Category Archives: Prayer

When the fields seem barren..

Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.

(Isa 45.22-25)

He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.

(Lk 10.16)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last..

(Rom 1.1,16&17)

You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed..by the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men..

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

(2 Pet 3.3-9)

When all that I am is for God, and it seems that he has chosen to put me on the shelf. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I can see that he has gifted me with abilities and character crafted to his work, and he calls me to situations where those abilities are not needed. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I know that he has called me to share the gospel, to speak his word to anyone and everyone, to give the shocking invitation of illuminating grace to those in darkness, and he surrounds me with people who politely, firmly and tolerantly refuse to let me speak..Oh Lord, have mercy!

When my heart burns to see his glory in transformed lives, to see communities healed and individuals blossoming in the light of his love, and he permits me to be smothered by indifference. Oh Lord, have mercy!

When I have promised to serve the body of Christ in a particular situation, looking to see his power at work in spite of the weakness of human institutions, and instead am faced with decline, denial, the collapse of vision and hope on every side. Oh Lord of the church, have mercy!

This is the lived experience of so many of God’s faithful under-shepherds today, on their knees before their Lord, begging for some sign that he still has worthwhile work for them to do, wondering why he called and gifted them only to set them aside to waste away in the dying churches of the west. There is only so much that one preacher, pastor or teacher can do, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, there will be no fruit for all their labour.

The prophets and faithful servants of God have known this experience – think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness, of Jeremiah called to preach to a people who WOULD NOT listen – and it is one of the hardest things that he calls his followers to do, to be apparently redundant.

No one wants to see life drifting by without satisfying outcomes for their work, to feel abilities atrophy for lack of use, to sense the springs of life and zest for the task dry up and vanish. The good news burns within them, they feel shame that they cannot reach their communities and give this priceless news of forgiveness and life eternal. And it is very, very hard to find reason to hope. We know in our hearts that God could break into our country, our culture like an earthquake, breaking the thick protective coating of indifference, sending men and women running to find someone who can answer their desperate questions about eternal things. But we also know that – for his own good reasons – it hasn’t happened yet, and we begin to doubt that it will.

Friends, let us pray for our pastors, and teachers, those called to ministry and leadership. Let us intercede for them, praying against despair and for a fresh anointing of courage. Pray that in their sense of futility, God will meet them and teach them that obedience and submission to him in this situation are not wasted. Let us pray for ourselves as their flock, that we might grow in our own faith and hope, believing that God will yet raise up many in our land to call him Lord, and that we might be privileged to serve him and be part of that revival.

Give us this day…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.25,32-34)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

(Jn 13.34&35)

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard…It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

(Ps 133)

God has combined the members of the body ..so that there should be no division.., but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.

(1 Cor 12.24-26)

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need you will abound in every good work….You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

(2 Cor 9.6-8,11)

Many years ago, I was challenged by a suggestion made by a well known Christian author and speaker to make a habit of praying the Lord’s Prayer for others. To my shame, it had never occurred to me before to use the beloved form of words in that way, but I can heartily recommend it. We may not know much about someone’s particular circumstances at a given moment, but everything which Jesus expressed in that prayer is always of value for his children.

I pray that God might be glorified in their lives, so that His name will be honoured – before this world, but also before all the unseen spiritual forces. I pray that His kingdom might come in their lives, their marriages, their communities – that His lordship might be real for them in all their decision making, and all their work and witness. I pray that they might be so thankful for God’s full forgiveness of their own sin, and so aware of God’s love for all his children that they can forgive those who offend against them in turn, and show that same love.

And I pray that God will meet their daily needs…whatever those may be, and especially that He will grant them that ability to leave the future in God’s hands, accepting that what He provides for each day is sufficient for that day. That prayer implies recognition that all good things come from God, regardless of the human agency by which they may be delivered, and also that He asks us to trust when the provision made does not fit our perceived need. May they have faith to believe in that hard place, and to honour God there.

And sometimes, in fact often, I believe that God calls us to answer those prayers for our brothers and sisters – to be the human means by which He meets their daily needs.

We are one body. The suffering and pain of one member calls for action and care on the part of the others – through this intimate connection, God’s love is shared among his people and their needs are met. I am called as a Christian to be responsive to my brothers and sisters – sharing my needs with them, and meeting their needs as my own means and circumstances permit. In this way, the good gifts which our generous God has lavishly bestowed upon us are used to provide abundantly for the whole body.

