Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #22

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Prayer Remembering God’s Acts of Love (Paraphrase of Psalm 136)

There is so much to thank You for, LORD, I hardly know where to start. You are opening my eyes to Your infinite love and goodness. Here You are, God Almighty, King of kings and Lord of lords, yet Your power and majesty are matched by Your everlasting love. For that I will never tire of thanking You. The greatest wonder of all Your creative handiwork is that it flows from Your bottomless storehouse of love, never-changing and never-ending.

Your genius in creating the heavens is love-based; this great green and blue planet was conceived in love; the life-sustaining light of the sun, and the mystery of the moon, stars and planets was born through Your infinitely-enduring love.

Every event in the history of humanity speaks of Your ceaseless love, mercy, and grace as You purpose to accomplish our rescue, the redemption of sin-imprisoned people.

Like a father granting his children an inheritance of provision and rest, the opportunity to experience Your great love falls into my lap too somehow. You remember my weaknesses with love; You free me from my wretched selfishness, obsessions, addictions and enemies with love; You feed me bread of earth and bread of heaven with love; Your love endures forever.

Every time I think of the refrain of the song of Your involvement in our lives, I hear great, endless, life-giving, ever-enduring LOVE. Thank You.

(Photo Credit: By NASA/GSFC/Reto Stöckli, Nazmi El Saleous, and Marit Jentoft-Nilsen – http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=885, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2561260)

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Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers #16

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Prayer of Confession (A Paraphrase of Psalm 130)

I’m calling to You, LORD, from a place lower than I’ve been before. I’ve fallen into a pit I’ve dug myself; I’ve sinned. I’m asking for mercy, Father, because I don’t deserve even to be heard by You.

Yet, You are a forgiving Father. Everyone who stands in Your presence is only there because You keep no record of our sins. I am completely in awe and fear of Your power and kindness and faithfulness to fully forgive. I realize my ultimate survival depends upon it.

So You have my full loyalty, LORD. I trust You and Your promises implicitly. The depth of my being waits for You to help me yet again, to lift me out of the quagmire of my sin, to enable me to sense Your presence with me once again, to live in victory.

I’m waiting for this dark night to become a distant memory, for Your glory to burst into my existence like the dawn of a new day. You promise You will do this for me if my heart is humble and contrite before You.

I want to share with others my firm conviction that hope placed in You is a secure thing: “for with the LORD is unfailing love, and with Him is full redemption.”

Jesus, Your act of redemption means everything to me—to all who are becoming Your children—because You have dealt thoroughly and completely with our sins. We are eternally indebted to You. Thank you.

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #13

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A Prayer Considering God’s Involvement in Our Lives (Paraphrasing Psalm 127)

Creator, All-powerful and eternally present Father, help us see Your involvement in our lives. Any plan of ours that leaves You out of the picture is only doomed to fail—it’s useless, fruitless and hopeless. It’s like building a house without an architect, or like guarding a national border without knowing where the boundary lines lie. We just don’t have the big picture like You do, Lord.

We ourselves don’t have the resources to provide what we really need because everything ultimately comes from You. Even the strength to accomplish our daily tasks is from You; it is good for that day, but then we must rest. The hours we spend in unconscious slumber ought to remind us of the true picture, Lord: You are the only all-powerful One. You grant life and You grant sleep. You grant strength for the day. The successes of our work are thanks to You.

Take children, for instance. They are a gift from You, a wonderful example of Your design to bless us and this world You made. You are the living Spirit who breathes soul into every child’s life—the gift of bearing Your image. Your intention is to bless that life by fulfilling Your wonderful plans for each of them.

Earthly families are only a shadow of the Real Family, though. Through Jesus, You invite us to join Your family, making us children of Yours, heavenly Father. Then, like a bowstring, You send Your children out, arrows in flight to accomplish Your life-giving goals—results bringing peace and hope and love.

Almighty God, successful in every good thing, we acknowledge and thank You as we consider Your involvement in our lives. Fill us and empower us to bless You and to bless this world of Yours.

(Photo Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110243)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 18

On Becoming Great.

“Unless you change…” began the speaker in ‘TEDx’ style, “you will never enter…” He had caught his listeners’ attention. The murmuring had stopped and mouths had gone dry. The group had been discussing strategies for becoming uniquely, individually great. How could they achieve not only their personal best, they debated, but actually rise to the top, stand on the pinnacle of the new dominion, become the greatest?

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus bluntly pointed out, as recorded in Matthew chapter 18. In other words, continue clawing and grasping for power and you won’t even be a part of My kingdom, never mind great in it. His followers’ position in the kingdom of heaven was not at stake—their entrance was.

Looking into the stunned faces of His followers, I’m sure Jesus felt compassion for them in their stumbling progress; it was only human nature for them to follow the promptings of pride, the psyche of superiority, the inclination to put oneself first. They really had no idea what He meant by saying they must become like little children. He would have to spell it out more clearly.

“Whoever humbles himself like this child,” He explained, drawing a toddler toward Him, “is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Humbles himself. It wasn’t a new idea. His followers had been versed in the Law and the Prophets since their own childhood. They had memorized the prophet Micah’s instruction to, “act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Surely the prophet had not meant the humiliation of childishness, though, had he?

