pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pray a Prayer!

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3 and 4: “The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”

Psalm 126 is a passage that makes a great prayer. Many of the Psalms work this way. That is how and why many were written. In ancient times this song was a sung prayer, often used when going to worship or when traveling to Jerusalem for one of the yearly festivals. For the Israelites these sung prayers functioned like the early hymns of our faith. Both contained truths about God and our relationship with God. I think of songs like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great Are You Lord, and All Who Are Thirsty as ‘modern’ versions of the Psalms.

Psalm 126 is a great example of God’s love and care, both past and present. This is illustrated well in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 recognizes God’s past work on behalf of God’s people and verse 4 asks for God to continue to work amongst the faithful. The first three verses of the Psalm are reminders of God’s faithfulness and the last three call for God’s faithfulness to work in and among the people as they move forward.

The Psalm is a good one for us to pray too. We can pray it as it is. Or we can use the basic structure to personalize a prayer. To do this we can substitute in a time when God rescued or redeemed or saved us (in place of being brought back from captivity) and we can insert actions or outcomes that we desire in place of sowing, seeds, and sheaves. In doing so we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past and we are naming our need for God’s work in our present and future. With this in mind, pray a prayer today!

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoiced in my heart when you called me to Grace. I ask that you would continue to grow my faith as I seek to serve you and this community of faith. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32:6-11

Verse 10: “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Returning to the Psalm we continue with this week’s themes of love, mercy, grace, confession, and forgiveness. Verse six begins our passage for today with these words: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you.” David invites us to do so front a place of assurance that he has experienced again and again through prayer. Through a deep and personal connection to God, David says with confidence, “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach them.” Yes, storms and trials will come. But God will protect those who oft come to the Lord in prayer.

David connects the act of prayer back to the act of confession that he wrote about in verses 1 and 2. To move away from the weight of our sins, away from the isolation that comes with sin, we have to take these burdens to God in prayer. Once we do so we find ourselves forgiven and ready to continue on our journey of faith. We begin to be taught again in “the way you should go” as God counsels and watches over us. Receiving these gifts, we are drawn even deeper into relationship with God.

In verse 10 David writes, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.” To be surrounded – that is a place of security and comfort, of contentment and peace. Trust is built through relationship. The prayer driven cycle of confession and forgiveness, where we best experience God’s unfailing love, builds our trust in God. May we often bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, trusting them to God’s unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your constant readiness to hear the burdens and sins of my life. Your unfailing love cleanses me and prepares me to hear your counsel, your guidance. Open me today to all you have for me. Amen.


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Trust and Confidence

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.”

This week’s Psalm is both a celebration of God’s deliverance and a rejoicing over God’s continued presence in all of life. David begins by praising God for God’s love and faithfulness. David celebrates the place of God’s name and of the words spoken by God. They are both “above all things.” There is nothing more worthy of our praise and adoration.

In verse 3 David acknowledges how God heard and answered his prayers. Because of this David has become “bold and stouthearted.” He is filled with trust and confidence in the Lord. We too experience these feelings when God answers our prayers. David then thinks outside of himself, praying that “all the kings of the earth” would know and praise God. David wants others to know his God, to be touched by the glory of the Lord.

As the Psalm closes, David brings it down to reality. Although God is great and mighty, “God looks upon the lowly.” God is concerned with the downtrodden and the outcast, with the orphan and the widow. The implication here is that we should be concerned too. What is on God’s heart should be on our heart. In verse 7 David recognizes that God is with him. Over and over God has preserved David’s life as he walks “in the midst of trouble.” Over and over, “with your right hand you saved me.” These experiences also build David’s trust and confidence in the Lord. Because of this, David can boldly proclaim, “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.” God is with him; God is on David’s side. God’s love endured forever!

As we journey in faith we come to understand what David is proclaiming. As we walk long with God we too build a trust and confidence in God. And we, like David, are called to proclaim our faith in the Lord. May our witness in the world bring glory and honor to God, the one who is worthy of all of our praise.

Prayer: Lord, you are my redeemer and the rock of my salvation. Your constant presence leads and guides, protects and defends. You alone are worthy of my praise. Use me today to glorify your name. Amen.


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A Constant Prayer

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

These words are probably familiar to you. This prayer of David is often recited just before the pastor or priest offers the message or sermon in church. This prayer invites God into the process and also reminds us who God is. Used this way, the prayer asks blessing on the words spoken and it invites the listeners’ hearts to a welcoming and receptive place. We are also reminded of two of God’s key characteristics. God is our rock, our foundation, our strength. Each time we give or receive the word of God, we are building on that rock. Each time we acknowledge that God alone is our salvation, we give or receive the word with thanksgiving and rejoicing in our heart. It is good to invite God into the process.

These words could also be used another way. What if they were not exclusive to sermon time? What if we used this prayer as a part of our everyday life? Imagine how different our interactions and our relationships would be. If we prayed these words before speaking at meetings and gatherings, before conversations with family and friends, before hitting “send,” imagine how our lives and world would change.