Sometimes, I can give money; sometimes practical assistance or the gift of presence, a listening ear, and burden-sharing shoulder. I can ALWAYS pray, commending others to the God who loves and knows their circumstances, so that He will meet their needs according to His rich resources, and through His church.

As the church pursues loving and practical unity, putting its resources at God’s disposal for the benefit of all its members, for His glory and our blessing, then indeed, His name will be hallowed and we will see his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. So let us not hold back in fear, doubting God’s care and future provision for us, but rather give generously in every way we can, trusting that when it is our turn to be in need, His love and the care of His saints will not fail us.

Choices, choices…

Trust in the Lord and do good..Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait for him.

(Ps 37.3-7)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us..Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Cor 4.7,16-18)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

(1 Pet. 3-7)

“There are no throwaway moments in life; everything counts for eternal reward.” – Joni Eareckson Tada, in ‘A Spectacle of Glory’, 2016, Zondervan

Much of what I want to say today was inspired by these words from Joni, whose life and ministry among those with physical disabilities has shown us what God can do through suffering when it is yielded up for his work and glory. Since the diving accident which left her confined to a wheelchair in her teens, Joni has made choices every day to pursue God’s glory and to trust that He will use what she offers to that end. She is honest enough to say that it is never easy, but also urges us to believe that it is both possible and worthwhile to do.

If someone like Joni can commit to such choices, then surely I can too. Each day, I am faced with the normal trials, struggles and frustrations of human existence; from the large ones to the trivial. Each day, I have choices to make about how I will respond to what God has permitted for my life. It may be that my initial responses to trouble will continue to be instinctive – anger, fear, disgust, disappointment – but the bible teaches me that I have choices about what I do with those emotions.

Will I recognise the temptation to indulge feelings and attitudes which deny God’s goodness, providence and power? Or will I act as quickly as I can to bring those emotions to God and ask him for his help to think and act differently? I DO NOT say that this is easy, or that I am never guilty of giving in to the temptation to complain, indulge in self-pity, nurse resentment and hold grudges. But, I also believe that with God’s power at work within by the Spirit, I can choose to set aside the wrong responses and move on to the ones which will produce in me the godliness, holiness and God-glorifying qualities which I long to see. As Joni says, we have opportunities every day to make life count for eternity, to show the world, its ruling spirits, and all the heavenly realms, just what Jesus can do in us when we ask.

As I remind myself that my Lord is always near, that my purpose is to glorify God, and that I am a new creation in Christ, then my resistance to choosing God’s way is broken down, and I repent of my self-indulgent fits of temper or resentment, and find joy in acknowledging my need of him. I thank God that He is nurturing in us the self-control which enables us to do this, and that every such effort strengthens our faith and the right instinct of dependence.

The words of this prayer help me to commit my ways to the Lord, trusting that as He works in me to answer, so I shall increasingly shine with his glory.

Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me the fruits of holiness rather than the fruits of sin.

Let me use disappointment as material for patience:

Let me use success as material for thankfulness:

Let me use suspense as material for perseverance:

Let me use danger as material for courage:

Let me use reproach as material for longsuffering:

Let me use praise as material for humility:

Let me use pleasures as material for temperance:

Let me use pains as material for endurance:

(extract from A diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, 1936)

You just never know…

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted…We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away…

(Isa 53. 4,6-8)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

(Matt 5.43-45)

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.. [they] were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death..Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?…” But Jesus remained silent. 

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?..What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

(Matt 26. 57-59,62-66)

We are so accustomed to the stories told of the life and death of Jesus that it may never occur to us to wonder just how all this information became available to the gospel writers, but we should! Following through on that question takes us to some interesting places – like the context in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have shared the intimate details of his conception and birth, and all the struggles which she and Joseph faced at that time. Did Jesus learn this as he grew up, or did Mary share it only when he embarked upon his ministry?

This week, I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found myself wondering just who it was in that council of the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who later told the story of that dark night. It can’t have been Peter, whose own sad tale of betrayal took place outside in the yard – and that tale too must have been revealed to later writers, for our blessing and instruction by Peter himself. It must have been one of the council themselves; somewhere in that gathering of hostile and frightened men (and it would have been an entirely masculine gathering), there was a heart which was already tender and open to God’s leading; a heart which would in time confess Jesus as Messiah and embrace the truth of the gospel.