“And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me,” Jesus continued. “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

It was going from bad to worse. First, they would have no part in His kingdom. Now, they were good for nothing but Davey Jones’ locker. What did it all mean?

Jesus was saying that simple faith in God is not just best practice; it is only practice in God’s kingdom. Unless a person humbles and entrusts herself or himself unreservedly to God’s plans, as a child would her father, there is no spiritual heart beating beneath the physical exterior.

“BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS:” begins a telegram sent to the Walker children by their father in the 1930s fictional series, Swallows and Amazons. “IF NOT DUFFERS WON”T DROWN.” In other words, if you act with pride and its consequent foolishness, you really deserve the consequences of which you find yourself victim.

Pride says, “I’m in charge of me”, “it’s my life; I’ll do with it as I please”, and makes other similar claims. In contrast, childlike humility toward God says, “You are in charge of me”, “I will follow Your lead”, and the person lives by that premise. The two attitudes are worlds apart. In fact, Jesus is saying that we all have a natural bent toward the former attitude: we don’t want to be like children, having to trust another for the good times we envision our lives ought to contain. When we come of age, our tendency is to slough off the mantle of childlike faith we once had that believed in a good and loving Creator. Remember those days?

Jesus is giving a warning: Eternity with God, believe it or not, is real. Take it or leave it, but we had better not imagine we can make up the rules. We cannot experience true greatness without first submitting ourselves to the process that changes great duffers into child-hearted believers. It is a process. Child-hearts occasionally revert to duffer-blundering galoots. The great thing is to say to Jesus, “I’m sorry”, and “make me like You.”—true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. That is Christ-like greatness.

And the great thing is that God is a Father unlike any other. He enfolds past-duffers into His great family in an embrace that turns them into children that reflect their Father’s greatness more than ever before. Let’s leave the life of a duffer behind. Together let’s become children on the journey that takes us great places.

(Photo Credit: By USAID – USAID, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10485032; CC BY-SA 3.0; 862878;By en:User:Steevven1 – URL: http://www.keysphotography.com/photopages/2007-03-04.php, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1746173)

Who Are You, Really? Part 4

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Royal Priests.

Identity is a precarious and complicated thing. One moment we think of ourselves as capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to, and the next moment we are in turmoil over our tendency to trip up and fall flat on our faces. The person we believed we were fails us. This, in its various forms and expressions, is the anxiety of our fallen human condition. While we secretly know something deep within us is wrong, we don’t want to believe it. We have a God-given urge to think better of ourselves than experience has shown us to be. We want an identity that is internally consistent—that relieves us of our angst.

God, who is the author of our lives, knows this. He knows it and He has the solution to our identity quest. The solution is tied up in God’s Son, Jesus, and our response to Him.

When we allow Jesus to step into our lives, He begins the process of turning everything right side up. Coming to Him and giving up the struggle of trying to be who we are not, causes something deep within us to change. We think of ourselves differently. We become part of a process of transformation from the inside out. Façades drop. The reality of who we really are comes upon us like a light. Our true identity emerges.

We’ve explored this in the first four parts of asking “Who Are You, Really?”: We discover we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, citizens of another place, and living stones. What else are we?

“You,” explains Jesus’ disciple the Apostle Peter, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That’s an earful. Peter employs a Hebrew idiosyncrasy in his writing here. He is saying the same thing four different ways—a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God—they all mean “a specially God-focused group.” Let’s use the term ‘royal priests’ simply because it is so unique. Not many of us would have called ourselves that naturally. Does that mean we need to change our vocation and start wearing the robes and vestments of the clergy in order to identify with our new office?

Let’s look at what Peter says. He explains that this new identity and purpose as priests is to enable us to “declare the praises of him.”—that is, of God. Why? Because he “called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We each have a story. We each have our own anecdote of darkness we’ve experienced. When we take God’s hand, He moves us out of that darkness and into the wonderful and awe-inspiring light of His presence with us. That’s a story of God’s amazing grace in our lives.

The chief privilege of a priest,” explain the footnotes in the NIV Bible for this Scripture passage in I Peter, “is access to God.” Believer-priests are those for whom God removes the barriers between Himself and them. He reveals Himself, His character and His great truths to His priests. He hears their prayers. He makes His presence known to them in innumerable, meaningful ways throughout their day. That is the privilege given to each person who comes to Christ, entrusts him/herself to Christ’s salvation, and chooses daily obedience to His teachings found in His Word, the Bible.

Not only that. Christ Himself is the great High Priest, the One who has intimately known the presence of God by virtue of being one part of the Trinity of God. So He becomes our identity-model, the same way He does with the other identities we’ve observed: the only begotten Son models our filial relationship with the Father, the Firstborn of Heaven models our new connection with God’s kingdom, and the great Cornerstone enables us to be living stones in an eternal home with God. Jesus, the High Priest, qualifies us to be priests, and teaches us how to offer up the sacrifice of praise to God by our daily lives.

The office and position of royal priests is not exclusive, but it is conditional. It is open to every one of us who surrender our lives to Jesus. It means giving up our false identities that in any way exclude Jesus as primary identifier. That’s the part about being “called…out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We were created to be like Jesus—nothing less. “Come to me,” He invites us each day, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29).

(Photo Credit: NormanB [[File:Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461.jpg|thumb|Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461]])