Barbara G.’s Story on Repentance, part 2

We first started with learning how Jesus commanded us to go out into the world and spread the gospel to all parts of the world, but I wasn’t even ready to do it in my own little town. We need to know the scriptures so that we can explain things to people who want to know more of Jesus’ words and how they can help them.

We studied prayer and its overwhelming power and ability to help you and others who need help with their lives. We all realized how important it is to include prayer in your everyday life and to live by its power. Prayer is a very important part of my daily life and I can’t imagine going without praying.

We learned about the history of our church and why that’s so important to know our heritage. Our forefathers of this church sacrificed everything to build this building that we worship in every week. Sometimes I wonder what they would think of us now and our failed efforts to spread the word around the world.

We’re learning how to be good teachers of the word, to be good leaders for the church, to keep the right priorities focused on God at all times. We discuss so many facets of how we should dedicate our lives to Christ and his church. It’s not that Pastor hasn’t talked with us about some of these subjects in bible study or church but it’s just more intense with Mr. Weatherly from F.T.F.

He has walked us through some very important ways in which we can learn to begin a whole new way of dedicating our lives to Jesus Christ and our church.

In the world we live in now, it’s very different than our founders experienced. People were eager to come to church then but now we have to go out and find the lonely, the hurting, the hungry and those people who think that they don’t need any change like I did.

If you have a big splinter and it hurts, just tell God, because I promise you, He has the answer.

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A Call to Repentance — Fanning the Flame #14

The Fanning the Flame team gathered recently to listen to a talk by Presbyterian pastor Lynn  Downing, entitled, “A Call to Repentance.”  He defines repentance as turning away from sin by God’s grace in order to be reconciled with Him.  For those who are already Christians, repentance is not a conversion experience — rather,we repent as God’s children desiring a more intimate relationship with Him.  Our repentance indicates a willingness to let God change us as He chooses —no limits attached.

Church repentance begins with individual repentance.  The team was asked to pray and meditate on these verses from Psalm 139:

Search me, God, and know my heart;d

See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

During the time of prayer we were to ask God to bring our sins to our mind and compile a list.  I must admit that mine was pretty long, although practically everything boils down to selfishness of one sort or another.  After making our list, we were to tear it up, knowing God has already forgiven all of those sins and more.

After individual repentance, the leaders of our congregation will be asked to go through the same exercise, seeking to repent of our corporate sins.  Eventually we will be holding a special service, a Repentance Sunday, when individual members will be asked to pray on behalf of St. Paul’s.

As an interesting aside, neither I, nor any of the Lutheran Ladies of St. Paul’s suggested this month’s theme.  It was Sarah’s idea, but I think God inspired it.  It can’t be an accident that we will be studying, meditating and praying about repentance this month.  Please pray along with us and send us your comments.  God may be speaking to us through you!  He loves you and so do I!

 

A Prayer to Help Change Our Environment

This prayer, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, reveals one of the first principles of changing an environment:  you must change yourself first.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;’

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  to be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love;

fir it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

So You Need a Theophany?

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21

In the time of Moses, God led his people in a very visible way. There was the burning bush, the storm on Mt. Sinai, and the pillars of cloud and fire. The big theological word for this is theophany.  Sometimes we wish God would act in the same way today.  Wouldn’t it be easier if we could actually see God?  If we could all just get in our cars and drive off in a convoy with God leading the way?  Wouldn’t we be less likely to go astray?  Surely we’d get things right if God would just make himself plain.

The thing is, He has.  For one thing, we have His word, the Bible.  It has plenty of instructions the ancient Israelites had to do without.  We also have the example of Jesus.  Jesus was the ultimate theophany, God made man.  The Israelites didn’t have Him either;  they had Moses, a prophet, but just a man who spoke with God, not God Himself.  So what is our excuse?

Well, it’s true that we’re only human, filled with original sin.  The best of us can misunderstand, be tempted, or lose our way.  However, in the long run, we don’t have an excuse.  Most of the time we know we’re not following our leader, because we simply chose to go our own way. We’re no different than Adam and Eve who decided it would be okay to eat that fruit because it looked desirable.  We’re no different than the people in the days of the Judges who “did what was right in their own eyes.”

