Sustained by The Prayers of Friends

My prayer list started almost thirty years ago, when the United Methodist Clergy in my state were asked to make a list of twenty names of colleagues and pray for them. That became my Sunday morning prayer list. Many names have come and gone through the years. Some have joined the “great cloud of witnesses”* the author of the book of Hebrews speaks of. Others have been added along the way. Some were bumped to make my list more manageable. A few have been on that Sunday morning list, since it was created.

In all that time, I have never told anyone about the people on my prayer list. The list has been modified in the past year to a daily list. I was thinking one day how the people on that list have no idea they are being prayed for by me. Then I started to think about the people who prayed me through the crisis times in my life. When my two youngest children were hospitalized in their infancy, I turned to our prayer chain at the church. Later, I asked specific people to pray for me during times of difficulty. At each church I served, I would mention in a newsletter article, how I coveted the prayers of the community of faith. Months later, I would make a hospital call, and find the person I was calling on mention, she or he was praying for me. When a need in a church arose that I could not share with the church, I would go to the Upper Room Living Prayer Center and make a request there.** I will never know the people who took the time to pray for those needs.

I think on that great day of reunion in heaven, when we all gather together. We will be surprised by whom it is that has been praying for us during the various seasons of our lives. I suspect, we will be humbled by the prayers of people we found no time for. We will be surprised by the concern of others we had no perception cared about us, and find joy in the loving prayers of good friends.

When a face comes into your mind, a person slips into your thoughts and you do not know why – then, it would be a good time to say a prayer, knowing that God has need of you and the prayers you have been given to pray.

*The writer of the Book of Hebrews, after giving examples of people of faith recorded in the scriptures writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

**The Upper Room Living Prayer Center is a part of The Upper Room, an interdenominational ministry connected with The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship.

Grasping Hold of the Vision

Grasping Hold of the Vision

IMG_7702“Where there is no vision, a people perish,” says the wisdom writer of the Biblical book of Proverbs to a son. (Proverbs 29:18a). The writer knew that vision drives our focus. When we invest in what we hope to accomplish – our energy, time and finances are directed that way. To have a vision on a personal level is to invest ourselves in something larger than ourselves. God gives us visions and dreams to follow. Much of the meaning and purpose God intends for our lives comes from committing ourselves to those visions. Which is not to say that every vision is easy to reconcile with our current situation. Our lives may require a radical reshaping if we are to prepare ourselves to follow. There may be an addiction to work through or schooling to get before we can embrace the journey God is leading us on.

I like what Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

I was thirty-five, divorced, with seven children when the Call to Ministry hit me hard. It wasn’t that God hadn’t tired before that. From the time I was a teenager I felt a pull to go into the ministry. The years of college and seminary simply seemed too much. At intermittent times along the way, I continued to feel a sense of call to Ordained Ministry. But always there were complicating factors that easily convinced me that this was an impossibility.

I was, of course, only finding excuses not to pursue the call that God had set in my heart. Fortunately, God is not put off by our procrastination or our running away. God’s persistent call continues to follow us throughout our lives. And when we finally listen, it is amazing how God opens hearts to our need. What seems an impossibility becomes a path laid out for the future. Whatever dream it is that God is planting in your heart, may you be gifted with the courage to follow and the faith to trust God to take you into that tomorrow.

The Mystery of Prayer

Last summer a group of us worked our way through the book, “Marks of a Methodist.” John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement. The book was based on his Five Marks, one of which is “to pray constantly.” That brought up a considerable amount of conversation about how anyone could possibly do that. Not having any special knowledge of the workings of John Wesley’s mind, I can only conjecture just what he was trying to say about prayer. As one person kept asking, “How can you do all the rest you have to do, if you’re praying constantly?”

I know that when one of my children is having trouble or mired in a crisis, the concept of praying constantly isn’t hard to fathom. Prayers flow quickly and frequently through the day when I’m worried about a loved one. I think when the scripture teaches us to “pray without ceasing” as it does in I Thessalonians 5:17, that it means to have an attentiveness to the world around us. It means to be conscious of the gentle nudges God gives, to open our hearts to love with God’s love those who we encounter. I think it means to pay attention to the hurt and pain in our world and pray for those impacted by that pain. I think it means to dream God’s dreams and to pray those dreams into reality.

