My Mother's Whispered Prayers and the Still, Small Voice of God

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My mother was a believer in Christ. When I was a child, I didn’t quite grasp what that meant. We never had that conversation. In retrospect, I’ve often wondered why we didn’t talk about it, but I’m sure she had her reasons. We didn’t go to church growing up, but I suspect that had more to do with my mom’s well-developed OCD and social anxieties than anything else. But even though she didn’t take me to church, or discuss her faith with me as a child, I knew my mom had faith because she was always quick to pray.

I spent more time as a child with my mother than anyone else growing up. Although she occasionally had jobs outside the house, most of her time was spent at home taking care of her family while my dad worked a complicated schedule in a factory. So most of my days were spent with my mom. She was a great companion for a little boy. We would watch TV, play games, and even spend time cleaning the house – although I suspect I really hindered that process!

But on more than one occasion, when something stressful would happen, I would watch my mom pray. 

A breaking news story or bad news from family, whatever the occasion, my mom would shut her eyes and begin to pray. She would pray under her breath, sort of in a whisper, just loud enough for me to hear. Oh how those prayers impacted me! My curiosity was overwhelming. I really didn’t know who or what she was praying to, but I could make out just enough to know she was praying in the name of Jesus. Remember, I never went to church as a child, so my mom was literally the only person I ever saw praying! The only one! Of course, if we were at a relative’s house or some place special there was always a chance someone would pray over the meal, but my mom’s prayers were different. When she prayed those barely audible prayers in response to bad news, she was praying as if she believed it would make a difference! Her prayers were neither especially long or dramatic, but they powerful and effective in their succinctness.

And they prepared me to one day accept the Christ she was praying to as my Lord and Savior.

When I was 14 years old I responded to an altar call. In some small way, I did so because I wanted to know the God my mom prayed to. She had someone to turn to when the chips were down … and I wanted that same relationship with God. She was the first and only person I confided in that night … I wanted my mom to know I knew Jesus.

Years later, my mom passed away from cancer. She handled the entire experience with grace and courage. My dad told me that the night she passed away, she did so with a smile on her face. I suspect it was because she had a relationship with the God who was calling her home. According to my dad, one of her last wishes, was for him to get her boys into church. That wish inspired my dad to launch a campaign to get me to into church with him. I finally gave in – more or less just to get him to stop inviting me, but that decision changed my life.

My mom led by example, and then used my dad to reach me for Christ. My dad, by the way, faced his own battle with cancer with the same courage and grace my mother had displayed. He told his doctors he was ready to “go home” … but he wasn’t talking about this home, but rather his eternal one.

My mom’s quiet, barely-audible, whispered prayers changed the course of my dad’s life and my life. Within those whispered prayers was the power of God. Elijah learned that God sometimes speaks to us in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19). In my case, the still, small voice of God was wrapped up in the whispered prayers of my mother … and I am eternally grateful for her example.

What Makes the Prayers of a Christian Different?

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This subject came up in a class I was teaching at my church last night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’m convinced that, given the right incentive, everyone prays. You could put the staunchest of atheists in a foxhole and they will call out for help once the bullets start whizzing. The Bible says that God has set eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We all know there’s something, we just don’t always know what that Something is. So when the chips are down, we have a tendency to pray … even if we’re not Christians.

So I asked this question, “What makes the prayers of a Christian different?

The most striking characteristic of a Christian’s prayers is the One to whom we pray to. We are praying to the God that has been revealed to us in the pages of Scripture. He is a God that we can know. When a non-believer prays, it’s like throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks. Because their prayers aren’t specifically addressed to our Living God, they aren’t heard. A Christian’s prayers are voiced to a specific, living God that has made Himself known to us. Scripture says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In fact, it is through Jesus that we are allowed access into God’s presence. God is holy, and mankind isn’t (Romans 3:23). Christ accepted our fate on the cross (Romans 6:23) … we deserved death and He took our punishment. It was that sacrifice that tore the veil between sinful man and a Holy God (Matthew 27:50-51). Adam and Eve were expelled from God’s presence because of their sin (Genesis 3:23) and Christ’s sacrifice on cross allows us to step back into His presence.

When a Christian falls on bended knee, they are in the presence of God Almighty. And that makes their prayers different from those of the unbeliever.

Scripture commands the believer to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). An ongoing conversation with God, along with a familiarity with His Word, allows a believer to discern His Will through prayer. So our prayers become less about us and more about Him. When we approach God in prayer we are to ask for His will to be done with confidence (Matthew 6:10), because His will is always what’s best our lives.

The prayers of a believer are sincere, earnest, specific, obedient and unselfish. These characteristics should set the believer’s prayers apart from the prayers of a non-believer. A Christian can approach God in prayer through faith … and that makes all the difference. Hebrews 11:6 seems an appropriate place to end this post:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Thank you Jesus for allowing my prayers to be heard.

