Tag Archives: Prayer

9 Things You Should Know About the National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual day of observance celebrated by Americans of various faiths. Here are nine things you should know about the day when people are asked "to turn to God in prayer and meditation."

ndp1. The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.

2. Prior to the nation's founding, the Second Continental Congress issued a proclamation recommending "a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer" be observed by the "English Colonies" on Thursday, July 20, 1775, "and to bless our rightful sovereign, King George the Third..."

3. In his role as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington acknowledged a second day of "fasting, humiliation and prayer" proclaimed by the Continental Congress to be held on Thursday, May 6, 1779. To enable his soldiers to observe the day, Washington ordered a one-day cessation of recreation and "unnecessary labor".[12] In March 1780, Congress announced a day of "fasting, humiliation and prayer" to be held on Wednesday, April 26, 1780.

4. There have been 142 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States (1789-2013).

5. The National Observance in Washington, DC is coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical nonprofit group. The NDP Task Force was founded in 1979 by Mrs. Vonette Bright, co-founder of the evangelical Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ International. Since 1991, Shirley Dobson, whose husband is James Dobson, has been the chairwoman.

6. During each year of the George W. Bush Administration, events coordinated with the NDP Task Force were held in the White House. Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush each held only one NDP Task Force-coordinated religious ceremony on a National Day of Prayer during their tenures. During his tenure, President Clinton held informal prayer meetings but did not participate in NDP Task Force events, nor has President Obama.

7. In 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the designation of a National Day of Prayer. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional as it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function." A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned that decision.

8. There have been 65 Presidential Proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2013). Gerald R. Ford (1976), George H. Bush (1989-91) and Barack H. Obama (2012) are the only U.S. Presidents to sign multiple National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.

9. 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the Presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two Presidents, not included in the count - William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding, signed proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer. Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

Other posts in this series:

9 Things You Should Know About The Rwandan Genocide

9 Things You Should Know About The Chronicles of Narnia

9 Things You Should Know about the Story of Noah

9 Things You Should Know About Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church

9 Things You Should Know About Pimps and Sex Traffickers

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America

9 Things You Should Know About Black History Month

9 Things You Should Know About the Holocaust

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Roe v. Wade

9 Things You Should Know About Poverty in America

9 Things You Should Know About Christmas

9 Things You Should Know About The Hobbit

9 Things You Should Know About the Council of Trent

9 Things You Should Know About C.S. Lewis

9 Things You Should Know About Orphans

9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

9 Things You Should Know About Down Syndrome

9 Things You Should Know About World Hunger

9 Things You Should Know about Casinos and Gambling

9 Things You Should Know About Prison Rape

9 Things You Should Know About the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

9 Things You Should Know About Chemical Weapons

9 Things You Should Know About the March on Washington

9 (More) Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty

9 Things You Should Know About Child Brides

9 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

9 Things You Should Know About the Scopes Monkey Trial

9 Things You Should Know About Social Media

9 Things You Should Know about John Calvin

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence

9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases

9 Things You Should Know About the Bible

9 Things You Should Know About Human Cloning

9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain

9 Things You Should Know About Planned Parenthood

9 Things You Should Know About the Boston Marathon Bombing

9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

 

Why Prayer Changes Things

One of the most wonderful mysteries in the universe is that prayer changes things. God has so arranged his world that we have the ability to make significant choices, some good and some bad, which affect the course of history. One means God has given us to do this is prayer—asking him to act. Because he is all-wise and all-powerful, knowing "the end from the beginning" (Isa. 46:10), he's able to weave our requests into his eternally good purposes.

At this point our thinking can seriously go astray in one of two directions.

The first is to say, "If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and if everything is preordained, then he's going to do whatever he wills anyway and thus our prayers can't have any significant effect. Sure, they may help us psychologically, such that talking to God helps us get things off our chest that may help us feel better, but prayers don't count for much in the grand scheme of things. So why bother?"

Here there's an overemphasis on God's absolute sovereignty.

The second route, though different from the first, ends up in the same place by denying the usefulness of prayer. Here's the objection: "If human beings are free to make up their own minds, then God can't be absolutely sovereign; he must take risks such that human decisions can thwart his purposes, so there are severe limits to what we can ask for without undermining human freedom. If, for example, you have been praying for your sister to become a Christian, and God has done everything he can to bring her to himself, but somehow she won't surrender to him, why bother asking God to save her? It's out of order to pressure God to do more than he can do. So just give up on prayer."

Here the emphasis rests on a certain understanding of human freedom ("libertarian").

Strange Logic

Taken at face value, both objections appear to have some force, but only because they employ a strange "logic" that goes beyond Scripture. It's always foolish and dangerous to play up one aspect of what the Bible teaches at the expense of something else it equally affirms. The God of the Bible is presented as the one who rules over all; he's all-knowing, all-wise, and all-powerful. He isn't surprised by anything we may think or do. On the other hand, Scripture also presents human beings as responsible moral agents who make significant choices, doing what we desire to do ("freedom of inclination"). God has chosen to relate to us personally without compromising the fact that he is God.

