcome to join. Just email me at kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com and I will connect you. Nurturing your spirit is every bit as important as nurturing your body (and I would say— “Even more so!”).

Hope to see you or hear from you soon—either at church, on Zoom, or in the comment box below with suggestions for how to make church a more spiritually nurturing environment for you and members of your generation! Thanks, and may God bless you in your spiritual journey!

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Billy Graham on the diversity of our children and the fact that you can’t inherit faith; it must be a personal decision: https://www.facebook.com/BillyGrahamEvangelisticAssociation/videos/449200715806760/

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (43): “Bless You” . . . Even Them That Curse You??

“Bless you,” or “God bless you!” are almost as common around Grand Rapids (where I live) as “Thank you!” Would you agree? I’ve heard people complain that “God bless you” has become meaningless and trite—and therefore should not be said. Really? To me, it’s like saying “I love you.” Of course, if we don’t love someone, we shouldn’t say “I love you.” That would be a lie. But, if we really do love someone, can we ever tell them too often?

Similarly, can we ever ask God to bless someone we love too often? Ah, but what about someone who is our enemy? Do we really want to ask God to bless them? What if what they are doing is evil? Shouldn’t we ask God to curse them? I’ve just been meditating on Psalm 58, where David prays for God to foil the plans of the wicked and vindicate the righteous. Can we ask for God to judge the wicked and in the same breath ask God to “bless” them??

I think the answer is “yes,” but hopefully out of a heart motivated by love. When we love someone, we long for evil to end but are also keenly aware that sinful behavior is harmful for the perpetrator as well as those being hurt. There’s a clue in James 3:8-11, where poison tongues are roundly condemned: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?

There is a mystery in the Scripture that we humans constantly experience as the tension between hating sin and loving the person who has sinned. When we’re praying for those we love most dearly, we ask for mercy and compassion from God. Like Paul begging God to save the Jewish people or David lamenting for his son Absalom, our hearts are broken, and we wish somehow we could take on the penalty for our loved one’s sins, even when they are hurting us. In both these cases, Paul and David were praying for “beloved enemies.”

But what about our TRUE enemies? Can’t we ask God to judge the wicked, like David did? I think the answer is “yes.” We can ask God to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous, but that is totally different from asking God to curse the wicked.

Every time we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking God to eliminate sin and bring to earth God’s reign of peace and goodness. However, we need to remember with humility that we are not without sin ourselves. I have been struck by David’s plea in Psalm 58. He is addressing his prayer to God on behalf of the “congregation,” which presumably is the assembled group of believing Israelites who have come to worship God. The title includes “Al-taschith” which has been translated, “Destroy Not.” In the Psalm, we see that even the assembled group of worshipers are not pure. We have all sinned. We have all lied. We are all deserving of punishment, but still David intercedes and asks that God not destroy us!

Can we do this for those who are our TRUE enemies? Can we learn to love those who hurt us and return blessing for their curses? I love to repeat this amazing insight from David in Psalm 18:35, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” It is almost like a blessing, and I remind God of this verse when I pray for those who have fallen into great traps of sin. If you’re ever looking for a blessing for your “enemies” (beloved or not yet beloved), try asking God—through gentleness—to save them . . . to give them the shield of salvation, to hold them up (so that they can walk uprightly), and to make them great in the best sense—in becoming like our great God!

Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:10-18).

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:44, “Bless them that curse you” and again in Luke 6:27, “Bless them that curse you.”

Reproduction of the painting by Yongsung Kim used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com