prayer can change things, and prayer can change us

The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James 5:16b-18

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:24-31

the book of Job (1-42)

It’s easy to see from the biblical account how prayer can change things. And any of us who have witnessed this kind of practice for very long at all can attest to the same in our experience. But it will become equally evident over time that prayer can change us as well. I don’t say here that prayer changes things and prayer changes us, but there’s surely value in all sincere prayer. Even if it doesn’t seem to hit pay dirt, and seems to make no difference at all, I don’t think there’s anything we can actually do that is as great as praying. Yes, we need to do other things as well, but prayer ought to precede them all.

From the above Scripture, we can indeed see that prayer matters, both in terms of situations, and how we are affected in the process of praying. True prayer involves thanksgiving to God, confession of sin, praise of God for God’s acts, the worship of God. And in both set as well as spontaneous praying, either can be just as effective and I believe we actually need both. But in praying for a situation, we end up not only grappling with our situations, but with ourselves in the process. We might be in the way of God’s answer, and in terms of something in our character, perhaps a specific sin issue. God works to help us see and work through that. And we can’t forget that prayer does oftentimes involves spiritual battle. The enemy does not want us to pray.

So we need to hold on to this truth, and above all put it into practice. In and through Jesus.

be careful to do it

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James 1:22

We need to remind ourselves, but if we fail to, life will. James is a good book to settle into for life, of course always considering the rest of Scripture as well. James and life, life and James together will remind us of the straight and narrow to which Jesus calls us.

It seems to me that a major bent we have is to simply love receiving insight so that our basic stance is to understand. But we often fall short of fulfilling why that understanding is given in the first place. To help us grow and put into practice what we’re told to do. We need to be not just hearers, but doers of the word.

We need a keen sensitivity all the way around. Eager to hear God’s voice and pick up what God is saying to us. And understanding its meaning, how that truth is meant for our lives, for change, that we might confess our sins, repent of our ways, and do not only better, but do God’s will in the matter. However halting and imperfect that may be, so that the difference may become more and more a part of who we are, and of what we do. In and through Jesus.

sins of the tongue

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:5b-8

It seems to me we kind of more or less excuse sins of the tongue, the tongue lashings we regularly give to each other and others. But the Bible is full of warnings against this. And just the relatively short book of James addresses this repeatedly.

What we say matters as well as what we refuse to say. We could even say that what we don’t say is more important that what we actually do say. A lot of our thoughts we should keep to ourselves for good reason. Are they wise, well informed? Are they gracious, merciful? If not, then we don’t need merely some kind of face lift as in changing our habits, but we need to get to what underlies that. We need a heart change. And the book of James addresses that as well.

If we can get a handle on this, and quit minimizing and excusing or even putting up with our sins of the tongue, that can end up helping us immensely. God wants to speak to us and get through to us in this. Not just a one time, or one day change, but an entirely new life. Bringing our disparaging thoughts to God. Refusing to lash out at others, even in our thoughts, but seeking God’s help for us and for them.

In and through Jesus.

when do we really “get it”?

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

James 1:22-25

It’s interesting, the wonderful experience we can have when some light of truth among the many truths found in Scripture, dawns on us. It’s just as interesting how short-lived most experiences are. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, but that in and of themselves they are only a good means to the good end.

We must act on what we see from Scripture, from God’s word to us. We have to put it into practice to really “get it” in having the understanding God wants to give us. That is where the rubber meets the road, when we not only understand an insight given, whether as in like a light shining in our hearts or just rationally in our heads, but when we also prayerfully determine to act on it, so that our lives can begin to be changed.

In and through Jesus.

finding the greater good

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.

And here’s why: God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
He’s a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well,
a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere.
He keeps his eye on all who live honestly,
and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

So now you can pick out what’s true and fair,
find all the good trails!
Lady Wisdom will be your close friend,
and Brother Knowledge your pleasant companion.
Good Sense will scout ahead for danger,
Insight will keep an eye out for you.
They’ll keep you from making wrong turns,
or following the bad directions
Of those who are lost themselves
and can’t tell a trail from a tumbleweed…

Sometimes something more is at stake than the immediate relief or answer we’re seeking. If we can just see behind our own want or perceived need to what is actually good and important given our own bent and God’s will, we’ll be far better off. We have to shake away from old habits and patterns which have kept us on edge and bound for years and years. This isn’t easy.

We first of all need God’s help to discern this. Good friends, and especially a friend who we look up to as a spiritual mentor or director should factor into all of this. God is with us by the Spirit to help us hear and understand what is best, but most of the time it doesn’t come without significant struggle, not to mention lapses along the way. What we want is change for the good, finding what is most important, leaving what is unhelpful behind. And with God’s help, learning to settle and live well in God’s good will.

Hopefully this isn’t too nebulous, so that maybe it will apply across the board to a variety of problems and struggles. The thought is helping me. In and through Jesus.

breaking new ground

While Jeremiah was still locked up in jail, a second Message from God was given to him:

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

“This is what God, the God of Israel, has to say about what’s going on in this city, about the homes of both people and kings that have been demolished, about all the ravages of war and the killing by the Chaldeans, and about the streets littered with the dead bodies of those killed because of my raging anger—about all that’s happened because the evil actions in this city have turned my stomach in disgust.

“But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive all their rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her.