Ezra's Burden

ezra-prayerEzra was born to be the spiritual leader of his people. He was the descendent of Aaron, Israel’s first Chief Priest, so he was a man of good reputation and status (Ezra 7:1-5). He didn’t, however, simply live off his reputation. Rather, Ezra spent his life studying God’s Law. He was described as being a “scribe skilled in the law of Moses” who enjoyed “the hand of the Lord upon him” (Ezra 7:6). In other words, Ezra was a scribe and priest skilled in the art of studying God’s Word, communicating God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word. He also enjoyed certain divine blessings, protection, and enablement that contributed to his ability to serve his people.

In 538 BC, Persian King Cyrus, having been stirred up by God (Ezra 1:1), issued a decree that allowed Zerubabbel to lead a wave of Jews out of captivity in Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple. Almost 60 years later, with the endorsement of King Artaxerxes, Ezra led a second wave of Jews out of exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s people spiritually (Ezra 7). This had to be Ezra’s dream job. It was what God had prepared him for all his life. All of his reputation and skills were geared towards this place in time.

Ezra led approximately 40,000 of his people out of Babylon on the 4 month journey to Jerusalem. Imagine his dismay when he arrived to discover that the Jews living in Jerusalem had begun falling back into the sinful practices that led to their captivity in the first place! Chapter 9 of Ezra reveals that God’s people had once again been taking wives from the pagan nations around them and having children (9:1-2). This wasn’t a matter of simple racism, rather, God had expressly forbidden the practice in his Law (Exodus 34:11-16, Deut. 7:1-5). The practice exposed the hearts of God’s people as disobedient, ungrateful, and faithless. It represented not just the intermingling of peoples but rather the intermingling of pagan religions with the worship of the One True God. Such intermingling with pagan religions had led to dire consequences in the past (1 Kings 11:1-8) and Ezra was stunned to learn his people had fallen back into it.

His reaction is a lesson for all of us.

Ezra is so distraught by what he has learned that he appalled. He begins tearing at his clothes and pulling hair from his head and beard. He is genuinely broken over the sin of his people (Ezra 9:1-4). He then begins to pray. Falling to his knees and stretching out his hands before God, Ezra pours out his heart.

Dr. Thomas Constable writes that Ezra’s prayer contains four primary elements: solidarity, confession, readiness to change, and faith in God’s mercy. I fear that too often, when we respond to the sins of our people, our prayers contain only one element – condemnation. We could learn from Ezra’s example.

Ezra identifies with his people even though he himself isn’t guilty of their sins when he says, “I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You [God] for our iniquities have risen above our heads” (Ezra 9:6). He then confesses the sin of his people, “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we … have been given into [captivity, plunder, and shame]” (Ezra 9:7). Ezra then acknowledges God’s grace and expresses a desire and readiness for his people to change, “… yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia” … “After all this has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve … shall we again break your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations?” (Ezra 9:9-14).

I am impressed by the passion of Ezra’s burden for his people. I am also shamed by it. I can not remember ever praying in such a manner for my own people. The church today is highly skilled at calling out the sinners in our culture (and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t), however, rarely do I see my fellow Christians pouring out their hearts on behalf of the people around us. The Word says we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) so it shouldn’t be hard for us to feel compassion for the unsaved people around us. We should feel solidarity for those people around us because it was purely by the grace of God that we were saved! We should confess not only our own sins but the sins of our culture. We should express a readiness to change and to share our faith with those people who desperately need Jesus Christ as their Savior. And we should express our confidence in the faithfulness of the God who restored His people from exile and sent His Son to die on a cross for us though we were sinners.

Christians everywhere should learn from Ezra’s example. Perhaps, we should take a break from looking down our noses at the people around us and take the time to genuinely pour our hearts out to God on their behalf. Ezra’s prayer birthed a change in his people (Ezra 10). There is no reason our prayers can not birth a change in ours.

 

Open Theology Part 4: Prayer

Orthodox Christianity identifies God as immutable and consistently unchanging. This image of God is drawn from the Bible itself. Many Scriptures assert God’s immutability. Among them is Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (NASB). Harold C. Felder writes, “Even God’s very name “I AM” implies that He does not change” (2011). This traditional view of God allowed A.W. Tozer to write, “God will not compromise and He need not be coaxed. He cannot be persuaded to alter His Word nor talked into answering selfish prayer” (1961, p. 60). In traditional Christianity, an omniscient God knows what believers will pray before they even pray it. According to Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit rescues believers when they are too weak to know what to pray and “intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (NASB). Open Theology shifts the emphasis in prayer from God to man.

