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.
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.
“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.
Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…
“May God himself, the God of Peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.
But he will.
During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.
Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Has it been awhile since you openly and honestly confessed your sins to our Father? When’s the last time you got down on your knees, alone in the presence of our Holy God, and confessed your shortcomings and failures? These days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent are a good time to re-engage this scriptural, historical practice.
Maybe you have a hard time getting started. If so, I would humbly suggest something like this. It’s both a terrible and beautiful experience for me. It’s devastating and liberating. Not easy at all, but needed. Desperately needed.
Block out twenty minutes when you can be totally alone with our Father. Not in the back bedroom of a crowded house, I mean in the back bedroom of an empty house. Totally alone. Nobody around. If you have to go to the shed in the backyard, do it.
Now, physically get down on your knees and physically open your hands with your palms up toward heaven. Now, just sit there in silence for a full five minutes — no cheating! —- in the presence of God. After those five minutes, read one of the penitential psalms to the Father out loud. I’m partial to Psalms 32 and 51, but you could go with Psalm 6, 38, 102, 130, or 143.
At this point, I am acutely aware of the presence of God and my own sinful soul. Like Peter, my first thoughts are, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” My feelings are like those of the prophets who proclaimed their own demise in God’s presence. I am ruined. I am dead. I am not worthy. And then I confess my sins out loud to God. And they are many.
I believe the silence and the physical posture of humility and prayer and the holy words of the psalms work together to prime the pump so that what’s in the deepest part of my soul comes gushing out. It can’t be stopped. And it needs to come out. I need to be open and honest about my sins with my loving and forgiving Father. I need to experience his forgiveness and his blessing, his pardon and approval.
You do, too.
Whatever it takes. Don’t let Sunday come without spending some time in personal confession with our God.
If you need another suggestion, you might consider the words of this prayer of confession we prayed together with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian during yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service:
Holy and merciful God, I confess to you that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Have mercy on me, O God, and in your mercy, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Hear me now, as I continue to confess my sins to you…
Most Christian traditions begin every worship assembly with a time of corporate and personal confession. We don’t. We have to work on it. Now’s a good time.
I spent the 9:00 hour this morning with Nancy, Shelly, Dick and Crista, and Pete. I shared the 2:00 hour this afternoon with Larry, Drew, and Bruce and Celia. Over the next several hours, through the night, and into tomorrow morning, more than a hundred of my brothers and sisters at Central are praying in the chapel. We’re gathering in the presence of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus, and by the power of his Spirit to lift up prayers of intercession for our Ignite Initiative. We’re praying for Bivins Elementary and the homeless in our city. We’re praying for CareNet and single moms. We’re praying for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrants, the disabled, and Martha’s Home. There are more than a thousand prayer requests in those envelopes. And they are all being faithfully brought to our Father’s throne by his servants at Central.
What a blessing to pray for an hour with my siblings in Christ. What a joy to listen to their hearts being poured out to God, to participate together in bearing one another’s burdens, to form closer friendships in the foxholes of intercession.
May our Father bless all who gather in the Central chapel during these 24 hours. May the prayers of the saints bring him glory and praise. May we be transformed during these hours to be more like our Lord, trained to consider the needs of others more important than our own. And may his will be done in and through these hundred Christians and these hundreds of requests just as it is in heaven.
I can’t wait for my next hour at 11:00 tonight.