Short prayers.

My brother in Christ Dr. Vander Warner Jr. got me started thinking about this by his recent article on “Short Prayers.”  (Do what I did and google it.)

Frank Laubach, literacy pioneer and beloved brother in Christ, used to call these “prayer arrows.”  Short sentences sent heavenward to praise, give thanks, intercede or summon the Lord’s assistance have a potency all their own.

The hypocrites think they will be heard for their “much speaking.” (Oh, I pray for two hours every morning. You mean you don’t?)

Professor Dan Crawford remembers someone saying, “A sentence prayer is not a life sentence.”

Pagans think they will be heard for their loud praying. (“God must be far off and we have to summon Him to draw near to us.”)  The Baal-worshipers on Mount Carmel are the poster children for this foolishness (I Kings 18:26).

The overly righteous think they will be heard for their religious praying.  (“Let me pile scriptural phrases on top of more scriptural phrases.  The Lord is impressed by that sort of thing.”) See what Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 has to say about this affliction.

Our Lord said, “Those who worship (God) must worship Him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  That seems to be the standard: My spirit with His truth. And definitely not, “My mindless body with someone else’s thoughts.”

The length of one’s prayer seems to be irrelevant.  Measuring our prayers (the time, the volume, the length) is an exercise in foolishness. Weighing our prayers on any kind of human scale ranks as the ultimate in silly.

When the sweetheart goes into her house at night, she does not gauge the depth of her fellow’s love by the length of his monologues.

Just speak to the Father.

Continue reading “Short prayers.” »

What good does prayer do?

“And He was giving them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not faint” (Luke 18:1).

At all times we ought to pray.

She knew I was praying for a certain family member who seems forever in some kind of predicament.  She asked, “Why do you pray?  I don’t see it doing any good.”

When I caught my breath–I could not believe a Christian asking such a question–I said, “Ask me why I breathe air.  It’s what I do to live.”

She did not let me off that easily. “Do you really think God is going to do what you ask? Is that why you pray?”

By now, I had settled down enough to try to verbalize a reasonable answer.

“That’s not up to me. How He chooses to answer my prayer is His business.”

“My job is to pray. To ask, intercede, to speak in faith what someone else needs. And so I ask for it.”

“How He answers is strictly up to Him. Or whether He even answers at all.”

Her question will not leave me alone. I imagine everyone who prays regularly–and keeps it up over the years, through good times and bad–has to answer this for themselves repeatedly, as well as for friends and skeptics alike.

It’s not as simple as it sounds. “Why pray?”

Continue reading “What good does prayer do?” »

Two things we will find out in Heaven.

 ”So, you were the one praying for me!

Something about heaven was brought home to me by a testimony in the latest issue of Christianity Today (July/August 2014).

In “A Grief Transformed,” Tara Edelschick tells of being brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

“That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.”

Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

However, within a year, Tara had become a Christian.  She writes, “Nothing miraculous happened–no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into a life of faith.”

Mostly, what happened, from her perspective, at least, is that friends witnessed to her. One friend in particular got her reading the Word.

Continue reading “Two things we will find out in Heaven.” »

You asked about praying in Jesus’ name in public

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

“…that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you” (John 15:16).

“Pastor, would you lead our city council in prayer for our opening session next Tuesday? We would really appreciate it. Oh, and, I hope you won’t mind–but please keep it inclusive. Thank you.”

Ever get one of those invitations?

What to do.

Marilou is a friend of my cousin in another state, and she was facing a difficult situation. So, cousin Mary Elizabeth invited her to run this one by cousin Joe. .

“I’ve been invited to bring the invocation at this public gathering and I know they would rather I not mention Jesus’ name in my prayer.” She is a serious believer and wants to be faithful to the Lord.

She assured me that no one had actually warned her off the Lord’s name by using that little joke they call “making your prayer inclusive.”

She was free to do whatever she pleased. The thing she was trying to settle in her mind was “what exactly did she please?”  Are Christians duty-bound to pray always in Jesus’ name?  Or, is it all right not to use the actual words?

Continue reading “You asked about praying in Jesus’ name in public” »

Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God

“And Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took (Mary) as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

“Papa,” the little girl said,”How do we know when it’s God speaking to us and when it’s just us talking to ourselves?”

Her grandfather, a longtime pastor friend of mine, said, “Honey, that’s one of the great questions we have to struggle with throughout our whole lives.”

I’m confident the family asked Joseph that question and a hundred more.

“What do you mean you’re going ahead with the marriage, Joseph? Can’t you see Mary is pregnant and not by you? Doesn’t it matter to you what people are saying and how this looks? You say you heard from God? What does that mean?”

They thought Joseph was being “used,” that his “hearing from God” was his own wish fulfillment, that he wanted to marry Mary so badly he was willing to put up with anything, that the voice he was hearing originated in his own libido.

