Prayer: an ongoing conversation

This illustration pretty much captures my life!

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The morning of August 1, I was running. It was sunny. In the upper 60s. Low humidity. I was in the third mile, not yet halfway to my 6.33 total, when I put it all together.

I was feeling great. Appreciating my surroundings. Our safe neighborhood. My good health. The desire to work my body hard and the ability to do so.

I said a prayer of thanks to the Lord.

I noticed that I had already said a bunch of prayers as I ran, as I do on every run. As I do throughout every day. As comes naturally after a lifetime of practice.

And I wondered how many times a day I pray.

So I started counting.

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Before I get out of bed. I awoke at 5:15. Before moving, I say “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” and finish with Martin Luther’s morning prayer. 1.

Podcast devotion. Making the coffee, I listened to a podcast devotion. I pray with the closing prayer. 2.

Bible reading. I read the daily lectionary, concluding my reading with a prayer of thanks. 3.

Daily devotions. I read two booklets each morning. 4 & 5.

When Julie leaves for work. I try not to pray the same way every day, but my prayer generally asks for her safety on the road and that she has a good day of work. Then, I pray for all who are on the road and giving their labors for the good of the community. 6.

Breakfast. I pray before and after my meal. 7 & 8.

School buses. A bus passed our house. The first time I see one in a day, I pray, “Lord, please bless our school buses and keep safe all of their occupants.” 9.

Ready to run. Before I leave the house, I pray, “Lord, please keep me safe, strong, and smart.” 10.

Beginning my run. I again say the name of the Trinity. I say the Lord’s Prayer, pray for my family and a list of others, pray a refashioned version of Luther’s morning prayer, and conclude with either the common doxology or the “Create in Me,” or both. 11.

Roofers. I saw two men shingling a house. I prayed for them, then prayed for all who labor for us for the good of our homes. 12.

House for sale. The first yard sign I saw, I prayed, “Lord Jesus, bless all those selling their homes and those buying, that things go well for them.” 13.

Public buses. Seeing an IndyGo bus, I prayed the same as I pray for school buses. 14.

Lawn mowers. As I saw a woman mowing, I prayed, “Lord, bless her and keep her safe, and all who are laboring for their homes and families. 15.

The run. Appreciating everything about the morning, I thanked the Lord for the weather, our neighborhood, my good heath and desire to work my body, and for everything He provides for my body and soul, now and forever. 16.

Sirens. Every time I hear a siren, I pray, “Lord, bless those in their need, and those serving them.” 17.

While running. Every five minutes, my app calls out the time, my distance, and my pace. With each call, I say a prayer of thanks. When the call includes having reached the next mile, I add, “Keep me safe and strong and smart all the way, dear Lord Jesus.” 18–32.

Busy roads. Most of my running is on side streets and sidewalks. I have to cross two or three busy roads every run. This day, I had to cross Emerson and 46th twice each. I prayed for safe crossing. Twice, I had to run along 46th, in the bike lane. I run toward the traffic and keep my eyes peeled. Still, I pray for safety. 33–38.

Arriving home. I always say a prayer of thanks. 39.

Lunch. My usual prayers before and after eating. 40 & 41.

More sirens. Wherever I am, whenever I hear them, I pray. 42.

Safe son. Our youngest lives with us. He went on an errand. I prayed for his safekeeping. 43.

Garden. I checked our green beans, but they weren’t ready to pick. I noted our first two watermelons are growing. I toured the entire garden, taking pictures of tomato and green pepper plants that are heavy with fruit. I said a prayer of thanks. 44.

Julie heading home. She always texts me when she leaves work. I pray for her safety, and for all who are on the roads that they might have safe homecomings. 45.

The garage door. When I hear it move, I know someone has arrived home. I said my usual prayers of thanks when my son and Julie got home safe. 46 & 47.

Supper. The usual two prayers. At the dining room table, we pray together. 48 & 49.

And more sirens. The evening is usually busy for our ambulances and firefighters. 50–52.

Bed. I conclude my day with Luther’s evening prayer and anything specific to the day. 53.

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Our mom taught us kids to pray. The prayer I say for my family is an adaptation of the family prayer we said together before bed. As we kids grew, our parents were zealous in their faithfulness to the Lord, brought us up in it, and it grew in me. By the time I was in my twenties, I had an active prayer life.

