What priests do that you and I do also

(Fourth in a series of article based on the little incident in Mark 2:1-12)

“Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men.  Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying….”

A priest stands between God and the people. He is an intercessor before God on behalf of the people.  He is a witness (whether teaching, preaching, or simply speaking) before the people on behalf of God.

The priest has two strong attachments: to the Lord Himself and to the people in his care.

The four men of this story demonstrate both:  Their confidence in Jesus is what inspired them to go to all this trouble of getting their friend to Him;  Their commitment to the friend drove them to do whatever it took to see that he had the full opportunity to be healed.

With one hand on the Lord and the other on the friend, both hands locked into steel grips, the “priest” refuses to turn loose of either.

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The most frightening thing about preaching

It’s actually several facets of the same thing:  I’m speaking for God.

Imagine such a thing.

Lives hang in the balance.

People are making decisions about God based on something I say.

People are making choices about their eternal destiny based on something I say.

Is this frightening or what?

What if I get it wrong?

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You don’t pray very well. Here’s why that is all right.

“We do not know how to pray as we should….” (Romans 8:26)

My wife and I used to have this running discussion over the philosophy that says, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing….(what?)”  She would say “It’s worth doing well,” and I said, “Poorly.”  (I would remind her of our friend Annie who says, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!” lol)

Case in point: Prayer.

Prayer is worth doing, regardless how poorly we do it.

And we do it poorly, make no mistake about that. “We do not know how to pray as we should.’

The Apostle Paul said that.

My friend, if Paul didn’t know how to pray as he should, it’s a lead-pipe cinch you and I don’t.

But that’s all right.  God knows this and has no problem with it.  In fact, He did something about it: He gave us a Divine Intercessor.

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The pastor is the worship leader

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1).

(Note: I write as a Southern Baptist with little familiarity with how other denominations do their worship services.  Therefore, what follows may be of limited value to some of our readers.)

Some tasks we cannot shunt off to someone else. Some key responsibilities we cannot hire others to perform for us.  Leading the worship service is one of the pastoral essentials. The pastor is the leader.

This is not to say the minister will physically lead the hymns.  (In some churches, he does, but in most someone else does this.)  He will not pray every prayer or be the only one reading the Scripture or promoting upcoming events.  But ultimately, it all goes back to him.  The pastor is like the stagecoach driver.  He does not pull the coach but holds the reins to the six horses that do.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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?

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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…

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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.

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