Why couldn’t we?

In Matthew and Mark, we read the same story.  After His Transfiguration, Jesus and those who accompanied Him found that the remaining disciples had been unable to cast a demon out of a boy.  After Jesus cast it out, the disciples asked Him, why couldn’t we drive it out? (Matthew 17:19, Mark 9:28).  Jesus’ response is important for those who seek to pray for others.  In Matthew, Jesus says, because you have so little faith, but then goes on to indicate that even the small faith that they did have could get the job done.  This apparent contradiction is clarified in how Jesus responds in Mark: this kind can come out only by prayer (with some versions adding and fasting).  Our faith in God for healing, deliverance, or provision is demonstrated in and empowered by our praying.  We trust in Him completely to get the job done, but do so as we pray, and sometimes fast, as we seek him for it.  So may our little mustard seed of faith today be put to good use as we pray (and fast) for one another and for others, and see even mountainous problems moved by God.

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Unbelieving generation

After Jesus and some of His disciples returned from His Transfiguration, they found that the others had been unable to cast a demon out of a possessed boy.  Jesus remarked, “you unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you?” (Mark 9:19).  I used to think that Jesus was castigating those disciples, or perhaps the father who brought the boy for healing.  Instead, I now think He’s commenting on the general state of unbelief present in His society, which He experienced personally in His hometown, Nazareth, where He was hindered from doing a mighty work among them.
How much more so of us in our day, as we live in a materialistic, cynical, and oppositional generation.  The unbelief around us can make it hard for us to witness and participate in the mighty works of God.  So as we pray for those in need around us, may we take note of our unbelieving environment, and collectively join that same father who went on to pray to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

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Harm becomes good

As we pray for others, that their struggle, pain, suffering, or need is addressed, solved, healed, and relieved, we also can recognize that God may well use all of that for His and their good.  Joseph of Genesis endured tremendous hardship, particularly from his family of origin.  By the Grace of God, he was protected, restored, and elevated to a high position in his unchosen homeland and people.  In addressing his brothers, who were terrified that he would eventually seek revenge, he said, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…. (Genesis 50:20).  As we intercede, we need to adopt Joseph’s attitude, trusting that, in allowing harm to come for those for whom we pray, God will ultimately use it for some good, perhaps yet unseen.

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Praying Aloud

Perhaps you recall the two times the disciples fell asleep in prayer: once when Jesus was praying on a mountain, just before He was transfigured before them; the other when He was in agony in Gethsemane.  (And of course we have that other time in Acts when young Eutychus fell asleep and fell out a second floor window while Paul preached, really long!).  I, too, know what it’s like to fall asleep in prayer.
While recently reading the preface to one of my monastic prayer books, I read that the one who reads the Psalms and prays the prayers alone should do so aloud, in order to ward off sleepiness.  And, I can tell you, it works!  And it may have an added benefit, as someone recently told me.  He described hearing as a boy his father praying aloud for him by name, and how that witness drew him close to Jesus.
So, may you and I lift up our voices, and not just our minds, to The Lord in prayer!

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A new song of praise

The other day someone asked me whether I was dreading “the holidays”, given the fact that Hallie, my wife, died earlier this year.  I did think about how I would respond.  And though I may well get ambushed by grief on either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or in-between, at the moment I feel immense gratitude.  It’s as if God has put a new song of praise in my mouth, one that I didn’t expect or see in Psalm 40:3A.  It’s the kind of new song of sorrowful praise that captive Israel may have eventually sung in Babylon, having earlier said, how can we sing the song of The Lord while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4).  Indeed, the praise that I’m singing now is a new song, not the happy-clappy song I might have sung back in the “better” days of our life together.  But, tinged with sadness, it is a song of praise nonetheless, made possible by the God of all Grace which He has showered upon me through all these years.  May He continue to give me that Grace to sing, so that, many will see and fear The Lord, and put their trust in Him (Psalm 40:3B).

