Category: Prayer (page 1 of 20)

Thoughts and Prayers

The people who are criticizing Christians and politicians for sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida but aren’t doing anything tangible or practical, are exactly right. Such is the backlash against supposed followers of Jesus in this country who offer their prayers but no real work toward real solutions that “thoughts and prayers” is trending. It’s a hashtag.

And they’re right.

When we pray to God we pray through the name of our Lord Jesus.  And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body — his representatives, his ambassadors — on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest , therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU ARE THE WORKERS!

I think about the inspiring prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

As part of the curriculum for the Transforming Community experience I’m in, I’m finishing up a book this week by Ronald Rolheiser called “The Holy Longing.” He addresses this near the beginning of a chapter on Consequences of the Incarnation:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must put skin on our “thoughts and prayers.”

If I pray that more young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people any opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

So, it is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless those children and their loved ones with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter. But we’re not praying like Christians, and we deserve the criticism from non-Christians, if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it can seem hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. — it’s “our thing.” But Christians are a people of peace, not violence.  Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday and what keeps happening every week in this country?

This is not meant for prescription, but for discussion. And reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. Take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your car.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Thoughts and prayers are good. To be Christian, though, it cannot stop there.



Rising and Dying

Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, the forty days followers of Jesus use to prepare their hearts and souls in anticipation of Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is typically a day of fasting and prayer, a day for renewing vows and making promises. Lent is generally a period of fasting and prayer, six weeks of focusing on purity and cleanliness.  A putting away. A taking off. A solemn burial of the habits and issues that get between us and a complete commitment to our crucified and risen Lord.

I’ve suggested in the past that if Lent is for putting things away, then Easter is for taking up new activities in service of Christ. You shouldn’t rid your life of damaging attitudes and practices and not replace them with helpful habits and perspectives. If Lent is dying with Christ, Easter is certainly rising with Christ.

But, I’d like to revise my recommendation.

Don’t wait until Easter to start those new habits. Don’t wait until Resurrection Day to take up that new something that will draw you closer to our Lord.

Every day is a dying and rising with Christ. Every day is a taking off and putting on with Jesus. Living under his exclusive lordship  requires that we die to ourselves and rise to walk with him every hour. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life. It begins with our baptisms — dying and rising with Christ — and continues as our habit, our daily routine. Clothe yourselves with Christ. Put off and take on. Be buried and rise again. Every morning and throughout your day.

In unity with all my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, I’m fasting and praying today. I’ll attend the Ash Wednesday service down the street at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening. And I’ll not wait until Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus who gives us new life today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.



“In the World, Not Of the World”

The man comes up to Jesus and he’s covered with leprosy. He falls with his face to the ground and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus say, “If I’m willing?!? Of course, I’m willing!!! That’s why I’m here! Be clean!!” And he healed him immediately.

A widow is wailing over the death of her only Son. Jesus says to her, “Don’t cry.” He raises the young man from the dead and gives him back to his mother. All the crowd is filled with awe and they praise God saying, “God has come to help his people!”

Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness, he brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. People are blessed and the world is changed.

And then on that last night, around the table with his followers, our Lord Jesus prays. He prays for all people “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). He tells the Father “they know I came from you, they believe you sent me” (John 17:8). He tells God “everybody knows you sent me” (John 17:25). And he prays for his disciples:

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” ~John 17:15-18

Then Jesus is arrested and crucified. Out of his deep love for us and his commitment to our forgiveness and righteousness and peace, he gives his life. On the third day, God’s Holy Spirit brings our Lord out of the grave. That evening the risen and reigning Jesus eats dinner with his followers and says:

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” ~John 20:21

When Jesus says we’re not of this world, that’s not a final destination or a future goal — it’s a starting point. By our baptisms and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are members of the family of God, we are citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, like Jesus. And, like Jesus, being not of this world is so we can be sent into this world.

I’ve heard it said all my life — you and I have probably both said this many times: “We’re in this world but we’re not of this world.” The way we say it implies that being in the world is a temporary accident we have to endure or, at worst, a really bad circumstance we must fight. We’ve paraphrased Jesus’ words into an isolationists slogan. We make it sound like we’re above everything and we need to take care of ourselves first and be separate from the world.

No, we’ve got it backwards!

Jesus says we’re not of this world precisely so we can be sent into the world. In the world is intentional, it’s the very core of God’s eternal plans. The Church is not a community of cautious isolation, we’re a group committed to courageous transformation! We don’t run from the world or rail against the world; we are racing into the world with the amazing story of God’s love that has captured our hearts and commissioned our lives! God gathers us together in his Church so we can better be on point for his mission in the world!



