pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 and 9-10

Verse 3: “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you… grant me my life… and spare my people.'”

Photo credit: Caleb Jones

This week our general focus will be on the power of prayer. Today’s passage is one that has been covered in prayer. Leading up to this interaction with King Xerxes, Esther and all the Jews in Susa have spent three days in prayer and fasting. The three days in prayer and fasting were to seek God’s blessing on Esther’s audience with the king.

Like many of us, Esther and the Jews had been driven to prayer because of a difficult hardship looming in the future. Because of a personal dispute, vengeance was to be extracted upon all of the Jews living in the kingdom. Esther had to choose between the comforts and security of being queen and risking that very life to possibly save her people. She was queen because the last one had been deposed. Questioning one of the king’s decrees could cost Esther her position and maybe even her life.

At times we may face a risky choice – to speak up or to question may cost us more than we may be willing to give. Yet we know the right decision to make. We see the right thing to do. What is it that leads us to do what we know we should do? When in these situations we should look to Esther’s example. She and her people went to God in earnest prayer. They also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to nothing but prayer to God. The God of justice heard their prayers, encouraged the one who could act, and guided her through the difficult conversation.

When the Spirit stirs in us, raising up a cause or concern to bring to the Lord, may we too seek the power of prayer, trusting in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this example of faith and courage and trust in you. All was lived out by bathing it in prayer. Lord, draw me to my knees over and over again. Amen.


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Better Is One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 5-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today’s portion of Psalm 84 begins with acknowledging the blessings and strength that can come from God. The psalmist identifies those “who have set their heart” on a journey with God as the recipients of blessing and strength. As struggles come, as we walk through the valley, the Lord our God will strengthen us over and over – “strength upon strength”. One way that we set our hearts on God and open ourselves up to God through prayer. This is what the psalmist is talking about in verses eight and nine: “Hear my prayer… listen to me… look with favor on your anointed one”. In these words we can sense the depth of relationship between God and this faithful servant. It is a relationship and connection that the psalmist values deeply.

In verse ten we read, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. The writer of this Psalm would rather have just one day in God’s house than many, many days elsewhere – Vegas, LA, New York, New Orleans, the Alps, the Riviera, the Grand Canyon, Moab, Vale… What place would you add to this list? No matter the earthly place the reality is that one day in God’s house, whether that is here on earth or one day in heaven, can be better than one thousand days anywhere else. Imagine feeling that way about a Sunday at church. That is how the psalmist really feels. How can we get to such a place in our faith life?

We get to such a place the same way that the psalmist got there – walking faithfully day after day, keeping our heart set on the journey deeper and deeper into God’s love. The psalmist got there by drawing close to God in prayer and by trusting God to respond to his prayers. He got there by striving to walk blamelessly and by looking to God for all things and in all things. Faith is a long, slow, and steady journey. As we continue this journey of faith, may we come to live and believe that one day in God’s presence is truly better than a thousand days any other place.

Prayer: Lord God, what faith is exhibited by the psalmist. I love being at church, delving into your word, serving you with my whole heart. But one day for a thousand elsewhere? Forgive me, Lord – I have a ways to go. Day by day draw me deeper in. Call me over and over to your love. Thank you for your faithfulness and patience, O God. Amen.


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A Part of God’s Work

Reading: 1st Kings 2:10-12 and 3:3-14

Verse 9: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Our passage begins with David’s passing and burial. David has reigned for forty years. He was and still is revered as the greatest king ever in Israel’s long history. Solomon has grown up during David’s reign. He has probably heard of many of David’s exploits and achievement’s – Goliath, all the battles won… Maybe even more daunting is the knowledge that David was a “man after God’s own heart”. Although he was not perfect, David was well known for his deep connection to God. Solomon has some pretty big shoes to fill.

As we turn to chapter three we see that Solomon has some of David in him – for good and for bad. Solomon “walked according to the statutes” of God. But he also “offered sacrifices and burnt offerings on the high places”. Solomon allowed the pagan influences in his life to lead him to also worship other gods. Like his father, Solomon was not perfect either. Yet Solomon does go to Gibeon to offer sacrifices to God. There he offers 1,000 burnt offerings, seeking to please God with his gift. God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”. What an offer!

What would you ask for? Young and inexperienced and brand new to the throne, following the great King David – if you were Solomon – what would you ask for? Power and fame? Riches? Protection from the enemies all around you? To rule a long time? All of these things would be temptations for me. Hear again Solomon’s request: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong”. Solomon asks for wisdom as a leader and to be able to know right from wrong. Solomon wants to please God and to be a good king for God’s family. God is pleased with Solomon’s request.

There are times when we go to God with our prayer requests. When challenging times present themselves, when we are uncertain, when we are facing a hard transition – how do we pray to God? Do we pray for power over our enemies or for success in the transition? Do we seek fame and fortune from God? Or do we ask for God to lead and guide us, to show us the way that is pleasing in God’s sight? May we be like Solomon, recognizing our small place in God’s grand scheme of things – even if we are “king” – and in humility seek to be a part of God’s work in the world. Our God is faithful. May we be as well.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to seek power and authority, to desire victory over our enemies. Grant me a faithful spirit and eyes that see as you see. Bend my will ever to yours, O Lord. Amen.