prayer in difficult places

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.
For you, God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

Psalm 61

There are times when we don’t know what to do, or where to turn. We’re not sure what step to take. Those are times for me to especially petition God, and hopefully draw near to God in prayer. And I seek to get counsel from others I respect.

In the past I’ve gotten peace from God in answer to prayer to move one direction or another. There’s no question that it’s not like I’ve got this all down to any kind of science, with clear answers one way or another, on everything. Life is complicated. Our prayers factor in what we’ve done, or failed to do, and God’s answer doesn’t always means clear sailing. Read scripture, and you’ll see that again and again.

The prayer by the psalmist above, is a request that God would lead them to a rock higher than they are, to a place of safety. When I think of safety, I think of freedom from all harm. But that’s not promised to us in this life. Instead God promises us his presence, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love to us in Christ Jesus.

More important than specific outcomes is our journey. We do need a sense that God is in it all, and that he will take care of everything. That he will lead us as needed.

The psalm above is suggestive and instructive concerning this. And of course we need to pray it with the truth that all of God’s promises, or in this case, intimations of what is available to us, are indeed fulfilled in Christ.

We know in the end all will be completely and perfectly fulfilled. In the meantime, we long for God’s peace, the sense that all is okay now, and will be okay no matter what we face. And that Christ will be exalted through our lives, and in everything.

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someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

taking our eyes off the Lord

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

If there’s one thing I’m probably good at, it’s getting focused on, and honed in to a problem, and spiraling down, when the problem can’t easily be resolved. It’s not like we’re supposed to ignore reality, or pretend problems don’t exist. We do carry plenty of responsibility in this life, and we’re to endeavor to stay on top of things insofar as we possibly can.

Why our Lord would walk on the water is an interesting question. Some might say to display his Deity, others, only to demonstrate the difference faith can make. Peter, as did the other disciples, saw himself as a follower of Jesus in the sense of following a Rabbi (Teacher), which meant he was to imitate, or do whatever the Teacher did. So it would be natural for him to assume that if Jesus could walk on the water, than he could too. Certainly bold, as well. And yes, that’s precisely what he did, Jesus responding to his request in the affirmative.

This reminds me of how the Lord has helped me in not ignoring a problem, but bringing it to him, entrusting it into his hands, and then proceeding in peace. Addressing the problem in a more sane, relaxed manner, and moving to, as well as settling in what seems to be the Lord’s leading, and remaining there.

But it’s all too easy, either ourselves, or maybe especially when someone else in our lives, points to the problem in near panic, to follow suit, cave in, and then lose out. Just what Peter did. He saw the waves whipped up by the wind, immediately became afraid, and began to sink. In faith he cried out to the Lord to save him, and Jesus certainly did. Yet Jesus rebuked him, I’m sure gently, for his lack of faith.

This so much reminds me of myself. Just how easily I can get my eyes off Jesus onto the problem, and then inevitably what faith I had is gone, and I’m left on my own to deal with it. God somehow wants us to deal with issues of this life with the help of what will be common place and completely natural in the next life, completely at peace in God, even in sync with God so-to-speak. That is neither an easy lesson for most of us to learn or hold on to, since we’re so used to taking matters in our own hands apart from God, and used to bad things happening if we don’t.

We don’t pretend the issue doesn’t exist, but we endeavor to commit it to God, and either God will help us work through it or let it go, trusting in his direction that it’s alright. The Lord calls us, so to speak, to walk on the water with him in this life. That what would ordinarily sink us doesn’t; we keep on walking, because our eyes are fixed on him. Always in and through Jesus.

 

prayer for relief

A psalm of David.

Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

Psalm 143

I hesitated in sharing the entire psalm. But all of the word is important, even those parts which might not be directly relevant today. Not that relevancy as we see it is the test for whether or not we need something. All is important for us in some way though, a part of the whole.

David as in the Old Testament engaged in a warfare which while physical, was spiritual at the same time. For us today, as Paul tells us, our warfare is spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It was apostolic, and in terms of the gospel, but by extension has application to all of us as followers of Christ.