There is a lot about prayer that I don’t understand. What happens in prayer is a mystery. We are encouraged, strengthened and loved in prayer. Both in the praying and in the being prayed for. I don’t know how or why I should be able to sense another person’s prayer for me, but I do. There are times when I’m baffled by a situation in my life, and in the time of prayer come to a moment of resolution and peace. Thoughts flow into my mind and spirit. I decide to take in a retreat I was avoiding, and discover grace in that decision.

To pray constantly, opens a portal between us and God. In prayer we are led to love one another. Something in us changes when we pray. Letting God into our heart and spirit touches a part of us held as sacred space. Maybe, what all of us need is a little more prayer. Friends holding us in prayer and each of us praying for those in our circle of care. What the world needs is each of us, praying for God’s dream for our world to be made real. Jesus said it another way, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

“Upon the Night View of the World, a Day View Must Follow”

633Howard Thurman writes, “Upon the night view of the world, a day view must follow. This is an ancient insight grounded in the experience of the race in its long journey through all the year’s of our becoming . . . it is insight woven into the pattern of all living things, reaching its grand apotheosis in the reflection of mortals gazing deep into the heart of their own experience. That the day view follows the night view is written large in nature. Indeed it is one with nature itself. . . Is there any wonder that deeper than idea and concept is the insistent conviction that the night can never stay, that winter is ever moving toward the spring?”

You may be wondering just now if winter really is going to move towards spring. Defeats, failures and heartaches linger. In our painful and difficult moments, discouragement sets in. We wonder how long we must endure before there is a break in our waiting for something better to come our way. We wait wondering if there will ever be a lifting of despair, a word of hope or that elusive good news that seems to find everyone but us.

Years ago, I read about a woman who said that her favorite passages in the Bible were the words, “And it came to pass.” She said that it reminded her that nothing bad would last forever. Whenever she heard those words, she knew that what she was struggling with would one day pass. In those moments when we are discouraged, when families and friends disappoint us, when our days are long and we wonder if the sun has given up on shining . . . it is good to remember that God is not done.

If you find yourself today, bogged down with stress and worry or floundering in a barren land – there is this word of hope. “This too shall pass.” “Upon the night view of the world, a day view must follow.”

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley
    I fear no evil;  for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

A New Year – Leaving Christmas Behind

I have to admit that I stumbled across more than my share of impatient people on the highways in the past month. Some may have just needed a refresher course in driver’s ed, but I suspect what I’ve been witnessing is a deeper phenomena. We arrived at 2016 carrying stresses and strains of a difficult year.

The threat of terrorism towers over us. We were unprepared for ISIS with it’s barbaric ways. Yet, our faith calls us to trust, even in anxious times . . . To trust in the one who has provided for us in the past and promises to do so in the future. Our world sends us ample opportunities to get the lesson straight. One period in my life forever stands as a time of learning to trust. My personal world had collapsed. I wondered where on earth God had gone off to. Had God abandoned me? If not, where was God anyway? I’ve since learned that God is working hardest in our lives when we hurt most deeply. God surprises us in unexpected moments of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. I learned that God’s love is far greater than I had thought, for God’s love transcends our hurts, our sorrows, our worst mistakes; our most crushing defeats . . . even death and life.

The good news is that wherever we find ourselves today, we have been given the joy of new beginnings. Bethlehem is God’s commitment to be with us in all of life’s journeys. A promise that wherever we find ourselves, whatever our failures or successes, whatever our mistakes, whatever our sins, our personal struggles, God has chosen to enter our lives, to love, accept and be with us where we are.

On this day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that when the Magi came to Jesus, after offering him their gifts, they left and returned “home in another way.” The God who comes to us in our brokenness does not intend to leave us in our grief and sorrow, but rather, to lead us to a life of meaning and significance. May this New Year be one of trusting God, day by day. As you “Return home from Christmas” may you do so is such a way that you are touched by the transforming presence of the one who entered our world in Bethlehem. Of whom it was said, they will call him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”