They were all steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, and perhaps for one or two the words from Isaiah that foretold the suffering of the perfect servant would come to mind as they watched this Galilean hold his tongue and refuse to defend himself. Jesus’ demeanor would have spoken so loudly and clearly to those who should have recognised him as their longed for Messiah, and it seems that for at least one of them (then or later), the evidence finally became too much to resist.

When we put this together with Jesus command to love and pray for those who persecute us, we have a powerful encouragement to never give up on those who seem most adamant in their opposition to the gospel.

We cannot tell which strident aetheist, or sceptical humanist; which campaigner for secularism or advocate for universalism might be under the hand of the holy and relentless God, whose love for them took his son to the cross to win their salvation. I think this is a very important lesson for us in these days of increasingly bitter hostility against the Christian faith around the world. Will I obey the command of Jesus to pray for those who hate what I believe and hate me for believing it? Will I follow his example so that my life speaks of the truth of the gospel, of a God whose love for the broken children of this world is so powerful, steadfast and passionate? The offer of salvation is made to all who will confess Jesus as Lord – am I pressing this offer on my ‘enemies’ in prayer?

Perhaps someone was praying for Saul the Pharisee, even as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen…someone loved him well enough to intercede with God for this young man who was consumed with hatred for the Jesus movement..and how God answered that prayer! Lord, let me be faithful in this, that I might love my enemies as you love them.

Faith and politics…

The Lord enters into judgement against the elders and leaders of his people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?”

(Isa 3.14-15)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Listen! The Lord is calling to the city – and to fear your name is wisdom – “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it…Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false wights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.

(Micah  6.8-12)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matt 5.3-10)

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

(1 Tim 2.1-2)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority; whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

(1Pet 2.13-17)

Yes, that’s a lot of direct quotation from the bible, for the good reason that it is here that followers of Jesus find their guide and rule for living out those two great commands – love God, with heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as you love yourself. As one living in a nation increasingly divided, recently divorcing itself from long-term allies in Europe, and facing growing calls for independence for Scotland from the rest of the Uk, I live with tension and uncertainty. I live with the consequences of decisions made within a particular political system, decisions I may not be happy with but must accept. As a believer, what is it my duty to think and do in this situation? What does it look like to love God, and my neighbour?

I give thanks that ultimately I belong to a kingdom beyond this imperfect world, where truth, justice and peace flow from the perfect King on the throne. I recognise that no form of government devised and operated by fallen and sinful humanity, to rule other fallen humans, is ever going to be without its troubles, and that in every situation, God’s will is at work in spite of the problems. History relates the rise and fall of innumerable ‘empires’ and powers, some more peaceful than others, but none capable of producing the perfect justice and mercy which God requires.

I do not put my faith in a political system, but in the God who can sweep them all aside whenever He chooses. I do not put my faith in a political party or ideology, but in the gospel of Jesus, which alone is capable of the heart transformation which enables us to love one another. I can campaign for policies which I believe reflect God’s heart for creation, for his children, but until the state forbids me to practise my faith, I will submit to its rule and fulfill my duties as a citizen. I will not worry about these things as though they were the most important, because they are not – my citizenship in heaven, and the salvation of all God’s people matter more.

 I am called to pray for those in authority, so that we might live in peace and witness to our Lord without fear – am I doing that for those whose ideologies I don’t agree with? I must; that is loving my neighbour who represents me in authority. I am called to speak out for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed – am I doing that for people whose cultures and beliefs are alien to me? I must; that is loving my neighbour who lives round the corner, or on the other side of the world.

No human institution or ideology can claim a divine right to rule – that is blasphemy and rebellion against the King of Kings, denying his supreme authority, and utterly failing to acknowledge the depth of human depravity. I give thanks that the kingdoms of this world will not last, but the Kingdom of our God is eternal, and will soon be fully established. Meantime, I will seek with God’s help to show proper respect to everyone, to love my fellow believers, to fear God and honour those appointed to rule over me.

 

 

 

Not just good…but best

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Ps 37.1-4)

[Jesus ..prayed] Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent..I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one..sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

(Jn 17.3,14-17)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish..In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed…

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

(1 Pet 1.3-6,13-16)

Sometimes, we find ourselves wondering why God doesn’t answer our prayers in the ways we want. We are asking for good things for ourselves and for other people, and yet God ordains other outcomes than we desire and we resent what feels like his hardness of heart..