Because the future is open, mankind has genuine freewill, and God has a limited knowledge of future events; Open Theology calls into question God’s immutability. In Open Theology, God responds to prayers often by changing His mind. Open Theology suggests that God’s limited knowledge of the future causes Him to genuinely interact with the prayers of believers in a way that emphasizes His relationship with them. Greg Boyd suggests, “this translates into people who are more inclined to pray with passion and urgency” (2000, p. 95). Boyd’s argument seems ironic when one considers that Open Theology endorses a vision of God that doesn’t know the future. In traditional Christianity, believers interact with a God that intimately knows the prayers of His creation coupled with a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future. The awesomeness of this knowledge alone should be enough to inspire the believer to pray.

An Open Letter to God

Hello God … it’s me, Clark.

I’ve screwed up again. I know You’ve got to be tired of hearing this crap over and over again, but I can never seem to get it right. Every time I take two steps closer to Your embrace I stumble and fall away. I’m afraid though that this time is different. I didn’t just get my usual scraped up knees and bloody nose. I have serious internal injuries. The brunt of the damage seems to have been taken by my heart. My passion, drive, and even faith have all suffered. I’ve had one of those earth-shattering moments. You know the kind. I feel like I may never be myself again.

Maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve never really been too fond of myself. I’ve always liked it better when I managed to resemble Your Son just a little bit. More of Him and less of me, I suppose.

I guess what I’m really writing to tell You is that I’m weary. I’m tired of making stupid decisions and then blaming You for the lackluster results. I no longer have earthly desires. They’re too fleeting; too easy to lose. I just want you. It’s weird. I’m a grown man and all I want is for my Father to lift me up into His arms and hold me. I want You to tell me it’s all going to be okay; that You’re going to protect me from myself from this moment on.

I want an army of angels.

I want to understand Your Word with the clarity that has too often evaded me.

I want the Holy Spirit to zap me like lightning.

I want Your Son in His glorified flesh to sweep down from the Heavens and establish His Kingdom.

I’m sorry God, but I want it now. I know things work in Your time and according to Your will, but I’m afraid that if You don’t move soon I may destroy things down here beyond repair.

Please Lord consider my request.

Thanks,
Clark

The Ultimate Love

In our fast-food, media-influenced culture the concept of love is often confused with sexual attraction and general affinity. People utter the words “I love you” with the same consideration as ordering a cheeseburger. Before we can understand what it really means to love someone we must first realize that love is not an emotion; love is an intentional action. This distinction is what separates puppy love from the real deal. We may enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings that stir up butterflies, but that isn’t the same as love. Love goes beyond the warm-fuzzies; consider the words of the Apostle Paul:

 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Our emotions often fail us. If we wish to experience love with all the qualities Paul speaks of, we must move beyond our emotions and choose to love daily. Once you’ve separated love from emotion, it even becomes possible to love someone you dislike. The Bible teaches us that our perfectly holy God hates sin. God detests sin, yet Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Even though God hates sin, Christ died for sinners.

This is the most perfect example of love. If love was based simply on emotion we would be left with nothing but God’s wrath. For the wages of sin is death; however, God gifted us with the love of Christ (Romans 6:23). Because of God’s example, we can love our spouses even on those days we don’t feel like it. Our relationships can survive any bump in the road when love exists beyond our emotions. With a proper understanding of love we may even find that it’s possible to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

The best gift we can give our spouses, children, friends, and even our enemies is the unconditional act of love. It is an act not based on emotion, but rather on the example set by Jesus Christ. It is an example that calls His followers to a higher form of love. A sacrificial love, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Is there anyone on your life you are willing to unconditionally love? Is there anyone you are willing to love today even though your emotions tell you otherwise? Is there anyone you are willing to lay down your life for?

Choose to love today. It is the best gift you can give another person.

Praying for the "Little" Things

As I grow older thoughts of prayer seem to dominate my attention. I would like to think that spiritual maturity has developed my prayer life, but I believe I owe it more to practical experience. Over and over, I have witnessed the power of prayer. There have been countless times in my Christian life that prayer has helped me or one that I love.  

Recently, I witnessed the power of prayer up close when my wife was undergoing some scary medical tests. This wasn’t the first time prayer has played a critical role in my life, but it is certainly one of the more recent.

