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.
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.
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.
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.
“And forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12a)
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer centers upon our relationship with God and with others. Specifically, it is a request for forgiveness. This request forces us to recognize that often we are not the sort of people we would like to be, others would like us to be, or God would like us to be.
Unfortunately, we are often dishonest in our lives, and this dishonesty can sometimes creep into prayer. Dishonest prayer does not lead us anywhere helpful, but inadequately hides us from God like Adam and Eve sheltering behind fig leaves. Jesus’ teaching on prayer, however, confronts us with the bare reality of who we are and who we are not.
When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he turned from hiding his sin to uncovering it before God. Psalm 51 is the record of that uncovering within prayer, which we call confession.
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)
This psalm expresses the cry of a heart that knows its debts and calls out for mercy. John the Apostle offers words that respond meaningfully to our confession of our sinfulness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, let us run to Our Father, holy and merciful, uncovering our sinful indebtedness with boldness and humility in prayer.
Search through my soul, O God.
Reveal my hidden sin.
Cut through my self-deception,
and cleanse me from within.
Apart from You our souls are lost.
We’re blind to our wrong ways.
We trick ourselves to walk a path
that leads to our disgrace.
So lead me on the path of life,
and purify my soul.
I kneel before You;
I give myself to You.
This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a teaching series entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” This series accompanies our Summer of Prayer at Eastbrook by examining great prayers from both the Old and New Testament so that we might grow in our life of prayer, individually and corporately.
Our life with God is shaped by the way we pray. Prayer is the basic communication with God in speaking and listening that is as essential as air, food and water to our biological life. Prayer is simple in the sense that every human being feels the pull to communicate with the divine, often whispering or shouting prayers unbidden. At the same time, prayer is complicated because we often don’t know how to approach God or what is okay to do.
In this series, we will spend the summer learning to pray through the examples of great prayers found throughout the Bible.
June 2/3 – “Prayer that Pleads for the Lost: Abraham” (Genesis 18:16-33)
June 9/10 – “Prayer that Intercedes for God’s People: Moses” (Numbers 14:1-23)
June 16/17 – “Prayer for Our Desires: Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-20; 2:1-10)
June 23/24 – “Prayer of Repentance: David (2 Samuel 12:15-23; Psalm 51)
June 30/July 1 – “Prayer that Listens: Elijah” (1 Kings 19:1-18)
July 7/8 – “Prayer for Deliverance: Hezekiah” (2 Kings 19:14-20; 20:1-7)
July 14/15 – “Prayer of Dependence: Habakkuk” (Habakkuk 3:1-21)
July 21/22 – “Prayer of Renewal: Daniel” (Daniel 9:3-19)
July 29 – “Prayer of Dedication: Nehemiah” (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
August 5 – “Prayer of Surrender: Mary” (Luke 2:46-56)
August 11/12 – “Prayer in Weakness: a father of an afflicted boy” (Mark 9:22-25)
August 18/19 – “Prayer as Mission: The Early Church in Acts” (Acts 1:24-25; 4:23-31; 7:60; 13:1-3)
August 25/26 – “Prayer as Worship: Revelation” (Revelation 11:15-19; 15:1-4; 16:5-7)
Continuing our journey through Lent to the Cross with Jesus, we move from the focus upon acknowledging our sin last week to turning from sin – denying its power – this week.
It is one thing to face our sins – to name them for what they are – but that is merely one step in our journey toward maturity in Christ. The next step is to renounce – or turn away from – the sin in our lives. Each of us comes to a crossroads in facing sin. Our decision must be to change directions in order to follow Jesus. As Peter proclaimed in one of his earliest message in the book of Acts:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (Acts 3:18)
Here is a question for you to consider: what sin in your life can you identify yet have not fully turned away from? What would it look like even now to turn from that sin, to acknowledge it before God and ask Him for freedom and life?
Even now, each of us could pause in whatever we are doing and turn to Him. He is not far off, but closer than we realize.
As we continue the ||40days|| journey through Lent, this week we will focus on the theme: ‘turn’.
Last week, we looked at acknowledging things in our lives: sin, fears, brokenness, and longings. Radical honesty to acknowledge things in our lives is the first step of the journey, but it does not stop there.
The next step is to turn from those things that we acknowledge in some way. To turn means to see something, and willfully move in a different direction. In our ||40days|| journey, we are talking about turning from sin and other things so that we might turn back to God. As we read in the book of Lamentations:
Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40)
Here at the beginning of the week, ask God to speak to you and strengthen you to turn fully to Him in your everyday life.