I was recently challenged about my own weakness in this regard, reminded that God may have higher priorities than mine and that while I may desire good things, He seeks the best for all his children. What is that ‘best’ which inspires all God’s working together for good, through time and across the nations?

The whole narrative of the bible reveals a God who desires to dwell with people who love him, rejoice in and worship him – who bear his name to great honour and glorify him in all they do. This is not because of some power-hunger in God, but because – having fashioned us- he knows that this is our truest fulfilment, the ideal for which we are made. So long as we pursue our own goals before God, we will remain broken and unsatisfied. Of ourselves, we are incapable of breaking the power of sin in our lives which keeps us from living for and with God. So Jesus came and by his sacrificial death broke the power of sin. All who trust in that wholly effective blood payment, who recognise that only Jesus can save them, are brought to life, are newborn into God’s family and not only experience freedom and forgiveness in this life, but have a certain hope of an eternal life of unimagineable richness and fulfilment.

God’s best for us – as part of his overarching plan for new creation – is our salvation from sin, and our sanctification, our growing holiness and Christ-likeness. While the wealth, health and happiness which the world desires may be good things, they are not the most important, and indeed will distract, ensnare and pollute faith and holiness if not kept under the lordship of Jesus.

When I pray for good things for others, and for myself, I need to remember that if these things are not conducive to salvation and sanctification, then God will not grant them. Our God works through pain, loss, suffering and disorientation to bring people to the point of recognising their helplessness in sin, and their need of Jesus. Should I pray for things that will prevent them from responding to the gospel? Surely not!

The many crises currently enveloping our world are a source of much suffering and anxiety – this is undeniable. BUT they are also opportunities for people to reach an end of their self reliance, their faith in humanity, and to call out to God who alone can hear and save them.

In my bewilderment at the many trials which are going on around me, I am challenged to pray for God’s will to be done – for the salvation of many, the deep maturing of faith and growth in holiness as the saints choose to trust God in this great upheaval.

May I learn to desire that which really matters, for myself and those I love, for my wider community and the whole world – that I may truly say (with Paul)..”I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil 3.8)

Family ties…

..one of my brothers came from Judah, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile…They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace..When I heard these things, I sat down and wept..I mourned and prayed..”O Lord, God of heaven..who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him..they are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.”

(Neh 1.2-4, 5&10)

I thank my God every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

(Phil 1.3,4,7&8)

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children…For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you…But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you…

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord..when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.

But Timothy has ..brought us good news about your faith and love…that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged…For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

(1 Thess 2.6&7, 11&12, 17-20; 3.6-8)

This lengthy extract from the letter of Paul to the young church in Thessalonica – which he had to abandon at short notice to save his life – is a delightful revelation of the warm and affectionate relationship which he had with them. It is touching to read of Paul’s anxiety for them, and his frustration at not being free to return and see that they were holding firm to their faith. Like a parent whose child has recently left home, he is anxious to hear that all is well, and his concern demonstrates his love.

And like any Christian parent, his principal care is that they should “stand firm in the Lord”. With that foundation, they can weather any storm, and endure any persecution, knowing that their eternal future is secure in God’s hands. I can identify with him so deeply in this, as I watch my young adult children making their way independently in life, and pray that in all things, they might seek and know God. They will face joys and sorrows, successes and failures, times of ease and times of dark distress, and my overwhelming desire is that they too might “stand firm in the Lord” – here alone lie security and hope.

One of the glorious things about the family into which we are re-born as believers, is the affection which God gives us for one another, and which places us in community, where our emotional needs are met and we love one another as family. We rejoice in this gift, and nurture the affection, working at it in a persevering and cheerful spirit, in the same way that human families seek to bear with and love one another. This affection is a source of encouragement to us, as we take delight in seeing our ‘family’ growing in faith, standing firm and trusting in God.

We also encourage others by our perseverance in faith, and expressions of love and concern for them. See how Paul delights to hear that the Thessalonians are yearning for news of him, and long to see him again even as he longs for them. The expression of mutual affection is a refreshing, strengthening and gratitude-prompting ministry, as Paul rejoices in God’s faithfulness and promise-keeping.

