Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers

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#1: Desert Prayer (A Paraphrase of Isaiah 35)

God Almighty; Father of Hope, Spirit of Life, Son of Truth; Come into our desert places. Like a summer rain, flash flood the barren reaches of our souls. We are parched; You are glorious. When your healing truth fills the fissures of our hardened hearts, lives like soil soften; Your Word germinates and sprouts. Like a crocus we burst into bloom; our souls rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

We of feeble hands and shaking knees arise; fearful hearts are made courageous, blindness healed, deaf ears unstopped. We the lame leap like deer for joy. O gladness filling feet, ears, eyes and hearts! The mute will shout for joy as You, God, come to us.

Our hearts like desert sands—unlivable places—dusty, hot and dry have been burdened with the enemy’s lies. Come Living Water, gushing spring. Quench our thirst with Truth—Your deep, deep love for us. So grass and reeds and papyrus begin to grow, lush signs of life sprouting from places we thought not only barren but cursed. Our jackal-like fears are gone now; the ferocious beasts that haunted our souls are driven away by the light of Your Truth and Love.

We are like travelers who have finally found our way—Your Way of Holiness. O lift us up to journey upon the highway that leads to You. We are redeemed! Ransomed! Crowned and singing, we joyfully tread Your Way, creatures made new.

(Photo Credit: [[File:Spry Canyon (8119659047).jpg|thumb|Spry Canyon (8119659047)]])

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What’s to be Thankful For?

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Part 9: Gladness

We cannot hear the word ‘glad’ without thinking ‘Pollyanna’—that is, if we’re into watching old films, reading novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or studying psychology. Pollyanna is the main character in a story of an orphan girl who chooses to play the ‘glad game’ with situations in her often-difficult life. Prior to his death, the child’s father teaches Pollyanna to find “something glad” in every situation life brings. The story describes Pollyanna’s influence for good not only in her own optimistic attitude but also in encouraging the lives of the people around her.

Pollyanna makes her way into psychological research too. The ‘Pollyanna Principle’ studied by researchers Matlin and Stang, states that “people (other than those suffering from depression or anxiety) process pleasant information more accurately and efficiently than less pleasant information.” In other words, we are wired to observe and remember the positive aspects of experiences over the negative aspects. We are designed to be resilient even in difficulty, and we all have the potential to be influenced by simple gladness.

But life isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy to be glad in some of the situations we find ourselves. We struggle with degrees of anxiety and depression. Is it relevant or even reasonable for the writer of Psalm 16 to even suggest that gladness is germane to our situation?

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;” David observes.

He seems authentic; it’s not just a mask of cheeriness hiding sorrow or anger or frustration underneath. He says the gladness is heartfelt. It’s deep inside him and finding its way out in his speech and maybe even in song. that’s something we all could use. Our society is dying to know where that comes from, and how to access it. Look at the facts.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada explains, “Mental health (or well being) is an ideal we all strive for.” It goes on to say that the chances of having a mental illness in our lifetime in Canada are one in five. By that they mean depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other more complex disturbances that affect day-to-day functioning. One in five sounds unnerving. It could mean you or me. They go on to say that mental health is about “learning the coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs.” This is the relevant connection to the psalmist’s phrase in Psalm 16. The psalmist is actually showing us coping skills the Spirit of God has helped him discern.

Here is what David observes: he is finding that his gladness is an effect brought about by a series of earlier events in his life. We know this because he begins his observation by saying, “Therefore.” Have you heard that whenever we see the term therefore, we need to look to see what it is there for? The term therefore means, ‘for that reason’, ‘consequently’, or ‘as a result,’ so we need to go back a step and find out what it is that precedes and initiates the psalmist’s gladness. He’s human. He needs as much reason to be glad as the next person.

So we go back a verse to remind ourselves what we discovered in ‘Part 8: Dependable Presence.’ Psalm 16:8 reads, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Remember? When we choose a mindset of focusing on God’s dependable presence with us, we are strengthened. Mentally. Emotionally. Morally. And more than that, we are gladdened.

It’s all about God’s presence. Accepting it, welcoming it, depending upon it for every breath we take, every decision we make and every challenge we face is the path to gladness. And gladness is not intended to be an addendum to life. It is designed to be at its core. It is the atmosphere in which God intended we live when he first placed us here on this planet, and it is the promise He will ultimately fulfill in our lives when we leave this life and move into eternity with Him.

We cannot access this gladness on our own. We’ve all tried. We’ve grasped moments of it, to be sure, but we’ve all felt it slip away like water between fingers. We can’t have sunlight without the sun itself. We can’t have true gladness without God, because God is Gladness itself.