That said, Scripture describes the sovereign God as "repenting" or "relenting" in response to human prayer. Take Exodus 32, for instance. At this point in salvation history, the people of Israel have broken the Ten Commandments by building and worshiping a golden calf. Incensed, God vows to wipe them out. "I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people," he says to Moses. "Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation" (vv. 9-10). But Moses steps into the breach and reminds God of his promises, arguing his reputation will be brought into disrepute for saying one thing—"I will save the people"—and doing another—destroying them, appearing to renege on his promises to Abraham. Moses appeals to God as the sovereign king to show mercy (vv. 11-13). And that's exactly what happens: "Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" (v. 14).

Certain Means

The theoretical problem raised by a belief in the efficacy of prayer to a sovereign God is acknowledged by C. S. Lewis, who helpfully places it within the wider context of God using certain means to achieve desired ends:

Can we believe that God really modifies his action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if he chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead he allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of his will. "God," said Pascal, "instituted prayer in order to lend to his creatures the dignity of causality." But not only prayer; whenever we act at all he lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God's mind—that is, his overall purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including prayers, of his creatures.

Our problem in trying to see how prayer "works" is that we often have a wrong view of God in relation to his world. Often we think of God like Bruce Almighty, sitting in a celestial office and feverishly dealing with all the requests that arrive: "Mrs. Green prays her husband's cancer be cured," "Mr. Young prays his wife might conquer alcoholism," and so on—with a million more worthy requests. It's seems to be in line with God's will that Mr. Green be healthy and Mrs. Young be sober. But what if both get worse? Does this mean that God doesn't answer prayer?

The tangled web of humans living in a fallen world makes things more complex. At times, the good ends God desires arise from certain evils. So at one level, cancer is an evil, part of the curse on a rebellious world. God sometimes does answer prayers for healing (and in one sense all healing is divine in that God is working providentially). But we also must recognize that since we're mortal, all people die sometime. What's more, other prayers may be offered and answered that can only be answered if there's not healing—like gaining patience through suffering or an increased focus on the world to come. Maybe Mr. Green's son has turned his back on God, and through his father's illness he'll return. So in order to "answer" one prayer, the return of the son, God doesn't "answer" the other, complete healing. God alone knows what is best.

As Jesus Did

Therefore, we're called to pray as Jesus did. As a result of our prayers, some things will happen that wouldn't otherwise. And we're responsible for whether we pray or not. Because God is a personal God, he invites us to share in his work through prayer. As Bruce Ware puts it, "God has devised prayer as a means of enlisting us as participants in the work he has ordained, as part of the outworking of his sovereign rulership over all. . . . The relationship between divine sovereignty and petitionary prayer can be stated by this word: participation."

God has the power and wisdom to use our prayers as he sees fit and to do what we could never imagine. If he weren't all-powerful, there'd be little point in praying. If he weren't all wise, it'd be dangerous to pray; after all, who'd want to ask an all-powerful but foolish person to do anything? But God is both perfectly wise and infinitely powerful, which is why you and I can pray with confidence.

This article has been adapted from Melvin Tinker's book Intended for Good: The Providence of God (InterVarsity).

Why Do We Say, 'God Told Me'?

When someone begins a sentence with "God told me . . ." I have to admit a silent alarm goes off somewhere inside me—unless the phrase is followed by a verse of Scripture. I know that many see this as the way the Christian life is supposed to work—that if we are really in fellowship with God we will be able to sense him speaking to us through an inner voice. But I'm not so sure. And it's not because I think God is incapable of or uninterested in speaking to his people today. In fact I resist this language precisely because God is speaking to his people today. He speaks to us through the Scriptures.

When we read the Scriptures we are not just reading a record of what God has said in the past. God actively speaks to us in the here and now through the words of this amazing book. The writer of Hebrews makes this point clear when he quotes Old Testament passages and presents them not as something God said to his people sometime in the past, but as something God is currently saying to his people (Hebrews 1:6,7,8, 2:12, 3:7, 4:7). He writes that "the word of God is living and active" (4:12). It is exposing our shallow beliefs and hidden motives. This word is personal.  You and I hear the voice of God speaking to us—unmistakably, authoritatively, and personally—when we read, hear, study, and meditate on the Scriptures.

Something More, Something Different

But many of us want something more, something different. We read the Scriptures and witness God speaking to individuals in amazing ways throughout the history of redemption. Job heard God speaking from the whirlwind. Moses heard him calling from the fiery bush. Samuel heard him calling in the dark. David heard him speak through the prophet Nathan. Isaiah felt the burning coal and heard assurance that his guilt was taken away and sin atoned for. Saul and those traveling with him on the road to Damascus heard Jesus asking why Saul was persecuting him. Prophets and teachers at Antioch heard the Holy Spirit tell them to set apart Barnabas and to send out Saul. John felt the glorified Jesus touch him and heard his assurance that he didn't have to be afraid.