David used these words more in the everyday sense. It was a constant prayer, offered often. I invite you to consider using these words of prayer often too. Claim and live into these words in the week ahead. If they make a difference in your heart and in your relationships, keep using them. Blessings on the journey.

Prayer: God, help me to use these words more than just on Sunday morning. May this prayer become a regular part of my everyday life. Amen.


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God’s Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 5-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Philippians 4 today Paul first encourages us to let our gentleness shine out to all people. Being gentle is a way of being in the world that is noticeably different. The ways of the world are often aggressive, taking, toxic. Being gentle involves empathy, patience, consideration for the other. Being gentle exudes love.

Next Paul instructs us to take all things to God in prayer. He says don’t pause and be anxious first. Take it to God right away. Do not wait until after we’ve tried every solution or answer that we can. Take it to God in prayer right away. And don’t begin by unloading the problem or concern. Don’t just vent to God. Begin with thanksgiving. Start by reminding yourself of all that God has done – rejoice in that. With a heart and mind in the right place bring all the rest to God.

This short passage closes with the “why” – “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is something we do not understand. The burdens, the fears, the worries – the weight of that prayer focus – it suddenly feels lighter if not altogether gone. That is what passes our understanding. When we turn it over to God in prayer, God takes the weight off of us. This opens the door for us to trust more deeply in God. There God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Thanks be to God for the peace that comes through steadfast prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to just rush on today, slow me down, help me to be kind and gentle with all I meet. Build up my prayer life – I want it to be my first response, my first option. In that place may your peace and love wash over me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. Amen.


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Poured Out Prayers

Reading: Psalm 26

Verses 1-2: “Vindicate me, O Lord … I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Today’s Psalm is one of lament, one of anguish, one of crying out to the Lord. We do not know the exact trial or time of suffering that David is going through, but we can feel his emotions and feelings. There is a sense of injustice or unfairness to these words. They are the sincere and honest words of a prayer poured out from the heart.

Reflecting on our readings from the past two days, these are certainly words that Job could have prayed. He was an “upright and blameless” man that endured tragedies that tested his faith. These are words that we have prayed (or will pray) too. Whenever we feel unjustly treated we too have prayed for vindication. Our sense of fairness is offended and we want God to fix it. We too have (or will) remind God of our unwavering faithfulness. It just doesn’t seem right for that thing to be happening to someone so faithful. And as a way to plead our case, to prove that we are worthy and deserving of God intervening on our behalf, we invite (or will invite) God to examine our heart, our mind, our faith. Surely the examination will reveal our worthiness to receive God’s action on our behalf.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were truly upright and blameless, if our hearts could really withstand a millisecond of God’s inspection? We do live holy and devout lives for portions of time. David, Job, Elijah, Moses, Peter, John – all the ‘greats’ of the Bible – they all had their failures, their times when sin reared its ugly head. Only one person lived a perfect and sinless life. While upright and blameless is the goal as we follow Jesus, it is not anything we can achieve 100% of the time. In the same way, our prayers cannot be perfect. But they can be like David’s is today in Psalm 26: honest, sincere, heartfelt, desiring of God and God’s action in our lives. Our prayers, our desires, the hopes of our hearts – may we pour them out to the Lord our God, the one who loves to hear the children praying.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this honest look at prayer. It’s good to be reminded that you just love the conversation with us. It doesn’t have to be all beautiful and polished. That’s ok. But you want it as we feel it, as we honestly pour it out to you. Stammering, stumbling, halting, run-ons – none of that matters to you. Thank you for desiring and hearing our prayers just as they are, no matter what. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: James 5: 17-20

Verse 20: “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today as we continue in James 5 we receive two examples of the power of prayer. The first comes from Elijah’s ministry. We read, “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” The prophet saw the great evils being done by King Ahab and he brought these words as a warning against this behavior and as a testimony to the power of God. This earnest prayer sought to turn Ahab and Israel away from idol worship and other evil practices. It was an honest and sincere plea to bring the people back to God. We too are called to lift such prayers. We too are called to pray prayers that bring others back to God.

This is what the second half of our passage calls us to. It turns Elijah’s prayer focus personal. James tells us that if we see a brother or sister in Christ drift, wander, fall away, sin… then we should “bring him [or her] back.” We do so by praying earnest prayers over this person and by lovingly reminding him or her of the power of God. We are told that by doing so we will “save him [or her] from death.” This saving is from a spiritual death, not necessarily a physical one. The act of returning to Christ will bring forgiveness and will “cover a multitude of sins” as that person is restored to a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

The severe famine that resulted from Elijah’s earnest prayer leads to a showdown and the destruction of the prophets of two pagan gods (1 Kings 18). The people of Israel see God’s power and repent and turn back to God. Then rain falls on the land, revealing God’s love and mercy. When those we pray for and minister to see the power of God again, repent, and turn back to God, a healing rain washes away their sin and restored them too. As people of earnest prayer may we ever seek to draw others near to God, building the kingdom of God as we do.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, give us the courage and conviction to speak truth into the lives of others and give us the humility and obedience to hear truth when spoken into our lives. May we be the iron that sharpens one another. May we be the love that draws others to you. Amen.


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. Amen.