So take a step toward God. We all need to. As we open our minds to think on His presence today, this minute and the next throughout our day, see if a deep gladness of heart doesn’t begin to bubble to the surface. It’s not dependent on our situation but entirely on His awesome, overwhelming, loving presence. Thank you, Father, for your gift of gladness.

Desert Places Burst to Life

English: Desert of the Sinai, Egypt Nederlands...

Dry.  Lifeless.  Barren.  Deserts sustain their dubious distinction based on their receipt of minimal rainfall.  Lack of camouflaging foliage displays clearly every rise and fall, plain and canyon of terrain. We marvel that any creature can exist in the stark ecosystem of deserts.

Life can be like that.  Sometimes we feel dry and barren, moving through each day’s routines, numb to beauty and parched in spirit.  If we halt for a moment our feverish pursuit of activities that fill our waking moments we find, like grains of sand, they slip between our fingers; nothing of substance is left.  Nothing remains to camouflage our emptiness.

Imagine a mist, a growing, spreading, towering cloud forming over some desert.  Skies darken; the scorching sun is suddenly blocked.  Then drops of unknown rain begin to fall.  Faster and faster they drop until it’s a torrent, a wall of water pouring down.  At first the sunbaked ground seems to repel the strange element, but soon the water finds the cracks and fissures in the hard earth and seeps its way in. As suddenly as it began, the storm stops and the clouds dissipate.  The air is fresh.  Puddles are swallowed by softened thirsty sand.  Something else is about to happen.  Life in the desert is about to awaken.  Creatures are about to surface and sprouts and buds and blossoms are waiting to burst open.  Transformation is at hand.

Earth’s physical deserts illustrate for us God’s great plan of transforming each of us.  The ancient Hebrew sage and prophet Isaiah penned a beautiful description of God’s work.  The lives of those, the “redeemed”, who will admit their need will be like deserts, “parched land”, gladdened by the rain of God’s thirst-quenching Spirit.  Listen:

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;

the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like a crocus it will burst into bloom;

it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,

the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;

they will see the glory of the LORD,

the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,

steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,

he will come with vengeance;

with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,

and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool,

the thirsty ground bubbling springs.

In the haunts where jackals once lay,

grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;

It will be called the Way of Holiness.

The unclean will not journey on it;

it will be for those who walk in that Way;

wicked fools will not go about on it.

No lion will be there,

nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;

they will not be found there.

But only the redeemed will walk there,

and the ransomed of the LORD will return.

They will enter Zion with singing;

everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,

and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The great Redeemer loves to rework hopeless situations into oases of splendor.  Rich with contrasts, Isaiah describes lives lifted from dry subsistence to lush and joyful productivity.  He calls it the “Way of Holiness”, a direct reference to God’s own holy nature.  This way of living consists of a ceaseless stance of openness toward God.  It is a face-to-heaven, hands open attitude of constant expectation.  God is the giver; we are the happy recipients.

Isaiah makes exceedingly clear, though, that some things must go.  This is not an easy grace, an eclectic collection of feel-good fantasies.

Fear must go.  We may not entertain the faithless practice of worry.  God is greater in goodness than any evil we fear.  He will make all things right in His time.

Blindness must go.  We must open our eyes to the presence of God here and now every moment.  No longer may we allow ourselves to be deceived by the pride and selfishness that sees all revolving around self.  The truth of God’s presence is the light we need to see His centrality in our existence.

Lack of forgiveness must go.  It is the haunt of jackals in the recesses of our memories.  It destroys the relationships God want to be productive.  We may not cling to past hurts of being wronged.  Only God has the wisdom to know where vengeance is the rightful response.

Uncleanness must go.  Only those washed by the redeeming work of Jesus may participate in this transformation.  This world’s ideas of immortality through empty pleasure or cosmic unity are but foolish thoughts.  More than foolish, rejecting God’s chosen Redeemer is wickedness itself.  That is a dead end route and has no part in God’s highway.

And sorrow must go.  Yes, there is a place for grieving life’s trials, but we must not give in to hopelessness.

The overwhelming awareness of God’s goodness swallows up every sigh.  Everything from songs of praise to awe-filled prayers of silent thankfulness fills our wondering souls.

God’s blessing is here and now.  Yes, we long for heaven but God’s eternal kingdom is at work in us now, if we will receive it.  Today, God’s Spirit is raining down thirst-quenching, healing, living water for you and me.  We must let it seep into our souls, softening the crust life’s troubles have baked solid.  Drink it up.  Soak it in.  Something is about to happen.  Transformation is at hand.