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Praying seekers

This morning I was listening to the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, and was struck by the faithful prayers of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and those who served with them in the temple.  John’s parents are described as righteous in God’s sight, blameless in the observance of the Lord’s commands and decrees (1:6).  Zechariah’s service of prayer and incense in the temple of The Lord was accompanied by worshippers praying outside (1:9-10).  It’s in this context that The Lord sends the angel Gabriel to announce the birth of John, the Forerunner of The Messiah.  All this before these people became believers in the fullest sense of knowing and serving God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I wonder if there are many around us – nominal Christians, perhaps; faithful Jews, perhaps; or unlikely seekers –  whose prayers are ascending to The Throne of Grace.  And I wonder if God can use us to match their prayers, that these seekers might be as attentive as these early seekers of God to whom He chose to reveal Himself.  And I wonder if we can be close enough to help them to interpret, in the Light of God’s Word, what He is up to in our day, and theirs.

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Praying in tight spaces

When Paul and Silas created an economic disturbance in Philippi for delivering a slave from a valuable but demonic spirit of divination, they were beaten severely and thrown into the inner cell of the city’s prison.  They were in a tight spot, behind a locked door with their feet fastened in the stocks.  Their reaction?  Prayer, and praise!  About midnight [they] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).  In the ensuing earthquake, Paul and Silas were not the only ones set free; so was their jailer who, probably in response to their prayer and praise, came to believe in God, he and his whole household.
When you and I get in tight spaces, wherever it may be, may it be our first call to pray about our circumstances, but also to praise God for His continued Presence, and, as the apostles did when they left the threatening presence of the Sanhedrin, for His counting us worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).  And may He then use our confession to set the stage for others around us to ask, as did the jailer, “what must I do to be saved?”

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Praying The Presence

To state the obvious, the key thing about prayer is God.  The Presence of God.  Duhhhhh.
But seriously.  It sometimes seems as if we treat prayer as some kind of magic incantation that somehow rubs God’s belly the right way and yields the results we want.
Take the way we treat this er prayer promise from Jesus:
If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in My Name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:19-20).
Sometimes we act like an accountant in prayer, making sure we have the minimum of two to pray and agree, so that it will be done.Other times we act like a broadcaster in prayer, making sure that we have the widest possible audience to pray and agree, so that it will be done.  This as if the numbers, and our cooperation, is what makes God cough up what we want from Him.
Jesus tells us that it’s His Presence that matters in prayer:  there am I with them.  When we pray with others (even one other), we’re more apt to connect with the Presence of Jesus, and come to agreement with Him in His Prayer, such that it will be done.
So, as we pray, let’s make sure, however it comes about, to Pray The Presence.

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Prayer promise

Whenever we pray, it’s a good idea to check two sources:
1.  The Holy Spirit, Who desires to pray in us The Prayer of Jesus at the Father’s Right Hand, as He intercedes for us and for all in glory.  The Spirit will guide us in all things, leading us into all truth, including praying in The Truth of Him Who is The Truth.
2.  The Holy Scriptures, that are replete with unconditional and conditional promises upon which we can rest our prayers.  How about this Prayer Promise:  [Lord], You have never failed those that seek You (Psalm 9:10).  This is an astounding Promise from God, conditioned on our earnestly seeking Him.  As we do, we can be confident that He will never fail us, nor has He ever failed those who seek Him.
So as you pray today, as you seek The Lord for those situations that you are bringing before Him, be confident that He will never fail you: never has, won’t now, never will.

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Pray at all times

The other day I was thinking about how, through the years with Jesus, prayer has become such an integral part of my life.  Hallie used to point to the difference between “having a prayer life” and “having a life of prayer”.  The one is an activity, whereas the other is the essence of life in Christ.
These thoughts came up shortly after I had been praying, and particularly so for the safety of my daughter, Betsy, who had just headed back to Boston from a visit with me at the family Cape House.  A short time after I prayed, she called me, reporting that she had hit a deer on the highway, totaled her car, had been covered with glass, but was physically unharmed.  After we talked, prayed with thanksgiving, and she got off the phone to talk with the State Police, I recalled another time of prayer, when we were all in a car accident.  When she was about 3, the four of us were driving in a snowstorm on the Mass Pike, and I lost control of the car.  As we spun around, all I can remember was praying The Name of Jesus aloud.  By His Grace, we ended up rear-ending a guardrail, coming to rest in the breakdown lane, headed against the traffic, with the girls asleep in the back seats.  In that circumstance, and in the recent one, I’m grateful that The Holy Spirit within has created a life of prayer, through which I can call on Jesus at a moment’s notice, or in routine intercession, and can see how that prayer has great effect.

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