My Most Empowering Prayer

Open Hands shutterstock_339631844

Many people limit prayer to their understanding of what is “spiritually important.” They don’t want to bother God, or they don’t think God is really interested in everyday matters.

What, then, do we make of Jesus’ words, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).

Here’s my working principle: If it matters to me, it matters to God.

So how do we apply this to our daily responsibilities?

What burden(s) do you feel as you live for the Lord in daily life?

One significant aspect of my vocation is communicating God’s Word through preaching, teaching and writing. The burden of this responsibility has grown as I’ve seen how powerless I am to change human hearts and minds. I may be interesting or even inspiring for a moment, but that falls far short of “taking every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

My work as a pastor is like many other careers. There is, however, a unique dynamic to ministry that affects us all, whether we serve as “volunteers” or as our vocational calling. It’s expressed well by P. T. Forsyth (1848–1921), a Scottish theologian.

The work of ministry labors under one heavy disadvantage when we regard it as a profession and compare it with other professions. In these [other professions], experience brings facility, a sense of mastery in the subject, self-satisfaction, self-confidence; but in our subject [of ministry], the more we pursue it, the more we enter into it, so much more are we cast down with the overwhelming sense not only of our insufficiency, but of our unworthiness.

No wonder Paul asked, “Who is sufficient (competent) for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).

I have found hope in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “When they drag you into their meeting places, or into police courts and before judges, don’t worry about defending yourselves—what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there. The Holy Spirit will give you the right words when the time comes” (Luke 12:11-12, The Message).

Based on this promise, I have developed a prayer that has energized my preparation and presentations for many years. “Lord, give me what you want to give me for your people.” And before I speak, I pray, “Lord, give us what you want to give us in this time.” (I mentioned this briefly in my blog “Pray with Open Hands,” September 23, 2019).

It’s a joy hearing people comment, “That message (blog, teaching) was just what I needed. I felt like you were speaking right to me.”

Recently, I spoke at a men’s gathering at our church we call Man Night. The next day I received this email:

Doug thanks for last night. After a very long day yesterday, while getting the kids off to the High School group and my wife off to her Bible study, I told her I was fried and would probably skip Man Night. I was worn out and just not feeling it for some reason.  Then God tapped me on the shoulder, telling me I ought to go.

Then this man, whom I’ll call James, described how he remembered my talk was on staying motivated as Jesus’ disciples—and that he really needed motivation. In my talk, I presented Jesus’ strategy of invitation, not condemnation. I departed from my notes and made some applications to parenting. I shared how it’s easy for parents to become anxious and pressure our children. We condemn them instead of discovering how to invite them into God’s better way. “James” continued his email:

I feel like we’re continually condemning our high schoolers, which just causes more of arguments. So, the power and confidence to back off on the condemnation and instead model Jesus, guiding more through grace, like the examples you gave, was powerful medicine. Thanks be to God.

So, I came for one message, but was moved by another that I wasn’t thinking about, but I really needed help with.  Sounds just about the way God works.  Sometimes the most important thing is just showing up.

I had not planned to speak on parenting, but that was what the Holy Spirit gave me to give these men, especially James.

Prayer can empower us to fulfill the most significant responsibilities of our lives.

The Lord is ready to give his blessings to others through us. The big question is: Are we ready to receive them and pass them on?

“Lord, give us what you want to give others through us. In the strong name of Jesus. Amen!”

Sometimes it’s just being there

L_AMBIANCE BUILDING COLLAPSE
The rescue effort to retrieve 28 men from the collapse of L’Ambiance Plaza in Bridgeport, Connecticut in April 1987

It happened a long time ago—but the experience speaks to me almost daily.

On Thursday, April 23, 1987, I turned on the television at the end of one of our delightful, sun-drenched vacation days in Florida to hear the national news report on the collapse of L’Ambiance Plaza, a 13-story building under construction in Bridgeport, Connecticut—about 4 miles from our home at the time. Of the 70 men working at the site, 28 were missing under the tons of concrete and steel.

When we returned from Florida on Monday, a few days later, I immediately joined the Pastoral Care Team that was providing a round-the-clock presence at the site. By Wednesday, seven days into the disaster, they had recovered 16 bodies and were still searching for the remaining 12. I went to the disaster site from 9:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. for my shift on the Pastoral Care Team to be available to the families, construction workers, police, fire-fighters and medical personnel.

In all candor, I felt helpless and unimportant at the edge of the pit. They had located 4 more bodies, but it would be hours before they could get to them. What could I do?

Around midnight I was talking with one of the union bosses I’d gotten to know who’d been there from the very beginning.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Mike said, “This place is like hell — and we need to know God’s still around.”

His simple affirmation chastened me. I had fallen into the lie that the twisted pile of rubble represented the “real world” and that my “spiritual resources” were of little use. Mike didn’t expect me to dig through concrete, use a torch, operate a crane or provide medical care. He had plenty of people to do that. He needed me to be there as a visible representative of God. Not to explain. Not to fix. Simply to express God’s presence in the midst of tragedy.

We often think too little of ourselves. We forget God can move through our simple, caring presence. I think this is, in part, what Henri Nouwen (professor at Yale and Harvard, author and spiritual director) means when he calls us “living reminders.” In the following quote he speaks of ministers and pastors, but the idea applies to all Jesus’ disciples. Nouwen reminds us that our primary value is who we are as witnesses of our Lord.

What are the spiritual resources of ministers? What prevents them from becoming dull, sullen, lukewarm bureaucrats, people who have many projects, plans and appointments but who have lost their heart somewhere in the midst of their activities? … Nihls Dahl, speaking about early Christianity, says: “The first obligation of the apostle vis-a-vis [in relationship to] the community– beyond founding it– is to make the faithful remember what they have received and already know– or should know.” [Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in memory of Jesus Christ, Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1977, 11].

“Remember what you have received and already know– or should know.” And remind others, too. What should we know?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”  Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV).

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 42:1-3).

In a world that emphasizes power, many things remind us of our lack of power: like severe weather, political conflict, terrorist attacks, buildings collapsing, addictions, “irreconcilable differences,” and natural disasters, to name a few. We, as God’s people, are living reminders to help the faithful recall the truth of the gospel and the resources of faith, hope and love God has provided in Christ. We are also witnesses to the watching world that, in spite of the worst the world can do people, God can meet them in the darkness and bring light.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” Acts 1:8 (NIV).

There are many ways to witness. Sometimes it’s just being there– and responding as God leads.