Many of us read these accounts and assume that the Bible is presenting the normal experience of all who follow God. But is it? Graeme Goldsworthy speaks to this question in his book Gospel and Wisdom. He writes, "Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person's place in the outworking of God's saving purposes." He adds, "There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence."

Are there instances in the Scriptures in which people describe a sense of God speaking to them through an inner voice? We read accounts of God speaking in an audible voice, through a supernatural dream or vision, a human hand writing on a wall, a blinding light, or a thunderous voice from heaven. This is quite different from the way most people who say that God has told them something describe hearing his voice—as a thought that came into their mind that they "know" was God speaking. One prominent teacher who trains people on how to hear the voice of God writes, "God's voice in your heart often sounds like a flow of spontaneous thoughts." But where in the Bible are we instructed to seek after or expect to hear God speak to us in this way?

Some who suggest that a conversational relationship with God is not only possible but even normative point to John 10 in which Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, saying, "My sheep hear my voice." However, in this passage Jesus is not prescribing a method of ongoing divine communication. He is speaking to the Jews of his day using a metaphor they understand—a shepherd and his sheep. His point is that the elect among the Jews will recognize him as the shepherd the prophets wrote about and will respond to his call to repent and believe, as will the elect among the Gentiles so that they will become one flock, one church, with him at the head.

Longing for God's Guidance

So why do we speak about hearing God in this way? We grew up being told that we must have a "personal relationship with God," and what is more personal than hearing him speak to us about our individual issues and needs? Sometimes if we dig deep we realize we speak this way because we want to impresses others with our close connection to God and make sure they know we've consulted with him on the matter at hand. Another reason may be that to say, "God told me . . ." can prove useful to us. If you've asked me to teach children's Sunday school this fall, it sounds far more spiritual and makes it far more difficult for you to challenge me if I say that God told me I need to sit in adult Sunday school with my husband than if I simply say that I don't want to or have decided not to teach.

But I think there is something more at work here than simply our desire to sound spiritual or to make it difficult for someone to challenge our preferences or decisions. We genuinely long for God to guide us. We genuinely long for a personal word from God, a supernatural experience with God. Yet we fail to grasp that as we read and study and hear the Word of God taught and preached, it is a personal word from God. Because the Scriptures are "living and active," God's speaking to us through them is a personal, supernatural experience.

God has spoken and is, in fact, still speaking to us through the Scriptures. We don't need any more special revelation. What we need is illumination, and this is exactly what Jesus has promised the Holy Spirit will give to us as his word abides in us. The Holy Spirit of God works through the Word of God to counsel and comfort and convict (John 16:7-15). Through the Scriptures we hear God teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Word of God transforms us by renewing our minds so that we think more like him and less like the world. Instead of needing God to dictate to us what to do, we become increasingly able to "discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

I appreciate the way John Piper described his experience in hearing God speak through the Scriptures in his message "How Important is the Bible?" given at Lausanne 2010:

God talks to me no other way, but don't get this wrong, he talks to me very personally. I open my Bible in the morning to meet my friend, my Savior, my Creator, my Sustainer. I meet him and he talks to me. . . . I'm not denying providence, not denying circumstances, not denying people, I'm just saying that the only authoritative communion I have with God with any certainty comes through the words of this book.

And if we want to go back a little further, Jonathan Edwards warned:

I . . . know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true saints, yea, eminent saints; and presently after, yea, in the midst of, extraordinary exercises of grace and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of Scripture strongly impressed on the mind, are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven: for I have known such impressions [to] fail, and prove vain.

What Difference Does It Really Make?

Does it really make a difference when we expect God to speak to us through the Scriptures rather than waiting to hear a divine voice in our heads? I think it does.

When we know that God speaks personally and powerfully through his Word, we don't have to feel that our relationship to Christ is sub-par, or that we are experiencing a less-than Christian life if we don't sense God giving us extra-biblical words of instruction or promise. When we know God speaks through his Word we are not obligated to accept—indeed, we can be appropriately skeptical toward—claims by any book, teacher, preacher, or even friend when they write or say, "God told me . .  ." We don't have to wait until we hear God give us the go-ahead before we say "yes" or "no" to a request or make a decision. We can consult the Scriptures and rest in the wisdom and insight the Holy Spirit is developing in us and feel free to make a decision.

As we delight ourselves in the law of the Lord day and night, we can expect his Word to be living and active in our inmost parts. As that Word transforms us by the renewal of our minds, we will find that our thoughts and feelings, dreams and desires, are being shaped more by his Word than by our flesh. We will find that we are more drawn to obey his commands than to follow the culture. We will ask him for wisdom and receive it out of his generosity.

Not Guilty: Now What?

