A Prayer on Living for God, inspired by Micah 6:8

Creator God,
You have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
until they rest in You.

We admit that we often live restless lives,
turning to all sorts of other ‘gods’
that promise life that is not life
We confess that in many ways we have spurned
Your way, Your truth, and Your life,
and we ask You to forgive us.

Strengthen us now, gracious Father,
that we might walk humbly with You—
not thinking more of ourselves than we should;
that we might love mercy—
reflecting You who are love toward others;
and that we might do justice—
manifesting Your character in our lives.
May Your kingdom come,
may Your will be done
here on earth—even in us—
as it is in heaven.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Looking Back at 2019 with Lament and Repentance

Emmaus RoadThis week, I am sharing some spiritual practices for reflecting on the previous year and stepping forward into the new year.

Looking Back: Lament

Sometimes, however, when we look back over the year, even while we’re trying to give thanks, we remember experiences, events, or relationships that we’d rather not have experienced. The options or more than we’d like to name: that diagnosis, that job loss, that divorce, that death, that financial hit, that relational rupture, that opportunity that disappeared…

In times like this, our gratitude is mingled with sorrow. There is a space for this in the life with God that is exemplified in the psalms of lament. Lament offers us the space to express our sorrows and griefs in the presence of God.

Psalm 13 is one example of lament. The first few verses say:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
(Psalm 13:1-3a)

Lament is a valuable way to look back at the past year. Sometimes we need to name the painful areas of our lives in the presence of God without papering over them with false positivity or wishful thinking.

Writing about lament, Martin Luther said:

“What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…. And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.”[1]

I want to give permission to each of us to look back over our year with God and lament. We may need to name something in our life as a source of great sorrow or wounding, and also bring it to God from the depths of our souls.

Perhaps you may do this verbally or, as I often do, you may want to write out your own personal psalm of lament. There is something powerful about laying it out in words, and giving that to God in prayer.

Looking Back: Repent

But it is not just painful things that have happened to us that we must bring to God, but also the painful things we have done that we must bring to God. We do this so that we can name them, confess them, and turn from them. The biblical word for this is repentance.

Psalm 51 is an extended prayer of repentance that is well known. It references a time of deep crisis in the life of King David, when he has committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband, Uriah, killed, and then tries to cover it all up. Nathan the prophet confronts him about it. Psalm 51 is the repentance response that David offers in response to his failures.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Here is the naming of wrongs David has done. And it is followed by the request for forgiveness, cleansing, and turning away from sin.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

We all recognize that there are things in the past year that we have done to others and ourselves – ways that we have fallen short of God’s best for us. Let me suggest that it is not the best thing we can do to carry these things into the next year with us as a burden. It is important to lay them down in prayer with God, like burdens laid at the foot of the Cross.

Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Although I think this is a good practice daily, I also believe the end of the year is a good time to draw near to God and name our sins – our wrongs – before God, to ask for forgiveness and cleansing, and to turn from them in our hearts.

Something I’ve done in the past is to write certain sins on  notecard or piece of paper, and then (safely) burn them as a sign of these sins being forgiven and cast away by God.

We receive assurance in many places in Scripture that God is forgiving, most notably in 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

 


[1] Martin Luther, Word and Sacrament, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. E. T. Bachmann (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), 255 –56.

Exile Faith at Prayer [Daniel 9]

We continued our series on the book of Daniel this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by turning to Daniel’s famous prayer in chapter 9. Daniel’s prayer takes place in the first year of Cyrus’ reign, around 539 BC, and references Jeremiah 25:10-11 in recognizing that the time of the exile is reaching its conclusion. Daniel has been in exile for more than 60 years, but his imagination has not been closed in by the suffering of exile. Instead his prayer takes flight through an imagination set fire by the revelations of God.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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A Plea for Prayer

prayer3

Today we have more than enough activity but less than enough praying in the church today.

Today we have more than enough hearts distracted by many things and less than enough hearts that live with the solitary focus of approaching God in prayer.

I do not say this to make us feel guilty, but to challenge us to live the teaching of Scripture that leads to abundant life.

Prayer was one of the chief characteristics of Jesus’ life, and so it should be of our lives as well.

Prayer is the means by which Jesus faced the struggle — whether tempted in the wilderness, agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, or in the Passion upon the Cross — and it must also be our means for staying alert in the struggles of life.

Prayer is hard work –- it requires discipline and diligence. Yet prayer is also joyful work –- it leads us into the presence of the God who loves us and holds the world.

Prayer is overwhelming –- we stand before the Holy God of the universe with the burdens of the world upon us and the onslaughts of the evil one against us. Yet prayer also brings peace -– we know that we approach a God who hears us and cares for us, who holds the world together even as we lift the world’s needs up to Him, and who has won the victory over sin, evil and death upon the cross.

Prayer is something that takes us beyond ourselves while simultaneously helps us to find ourselves in the presence of God.

Prayer takes us around the world in intercession even as we are able to “be still and know” that the Lord is God.

Prayer is something that we mature in over the course of our lives, and yet we are ever and always beginners at prayer.

Will you join me in learning to pray, even as the disciples said to Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray”?

Will you step forward in the face of the struggle in your personal lives, and with others, to learn the pathways of prayer?

Will you bring the needs the needs of the world into the presence of God through intercessory prayer, groaning with God over humanity and the entire cosmos?

Let us join Jesus’ first disciples in saying today:  Lord, teach us how to pray.

Praying Deeper with 24-7 Prayer

Last week at Eastbrook Church, we hosted a 24-7 Prayer Room on our campus. This is not an original idea to us, but something many of us have experienced in other settings, such as the 24-7 Prayer Movement or the International House of Prayer.  When I was the Pastor of Collegiate Ministries with Elmbrook Church, running The Ave, a multi-campus ministry to college students in urban Milwaukee, one of our interns, Samantha, spurred us to do something similar downtown in the Big Red Church.  It was a really stretching experience for the students and for me.

As we entered into the summer of prayer here at Eastbrook this year, I wanted to do something like this with our church. Similarly to what we did with college ministry, the team working with our 24-7 Prayer room structured it around the acronym ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) as a means to organizing the room into stations at which people could pray individually or together. Each of the stations had active and reflective elements to it, allowing people of all ages to engaged physically in responding to God in some way.

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The theme for July in the summer of prayer was “Praying with Others.” While I often saw clusters of people and small groups praying together in the prayer room, the prayer room could also be utilized as an individual experience of prayer. As the week continued, however, the sense of being in this with others became more and more clear as people added their own words of praise, confession, gratitude, and need to the interactive elements. I couldn’t help but think of the words in Hebrews 12:1-2:

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus

You can see both the guiding statements for each of the four stations, as well as the interactive elements below.