PRAYER AND PRAISE

By Lori Willard

If a family member answered the phone and they discovered the person on the other end of the line was Billy Graham, and he was calling for you, would you drop everything to speak with him?  Well…The Lord of the Universe – The King of Kings – is calling for you to exchange words with you.  Will you answer His call?

31 Days of Prayer and 31 Days of Praise by Ruth and Warren Myers have influenced my times of prayer and praise over the past few months.  The prayers and praises are broken down into daily times with God based on the scriptures that guide you.  In the books, they record Bible passages so you can rewrite the prayers if you choose to do so.  A few thoughts from their books have given me new insights or have reinforced ideas already known.  I have modified some of those thoughts to share from my perspective.

The Word and prayer keeps us connected to God – then links our lives with God’s purposes and power.  The Word and prayer bring us into a loving relationship with God.  We also realize through this relationship, how much we need Him so we prayerfully choose to depend on Him.

Praying for others – intercession – moves us from “give me” prayers to partnering with God on others’ behalf.  Philippians 4:6 says that He desires to hear our needs, but wants us to move beyond those prayers.  The Lord’s Prayer has 7 petitions – 6 of them focus on God’s purposes and our spiritual needs – 1 focuses on our practical needs.  God wants us to grow in prayer as we continue to commune with Him.

There are all kinds of prayer, for example:  praise, thanksgiving, confessing our sins, quiet communion, our needs, loved ones and others.  However, God desires us to partner with Him in our prayers.  What does God want me to pray about?  Jesus prays for us in John 17 and Hebrews 7:25.  The Holy Spirit helps us in prayer according to Romans 8:26.  How awesome to join His inner circle of prayer with Him!

Praise and Thanksgiving helps us rise above our self-centeredness to a God-centeredness.  It focuses our hearts and minds on the Lord and makes us more dependent on Him.  God gives us joy, spiritual vigor and an overcoming attitude as we focus on Him.

Praises allows the Lord to turn grief, distresses, and struggles into peace.  Praise during times of blessings and during times of trials enables us to “rise above” because we know that the Lord has promised never to leave us or forsake us – Hebrews 13:5; so we can say, along with David, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” NKJV

God chooses to use prayer, praise, reading His Word, Bible study, and fellowship with true believers, etc. all to bring us closer to Him.  May we not neglect the most important details of our relationship with Him but instead – PRESS ON, PRAY ON!

Philippians 3:13-16 “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.  Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” NKJV

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COME, EXPECTED ONE

By Sarah Langness

Come, Thou long expected Jesus; Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit, raise us to Thy glorious throne. 

My favorite part of the Christmas story isn’t found in what we typically think of as “the Christmas story”. My favorite part doesn’t involve mangers, magi or Mary. It doesn’t involve shepherds, angels, or inns.

 My favorite part of the Christmas story involves a priest, a prayer, and a promise:

“In the days of Herod . . . there was a priest named Zacharias . . . and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.

Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias,for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. For you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord . . . it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.‘” – Luke 1:5-17, NASB (emphasis mine) 

Zacharias’ prayer in the temple was not, as we may believe based on how the text reads, a prayer for a son. He was not standing before the Lord on behalf of himself and Elizabeth, begging God to open her womb. Zacharias was standing before the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel, begging God to send the Redeemer. His prayer was the priestly prayer for the redemption of Israel.

 So when Gabriel comes to him and says “Your prayer has been answered”, Gabriel is saying, “The Lord God has heard your prayers and the prayers of others before you. He will send the Redeemer. The time has come. And you are going to play a part.”

 Next to being Mary herself, I cannot think of anything more humbling, more awe-striking, more fear-inducing.

 From the beginning, from the fall of man, God has promised a Savior. A Redeemer. A Messiah. The prayers of the nation of Israel was, “Come!” The Lord heard those prayers. And He answered them. In His timing.

As we celebrate His coming, His humble birth and wondrous love, may we anxiously await His return. May the prayer of every believer’s heart echo that of the Israelites, “Come!”. The Lord will hear those prayers. And in His time, He will answer them.

 

After the Whirlwind

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by Sarah Langness

I might as well come right out and admit it: I am feeling sorry for myself. Because for the first time since 2001, I am not attending the FLY (Free Lutheran Youth) Convention. Six times I’ve gone; three as a student, three as a counselor. A majority of my family is in Estes Park, Colorado. Many of my close friends are there. People I haven’t seen in years, don’t keep in good contact with, but still consider dear to my heart – they are there too. But I stayed home. Back in February, when Jordan and I were praying about Zeke and I attending, we felt a peace about staying home. All I’d like to know now is: what happened to that peace?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that for the past three weeks, I’ve been surrounded by people. Family reunions and wedding activities for two weeks in Minneapolis; then nearly four days of family visiting us here in Beulah. And now, it’s just me and Zeke. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son. But after so much activity, after that whirlwind of three weeks, it’s pretty quiet around here.