This event concerning my wife, coupled with a growing desire to pray for my friends, has caused me to ponder prayer extensively over the last few days. What is it about prayer that God likes? What types of prayer does He prefer? What does the Bible mean when it instructs us to pray without ceasing? (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

I’m reminded of Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy, where he teaches that prayer is basically a request of things we want from God (see 1 Kings 8:22-56). Willard suggests that many of us have been taught that we are only to pray about big things like world peace or hunger (Willard calls this ‘heroic prayer’ but I prefer the term ‘Bono prayer’ coined by a friend of mine). Willard has the following to say about ‘Bono prayers’:

“Prayer simply dies from efforts to pray about “good things” that honestly do not matter to us. The way to get to meaningful prayer for those good things is to start praying for what we are truly interested in. The circle of our interests will inevitably grow in the largeness of God’s love.” (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p. 242)

It’s not that we shouldn’t pray for the big necessities of this world. However, if we are praying for the big things because we think God prefers them, we are mistaken. God wants us to pray for the things that really matter to us. Consider the Lord’s Prayer for a moment ( Matthew 6:9-13). The prayer opens by acknowledging the “bigness” of God ( Matthew 6:9-11). It is quickly broken down into things that really matter to us … daily food, forgiveness, temptation, and protection ( Matthew 6:12-13). Not many of us are in a position to cause world peace or end hunger, but we all have a small sphere of influence where we can help advance God’s Kingdom. If we all pray for God to put the little things of our lives in order, it will go a long way towards addressing the big things. God desires us to be honest and to pray about what really matters to us. If I may borrow from Willard once more:

” … [T]he most adequate description of prayer is simply, ‘Talking to God about what we are doing together.’ ” (Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p.243)

What are you in the midst of doing with God? For me, I immediately think of my marriage and our children. I have a vested interest in praying for my wife and kids. They matter to me. I pray for my friends and their families – those people who mean something to me. I pray for my schooling. I pray that someday God will be able to use what I’m learning for His glory in some small way. I am learning that as I consistently pray for the most immediate issues in my life it is inevitable the Spirit will lead me into some of those “Bono prayers.”

If you find your prayer life is growing stagnant, I highly recommend that you take a personal inventory in an attempt to discover what matters the most in your life. Once that discovery is made, dedicate yourself to a daily pattern of prayer. Keep your focus on those specific issues that you are most passionate for and stick with it. Eventually, you’ll find yourself praying for multiple issues in a variety of situations.

The more I stick to this routine, I am continually shocked by the blessings I have received. God is good!

The Power of Prayer

I have recently committed myself to a pattern of prayer.

I don’t say that to be bragging. In all honesty, I am a little ashamed that it has taken me this long to make the commitment. My entire life I have been prone to only call on God when I needed Him. You know what I mean. Seconds before the car skids off the road is when I would start to pray. Of course, before I became a Christian, I wasn’t sure who or what I was praying to … but that didn’t stop me. I think it’s human nature to call on God in times of disaster whether we believe in Him or not.

There were changes in my prayer life after I became a Christian. I began to pray a little more often I suppose. I would certainly pray in church on Sundays. There was no real schedule to my prayers and probably no real direction. I was still apt to pray mainly for things that I thought I needed. As learned more about my faith and specifically prayer, I became more prone to pray for God’s will in my life. It became more natural for me to pray for other people and for needs bigger than my own … but I still had no real direction or schedule to my prayers.

There has been a dramatic turn in my prayer life thanks to my wife and some fellow believers at work. I have long thought it would be a good idea for the believers at work to meet for community prayer, but I was always hesitant to approach them with the idea. Stefanie, my wife, thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to set it up. With her support, I was able to organize a prayer meeting with some co-workers once a week after work. The results have been spectacular. There are seven of us that have dedicated ourselves to praying for one another and for our co-workers on a regular basis. Every Tuesday, we meet to pray together and to find out where we need to focus our prayers for the upcoming week. Because I am in this with a group of people, I find myself praying far more often than before. I think there is a part of me that is afraid of letting my friends down. Quite often, I find myself praying for the members of our little group and for our co-workers that we know are in need.

The results have been no less than incredible. We’ve been doing this for almost two months now and I feel like I have grown and matured in my faith dramatically. I look forward to Tuesdays with a great deal of anticipation. I feel more connected with my fellow believers than ever before. It is humbling to know that we are just a small group of people in a sea of Christians that are praying for God’s will on earth. It is uplifting to know that there are others in my life that are willing to pray for me and my family.

I do not think it is a coincidence that in the past month my wife and have grown closer to one another. As a couple, we have grown closer to God and are doing our best to hear His voice in our lives. We have both dedicated ourselves to nurturing a genuine relationship with our Father. It would be impossible for me to articulate how beneficial it has been to start a regimen of prayer with my wife. The more we pray together, the more I want to pray with her. I have always loved her … but everyday I find myself loving her even more. My relationship with Stefanie mirrors the one I have with Christ. In the past month, I have found myself loving Him more and more each day. I am so thankful for His sacrifice. I find myself wanting to please Him with my life. I am beginning to understand what Paul meant when he wrote, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I want to take a second to thank Stefanie and the other people in our prayer group (Kevin, Montie, Ron, Trent, & Tom). You guys mean a lot to me. I am convinced our prayers are working. This Thanksgiving I will most definitely be giving thanks for you guys. I also want to thank God for putting people in my life that have the desire to meet and pray in the name of Jesus.

Thanks guys!