Nehemiah’s anguished prayer for his fellow-Jews who were struggling and disgraced in Jerusalem expresses his affection, the feeling of one who sees his precious people in trouble. We learn here how to pray for one another when things are hard, when our affection unites us to those who are suffering and we cry out to God on their behalf. Our love for one another is but a pale reflection of God’s love for each precious child, so we can be sure that when we are upset or concerned for others, His heart is even more moved. So when we pray, interceding for them, lamenting their sorrows, we are praying in his will, for their blessing and his glory. He desires that we should serve one another in this way, becoming ever more united in love.

Let us not be afraid to feel and express the affection which we have for one another as God’s children – in words, in actions, and above all in prayer as we give thanks for one another and intercede for one another. We are children of the King, who will not let his little ones be destroyed and who can be trusted to do right at all times.

Battling for the faith of others

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple…The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever…Who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me…May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Ps 19.7,9,12-14)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed he remembers that we are dust….But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…

(Ps 103.13,14&17)

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal..The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

(Isa 26.3&4,7&8)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Rom 12.2)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(2 Cor 10.5)

One of the most distressing trials which can come to God’s children is an assault upon their mental health – and we are told that most of us will experience such assaults at some point in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. How do we pray for those whose minds are clouded and confused by illness, so that they have been deprived of the full comfort of their faith?

We know from the bible that it is through our minds, our understanding, that we receive faith and learn about the love of God for us. We read his word, and in obeying it, serving his people, and allowing it to dwell in us, we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. What then of those who cannot trust their minds, or control their thoughts? How can we pray for those who are under a darkness which twists and distorts truth into lies – lies about themselves, about others, and above all about God and how he regards them?

We can praise God, because it is not our faith and understanding which keeps us secure, but the power of his saving arms. The faith of little children, of those with learning difficulties, surely shows us that it is not intellectual capacity that qualifies us to be called followers of Jesus! We thank God for his compassion towards us, his creatures. He knows how we are made, knows our frailties, and although human understanding of the mind is extensive, yet only God truly sees how ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ we are put together, how delicate and intricate is the balance of our mental and physical health.

So we can trust that although our beloved ones who are struggling may feel unloved, abandoned and hopeless, yet this is not the truth. All who have professed faith in Christ and acknowledged him as Lord, no matter how great their darkness, remain in his love. Paul reminds us that NOTHING is able to separate believers from this love – both external trials and assaults, and also surely the internal trial of mental illness. So we praise and thank God for keeping his children, for forgiving their sins, guarding them and preparing a place in heaven for them.

While we give thanks for the health of our own minds, we should pray to be kept humble, not to rely upon human wisdom as our salvation, nor to be proud of what we have learnt or can do in God’s service. We are well; good, so we put our health at the disposal of our brothers and sisters who are not – in prayer, service, and presence. For those in the darkness of mental illness, we can – by God’s help – be a constant loving reminder that God has not abandoned them, holding the truth before them even though their understanding is compromised. We pray that we might be the compassion of God in human form, patient, gentle and true.

And we can pray that – as with all our trials in this life – God will be at work to bring glory to himself, blessing to our loved ones, and good things for his kingdom. Healing so often comes, and perhaps lessons in living differently, using God’s gifts in new ways, being less busy and more restful. We cannot tell how these experiences might be part of God’s plan, but we can be sure that they are, and pray for fruitfulness in the future. He is faithful, strong and true; let us trust ourselves to him and keep praying!

Learning to speak…fluently!

Then Abraham approached [The Lord] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?…far be it from you to do such a thing…Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

(Gen 18.23&25)

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven….”O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name….”

(Neh 1. 4&11)

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.

(Ps 32.5&6)

Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I…

(Ps 61.1&2)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4.6&7)

what is prayer?

Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will in the name of Christ with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.

(Shorter catechism, Question 98)

Jesus taught his disciples about prayer both in formal exhortation, and also through his own example – he gave them what we now call ‘the Lord’s prayer’, and they were present on many occasions when he prayed aloud. They could also testify to his habit of spending prolonged hours alone in prayer. They learnt that when they spoke to God, they came as beloved children to a Father who cherished them; they learnt that prayer could be short and confident – as when Jesus spoke before the raising of Lazarus – and also that it could be prolonged, agonised pleading – as in Gethsemane. They heard for themselves the final words addressed to God from the cross, prayers for forgiveness, of lament and cries of desolation.

It is clear from the record of the Acts of the apostles, and from their letters, that the disciples embraced prayer as integral to their lives as believers – and the foundation for the work which God called and anointed them to do. They prayed for one another’s faith and witness; for the work of God in far off lands and also close at hand; they prayed against the power of evil, and faithfully offered sacrifices of thankful prayer no matter what their circumstances might have been.