That has its place within the main point of this post: the prayer for relief in the midst of trouble. We need the sense that everything is going to be okay in the end, that God will work all the difficulties out. In a sense it is true that “all is well that ends well.” But unfortunately there’s more than enough trouble on the way to that, and especially difficult is the heartache over people, and their troubles, especially when they make poor decisions, and fail to entrust their lives to God. Not that we know anyone’s heart, or understand anything fully like God does.

This is a wonderful prayer. Though we won’t mean exactly the same, we can trust that God will answer it according to his will, the Spirit even praying for us (Romans 8) when we are at a loss, and don’t know how to pray, ourselves. And with this psalm in mind, it’s good and even important for us to pray our own prayers.

God wants to give us relief from our troubles. As his people, we need to keep coming to him for the help that we will always need in this life. In and through Jesus.

when not knowing what to do

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

Psalm 143:7-10

Sometimes we can be at nearly a total loss, not knowing what to do. Left to our own devices, we might pull out all the stops, at least trying certain things. As we are older, experienced through the hard knocks of life, we will likely be more reticent, at least less likely to trust in ourselves.

This is an opportunity to do what we should be doing all along: seek God. This seems especially relevant, and even urgent, when we feel lost, not knowing what to do or where to turn in the midst of trouble.

One thing for sure: we won’t run short of trouble in this life because of the problems that come our way. Life is uneven at best, and tragic at worst. And presents its challenges along the way. Certainly true of the psalmist, whose life was in danger. We can feel threatened in some ways. Which is why we go to God for protection, and everything else we need. Looking not just for safety, but answers. Part of God’s will being that we would ourselves be in the way in which God blesses, and through which God blesses others. In and through Jesus.

 

the cloudy days, the dark nights

There are times when we don’t see clearly enough. That’s because life is experienced. When we feel unsettled, that is when we can become prone to veer off course. Though at times that can be good, since we may not be on the right course. Unfortunately we can have a false light and peace as well, so we can’t live on our feelings. But the experience of our emotions is a part of life, of who we are as humans. One of the reasons that the psalms are so wonderful, since they help us work through our struggles with God.

Oftentimes the psalmist is beset by trouble, sometimes life threatening, or perceived as such. What helps us is to see the process. The psalmist doesn’t deny what they are passing through and experiencing. They question God, or even acknowledge that they feel lost, seemingly are lost. But they also acknowledge their faith in God, in God’s goodness, and in light of God’s might saving acts. And they end up by and by praising him.

That is what I’ve found again and again. Though it really is hard when we’re smack dab in the middle of the storm, or darkness. Or when we go through a long season in which we know the sun is present, but the sky is overcast, sometimes threatening. And the sun hardly if at all ever breaks through. But in time the trouble will pass. Or more precisely, God’s light and the peace that brings will break through. As we experience something of God’s saving work in and through Jesus.

Here’s one of the psalms that illustrate the point made here:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

Jesus tells us not to lose hope, but pray

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus was more than a teacher, for sure, but he was a teacher par excellence. A good part of the gospels consist in his teaching. Of course the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; also the Sermon on the Plain- Luke 6) might be considered the prime example of that, but then you also have his parables, such as that of “the good Samaritan,” and “the prodigal (lost) son(s).” And many others. This is one of his parables that ties faith and hope together, along with prayer.

It is easy on the surface, but it also seems hard to simply pray about things. “What must I do?” is the big question for most of us. Or just as likely, we feel like we can’t do anything at all, and so are completely at a loss since we don’t really have enough faith in God to pray.

Jesus does tie faith and hope together, just as we find elsewhere in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). If we have faith, then we’ll always have hope. To have faith means to pray, even to cry out to God about our trouble, or the trouble of others around us.

Jesus refers here to simple justice, which often in the world, even today (not here in the United States, though it may happen subtly) is denied to Christ-followers. We must bring our own troubles to God, rather than letting ourselves become consumed in them. And be sensitive to the problems of others. And keep doing that day after day until Jesus returns. In and through him.