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).
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
Cursing is generally not commended in Scripture. St. James sums it up when he writes, “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing: this should not be” (James 3:10). And it is God’s intention to turn back cursing, whether it be the curse of sin under which we all labor, or the curses which may have been hurled our way, or which we have casually thrown to others.
But there is one kind of cursing that is allowed, even commended: the godly curse. St. Paul mentions those who bring a different Gospel than that revealed in Jesus Christ: he says of them, “let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8-9). There are circumstances in which our prayers can include curses, not so much weighed against individuals or groups of people, but against the evil of the enemy at work in what they do to harm others. So, for example, I make it a habit to curse pornography and the sex industry (“let them be under God’s curse”) while praying that those who are employees or consumers would be blessed to find better employment or more wholesome appetites.
So, as you pray for others, particularly those being harmed by others, be prepared to attack the enemy behind the harm with a godly curse, knowing that Jesus cursed the enemy when He died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to glory, thereby assuring that satan’s doom is sure.
We live in what some have called out “Outrage Culture”. Our media, our friends and family, and the enemy himself, all conspire to encourage us to be injured so easily and to develop grudges so quickly. Perhaps it has ever been thus, but it seems as if we in the church are in danger of losing the tender-heartedness and clear-mindedness which we need in order to pray. As if to anticipate our need, Jesus teaches us how to pray even in an Outrage Culture: And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them… (Mark 11:25). There’s something about praying that doesn’t jive well with outrage and unforgiveness. Perhaps we should make it a routine that whenever we stand to pray, we should do an outrage check in order to see if there’s someone or something we need to forgive. It may well be that we will better hear the Great Prayer of Jesus at the Right Hand of the Father, and that the prayers of forgiven, forgiving, and righteous people will be powerful in their effect (James 5:16).
As I think about your praying for me and for others who have asked, I’m noting that you are “intercessors”, not just an “intercessor”. The power in your praying is multiplied in that you do so with others, such that, whenever two or three are gathered together — and I take that term, “gathered”, somewhat more broadly than it’s original meaning, to include gathered virtually, or digitally, etc. — there is Jesus in the midst, interceding at the Right Hand of the Father. In other words, as with Aaron and Hur, assisting Moses in his intercession for the army of Israel, “it takes three” (or even just two), to join with the Big Three in One – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in the great work of intercession.
So, even if you’re praying alone, you aren’t, as you are joined by other humans similarly praying, echoing our Great High Priest ascended on High, and The Father with Whom He’s Praying, and The Holy Spirit Who is communicating that prayer to you.
As I and my family continued to hear the testimonies of the wide-ranging effect of Hallie’s life and ministry, I recall speaking to her once about Psalm 19, which begins, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His Hands. Day after day they pour forth speech’; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
If this is true of inanimate objects of God’s Creation, such as the silent heavens and skies above, how much more for those who are created in His Image, and recreated in Christ, and yet are silenced. And so I said to her, paraphrasing, “though you have no speech, and no words, and no sound is heard from you, yet your voice goes out into all the earth, and your words to the ends of the world”. And so it was so for Hallie, and continues to be so. And so it will be for us who are in Christ, submitted to Him. Even when we can no longer “speak”: the sum of our words, actions, thoughts, and lives will be sent by God to far-flung places and lives, and they will not return to Him void, but will accomplish more than we can even imagine.