So in the midst of my moping, I’m reminding both my heart and my head that the Lord knows what I don’t know. Maybe He wanted us home because of that suspiciously snotty, sometimes congested nose of Ezekiel’s that hasn’t gotten worse but hasn’t gone away. Maybe He wanted us home because He knew those two weeks away really would be enough for us, despite the fact that I currently feel like we could be gone another two. Maybe He wanted me to stay home to remind me that I don’t always have to be in the midst of the “action”, of the exciting things. To remind me that there is ministry to be done right here at home in Beulah. To show me the importance of and power of prayer for a gathering that is 670 miles away.

Devote yourselves to prayer; keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ . . . Conduct yourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt . . . ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.'” – Colossians 4:2-3, 5-6, 17; NASB (emphasis mine)

Unfortunately, it’s always one thing to know truth and entirely different thing to believe truth. That’s what I’m working on right now. Who knows, maybe it’ll take all week for that to take place. But I’ve simply got to trust that God’s thoughts and plans are better than my own (Isaiah 55:8-9).

And I better be faithful with the time He has given me in the place He has led me.

In the Midst of the Whirlwind

by Sarah Langness

2200 miles. Fourteen days. Thirteen nights. One Annual Conference. Two family reunions. One of my best friend’s (aka brother’s) wedding. It was a crazy – but blessed – two weeks. We stayed in the same location no more than four days before traveling to a new one. We went from North Dakota to Minnesota to Wisconsin and to Minnesota to Wisconsin and back to North Dakota. We saw extended family on both sides. I played ultimate frisbee for the first time in probably four years and felt the effects for days. I cried as I saw the love in my brother’s eyes for his beautiful bride. My son touched his grandpa’s bald head for the first time and increased his fascination with mowers.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind of two weeks for this Langness family.

And now we’re home. I’m on my third load of laundry since yesterday evening with hopefully only one more to go. I’ve got a front flower bed that needs weeding. Somewhere in my vegetable garden are watermelons; I just can’t tell because of the plethora of weeds in that corner. I’ve got groceries to get and a few errands to run. The in-laws are coming on Thursday. Zeke has a doctor’s appointment in Bismarck on Thursday morning. We’ve got a wedding reception on Saturday evening. Jordan leaves for the FLY convention on Sunday. And then there’s the every day stuff of simply enjoying life with my toddler and husband, making sure that toddler doesn’t dive headfirst into his new pool, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the bathrooms, and all the other joys of routine life.

Coming home has been a whirlwind too.

As I was making a to-do list last night, I felt overwhelmed with all that I needed to do, that I should get done in just a few short days. But this morning I was given a gift. The gift of sleeping in for all three of us — including my ever-active one-year-old. Because of that, I was given much needed rest and time. Time in the Word. Time with my Lord. Time to simply stop, sip my coffee, read the Word and be refreshed.

During that time, I was reminded of the importance of stopping. Of resting. Of putting the to-do list literally out of sight and praying that it will be out of mind as I spend time with my Savior. And I was also struck by how Jesus Himself took that time to be with His Abba – even in the midst of a larger to-do list than mine.

“And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; the found Him and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.‘ He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.’ And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.

And a leper came to Jesus . . . ”  Mark 1:29-40a, NASB, (emphasis mine)

The work – the to-do list – never ended for Jesus. Always He was needed. Always He was wanted. And yet He never complained. He served and loved because that is what He came to do. He spent time with His Father — setting an example for us to follow in.

I only wish setting aside the long lists and being able to truly focus on the Word and on Christ was as easy everyday as it was today. But I guess that’s what this whole learning to “set your minds” (Colossians 3:2) is all about.

Make Me a Servant

by Sarah Langness

Alright.  I have a very anti-Christian-sounding confession to make. But don’t write me off or let this statement keep you from reading this in full:

Sometimes, I really don’t like praying.

Not the actual  act of praying, the whole talking to my Father, sharing my heart with Him stuff. I’m fine with that. But I don’t like praying for change . . . specifically, change in me. It’s like that whole concept of  “Don’t pray for patience, otherwise the Lord will give you more opportunities to practice patience.” I had one of those experiences this past week. Except I prayed for a servant heart. And man, was I ever tested.