So what should we do if we’re really intent on following God?  Read His word — He gave it to us for a reason.  Take it as it stands.  Don’t try to weasel out of what God has made clear.  Imitate Christ.  The Bible says He was tempted, just as we are, but did not sin.  Pray.  Lay your decisions at God’s feet.  Communicate your fears, frustrations and hopes.  God is the leader who won’t let you down;  but you have to follow.

 

 

Fanning the Flame #9–Book Review

One of my assignments for this month’s Fanning the Flame team meeting, was to read and book and write a book report.  Here is my finished product.

PRAY WITH YOUR EYES OPEN

BY Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

 

Richard Pratt, who is a professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, examines prayer by dividing it into these three basic components:  God, the Believer and Communication.  Each section of the book addresses one of these categories.

 

Looking at God

  1. View God through the eyes of a servant—recognize our total dependence upon Him
  2. Describe God as you pray—for example when you pray for guidance, you might call Him “good shepherd”; when you pray in grief, think of Him as “comforter”
  3. Use metaphors and comparisons in our prayers—call God “my rock” or “my shield”
  4. Broaden your focus by praying in detail about God’s activity in salvation history, past and present. For example, you could contemplate the details of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Thinking about the Bible story in prayer will draw you into the sweep of the divine drama that is still unfolding
  5. Being guided by Scripture sense God’s presence by picturing God in His heavenly dwelling.
  6. Remember that God is everywhere, He is with you to protect you. Imagine walking with Him in the garden, and allow Him to take you away from the worries of the world.

Looking at Ourselves

  1. Open your heart honestly to God, praying about all your feelings, positive and negative, without allowing the negative ones to lead you into irreverent grumbling or rebellion
  2. In your mind, paint a vivid picture of yourself and your circumstances: are you feeling lost in the desert, rejoicing on the mountaintop?
  3. Trust in God’s goodness; don’t be motivated by greed or selfishness
  4. Reflect on your personal blessings, and God’s care for the world
  5. Reflect on God’s will with a desire to see the world changed.
  6. Be open to God’s response.

Looking at our Communication

  1. Maintain a proper balance between form and freedom: because God is our father, it is appropriate to speak with Him in an informal, spontaneous way;  because God is our king, it is also appropriate to plan our prayers and speak more formally
  2. Don’t spend so much time taking or writing down requests, that you must hurry through the actual prayer.
  3. Prayer should be urgent and persuasive: focus on God’s people, the world around you, and God Himself.
  4. Take time to tell God the story of what He has done in your life. This gives strength and joy.
  5. Prayer can be more than words: strong feelings may demand weeping or singing, kneeling or raising hands.
  6. Practice prayer—your prayer lives, like any other skill, will only develop if you practice.
  7. Consider taking a prayer retreat, or setting aside an entire day for prayer.

 

Corporate prayers can become lifeless through repetition.  Some suggestions are:

  1. Have a special emphasis for a month, week or quarter
  2. Use prayer to celebrate a special occasion
  3. Plan a group prayer retreat

Throughout the book, Pratt relies heavily on the Psalms as examples and illustrations for his points.

I read this book quickly and that does not do it justice.  Each section includes discussion questions and exercises.  In our vision narrative, Beth Ann mentioned we might have small groups devoted to the study of prayer.  This would be a great book to read and work through with such a group.  If you read it as individually, it would be best to read one chapter a week and taking the time to journal and try some of Pratt’s suggestions.

Fanning the Flame #8 Continued … How should I pray?

I once read that we should pray as we can, not as we can’t.  I need to work within my own way of prayer to make it better, not try to force myself into a mold I admire in others.  Satan sometimes whispers in my ear that the way I pray isn’t really valid.  How do you know you’re not just talking to yourself?  Why do you think that idea came from God, it’s just what you want to do anyway.  Why would you think God is using you, you’re not so special!  To counteract this,  I need some reminders that keep me focused on God while I go about my daily life of prayer.

I’ve started a daily routine of taking a walk early in the morning.  I’ve decided to use this time (usually about 15 minutes) to ask God to be with me during the day, to guide my thoughts and actions. When I can’t walk due to the weather, I use an exercise DVD.  On these days, as soon as I’ve finished the DVD, I will take a few minutes to close my eyes, relax and meditate with the same intent.

