Prayer for Comfort

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Prayer for Comfort

Genesis 8:13-19

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Confession and comfort are two sides of growth in prayer. Together, these two kinds of prayer encompass steps 4-10 of the way to recovery and spiritual maturity.

This kind of prayer involved more than wires whispered at a bedside. It is prayer with hands and feet. We go to Jesus as our mediator between God and ourselves, but we also need to go to Jesus to mediate between ourselves and others. It is confession that follows along the line of the teaching Jesus gave in a general sense I response to paying taxes. If you owe your neighbor an apology, God expects you to give it to her. If you owe your neighbor more than an apology, Jesus expects you to pay that as well. Zaccheus it’s a phenomenal example of this from the gospels and Paul writes to the Romans the same thing. Owe no one anything but love.

This kind of full-bodied confession is costly. Between the jabs of confession we need comfort. We need reassurance that, even if we have not been and are not okay in the present, God is meeting us and making a way. There may be no more beautiful and concise picture of this than what James, the brother of Jesus wrote to the churches: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

It is terrifying seeking reconciliation sometimes. It does not always go well. Sometimes it seems to make things worse because it is often easier to ignore a problem than to address it, especially if there is no convenient solution within our grasp. The healing comes not from our own strength, but from God. The promise we have about comfort is not that we will not suffer, but that we will not suffer alone and that healing and joy will follow.

John 14:27-29

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Giving your all

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Giving your all

2Kings 4:18-37

“When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. He complained to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” He said, “Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be all right.” Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.” So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite woman; run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?” She answered, “It is all right.” When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” He said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.” So he rose up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left. ”

This story is not about a normal family. This is a story about gratitude, blessing, and trust.

This foreign woman gave shelter to the aging prophet Elisha and asked nothing in return. When he asked how he could bless her, she said she needed nothing. She was provided for by an aging husband and well thought of in the community. Elisha was relentless in his desire to bless her though, and noting that they were childless, he told her she would bear a son soon. I don’t know how old she was, but between her and her husband, they had given up hope for children. It sounded like false hope to her and she asked him not to taunt her with such foolish promises. Yet she did indeed bear a son.

This passage picks up the story several years later, when that miracle child suffered an unusual headache. His father brought him in to his mother and he laid there with her until he died. Many people would have been furious with grief, cursed Elisha and his God for being cruel in providing them with the blessing of a child and then taking them away so soon. That kind of reaction would be understandable. Not right, but understandable.

The Shunammite woman did not respond that way though. Instead she put the child on the bed that the prophet had slept in, packed her bags, and headed off to find Elisha. Elisha saw her coming from a distance and prepared to meet her. He intended to send his servant with his staff to go back to the boy and restore him to life. The woman was relentless though and refused to leave without Elisha himself. (In some ways this is a counter example of the faith of the centurion and also similar to the faith of this gentile woman)

The kind of faith exemplified here is not blind faith, but persistent faith. It is inspirational as well because even as the mother would not give up:
1. when her son died
2. when Elisha did not want to come back with her
3. when the boy did not awaken at the touch of the staff

So also Elisha did not give up and eventually crawled on top of the boy to warm his body and breath life into him anew. I don’t know how this worked any more than I know how any of the other biblical miracles worked. What strikes me about this passage though is the persistence of everyone in bringing this boy back to life, and the grateful trust that God would provide. There are few things that make you unclean by Old Testament Law more than crawling into bed with a corpse – which ma be why Elisha did not even want to come back into the house to begin with… but in the end, he was willing to give up his own state of spiritual cleanliness for the sake of this faimly and bringing new life to them again.

How far would you be willing to go to bless someone in need?

Who are the grateful foreign families around you that do not know God but may be waiting for you to share your life and your faith with them?

2 Eyes and 1 Mouth

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2 Eyes and 1 Mouth

Matthew 9:27-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.” But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

Jesus Heals One Who Was Mute

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

Most of the time Jesus touched people, they were changed. We often focus on the healing and restoration and in doing so, we sometimes miss the way people change into something new. Two blind men cry out for help and Jesus gives them sight. He only asks one thing of them.

