A Prayer for Coming and Going

I would not have made a good Israelite–at least not during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. All that coming and going, packing and unpacking, and sleeping in tents would get old pretty quick, I think. I’m no nomad—I like the comfort and familiarity of my own house, my own bed, my own pillow.

Nevertheless, my life does involve a considerable amount of coming and going. So God caught me by surprise yesterday morning when I was reading in Numbers 10. The LORD had just outlined detailed instructions concerning who was supposed to do what and exactly how everything was to be done each time they packed up to move to a new temporary home. (I wish my packing for trips was that organized!) When a trumpet blasted, that meant the Israelites were to set out and follow the cloud to their new camping spot.

But I’d never noticed this before: each time, right before they left, Moses would pray this “going” prayer (verse 35):

“Rise up, LORD!

May your enemies be scattered;

May your foes flee before you.”                     

And whenever they would arrive at the new place God had chosen for them, he would pray this “coming” prayer (verse 36):

“Return, LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel!”

The wilderness wanderings took place centuries before Pentecost, of course. The Lord no longer dwells the Tent of Meeting or the Temple—He lives inside each of us who call Him God and Savior. However, Moses’ prayers still seemed relevant to me. He knew that the Israelites would face danger on their journeys. They had physical foes like wild animals, bandits, enemy armies, heat, cold, and lack of water. They also had spiritual enemies like discouragement, fear, rebellion, and discord. Traveling was no walk in the park for them—they needed the Lord to go with them. They need Him to scatter their enemies.

And so do I. Traveling, while much easier for me living in the 21st century than for them living in whatever century that was (something like the 13th century BC). Still, there are enemies when I travel, too. Hazards on roads and in the skies. Temptations to sin. Ill-intentioned strangers. Discouragement, fear, rebellion, discord. (Technology changes, but human nature doesn’t much!)

So, I appreciate Moses’ coming and going prayers. I need God every bit as much as the Israelites did. I need Him to go before me—to go with me—as I travel out into the world. I need Him to scatter my enemies so they flee before I even arrive at my destination. And when I get to where I’m going, I need Him to return to me again—not that He ever left. I know that. But by intentionally asking Him to “return” to me, I remind myself that even though I am in a new and perhaps strange or uncomfortable place, He is with me. And wherever He is, that is home for me.  

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What Do You Do When the Accuser Comes at You?

The enemy tried to take me out last week. He slammed me with accusations, blame, and judgment. And it sent me into a tailspin.

When I’m confronted with stuff like that, I have several options. I can absorb all the condemnation and conclude that I am a hopeless loser. Or, I can try to sift through it and try to evaluate what is true and what is not—I know I’m not perfect, after all. A third option is to simply dismiss it all without any consideration whatsoever.

Many spiritual warfare-savvy folks would say that the third option is best—“Consider the source,” they would say. And they’re right—one of Satan’s names is “Accuser.” He’s not about constructive criticism. He is always about destruction. So why should I listen to him?

But it’s not so easy for me to just write off accusations and criticism. I don’t trust myself. I know that I am prone to sin and error. I don’t want to be self-deceived and arrogant. I don’t want to be oblivious to my errors.

So, even though I realize the enemy is not interested in my good, it’s still hard for me to completely write off his accusations. Instead, I often go for the second option: I try to evaluate them. (Mind you, I am not recommending that you try this!) I set up a little court in my head and put his claim on trial. Then I try to see look at the evidence for and against his accusation. (Again, I caution you, do not try this yourselves. It is patently dumb. I’m just making a confession.)

You, being wiser than I, can undoubtedly see the frustration toward which this exercise leads. I set up court in my head. I appoint myself judge, jury, and attorney for the prosecution and the defense. It’s ridiculous. I just go ‘round and round in circles. It never leads anywhere good.

The Apostle Paul said it well: “It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. … It is the Lord who judges me (1 Corinthians 4:3-4).

So I am happy and very relieved to say that the Lord has given me a grace-filled alternative to my futile habit of self-judgment. He reminded me of the ancient “Jesus Prayer”: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When He whispered that idea into my swirling mind and confused heart, I knew immediately it was His offer to rescue me. That simple, time-proven prayer, provides everything I need. Here’s what I mean:

The accuser shoots his arrow of condemnation at me. Instead of asking, “Is he right? Is any part of what he is saying true?” I can appeal to my Advocate, Jesus. He is my Lord. He is my Savior. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the one who came to save His people from their sins. Am I a sinner? Yes! Have I sinned in the particular way the enemy proposes? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not the point. The point is, I am a sinner, but Jesus has covered all my sins with His own blood. The enemy’s accusations against me cannot stick when the Lord Jesus Christ is standing with me. Jesus offers mercy for all the places where I’ve sinned.