I do feel bad that my husband and I never pray together, except for table grace. This is largely my fault, since Terry knows I an uncomfortable with verbal prayers. In order to improve our family prayer life we have committed to spending some time every afternoon when he comes home from work reviewing our day together.  What went well?  What fell apart?  What upset us?  How did we experience God’s presence?  His guidance? Then we’ll give thanks for the good things and ask for help to do better tomorrow.

I also want recognize more intentionally, the part that study and worship play in my prayer life.  Before I start these activities I will invite God to be with me and help me hear His Word for me.

When I am in a situation where I need to pray out loud with others, I will look upon it as an opportunity to grow spiritually and serve others.  I will recognize that my spiritual life isn’t all about me.  I will ask God to use even my awkward prayers to bless me and those around me.

This is my prayer vision for the coming year.  What’s yours?  The first step in becoming a Godly leader is to pray, pray, pray.

Fanning the Flame #8 — Prayer Vision

“Pray without ceasing.”  1 Thessalonians 5:17

One of our team assignments for Fanning the Flame this month is to write a personal prayer vision.  This means first describing what my prayer life is realistically like today and then forming a goal to work toward by the end of the year.  I admit that I am struggling, mainly because, for me, prayer isn’t a time I carve out.  I’ve tried having a quiet time, using a devotional, making prayer lists or using prayer journals.  It can’t seem to sustain these kinds of disciplines.  My mind is too unruly.  I don’t like to pray out loud with others. I find myself thinking about the person praying and what I am going to say when my “turn” comes. Words distract me from listening to God, which is what I really want to do when I pray.

Years ago I found this Frank Laubach quote (he was a Congregational missionary) that nails prayer for me:

“I really do believe that all thought can be conversations with thee.”

In the midst of my often chaotic and jumbled up brain, God is there.  The Bible tells us to “put on the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16  I don’t claim to have achieved this, but I do believe He’s part of my thought processes;  He sorts things out, He speaks to me, He guides me.  Sometimes a person comes to my mind and I just hold them up to God.  Sometimes an idea pops into my brain — something I wouldn’t have imagined on my own. Sometimes I wake up with an answer to a problem, which tells me God has been with me even during my sleep, as my mind worked unconsciously.   I don’t need words to pray, I just need to pay attention and listen.  This is prayer for me.

Now there are some other things that “feed” my prayer life.  I have found our Wednesday evening prayer sessions at church deeply calming and fulfilling.  We have a prayer list and pray silently for thirty minutes. It is powerful for me and a good discipline to pray with others this way.  I feel the presence of God and the comfort of Christian unity.

Music is prayer for me, and most especially the familiar words and music of the liturgy.  Here’s what Christian author Kathleen Norris says about that:

“The liturgy of the word is prayer.  You pray the scriptures with, and for, the people assembled and the words go out to them, touching them in ways only God can imagine.”

And of course, we Lutherans know how Luther loved music and St. Augustine of Hippo said:

“He who sings well, prays twice.”

God brings the words of hymns and spiritual songs into my mind all the time.

Study is prayer.  God speaks to me through the words of Scripture.  Often something jumps out in a passage I’ve read over and over yet never noticed.  Sometimes the words of a sermon touch my heart, and I know they are a message just for me.  Sometimes God places a book in my hand or a verse in my mind at just the right time.

My life is my prayer.  When I allow someone to interrupt my schedule because they need help or someone to listen, that’s prayer.  When I learn about my gifts and seek to use them in God’s service, that’s my prayer.  When I try to be “unoffendable” and put the needs of another person first, I am praying.

I don’t know how to separate my prayer life from my life.  Does anyone else feel this way?

This has gotten rather long, so I’ll continue later with my thoughts on how I could grow spiritually through prayer.  Right now I’d like to hear from others — what is prayer like for you?  What helps you to pray?  When and why do you pray?

It may sound as if I’ve strayed off our monthly topic (leaders) but the again, isn’t God our ultimate leader?  And isn’t prayer the way we hear from Him?