Poor Joseph.  He did two of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do who is determined to follow the Lord…

Continue reading “Christmas Epiphanies: How we know we’re hearing from God” »

Free Information: Random observations from the old folks’ home

At the end of this piece, I want to point out how Sandra Bullock’s character learned to pray in the new movie “Gravity.” If you’ve not seen it and think this might interfere with your enjoyment, be forewarned and skip it. Or come back later.

One of the fun things about having online pastors’ magazines reproduce our stuff is reading the comments from God’s people far and wide.  I did that just now with an article lifted from this blog recently and sent to perhaps 50,000 subscribers far and wide.

I have no trouble when people take issue with some point we tried to make.  What’s fun is when one reader rips me apart and another one responds to straighten him out.  One said I need to stick to cartooning and leave preacher stuff alone. Ouch.

Sometimes readers take seriously something I said tongue-in-cheek and go off on a rant about it. One said today, “I had a hard time listening to anything more he had to say because I couldn’t get past those introductory statements.”  I had said no preacher should preach longer than 45 minutes.  He started listing preachers, most of them famous, who preach an hour or more and do it well.  I replied that  I had meant it half-seriously and had even said (in the article) that it was just my thought and I might be wrong.

He just wanted to fight. I pity his wife today. Or his church staff, if he’s a preacher.

Incidentally, I’ve heard sermons from some of those guys he mentioned and even though they may preach an hour, after 25 or 30 minutes, they are through. They just don’t know it.

A pastor will pad his sermon?  Of course.

Continue reading “Free Information: Random observations from the old folks’ home” »

What to do after your moronic two minutes

Pastor, have you ever had a meltdown in the pulpit?

In the news this week, two Atlanta radio jocks were fired for the on-air mocking they did of a New Orleans icon, former Saints football player Steve Gleason who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) and lives in a wheelchair and speaks through a computer.

They made fun of him, parodied his situation, and someone role-played Steve speaking of his coming death and such.

It was the ultimate in offensive.

In the article which ran here in New Orleans, one of the terminated idiots (I’m so objective in this story, as you can see) said, ‘What were we thinking?” The jocks apologized, and in a subsequent story, Gleason said he accepted their apology.

One of the men called it “a moronic two minutes.”

No argument.

I have had a few moronic two minutes in my long lifetime, and expect some of our readers have also.

Continue reading “What to do after your moronic two minutes” »

The rarest (and best?) way to give thanks

Recently, I spent part of a morning sketching the first graders in Jill Strahan’s class on the next-to-last day of school.  As I finished and was about to walk out the door, she handed me a booklet the children had put together thanking me for drawing them.

The booklet was not unlike many I’ve received before, childish drawings throughout, with festive sentences saying “Thank you, Mister Joe, for drawing me” and “Thank you for coming to our school.” One or two said, “You are a good drawer.”

It occurred to me later that Jill had led the class to make that booklet before I ever arrived (since there would not be time afterwards). So, the children had thanked me for a job well done before I ever did it.

They had thanked me by faith.

Continue reading “The rarest (and best?) way to give thanks” »

Why you pray for revival and it does not come

“…you were unwilling.” (Matthew 23:37)

1) We do not want revival. Not really.

2) God does not trust us with a revival, and for good reason.  He refuses to arm an enemy, to endow a rebel.

There! Those are the answers to the question.

Now, pull up a chair and let’s talk about it.

It’s that plain and simple: we really do not want a Heaven-sent, life-rearranging revival.

We want the results, the good part, but not the upheaval in our personal lives, priorities, and schedules which a Heaven-sent revival would cause.

Continue reading “Why you pray for revival and it does not come” »

About Your Prayer…I’d Like to Apologize

If you look over the 20 or 25 articles on prayer in this blog, you will see I have sometimes taken people to task for their faulty prayers. I’ve teased them about silly prayers and laughed at their funny mistakes and grown exasperated at what I considered foolish, Pharisaical prayers.

May I apologize?

After all, a prayer is directed to the Father not to the children. None of us has been commissioned to or gifted for the task of correcting the prayers of our sibling

I’m impressed by how little criticism of actual prayers we find in Scripture. In Luke 18:10-14, our Lord did say that the tax-collector went home “justified” (forgiven, made right with God) that day. But He did not say a word about the Pharisee and his prayer. Granted, it was implied that the boasting prayer was rejected, but the Lord sure let that fellow off easily, I’ll say that.

And in James 4:3, we’re told that some prayers are offered from wrong motives, resulting in silence from Heaven.  And Isaiah 59:1-2 says our sins separate us from the Lord and prevent our prayers from getting through. But in neither case did they criticize actual prayers.

I hereby promise to stop criticizing prayers.

Continue reading “About Your Prayer…I’d Like to Apologize” »