Cry For Help

Read Psalm 143

Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.

This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.

This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.

Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Anchored Foundation

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)

In our community there seems to be an endless amount of homes being built. We live in a metropolitan community which continues to see a tremendous amount of population growth. Some of this new home construction has been very close to where we live. On my morning walks I have walked by many of these new homes and seen them at different points of the building process. The process is very similar in each build. Everything begins with a leveling of the ground, then a staking out of the perimeter of the home, followed by a more precise leveling within that perimeter. The ground is allowed to sit for a week or more so that it can settle before one final leveling. The next step in the process involves laying of pipes and other aspects of underground utilities. Once all of this is completed and a wood framework of the house isin place, a concrete slab is poured which will serve as the foundation and provide allow for the anchoring of the walls. Then the framing of the house can begin once the concrete has cured.

Jesus speaks of the importance of a foundation as part of  his teaching in today’s passage from Luke. He uses this imagery to emphasize putting his words into practice. The foolishness of people who hear what Jesus teaches but does not use these teachings as the basis for their lives is like a person who builds a house on the ground without a foundation Jesus says. When the storms come, the house is destroyed because it has no anchor. The opposite is true of the person whose life foundation is the words Jesus has shared.

We have been freely given the words of Jesus as presented in the gospels and applied by Paul and the apostles. What to do with these teachings is dependent upon us. If they serve as a foundation for our lives, we then have an anchor which will help us to navigate through and withstand the turbulent times in our lives. If we vaguely recall, or not recall at all, the teachings, they will have little value to us. The storms will come, they always do, and we will be battered and tossed around until our lives collapse into splinters and rubble. 

Reading the gospels and the epistles begins the building of our foundation. Listening to others as they interpret and teach these words strengthens our foundation. Interacting with the Lord through times of prayer and silence, cures our foundation. Be a wise builder by building your life upon the words of the Lord.

Necessary Retreat

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Mark 1:29-39 (NIV)

There is nothing better than traveling to a secluded place where you can spend some time recharging. Most individuals spend a large amount of time occupied with work or some type of tasks. There is less and less downtime. The United States Bureau of Labor reports that most workers do not even use all of their vacation time each year. Even when we attempt some vacation, or downtime, our electronic devices keep us connected through emails and messaging applications. It is not uncommon for individuals to respond to work emails or have online meetings while on vacation. We need to start disciplining ourselves to take true times of retreat.

Jesus was not immune from having many demands upon his time. We read today that after spending a full day teaching in Capernum’s synagogue, he goes with four of his disciples to the home of Simon’s in-law. The woman was suffering from a fever. Jesus heals her and that evening is spent physically and spiritually healing many others. Truly an exhausting day of ministry.  Before anyone could seek him out the next morning, he awakes and went to a secluded place. He knew that he needed a retreat to recharge and be in conversation with the Father. When the disciples tracked him down, he was re-energized and ready to continue his ministry in nearby communities.

Jesus once again sets an example for us to follow. Early in the history of God’s people, God established a day of retreat each week when the people were told to take a sabbath. Jesus models for us this as an important part of his ministry. Research has shown us that our productivity and quality of work suffers when we do not have regular times of retreat. Our relationship with the Lord also suffers when we do not have regular times of communicating with and focusing on the Lord.

All of this serves as a reminder to deliberately take time to go to a secluded place. We should use this time to recharge physically, mentally, and spiritually. We can commune with our Lord while communicating in prayer.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life. 

Persuasion

And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)

To King Artaxerxes,

From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[a] 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

17 The king sent this reply:

To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:

Greetings.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:7, 11-24 (NIV)

While in college, I participated in a debate club for a few years. The goal of our form of debate was to persuade those listening that your stance on the assigned topic was the correct stance. As the debater, you used collected evidence and persuasive speaking to prevail in the debate. Sometimes the persuasive speaking was more important than the evidence. Persuasion can be used in positive and negative ways depending on one’s point of view.

The act of persuasion is used in the situation recorded here in the Book of Ezra. The Jews had been allowed to return to Judah from their captivity in Babylon, now known as Persia. King Cyrus had directed them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the Persian leaders felt this was a good idea. When Artaxerxes became king, three of these leaders convinced him to search the archives to discover what rebellious people the Jews had been. Their persuasive argument that if he allowed the Jews to finish rebuilding Jerusalem  it would lead to them rebelling and no longer paying him taxes won out. He found the evidence of previous Jewish rebellions and listened to the leaders. The king ordered them to stop the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem. The persuasion to protect his treasury was convincing for the king even if it was not the bet for the Jews.