The verdict is in. George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The reactions have been strong and may only become more intense and polarizing as analysis of the case continues to roll in. Some believed justice has been done; others that injustice has been committed.

Regardless of the reaction, this remains certain: Trayvon Martin is dead, a mom and dad will never see their son again, and Zimmerman's life will never be the same.

We Mourn

"Even though I am broken hearted my faith is unshattered I WILL ALWAYS LOVE MY BABY TRAY"

That was the tweet that Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin, sent out within an hour of the verdict. His sentiment resonates with any parent. The deep pain and sorrow can never be fully expressed. As Christians we respond not according to media manipulation but by Scripture, and God's Word encourages us to mourn with Martin's family.

The apostle Paul, instructing the church in Rome on the implications of new life in Christ, challenged them and us to "weep with those who weep" (12:15). I can only imagine the devastation that must have swept over Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, and Tracy Martin as they learned of his death. The attention given to such high-profile cases can numb our senses to the real-life humanity of the situation. A real boy had a mother and father.  Regardless of how he lived, he was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). He played like other little boys, became a teenager, and then, at the age of 17, died at the hands of another man. It's a tragedy. We weep for their loss and pain. We cry out to God for comfort and faith for this family.

And We Pray for Zimmerman

George Zimmerman's life will never be the same. The jury has declared him not guilty, but for many observers he will forever be a cold-blooded murderer. His name is ruined. He killed an unarmed teenager. It must haunt him at times to remember the moment that he can never take back. Zimmerman needs Jesus. Zimmerman needs to know today that if he died without knowing the saving work of Christ, this tumultuous life is nothing compared to the wrath that awaits him. He needs to know that his sin, not in part but the whole, can be forgiven if he trusts in Jesus. We don't know if he is a Christian, but we should be praying for his salvation and his safety. The trial may have ended, but we pray that if for any reason he lied about what happened that day, he would confess and seek forgiveness. In light of the jury's decision, if it is correct, we should pray that Zimmerman finds peace.

This case has already reopened important discussions about race relations in America. We should, therefore, also pray for our nation as we continue to pursue racial reconciliation and harmony. As old hurts have resurfaced, we must seek to understand if we want to be understood. Let's pray for just laws and more than surface change. We ask God for gospel transformation that leads us to accept and love one another regardless of ethnicity. With this posture of prayer, our ongoing discussions of race and culture will assume a posture of humility and grace.

Before long another confusing and dreadful situation will become a national news story. Most of us will know details only secondhand, though we'll be expected to offer an opinion. So we must look first to the Word to be informed by God's timeless guidance. And we will mourn with those who mourn as we pray without ceasing.

Why I Pray Publicly for Other Churches

Every Sunday morning, I lead the congregation of Third Avenue Baptist Church in a "pastoral prayer." I pray for many things during that time—congregational events, members who are suffering, evangelistic opportunities, various officials in government, missions opportunities, even events in the nation's headlines. The part of the prayer that elicits the most comment, however—both positive and out of sheer confusion—is when I pray for another evangelical church or two meeting in the city of Louisville.

Each week, I choose one or two churches and pray for their services that day. I pray for the church to be attentive to the Word of God. I pray for the pastor to speak boldly and accurately from the Bible. I pray for people to be convicted of their sin, for Christians to be encouraged in the faith, and for non-Christians to be converted. I also thank the Lord that we live in a city where we are not the only church in which the gospel is proclaimed.

Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians' experience that many don't know exactly how to process it. More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren't serious problems afoot there?!

Spirit of Competition

There are many benefits to doing this sort of thing week after week. For one thing, it helps me in the work of crucifying my own spirit of competition. It's so easy for pastors to subtly (if not less than subtly) begin to think of other churches as "the competition" instead of as fellow proclaimers of the gospel in their city. I want to go on record, in the most public forum I have, as praying for the success and faithfulness of those churches. We are not in this to make a name for ourselves; we are all in it to make a name for our King.

Not only so, but I think those prayers do the same work of crucifying a spirit of competition in the members of Third Avenue. Pastors are not alone in struggling with feeling competitive with other churches. Members do too, and it's good for them to see their leaders working publicly to counteract that tendency so that it doesn't take root in the life of the church.

Praying for other churches also communicates an important truth about the various churches in a city: We are all on the same team. We all have the same mission, and it's to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and make disciples of him. The last thing we should want as pastors is to communicate a provincial, myopic spirit among our members that recognizes good only in our church, and cannot see what God is doing more broadly. We serve a massive God, and an important way to show that truth to our people and teach them to rejoice in it is to teach them to care about God's work in the lives of other churches.

I have found that praying for other churches also helps me to cultivate friendships with their pastors. It reminds me, week after week, that there are others engaged in this same work that so consumes me each day, and it challenges me to strain against any tendency I might have to isolate myself in the work.