It all started when I decided to start reading through the book of Mark. I began to notice how often Jesus mentioned servant hood and how often He Himself was a servant (1 Peter 2:21). And because He has left us an example to follow, I knew I needed to become a servant as well. That I needed to become less selfish as a mother and as a wife. That I needed to exemplify love as Paul describes it in that all-too familiar chapter that we don’t even really get anymore – 1 Corinthians 13. That I needed to put the needs of those in our church family and our community above my own. So my prayer became that of the old song:

Make me a servant, humble and meek.
Lord, let me lift up those who are weak.
And may the prayer of my heart always be, make me a servant.
Make me a servant . . . today.”

After only a few mornings of praying this prayer, the opportunities seemed to abound for me to be a servant. And they weren’t opportunities that came from a far-off place or would send me out of my comfort zone. They were in my own home.

They were opportunities with a toddler who suffered from a 102.2 fever and just wanted to cuddle for nearly two days. They were opportunities with that same toddler who, after the fever broke and he seemed to be himself, didn’t want to take naps in his crib and would only sleep while being held. They were opportunities with my husband, who can’t read my mind after only (almost) four years of marriage. They were opportunities to make a meal for a VBS team even when I felt like we had so much to get ready for our trip. They were opportunities to open our home to new friends even when I felt so tired at the end of the day.

Here’s my other confession: after a couple of days of constant opportunities to be a servant, I stopped praying that prayer. I was exhausted.

But ya know what? I should start praying that prayer again. Because Jesus was a servant even in death. I guess this time though, I’ll try not to be as surprised at the constant opportunities to serve.

“‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.'”  Mark 10:42-45, (NASB) (emphasis mine)

Stir Up One Another…

by Sarah Nelson

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25  (ESV)

Yesterday I was wrestling with a decision that my husband I were having to make.  We both knew what we needed to do, and that God was showing us that our options were gone, and truly the choice was made for us.  Yet, my heart and mind were bouncing around with all the “what ifs” and “should haves.”   I reached out to a dear friend across the miles who had gone through a similar situation.   She lovingly responded to my questions, both asked and unasked.  She affirmed that when we follow God in obedience we need to trust Him to work through, above, and beyond what we can see and understand.

While this friend is thousands of miles away from me, she continues to “stir” me up to love and good works as she encourages me and prays for me.  Our “meeting together” is not in a shared physical space, but takes place over internet connection.  I am so thankful that our prayers for one another reach God’s heart from our homes that are far apart.

Are you struggling today?   First, present your burden to the Lord.  He is the faithful Friend who is always there.   Ask that if He would have someone to come alongside you in your struggle, that He would provide that.  Do you have a friend who is going through a challenge?   Come alongside her in prayer, encouraging her that God sees her needs and is faithful to meet those needs.

Together let’s stir one another to love and good works, enjoy meeting together, and be dedicated to encouraging one another, all while we eagerly await the return of our Lord and Savior.

Let’s Pray

by Sarah Langness

I’m grateful for prayer. I’m grateful that we have a God who answers prayer. And I’m grateful that no request is too small in His eyes, no concern of ours is too insignificant for Him. As I drove home from Sioux Falls on Friday, I felt the prayers of family and friends being offered on our behalf. My can’t-sit-still-for-more-than-thirty-seconds boy napped for nearly three hours straight (the longest nap he’s taken probably since he was a newborn); he played well, let animal crackers keep him happy, and all together did great on the seven-hour car ride. Definite answers to prayer. The roads were only wet, not slippery; and we had safe travels the entire 507 miles. Definite answers to prayer. In moments like those, when I see, experience and feel the power of prayer, I wonder: why don’t I pray more?

And not just pray because it’s nice or it makes me feel connected to God or to tell Him about how that lady at the grocery store made me feel. I mean pray. Pray for our nation. Pray for the lost souls surrounding us. Pray for our courts. Pray for the devil’s hold on hearts to loosen and for the world to turn to Jesus.

I’ve realized in the last couple of days how little praying I do. Oh sure, I pray for our families, those dear to my heart and the troubles facing them. But why don’t I pray bigger? With a more far-reaching, worldwide impact? Don’t get me wrong: those prayers for my parents, brother, in-laws and close friends — those are important. But far too often I simply stop there. Why do I fail to mention our nations leaders, abortion doctors and clinics, our church leadership, the souls of the lost, Bible translators, the hungry, the orphans, airline pilots?

Pride, perhaps. But I think what it really boils down to is discipline. Not just recognizing all there is to pray about (and yes, it’s quite daunting), but actually praying. Carving out time in my day to pray. Praying while I do everyday, mundane tasks. Not allowing my mind to wander and daydreams to enter. Being still before Him.

“‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him to knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!'” – Matthew 7:7-11

If you’re like me and disgusted at the atrocities all around us these days, let’s pray.
If you’re like me and dismayed at the acceptance of blatant sin even by believers, let’s pray.
If you’re like me and shocked at the bombing in Boston, let’s pray.

“. . .pray without ceasing . . .” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17