Prayer is simply the believer speaking praises, thanks, needs, and wants to the Lord. For me, it’s an ongoing conversation—as natural to turn and talk with my Lord Jesus as turning and talking with Julie.

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When God says “No”

The setting is all too familiar: a loved one falls ill, or is injured, or is otherwise in immediate risk of dying. The family turns to prayer. Other loved ones and friends join in petitioning God. It is hoped that “storming heaven” will cause the Lord to intervene and turn around the dire circumstances.

We pray because we trust the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. We pray because the Lord has taught us to pray. We pray because we trust Him, because we know He loves us and has the power and desire to do good things for us. We pray because we are mere creatures and He is the Creator; we the children and He our Father.

In several places and parables, the Lord Jesus teaches us about prayer, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer. He told us about the widow who pestered the unjust judge until he caved in and gave her justice. He told us about the friend, who went to another friend at night for some bread to feed a traveling friend who arrived late at his house, and the guy got his bread because he persisted. And He told us about the father who would not trick his son, say with a snake instead of a fish, and if an earthly father will do right by his child then, of course, God will do right by us.

The Lord Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to knock: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).”

Finally, Christ promises: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).”

We trust these promises as we pray. We count on these promises to result in prayers answered with “yes.”

And God says “no.” And the person dies.

What in heaven happened? Is God not to be trusted? Are we a bunch of fools for placing our faith in Him, for wasting our time in prayer?

What happened is that the person paid the price every human pays, because we come into the world under the curse of the first sinner, Adam. We all die.

God is to be trusted. We are not fools for placing our faith in Him, and we did not waste our time in prayer.

To show this, first we must cover a few things that folks often erroneously believe.

  • “God punished him for a sin,” or, “This is a punishment to his family.” Wrong. God punished His Son on the cross and we have His promise: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).”
  • “God needed her in heaven.” Wrong. One often hears parents telling their young children that grandma died because God needed another good cook in heaven. No, God needs nothing from us, including grandmas to cook for Him.
  • “God saw that he would one day lose his faith, so He took him now so that would not happen.” Wrong. The Lord Jesus vows: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).”

That’s a good start, but this question fills the air: “Why does God let bad things happen?” When I had to bury a young mother of four who had been murdered, I needed to answer this as clearly as ever. I came up with this.

When our children hit the teenage years, because we love them and we don’t want anything bad to happen to them, and we don’t want them to do anything wrong, we lock them in the basement. That’s what love does, right? It protects at all costs.

Wrong.

While we long to protect our loved ones, taking away freedom is not love. We rear our children well, then we send them into the world. We hope for good things. We pray for them. But they are free, and the world is filled with accidents and evildoers and temptation and you-name-it, all of which might bring us down.

As it is with us, so it is with God. He loves us so thoroughly that He gives us lives in which we get to exercise freedom. Indeed, His love is so profound that if we don’t return His love, He still lets us live and enjoy life.

But He does not remove every obstacle, every possible bad thing from our path. If He did—if this were His job, to stop every last thing which is not good—He also would zap us when we gossip, and slap our hand when we put it where it does not belong, and on and on to where He would constantly be on our case, to where we would have no freedom at all.

He might as well lock us in a basement.

Freedom comes at great cost. This takes us directly to the Father’s gift of His Son, whom He did not keep locked up in heaven but sent Him to earth, into our very flesh, so that He could give up His life, so that not only might we take ours up again on the Last Day but also know the depths of the Father’s love now, every day, so that when things go horribly wrong we can remember that Christ has made all things perfectly right.

Recall this promise of Christ already quoted: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14:13).” When God says “no” to our prayer, how can this promise be true?

When we pray, it is not our goal to get God’s will to line up with ours, but to get our will to be in agreement with His.

It is easy to glorify God when things go right. The player gets the winning hit and he points to heaven. The parents welcome the beautiful child and praise God for this gift. The farmer brings in the plentiful harvest and pauses to thank the Lord for the bounty.

It is challenging to glorify God when things go wrong. When the ball does not drop in. When the child miscarries. When drought chokes puny plants.

Yet, as children of the heavenly Father through faith in Christ, we are to glorify Him in bad times equal to the good ones. Why? Because we know that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven means that He is King over this creation, that He is Lord of the living and the dead, that He has the power to fulfill His final task, that of returning in glory.

When Jesus Christ will do this: “And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6:39-40).”