In our church covenant at Third Avenue, one of the promises we make to one another as members is that we will not "omit the great duty of prayer both for ourselves and for others." At its heart, that is a promise that we'll remember not only God's great delight in answering prayer and his unstoppable power to do so, but also the great truth that he is glorifying his Son through the work of churches all over our cities and the world.

Editors' note: This article originally appeared in the May-June 2013 issue of the 9Marks Journal.

A Prayer for the Mom Who's Worn

Motherhood is both the best job and the also hardest job I've ever had. It has brought me great joy and revealed to me a level of love I hadn't known before. It has also stretched me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I've lived on less sleep than should be humanly possible. I've even learned more than I care to about bugs, science, and how machines work (two boys will that do that to you). While the physical stretch marks may fade, the ones on my heart are there to stay.

Though the joys are many, there are days when motherhood wears me down to the core. Some days, I'm not even sure I'll make it through to bedtime. When night time finally does come, my head hits the pillow hard, and I wonder what I accomplished all day. My heart sighs because I know that tomorrow will most likely be a repeat of the same. Because the job is never done, I'll wake up the next morning to the house still in disarray and mountains of laundry to wash. And based on the sniffles I've heard lately, certain illness looms on the horizon.

Some seasons of motherhood feel more intense and exhausting than others. It's easy to become discouraged by the endless cycle of cleaning up the messes—physical and emotional. Joy sometimes feels like a thing of the past and just out of reach. We can feel isolated and alone. We may question our qualifications to be a mother or think we've failed our children.

The truth is, motherhood is hard, and we can't do it on our own. As John Piper wrote in A Godward Life, "I need help. Always. In everything. I am simply kidding myself if I think I can move an inch without God's help." Just as we cannot live without water, we cannot do anything apart from Christ, including motherhood. "Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

Rather than swim in guilt or wish life were different, we need to go to the Source of our strength, joy, and peace. We need to drink from the living water that only Christ provides. There we'll find that the truths of the gospel are always within reach, always ready to refresh, remind, and restore.

Jesus died to free us from trying to do life on our own. He came to redeem us from slavery to sin and restore our relationship with the Father. He faced every temptation and sorrow that we face, yet lived a sinless life. The grave could not hold him, guaranteeing a future resurrection for all who trust in Christ. As these truths saturate our thirsty soul, we find the nourishment and strength we so desperately need.

And it's because of Jesus that we can go before the throne of grace in confidence to find the help we need (Hebrews 4:16). If you are like me and feel tired and worn, this prayer is for you:

*********************

Dear Father in heaven,

I come before you weary and beat down by this long day. Being a mother can be so hard. I often feel helpless and inadequate. Part of me wants to complain, but then I remember the extent to which you were beat down, and I'm struck quiet. I remember that you are the Man of Sorrows and that you understand just how hard life can be. I also remember that you collect all my tears and care about my troubles, trials, and fears.

The Book of Hebrews tells me I can come to you in confidence and find the grace and mercy I need. And so I come to you now to lay all these burdens at your feet. I feel so overwhelmed by the details of life. It seems like I can never get ahead. Just when I clean up one mess, another one pops up somewhere else. Some days I wonder if I'm really cut out for motherhood.

I know I failed to glorify you today. I failed to love as you love me. I failed to extend the grace you've given me. Forgive me for striving in my own strength. Forgive me for not finding my complete satisfaction in you and seeking it elsewhere. Each of these failures reminds me of just how much I need a Savior. Today reminds me that I need Jesus more than I did yesterday and that tomorrow I will need him even more.

I'm so thankful that there is so much of you to give. You're never tired or weary. Even while I sleep, you remain at work. Nothing happens outside your knowledge and will. You're never stretched beyond what you can handle. And the well of your grace never runs dry.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I ask that you create in me a clean heart. Renew a refreshed spirit within me. Give me gospel strength to get through the day. Open my eyes so that I see your hand at work in the mess of my life. Be my constant in my fluctuating emotions. Keep the gospel ever before me and make it a reality in my daily life as a mother.

I pray that tomorrow you would be with me in all the muck and mire of motherhood. Help me to find my joy in you and not in my circumstances. May I remember that even when it feels otherwise, you are always with me, will never leave me, or forsake me. Tonight I'll sleep in peace knowing that even when I lose my grip, you never let go of me. And I'll open my eyes in the morning to find mercy, fresh and new, ready for the taking.

It's because of Jesus and in Jesus' name that I pray, amen.

When You Can't Even Pray

We are not strong but weak. How are we weak? Well, how aren't we weak? Brokenness, unmet needs, emptiness, confusion, weariness, unbelief, fear, dullness, depression, bewilderment, sin—we can be so overwhelmed with the crushing weight of this existence that we don't even know how to pray. The very enormity of our struggles silences us. We don't know what to pray for, as Paul says in Romans 8:26. We may be paralyzed in helpless indecision. We may be too distressed to utter a coherent prayer at all. We are weak.