Praying Like Petty

There’s a dream I keep having where my mama comes to me
and kneels down over by the window and says a prayer for me;
got my own way of prayin,’
but every one’s begun
with a southern accent
where I come from.

~Tom Petty

A Prayer for Peaceful Discourse

The tone needed to be set. The true reality needed to be raised. The eternal perspective had to be introduced. Citizens of Amarillo and other panhandle communities crammed into the city council chambers and a standing-room-only overflow space last evening to offer their opinions on the Confederate Soldier statue in our city’s Elwood Park. Uniformed police officers lined the sidewalks and steps outside City Hall where four or five demonstrators displayed the Confederate flag. Another dozen or so officers patrolled the lobby and doors inside. The director of the local chapter of the NAACP was there to speak. So were representatives from Sons of the Confederacy, Indivisible Amarillo, The Freedom Riders, and the VFW. It was tense.

We needed a prayer.

Greg Dowell, our long-time associate minister here at Central, was on deck to lead that prayer. Greg is in a rotation with several other pastors in Amarillo who lead the invocation at city council meetings and, as luck or God’s providence would have it, last night was his night. He leads the opening prayer once every couple of months, just five or six times a year. But last night’s was his.

The mayor instructed everyone to be seated, called the meeting to order, and then asked Greg to lead the prayer. He stepped to the podium, cleared his throat, allowed the room to go silent, and then boldly called on the Lord of all Creation.

It was truly inspiring. It was Spirit-led. God-breathed. It was beyond perfect in every respect. Every line. Every word. It set the tone. It reminded of THE true issue at stake. It provided the eternal perspective. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of a co-worker. Ever. And more proud to be a guy’s brother and friend.

Greg is very thoughtful with his prayers — it’s one of the many things I admire about him. He doesn’t take prayer lightly. He researches his prayers. He sprinkles them with holy Scripture and with the faithful words of the saints who’ve gone before. Greg’s prayer last night were the first words publicly offered in the meeting. And they were the best.

God of all humanity, you call us to live in community.
Fill us with charity so that we can care for one another.
Fill us with mercy so that we can have compassion for each other.
Fill us with grace so that we can live in harmony.

Father, help us resolve conflicts peacefully.
When we disagree, teach us to communicate respectfully.
When we see things from different perspectives, teach us to listen.
When our convictions are strong, we pray that our love for our neighbors is even stronger.
Teach us how to love.

We pray for those in positions of leadership. Their influence is great and they impact the lives of many in our community.
Equip them with discernment and wisdom.
Inspire them with vision.
Fill them with hope.

Father, we ask you to drive out discontent and strife, anxiety and fear. Reveal to us a better way of life. A life filled with love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.

Father, you have created us in your image. You have blessed us with great diversity. It is only in You where we can find true unity. And that is the beautiful life which we seek.


In All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

There’s a difference between giving thanks FOR all circumstances and giving thanks IN all circumstances. You don’t give thanks for all the dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day — unless you’re some kind of sicko; you do thank God for the food he gives you to dirty all those dishes. You don’t give thanks for the car accident; you do thank God that nobody was seriously injured. You don’t give thanks that Molly White is in the hospital; you do thank God for the opportunity to minister to Molly and her husband Pete and for deeming you somehow worthy to minister in the name of Jesus. You don’t give thanks that Vernon died; you do thank God that death is not the bottom line, death is not the last chapter. Thank you, Lord, that God in Christ is the ultimate power with the ultimate authority and he always writes the final word! Thank the Lord that resurrection and life belong to us in Jesus!

I always get a kick out of listening to little kids pray — I’m talking about little kids: three, four, five years old. They give thanks to God for everybody and every thing. If we’re at the table, they thank God for everybody around the table and every food item, the plates, the napkins, the silverware, the Kool-Aid, and what they hope is for dessert.

If we’re praying in the living room, they thank God for the couch and the fireplace and the TV and the remote. If we’re in the bedroom, they thank God for the bed, their pillow, their blanket, their clothes, their shoes, and they name every single stuffed animal and every doll and lift them each to God in praise. It’s everything.

Everything they see is a gift from God. Everything in the world, everything going on around them right now, at this moment, all of it is a blessing from God and he is to be thanked profusely.

Why do we lose that?

Joyful souls and prayerful spirits and grateful hearts — that is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.



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