Eternally living in the resurrection, we look forward to this wonderful life: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Revelation 21:1-4).”

When God says “no” to our prayers, He has the best “yes” in mind. Whether we live a day, or eighteen years, or one hundred, for the Christian this lovely promise is always true: “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).”

By grace through faith in Christ, we belong to the Lord. Not even death can snatch away the gift of eternal life, for Jesus Christ beat death with His resurrection from the grave.

May you be comforted and strengthened by these precious promises from the Word of God, all which are rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord be with you!

The first thing I do

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The first thing I do when I awaken each day is to pray, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

The first thing I do after I arise and get the coffee started is to listen to a podcast of a daily devotion, then read the lessons from the daily lectionary, which includes a psalm and readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, and one of the Gospels.

The first thing I do as I head out to go jogging is to pray, “Lord, please keep me safe and strong and smart.”

The first thing I do after my run is underway is to recall my baptism by speaking the invocation—In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—then pray the Lord’s Prayer, and then pray my family prayer and whatever other things in my life, or the lives of others, which need addressing.

The first thing I do when I am eating by myself is to pray, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let thy gifts to us be blessed.”  When with family, including when we are at a restaurant, the prayer might vary—especially if a grandchild is leading!—but we always begin by remembering who and whose we are.

The first thing I do when I finish my meal is to pray, “Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.”

The first thing I do when I am struggling with something—especially the many and various troubles that have come both from within and from without with my personal situation the past three years—is to pray. When it is a really tough matter, I lie on my bed and talk out loud to the Lord. He has taught me to ask, to seek, and to knock. I remind Him what He taught me and that I intend to knock down the door. He also has taught me that He hears and answers every prayer I make in His name, and I remind Him of that promise. He also taught some important parables about prayer—like the persistent widow before the unjust judge, and the friend who comes at night for bread, and the father who would not trick his child—and I love to remind Him about those, too. I know that He loves for me to remind Him of all of His promises to me because I prove to myself that I believe Him, that I love and trust Him with my life and for my eternal life through the work of Jesus Christ, because if I did not believe in Him, if I did not think He only has my best interests in mind, if I did not trust that He has the ability and the desire to answer my prayers, then I would not bother praying to Him. In fact, I would not bother being a Christian. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit informs my spirit that His Word is true, and through this gift of faith I find the Lord faithful to me, that He has been faithful to His every promise to me every single day of my life, and so it is my joy to love Him, and my joy to seek Him, and my joy to glorify Him with my life.

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The first thing I do when I don’t know what to pray is to say one or both of these: “Dear Lord Jesus, show me your good and gracious will, then help me to follow it,” and this, which is Psalm 25:5: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long.”

The first thing I do when I drive by a farmer who is working in a field, or a lineman on a utility pole, or anyone who is working to serve the community, is to pray, “Lord, bless them in their work and keep them safe.”

The first thing I do when I see a car broken down and sitting on the road’s shoulder is to pray that the owner is safe and getting the needed help.

The first thing I do when I get into my car is to pray for safe travel and, if whatever I am heading to do requires it, to add a prayer regarding that.

The first thing I do when I ponder any family member on the road—as when Julie is heading home from work—is to pray for safe travel, and then also pray for all who are on the road.

The first thing I do when I hear the arriving car of a family member is to say a prayer of thanks for safe arrival. Because of the prayer formation of my life, prayers of thanks come automatically when I recognize a good thing—as when I gaze over my growing garden, or make it home safely from a run, or enjoy a sweet moment with my grandchildren.  I know that every good thing I have, including my very life, is from the Lord, and therefore I want Him to know how grateful I am.

The first thing I do when I hear sirens is to pray, “Lord, help all those who are in need, and those who are serving them.”

The first thing I do when a friend asks me to pray for her or him is to stop everything and pray that very moment. I often type out the prayer and message it to them so they know what I am praying.

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Finally, the first thing I do as the final thing I do for the day is to pray, to thank the Lord for the gifts of the day, to sorrow over my failings of the day, to recall that my Lord Jesus has borne my sin and taken it away, and to seek His strength that I might correct my sins of commission and omission, and then to commend myself and my family into His hands for a good night’s rest.

And every prayer gets an Amen, for Amen means “it shall be so.”  In Christ, everything “shall be so” to the glory of God the Father, for the good of all who call upon His Holy Name.

Amen!

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