Christians are not always on top of things. Where in the Bible are we taught to expect unruffled composure and unbroken victory? Sometimes life is so troubling, we feel defeated even in prayer. And if we cannot pray, we are really in trouble. At that very moment when we most need to draw upon God's promises through prayer—what if we fail at that vital point of connection, when it really counts? Will our weakness bungle the purpose of God? Under normal conditions we tell ourselves that, when all else fails, we can fall back on prayer. But what if we do come to the end of ourselves and our own devices only to discover we don't even know what to pray, we don't understand how to connect the Bible with our experience, and God himself seems far away? What then? What encouragement can we look to beyond our own radical weakness?

When we're reduced to helplessness, the Holy Spirit will help us. Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as a gracious person who steps in with the offer: "May I help? May I bear that burden with you? You're in anguish over your children. You feel forsaken by God. You don't know how to negotiate that important decision. You're lonely. You're tempted. You're sinful. You need to pray. May I help?" The Holy Spirit does not reproach us. In fact, he "gives generously to all without making them feel foolish or guilty" (James 1:5, Phillips).

But how does the Holy Spirit help us? Now we enter into deep mystery. The Spirit helps us, Paul explains, by interceding for us. When we are too defeated and confused to pray, when the familiar phrases just don't seem adequate anymore, when all we can do is groan, the Spirit makes his own appeal on our behalf.

Prayer is more profound than folding our hands and closing our eyes and mouthing well-worn phrases. James Montgomery's (1771-1854) hymn has long recognized this:

Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,

unuttered or expressed,

the motion of a hidden fire

that trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,

the falling of a tear,

the upward glancing of an eye

when none but God is near.

This, too, is prayer, both urgent and profound. And it's in mo­ments like these, when the heart moves even beyond words, that the "the Spirit himself"—the Spirit personally and directly, in imme­diacy and nearness—helps by interceding for us "with groanings too deep for words."

Ole Kristian Hallesby (1879-1961) was a Norwegian theologian who stood for biblical truth in an age of doctrinal erosion. He also resisted the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II and suffered for it in a concentration camp. He understood the depth of prayer. In his book on the subject he wrote this:

I have witnessed the death-struggle of some of my Christian friends. Pain has coursed through their bodies and souls. But this was not their worst experience. I have seen them gaze at me anxiously and ask, "What will become of me when I am no longer able to think a sustained thought, nor pray to God?"

If they only realized what they were doing, the people who postpone conversion until they become ill! My friend, in the death-struggle your physical and mental energies will all be taxed to their utmost by your suffering and pain. Remember that and repent now, the acceptable time.

When I stand at the bedside of friends who are struggling with death, it is blessed to be able to say to them, "Do not worry about the prayers that you cannot pray. You yourself are a prayer to God at this moment. All that is within you cries out to Him. And He hears all the pleas that your suffering soul and body are making to Him with groanings which cannot be uttered. But if you should have an occasional restful moment, thank God that you already have been reconciled to Him, and that you are now resting in the everlasting arms."1

Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Ortlund's new book, Supernatural Living for Natural People: The Life-Giving Message of Romans 8 (Christian Focus, 2013). 


1 Cf. H. C. G. Moule, Romans (London, 1893), 232.

Present and Future Prayers of a Mother

In the spring of 2008 I first prayed for a baby, and in the spring of 2011 God answered that prayer with the birth of our beautiful daughter. My joy was full but so were the fears I wrestled. In some ways I felt like a baby Christian again, caught in a whirlwind of emotions, learning and applying what I have known and trusted into a completely new life—I know I'm definitely not the first to feel that way!

Friends of ours had given us a card when their first son was born; it was full of prayer requests for his little life, a prayer for every day of the month. My prayers were not quite so coherent, especially at first, but the urgency of the moment drove me to my knees. "Help her, help me" baby prayers at 3 a.m.; prayers as I heard the baby monitor light up in the morning; prayers when I thought of her safety, her soul, her future; prayers with my husband; prayers while Eliza listened in.

When people found out that I was pregnant, I often heard how my creativity would discover a whole new vista of inspiration as I became a mother. So when Eliza came I was anticipating a fresh flow of profound poetic thought, but instead I was swept up in the constant flow of changes and feedings and "Old MacDonald had a farm." I was expecting full sentences, but I was blubbering looking at my beautiful girl. I actually wondered if I'd ever be able to write again. I just about tucked some thoughts away to ponder later when my brain would start to fit itself back together again (still nowhere near a completed process).

As I continued to learn the wonderful balancing act and privilege of mothering, homemaking, writing, traveling, and singing, Keith and I began to write a song for Eliza. We chose this theme of praying for her, and the end result was "A Mother's Prayer."

My parents have faithfully prayed for me my whole life, and I remember when I was younger my mum met with other mums to pray for all their children—a "Moms in Touch" group in Belfast. Just the knowledge of that support helped me, and I want Eliza to know we are praying for her and trying to guide her to the call and purpose of her whole life and an understanding of the Lord's grace and faithfulness. We're now in the toddler stage, and some of the prayer needs are shifting. We wanted the song to reflect the different seasons—ones we had discovered and those still to come. We also wrote it to remind us of our promise to pray for her through all the years we're given. We hope this song for her—and even more our praying for her—might catch her ear and help guide her heart as she grows up.