Don’t tell anyone about this.

It reminds me of the very beginning of this wild story called life, when Adam and Eve were given a wonderful gift and only asked one thing in return.

Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

We do not have a very good track record of following God’s wishes, even after being blessed by Him first. Something in us tells us that we know better than God.

This passage does not tell us why Jesus wanted to keep these healing miracles a secret, and the only speculation I can offer is that perhaps the kind of popular attention this would bring was more than Jesus wanted to deal with at the time. Perhaps, as in Nazareth, the whole town would have gathered and then become incredibly upset when Jesus did not offer the same miracles for everyone to see. At some point, I’m sure it moved even beyond the restoration of life into pure spectacle. Can you imagine people going so far as to wound themselves just to show everyone how awesome the healing power of Jesus was? There are no such accounts in the scriptures, but I can imagine people doing things like that… charging admission for healing and making sure everyone gets a good show. The very fact that Jesus did not heal everyone He came across may have prevented that from ever occurring.

But Jesus may have had other reasons for asking them to keep quiet… things beyond my ability to grasp. Everyone He touched had a new story to tell though, and in that way, the compassion of Jesus to help others was the enemy of His anonymity in our world. The one thing Jesus couldn’t do was just be a nobody and fade into the crowd. People believed He was either God or the devil, and there was nothing in-between. His very presence changed lives around Him.

We may find ourselves at fault though, if we use this as an excuse to shout out everything that we hear from God. It has been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we should speak. He gave us two eyes to watch as well. As a preacher, I have learned that some lessons are just for me, and as much as I would like to make a sermon about them, God would much rather people see the change in my actions rather than through my words. Indeed, I think it takes longer for those lessons to sink into our behavior than it does for us to articulate something catchy related to them. It is easy to speak out against issues like abortion or immigration in the name of Jesus. It takes a little more effort to adopt at risk babies and to house immigrants in your own home.

I don’t believe it is just about time though. I think that God’s word, like a seed, needs time to take root in us, sprout and bloom, so that it can bear fruit as we share it then with others. Seeds without good soil, water, and sunshine, are typically not long for this world. I believe Jesus told a story about that.

What is God speaking to you today?

Are you living it enough to share it with others?

Living Water

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Living Water

John 4:5-42

“So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” ”

 

Can we wish ourselves into a better place?

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Throughout the history of humankind, there has always been a kind of mystery around the concept of wishing that has often blurred over into a concept of prayer. In my own opinion, there are few things in the world which so encourage us to cross the line into uncritical, “wishful” thinking, and authority of teaching based upon name recognition and occasionally desired outcomes regarding specific requests. In other words, famous people teach about prayer, and occasionally those who have performed miraculous healings – although they become famous pretty quickly and stay famous so long as they keep their people getting what they are praying for.

Jesus and His disciples dealt with the same kind of followers. They loved Him as long as they were getting what they wanted and then deserted Him when He challenged them to follow Him into challenge. When the teacher sees the people becoming disgruntled, they often change up their prayer teaching from a concept of praying with faith and fervor for the desired outcome, to an idea of praying for God’s will to be done instead of our own. Jesus started at this point (as most faithful teachers do) and the crowds may simply have not listened very closely in the excitement of the miraculous healings they witnessed.

So what are we to make of the effectiveness of our prayers? Rather than go through a topical study of prayer in scripture, let’s first take a critical approach and ask the question, “What do we really have control over in life?” I think this is an important question, because the question about prayer comes down to an question of control at a foundational level. If I can make God do what I want by praying a certain way, then it is actually I, not God, who is in control. I’m just using God for my own ends. However, if it is God who is in control, than it may not matter how or perhaps even if I pray… God will do what He wishes. We can only change that which we have control over.