For the next few days the condemnation continued to come at a steady rate. But instead of entertaining it in my inner courtroom, I simply prayed. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Breathing that simple prayer—often repeatedly—re-focused me. It turned my eyes off of myself and onto Jesus. It reminded me that He is full of mercy and that when I come to Him, I find mercy and grace in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It kept me from trying to justify, defend, or excuse myself of wrong doing—I simply admitted to Him that I am a sinner. And I remembered with deep gratitude that He came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Until last week, I’d never thought of using the Jesus Prayer as spiritual warfare—but I am finding it to be very effective. I wonder if any of you have tried something like that? Or if you have other ways of deflecting the enemy’s accusations? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Praying the Positive

Lord, help me not to be so sarcastic, I prayed with twinging remorse. I had just blurted out something that had obviously jabbed a friend. I hadn’t meant to be hurtful, but I knew that inadvertently I had hurt.

To my surprise, the Lord responded. Why do you pray the negative? He asked very quietly. Why not pray the positive instead?

I knew right away what He meant. So often I pray against the behaviors I wish I didn’t have. But life—joyful, abundant life—isn’t about avoiding the negative. I could avoid negative behaviors all day long and accomplish nothing more than being bland. Becoming like Christ, I realized, is not about not acting a certain way. Rather, it’s about living out the positives that He did.

So, after a moment’s thought, I changed my prayer: Lord, make me kind. Let gentle and uplifting words come out of my mouth—words that bring life.

What a wonderful change of perspective! Whereas my first prayer, framed in the negative—help me not to do something that often I do—put me in a discouraged, self-condemning mood, praying the positive actually gave me hope. Kindness, gentleness—these are fruits of the Holy Spirit! Uplifting, life-giving—these are things Jesus does and wants to do through me!  By praying the positive, I take the focus off of me and put it onto God—which is where it needs to be! He is the one who transforms me. I cannot transform myself.

Since that a-ha moment, I’ve thought of other negative prayers that I can exchange for more positive ones. Here are a few I’m working on:

  • Instead of “Help me not to waste time,” I can pray, “Help me to make the most of the opportunities You send me today.”
  • Instead of “Help me not to give in to fear,” I can pray, “Help me to know Your power and presence today.”
  • Instead of “Help me not to be critical,” I can pray, “Help me to see the good You are doing in this situation.”

Do you see the difference? Would you like to try it? What negative, self-focused prayers can you exchange for positive, God-focused ones?

No More Monologues

Do you ever feel like you do all the talking when you pray? This post is adapted from an article I wrote for the September/October 2008 issue of  Pray! magazine. I hope it will inspire you to try dialoguing with God instead of just monologuing. He has things He wants to say to you!

In the past when I read Jeremiah 33:3 where God says, “Call to me and I will answer you,” I didn’t think He meant it literally­—that I could call and He would answer, that I could talk and He would talk with me.

In those days, my prayer was one-sided: me yakking at God, and God “talking” to me through the Scriptures. But that’s not really “call and answer,” is it? I love God’s Word. I read and meditate on it every day and depend on it to keep me grounded in truth. Still, on a relational level, that kind of “conversation” alone wasn’t satisfying. I longed for a personal relationship that included personal conversation.

Over time, however, I started noticing Scriptures that dared me to hope that maybe God never intended for His input to be confined solely to Scripture. “If any of you lacks wisdom, ask”; “My sheep listen to my voice”; “Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (James 1:5; John 10:27; Isaiah 30:21).

Emboldened, I began to experiment. I journaled on topics I wanted to hear from God about—questions, problems, issues I hoped to gain His perspective on. Then, a few weeks later I’d review to see if He had responded. Often He had! For about one in four prayers, I’d recall a Scripture or a sermon or an impression or a word from a friend that had addressed the things I’d asked God about. I was excited! That is, until a friend challenged me.

“You only hear from God 25 percent of the time? I feel sorry for you!”

“What do you mean? That’s way better than before,” I protested, deflated.

My friend then taught me some pointers about dialoguing with God that immediately and forever changed the way I communicate with Him. It’s incredibly uncomplicated. I simply write down what I want to say to God, then I listen expectantly and record what I think I hear Him speaking to my heart. I then respond to what He says and listen again. It’s like having a conversation with someone who knows and loves me—in fact, that is what it truly is.

Sure, there was trial and error along the way, and sometimes I share my dialogues with mature, discerning friends to ensure I’m hearing accurately. But 1 John 2:27-28 reassures me that hearing from God is normal and any believer can learn to do it:

[The Holy Spirit] lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

Since discovering that God really does answer when I call on Him, I cannot go back to my old monologues. To live life without wise, personal guidance and loving encouragement from my heavenly Father is inconceivable to me. I hope you also will discover the thrill of having Him answer you when you call on Him.