We don’t really need to know much about how they prayed – sitting, kneeling or standing; eyes shut or open; hands raised or clasped before them; aloud or silent; in a group or alone. The point is, that within a very few weeks of Jesus’ death and resurrection, these uneducated men were praying – fluently and confidently, in the face of attack and in times of rejoicing. We have much to learn from their example, if we too desire to honour God and bear fruit for him as faithful, obedient disciples.

If we have not learned to submit ALL our desires to God in prayer, and to share with him everything that is on our hearts, then we may find it hard to begin when we face severe trials. If we have never practiced prayer in the easier times of life, then the crises may find us woefully inadequate, unable to articulate our thoughts, and more seriously, unable to call to mind the promises of God, the teachings of scripture about his character and plan for kingdom building, and new-creating. We may find ourselves unable to echo Christ’s words in Gethsemane – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”(Luke 22.42)

Cultivating fluency in prayer is not about eloquent speeches, but is about knowing by experience how readily we can bring all our thoughts, fears and hopes to God – and doing it. Prayer is not some emergency helpline for believers, which we call on only when we can’t cope ourselves, it is the language of the kingdom, and one of the primary means by which we grow in faith and dependence on God. Failure to grow in prayer, leaves us stunted and vulnerable as believers – with only ourselves to blame for the trouble that may bring upon us.

I fear that I have yet much to learn about persevering, faithful prayer; but I rejoice in the ways that God has taught me through godly friends and leaders. May I not give up, but rather press on earnestly, growing more fluent in prayer, that I might fulfill what God is calling me to be and do for his glory in our world. Lord, teach me to pray!

(photograph courtesy of Peter Geddes, 2019: Carloway, Lewis)

Getting practical..

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statues. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

(Ps 119.97-104)

Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

(Rom 6.17-19)

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. ..we even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.

(2Cor 10.3-5, JB Phillips)

I praise you, Almighty God, because in your mercy you set me free from the law of sin and death; I am no longer bound by a power too great for me to resist, which compels me to do that which is opposed to Christ. I praise you, Merciful God, because in your compassion you dwell in me by the Holy spirit, whose power is great to transform me, and overcome evil. I praise you, Loving God, because in your wisdom, you have given me your word – and in it I find the Word of Life by whom I am sustained.

I bring to you every part of my being – limbs, mind and spirit. I bring to you every area of my character – strength and weakness, interests and abilities. I bring to you every relationship of which I am part – intimate and distant, easy and difficult. I offer all these things to you as my worship, and also, dear Lord, to reflect and manifest your righteousness – that Christ-likeness which is your goal for my life.

I confess – and you already know it, so why should I hide? – that so many of my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways not your ways. I am still often in rebellion against Christ’s lordship – but how I rejoice in the truth that you have made me new, whole and clean, and that those sins I continue to commit are forgiven, not counted against me. How glad I am that you see my heart, and there you see a growing sensitivity to sin which is a guarantee of your Spirit’s working and purifying – you have set my heart to desire you, and in spite of my failings, I know it does. Thank you!

In my mothering, dear Father, let me love as you love. Let me release my children into your care – over and over, as often as it takes; affirming again that it is not for me to dictate your ways with them.

In my worrying, Almighty, Omnipotent and Omniscient God, let me instead turn to praise that it is not my job to fix everything, or even carry part of the burden, but rather to cast all my cares on you, and to praise you in the midst of my troubles.

In my studying, Giver of every good and perfect gift, let me enjoy the gifts you have given me, the passions and interests I have, and reject all anxiety and godless fear for the task ahead. Let this process show me, and others, that you give your servants peace as they serve for your glory and not their own. Let me reject all the foolish pride in achievement which drives me, and instead remember that your delight in me depends all on Christ.

As a citizen of a world facing uncertainty in politics, climate and every other sphere, let me not be crushed by hopelessness for the future. You are making all things new, and calling us to work with you for the new kingdom of God. Let me take those despairing thoughts captive to the glorious promise of Christ’s return and the day when we shall see the new heaven and earth and find our God dwelling in the midst of his people.

In every part of me, Lord, be glorified as you enable me to recognise where you are calling me to repent of old ways of thinking and doing, and to submit them – one by one, over days, and months and years – to the lordship of Christ and the truth of your word.