That list of things we have control over is probably soberingly short. On my best days I have control over myself. Beyond that I am surrounded by circumstances that I just have to deal with. I think most of our practical life experiences back this up every day. Science has done so as well. Robert Moll recounted a study on multi-faith prayer among hospital patients with some surprising results. In one Harvard study:

The results showed that those who received prayer actually did worse than those who did not, and the patients who knew they were being prayed for did the worst. The study found “complications occurred in 52% (315/ 604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/ 597) of those who did not.” Both groups were told that they might or might not receive prayer. However, patients who were told that someone would certainly be praying for them did the worst. Compared to just over half of the other groups, 59 percent of patients who knew they were being prayed for had complications. According to the study, “certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.”

However, that same study showed that people who received prayer paid around $4,000 less in hospital bills. What does that tell me? It’s out of my hands. I either trust that God will care for me or I don’t.

Does that mean we should stop praying? No. It simply means that we need to be willing to seek God’s will instead of our own. This is probably best exemplified by Jesus Himself in the garden of Gethsemane when He prayed:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

We will continue to struggle with our desire to control our lives and the world around us. I don’t expect I can find a solution that thousands of years of science, religion, and philosophy could not. But we can know that God joined us in the midst of this struggle, gave up that power, to show us that He is worthy of our trust and worthy to be invited into our struggle. Ultimately, some desires will be fulfilled and others will not, but at the end of the day, we will be changed for our efforts to make the world a better place. Will you allow God to change you through this process today?

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Fourth Priority- Leave Each Place Better Than You Found It

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“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”

Mark‬ ‭1:29-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There was a lot that Jesus did during the course of His ministry that may not have fit right into His mission of delivering us from the spiritual bondage we were held under. For example, Mark tells us that the second challenge He faced in His ministry, after facing down the evil spirits that approached Him, was helping relieve the physical sickness and injury that the people faced.

Physical brokenness often seemed to go hand in hand with spiritual brokenness, and many people believed that they were intrinsically linked. If you were sick, it was because you were a sinner. If you got hurt, it was because you were not good enough for the blessing of God. This has been a perennial belief that keeps coming back like a bad patch of weeds. Jesus had healing for the asking and He rarely gave any behavioral stipulations to those He healed. On and individualistic level, it may seem perplexing and contradictory to say that spiritual problems and physical problems are closely related, but one does not necessarily cause the other. If they do not share a causal relationship, how are they related?

The truth is, they do share a causal relationship, but not on and individualistic level. We live in a world full of billions of other people and their spiritual problems reach out and touch us causing us problems as well, both spiritual and physical. Likewise, our own sins have consequences for more than just us. They touch everyone. We all live in the same mess, no matter who or where we are in this world. So, when you look at the big picture, across the entire world, and across all of time, then yes, there is a causal relationship between sin and physical brokenness – but it’s all wound up like a wad of string the size of our world that we will never be able to fully unravel.

Jesus didn’t try to unravel it all. He started at the heart of that mess, dealing with the spiritual malady we all are affected by, and then He began to untangle one small piece at a time. Jesus did not finish the job, nor did He intend to. Instead, He showed us how we too, once we find the origin of our own sin problem, can begin unraveling the consequences around us, in the lives of those whose own lives connect with ours. Like the old Boy Scout motto, Jesus taught us to leave each place a little better than we found it.

We rarely can find the root sin cause of suffering in the lives of those around us, but we can be a witness to our own, when we find those links… But even then, our own sin is the the root cause of our suffering. The root cause originated in the Garden of Eden and had multiplied and compounded over time, long before it ever reached us. Again, it is not our job to unravel the whole thing. Jesus has dealt with the root cause and as we receive healing in our lives from the consequences of sin (whether or not that sin was of our own doing or not) we can pass that healing along to those around us. Jesus didn’t heal everyone and neither does He expect us to, but I think He will hold us responsible for those He brings into our lives. Our fourth priority is to work to clean up this collateral damage that sin has caused in our world, wherever we find it, and leave this world better than we found it.