The Boston Bombers Were Outside Their House

In the early hours of Friday morning, Stephen and Emily McAlpin awoke to the sound of what they thought were fireworks. Within moments, however, it became clear what was happening outside was no celebration.

The story that gripped the nation was unfolding in their front yard.

In a hijacked Mercedes SUV, Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were speeding through the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, with as many as a dozen police cars in pursuit. Reports say the officers had to dodge homemade bombs hurled from the careening vehicle.

At roughly 12:50 a.m., the SUV screeched to a halt in front of the McAlpins' house. The brothers opened fire, igniting a gun battle with police that involved more than 200 rounds of ammunition, additional makeshift bombs, and the death of the older Tsarnaev—"Suspect #1."

With the sounds of terror—and even a couple of bullets—entering their home, Stephen and Emily huddled under a table and cried out to Christ. I corresponded with Stephen [Twitter | Blog], church planting resident at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about the night he and Emily will never forget.

****************

What happened? 

On Friday, my wife Emily and I witnessed firsthand the gunfight between police and terrorists in Watertown, Massachusetts, as it happened in our front yard. It was like nothing we'd ever experienced. We first heard the gunshots and an explosion from our bedroom and, after calling 911, crawled with our dog to safety under the kitchen table where we cried out to Jesus for help, and then later into the bathtub for better cover, where we continued praying. We spent a lot of time in fear of death, even after the gunfire ceased and the police checked on us. In fact, we were on lockdown almost the entire day, hiding under our kitchen table as police disarmed explosives around us and searched for the terrorist who had escaped them. We later discovered that during the gunfight seven bullets had hit our home, with one going through our living room wall into our TV and one striking our car. The whole experience was terrifying and utterly unexpected, like a nightmare. Now, we just feel blessed to be alive and safe, and we believe it's only because God answered our prayers.

Listening to your interview with CNN, I was struck by the peace you seemed to experience amid the terror. Where did this come from, and what was it like?

I believe the peace we experienced came from the Holy Spirit, who was a guiding light to us in a terrifyingly dark time. We experienced the Spirit's peace most fully while praying. It was a kind of peace that felt like someone else was sharing it with us. As I led my wife in prayer there was like a bright light that calmed my thoughts and helped me to feel that life is a gift and that it's all about Jesus. In our hearts we felt calmness and even joy at the idea of us finally being with God together. And physically, it was like God's arms were being wrapped around us to cover us. Altogether, the peace we experienced led us into worship and gave us real hope. It was otherworldly.

You reflected that, while hovering under the kitchen table and later in the bathtub, you just held your wife and prayed. What were you praying?

Under the table, after I told my wife that I loved her, my prayer was basically: "God, thank you for the life you've given us together. Thank you for your grace. Oh God, protect us. Jesus, save us! We need you, save us! You're our only hope. God, please show us grace by giving us safety. Please cover over us and surround us with your angels. Please protect our neighbors, too, and show them your grace." Then I was just quiet and every so often prayed, "Oh Jesus, save us!" as I held my wife and dog.

When we later moved to the bathtub, shock was starting to set in, and we were trying to figure out what was happening, but we kept holding one another and praying. That time is kind of a blur, but I remember we were thanking God for his grace in protecting us thus far and asking him to quickly bring it all to an end.

What would you say to those who find themselves in situations of fear?

Pray, worshipfully. In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God. When you're fearing for your life, that choice becomes a lot simpler. You strangely crave a meaningful life, if only for a moment. Don't let that moment pass you by. Remember that Jesus is our only hope for true, meaningful life. Express your faith in him. Enjoy him—who he is and what he does—in that moment. Ask him to do the things that only he does, like gracefully saving sinners for his glory. He is faithful to answer.

If he rescues you in that moment, that's an amazing thing that will change you and others forever. If he doesn't rescue you in that moment, at least you'll have had one of the best, sweetest moments of your entire life as you worshiped him in the threat of evil and death. God can do incredible things through worshipful, Christ-centered prayer.

What has God been teaching you and your wife in the hours since the experience?

The hours since the experience have been surreal, like waking up from a nightmare. A lot of people are, like us, trying to figure out how to move on. We recognize we're still healing, so we trust there's still a lot for God to teach us. Yet as we've looked back so far, God has been teaching us to remember that you can die any moment, so life is exceedingly precious. We have life in this world only because of Jesus and only for Jesus. He's our only hope for true life—and this is true for everyone else. We've been challenged to cultivate a living hope in Jesus all the time—not just during crises—and to share our hope with others still lost in the darkness and unsure of how to overcome it.