In life we are faced with having to make many choices. Television, social media, and flyers in our mailboxes all contain persuasive arguments attempting to sway our choices. Everything from which aging cream is best for us to which dentist is the best for us can be covered. The key is to look at the source of these persuasive arguments. We need to examine what evidence exists, if any, that supports the words. Take time to determine the motives of the one making the claims. Then determine the potential impact of the choice you make.  From this you can hopefully make the right choice.  Prayer during this process is always helpful. 

The Struggle

I saw a person wearing a t-shirt which read, “The struggle is real.” After reading the words on the shirt, I began to ponder some questions. What is the struggle? Is it life? Is it a specific situation? Is it a project or task upon which effort is being made? Is it something spiritual? Is this in reference to an addiction? What exactly are we talking about here? Then I came to realize that the specifics are not what matters, what matters is the acknowledgment that for this person the struggle is real.

The truth is that all of us have struggles whether we declare it by wearing a t-shirt or if we keep them to ourselves. For some of us the struggles change over time. Others have a constant struggle like those dealing with addictions. There are times the struggle seems overwhelming. At different times we may even be able to manage the struggle and even overcome it. While facing whatever struggle is in our life, that struggle is completely real to us.

During his ministry, Jesus encountered many individuals who faced struggles. In the Bible, these struggles at times are verbalized in a spiritual sense using words which conjure up images of demons. An example of this is the man who is found naked in the graveyards outside of Gerasenes. Different stories of struggle are shared using words which create the idea of physical abnormalities. The man who was blind is an example of this imagery. In every one of the stories about Jesus encountering people with struggles, Jesus demonstrates a loving response. Jesus does not minimize their struggles but instead shows compassion, a willingness to listen, and provides for their needs. This example is one which can be very important as we strive to understand how to respond to the struggles of those around us.

Jesus also encountered struggles of his own. Stories of Jesus struggling to continuously minister to those around him are numerous throughout the Gospels. Jesus also struggles with the frustration of his message not being heard and understood by those with whom he speaks. The most poignant display of Jesus’ struggle is when he is in the olive trees on the Mount of Olives, the night of his arrest. The struggle is so intense that the author of Luke shares, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Again, Jesus gives us an example of what to do when our struggle seems so real, every time he would go to the Father in prayer.

Yes, the struggle is real, but Jesus provides examples of how to handle the struggle. Whether the struggle is someone else’s or our own, Jesus shows us the way.

Understanding Prayer

Prayer is one of the most common aspects of any faith system. Every faith tradition which acknowledges a belief in a higher power has some form of prayer as one of its spiritual practices. Some systems have regimented prayer structures. Others are relaxed and dependent more upon the individual than upon a structure. No matter how a particular faith practices prayer, the understanding is that prayer is a conversation between a person or group of people and the higher power which is at the center of the beliefs.

A challenge which prayer presents is that there are such a variety of forms and so many ideas about prayer that we often stumble over ourselves attempting to engage in prayer. As a Christian, I have often heard people say they cannot pray. Whenever I hear that, I am saddened because often this type of thought is the result of someone telling them that they do not pray correctly. At these times I explain to the person that a “right way” to pray does not exist. Sure there are formulas that some individuals use but a specific pattern or specific words are not at all necessary. Usually structured or patterned prayers are intended to introduce the concept of prayer to a person but are not mandatory in any way.

Prayer is a conversation, a conversation which should include a sharing of thoughts and feelings like any other conversation you have in life. A unique aspect about this conversation though is the reality that there is no audible response from the other one in the conversation. I am not saying there does not exist a response, just not one to which we are accustomed. A person needs to be open to experiencing the response in a much different way. Yet what remains is the understanding that prayer is a conversation and does not need to be difficult.

I have been practicing my faith for a large number of years. I have been trained as a leader in my faith. Over all those years and through all my training and service, I have prayed in different settings both aloud and silently. I have led prayer and I have been led in prayer. All types of prayers have been a part of my experience. I continue to learn of other ways people pray. Through all this, I have come to the point where praying is no longer confined to a specific time or location but seems to have become woven into my everyday life. I had heard of continuous prayer but had no perception what that might mean. Instead, continuous prayer in my life has just happened. I feel constantly engaged in conversation with my God. Different experiences, different settings, and different forms of expression make up continuous prayer for me.

Let me confess, I am not sure that the title I have given this blog post is fair or accurate. I say this because I do not believe that prayer can truly be understood. Prayer contains so many elements and expressions that it cannot be neatly tied up with a definition or a specific formula. Prayer instead is an experience, an experience that is unique to every person, every faith, and every culture. Accepting this reality is what I think has opened the door to continuous prayer for me.

Since prayer is such a large topic, I want you to view this as an introduction into my thoughts on this topic. I can promise more blog posts concerning prayer as time moves along. I would also love to hear of your experiences of prayer.