Jeremiah 33:1-9; MSG

Jeremiah was in prison, and it was not a promising time. God’s judgment had come and was coming, and the people neither liked that, nor the messenger of it, Jeremiah. God’s promise here though is to see beyond that judgment to God’s restoration. Not that we should brush off the judgment as unimportant, or just a necessary nuisance until we get to the good part. Judgment is actually a necessary prelude to God’s blessing. What the passage is referring to is God’s judgment of the wicked to prepare the nation for what is just and good. In our own lives, God’s judgment comes in the form of loving discipline, to clean house in our lives in ways which we may or may not understand, and certainly we have yet to enter at least fully into that experience.

Breaking new ground is about God’s change in our minds, hearts, and lives. That’s the groundbreaking I’m thinking of here. It requires a commitment before God by us so that God can see that through with the least resistance from us, even cooperating with that insofar as God helps us do so. Again, the prayer God encouraged Jeremiah to pray is applicable to us here:

‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’

Jeremiah 33:3; MSG

And later in this passage we see what we now know to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s answer to Jeremiah in Jesus:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Breaking new ground we can see from this passage begins with God’s word, God’s promise, and prayer. We have to expect God to answer, but not dialed down to our own expectation. But instead with answers and blessing we would never arrive to on our own, not even in a million years. In and through Jesus.

don’t shun the process

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

We modern people don’t like process. People of first world nations often either have everything at their fingertips, or can get everything else in a day or two or three. Instant access. Anything that takes any especially considerable length of time is a conundrum to us. It’s just something which doesn’t register into our consideration.

And the triumphalism found in some churches plays right into this. We can meet God now, have it now. Why the struggle? Get slain in the Spirit or whatever, and you can go on, a new person. It’s not like unusual experiences might not be helpful in one way or another. But by and large it’s the process that we as followers of Jesus should be after.

Paul in the above passage was not referring to something that happens overnight. Becoming conformed to the pattern of this world takes time. It’s incremental but more and more complete as we imbibe the spirit and attitude of the world, almost like breathing the air and taking in what might be both healthy and that which is definitely toxic, not really requiring effort at all.

Instead we as followers of Jesus are to be changing by the renewing of our minds. That does require active participation on our part. The renewing of our minds by more and more understanding God’s will for us, not only in our heads, but in our lives, down to earth right where we live. This is not just a one time command or directive, but ongoing. Day after day after day, the rest of our lives. That we might increasingly know and settle into God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.

settled, but not set

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Much is swirling around in response to the pandemic and the problem of systemic racism against African Americans coming to a head. There’s a lament, and I am lamenting myself about the evangelical church’s lack in all of this. I feel like I’m a part of that, even if I am on the side that would roundly critique perceived deficiencies within that tradition. It’s certainly not like I don’t fall into something of that critique, myself, even if the only thing I’m aware of would be my probable reading of Scripture in an overly individualistic way, though I do attempt to read it as it is.

But through the storm we have to return to what we have learned and have become convinced of. We can build from there, making modifications, maybe even dismantling some things. But we must stay strong in what God is teaching us. And not despise that. In and through Jesus.

doing the hard work on the ground against racism

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29

Enough is enough. That is the attitude in the United States right now in response to yet another killing by a police officer of an unarmed African-American man. In a string and steady stream of them, really going back to the time when slaves were forcibly taken from Africa and treated worse than animals.

Jesus is questioned maybe sincerely, maybe not, but about what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what is written in Scripture and he gives what Jesus says is an apt reply. Jesus tells him to love God and neighbor that way, then he will live. He then asks who is neighbor is.

I have come to realize not just in my head, but by experience how prejudicial and actually judgmental I can be against those of another culture. I’ve learned to step back, stop myself, and listen, and think, and pray, and keep doing that. Looking at my own many faults and those of my people group. As well as seeing what’s special in others. What we’re called to in this passage is to love God with all our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Simple, yet of course profound.

This will require repentance on our part, hands off to correct or manage, and a heart intent on loving others with a hands on attitude to help, to serve. Also a willingness to receive needed help from others, even from those who are wrongly thought to be inferior to us.

Yes, a big part of the needed change against systemic racism that needs to occur in this nation and around the world against all racism.

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:30-37

 

sensitivity to wrong in our lives

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

We are told in this passage that we need to look intently at God’s word and at ourselves. An implication in this passage is that God’s written word exposes what is wrong in our lives, and that by application of that word, we can change and see change over time.

It’s important not only to be encouraged by God’s word, but also to be open and sensitive to whatever is wrong in our life, in our heart and actions. Jesus said that what defiles a person comes from the heart, and Proverbs tells us to watch over our heart since all we do comes from it.

We need the help from God through his word to address our problem. And we have to be sensitive to what is wrong with us. It is remarkable how quick we can be to pick up and pick on the perceived faults of others and be oblivious of our own. Or simply to sweep our own faults under the rug as insignificant or somehow justified, or we can fail to see them at all. As Scripture tells us elsewhere, we who judge others do the very same things ourselves.

Yes, others certainly have their faults sometimes in plain sight for all to see, though only God can see their hearts. But we have to acknowledge to ourselves that we’re in the same boat, that we’re often wrong, and keep our attention first and foremost on ourselves. As we continue in the word, making the necessary changes along the way. In and through Jesus.