In the aftermath of the event, we've been humbly surprised by how simply sharing our hope in Jesus during this dark time is making an impact on our neighbors, our city, and even people all around the world. We think God answered our prayers so that others might know how he can enter into and redeem anyone's story through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Missing Ingredient: Devoted to ________ and Preaching

I just finished co-writing a book on preaching, along with my friend Phil Campbell. I have to admit that writing a book about preaching makes me uncomfortable. I know there are all kinds of do's and don't's and useful tips and techniques. There are plenty of helpful things to say about biblical theology, and pace, and illustrations, and approach, and so on. But my biggest fear in putting all this down on paper is that it makes it sound as if preaching is all about the preacher—what we say and how we say it. But it isn't.

Everyone who has ever preached regularly knows something about the mystery of the sermon that you thought was brilliantly constructed but fell completely flat. In God's kindness, you may also have listened to yourself giving a really dud sermon and then led someone to become a Christian (I much prefer those days). Why does that happen? It's because God works through preaching. We need to remember that, and we need to remember to rely on him for that. How?

Prayer.

Not a New Problem

My guess is that people in almost every generation have worried prayer was going out of fashion. "People are much more self-reliant than they used to be," our grandparents said. Then our parents said the same thing. And now you might be thinking it, too. I suppose it's part of living in a fallen world. But even so, I think our generation, in the second decade of the 21st century, faces some particular challenges when it comes to encouraging God's people to keep praying.

When I was a student in Aberdeen in northern Scotland in the late 1980s, the main obstacle to getting out of bed in the morning to pray was the freezing cold, since the heating didn't work. Although now living in Brisbane has greatly reduced the thermal challenges, 25 years later I face a whole new set of temptations every morning.

Now when I wake up in the morning not only would I rather stay in bed, but also my phone is right there, calling me. I can check e-mails and sports scores from the northern hemisphere, read the news, and even play Scrabble if the mood takes me. I can read my favorite blog posts, catch up on Zite, check the weather radar, look to see who's on Skype across the world. Or I could get up and pray. But even if I make it out of bed, the millions of potentially distracting details only a touch away continue to clamor for my attention. Facebook and Twitter are just two of them. But even when I've successfully negotiated all of this, fully awaken, have a cup of coffee in my hand, and prepare to concentrate, I've wasted at least 20 minutes and feel the pressure to "get on" for Sunday. So what do I do? I start to read or write (rather than pray).

I know the temptation to skip prayer for other "more productive" activity is not new. It's just incredibly easy now—distractions are literally at our fingertips. And nowhere is that challenge more obvious than when it comes to praying for (and before) preaching.

I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect that preachers are praying less today too. They (we) are certainly talking less about it than, say, 20 years ago. And while it's true that there has been a significant resurgence of biblical preaching, I'm not sure this trend has been accompanied by a resurgence in praying—and especially not prayer about preaching.

Gradually, we seem to be losing sight of the fact that God uses weak and sinful people, and that he uses them only by grace. Yes, we may sow, plant, and water—but only God gives growth. That's true in your local church and mine. It's also true of every podcast and ebook and conference address under the sun. God doesn't use people because they are gifted. He uses people (even preachers) because he is gracious.

Do we actually believe that? If we do believe it, then we will pray—we will pray before we speak, and we will pray for others before they speak. It's that simple.

Double Challenge

Let me give you a straightforward double challenge.

First, whatever your habit has been in the past, resolve that from now on you will pray for your own preaching. Perhaps you've been totally consistent in this prayer. However, if you are part of the (large?) number of Bible teachers who would be rather embarrassed (or deeply ashamed?) if someone announced the amount of time and energy you put into praying through and for the sermon before you stood up to speak, this may be a great time to hit the reset button and repent.

Second, make sure your church prays together for the preaching. I haven't done any research on this topic, but I suspect that the church prayer meeting is rapidly in decline. The growth of the home group is a really good thing, but it comes with a cost. In my experience, the cost is that the "prayer" part of the home group is always weaker than the study part. The net result is that we pray more for my Aunt Nelly's next-door neighbor's friend's daughter than we do for the proclamation of the message of Jesus. (And it's not that my Aunt Nelly's next-door neighbor's friend's daughter doesn't need prayer—I am arguing for both/and rather than either/or). It's worth checking—is there a dedicated time during the week when people from your church gather specifically to pray for your core business? If not, please start one.

So, then, whether you preach or hear the Word preached, devote yourselves to prayer and to preaching. In Acts 6, the outcome of such double devotion for the early church included the increase of the Word of God, of disciples, and of obedience.

* * * * * *

This excerpt comes from Gary Millar and Phil Campbell's forthcoming book Saving Eutychus, which will be released during TGC's 2013 National Conference, where Millar will preach from Luke 22:39-23:43 on "Jesus Betrayed and Crucified." You'll be able to purchase Saving Eutychus, along with thousands of other titles by conference speakers and various authors at our LifeWay Conference Bookstore.