Praying for the Dead

I admit, my title is a little misleading. The “dead” I’m talking about praying for are not actual flatliners who fail to register brainwaves, pulse, or other vital signs. The “dead” I’m talking about are not even people who are still dead in their sins, ones who have never received forgiveness and spiritual rebirth.

The “dead” I’m talking about praying for are Christ followers who seem to have given up on life. Somewhere along the path they lost energy. They lost vision. They lost hope. They became disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, defeated, or despairing. They pulled back from life, from people. They stopped using their gifts. They stopped dreaming.

They seem to me like walking dead. And I miss them. I miss the contributions they used to make, the life they used to bring, the God-given purpose they used to seek and strive for.

A few weeks ago when I was praying for a couple of these “dead” people, the image of Lazarus from John 11 came to mind. You don’t get much deader than Lazarus was. He’d been in the tomb for four days. Nobody was expecting him to come back. His friends and family had already done their praying, but Heaven seemed silent. So they moved into the next logical phase: grieving.

However, what they didn’t know was that despite the tomb, there was hope. Despite Jesus’s silence, God was still at work. In the darkness of that tomb, in the stench of death, life was about to return to a corpse. The Word of God that was present at creation was about to speak. And when that Voice, the Voice that has all authority in heaven and on earth, speaks—when He says “Dead man, come forth!”—the dead man will indeed come forth. Which is what Lazarus did, to everyone’s astonishment and joy.

It was heartening to me that the Spirit brought this passage to mind. It seemed to me that He was saying, “Don’t give them up for dead. Keep praying. Jesus can still call them forth. The Father can still resurrect them.”

So I did. I have been.

Jesus, You are the resurrection and the life. Breathe Your life these souls. Invigorate them by Your Spirit. Bring fresh wind, fresh fire, fresh everything to them so that they, like Lazarus, may come out of the darkness, blinking in the sunlight, to the astonishment of those who watchand to the glory of our Father in heaven.

 

 

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One-Size-Fits-All Prayers

Generally, I don’t believe in “one size fits all” because, in my pitiful experience, items so-described fit no one—unless you happen to be someone who likes a trendy burlap-sack look.

However, I was surprised the other day when I tried praying one-size-fits-all prayers for everyone and everything on my prayer list. As an experiment, I jotted down my Bible app’s verse-of-the-day next to the people and situations I wanted to pray for. Then I slipped the list into a Ziploc bag and took it to the pool so I could intercede while doing laps.

The verse was Isaiah 26:9: “All night long I search for you; in the morning I earnestly seek for God. For only when you come to judge the earth will people learn what is right.” *

Lap by lap, I prayed through my list, praying that verse into a couple dozen lives and situations that concerned me. Whether it was for friends, missionaries, family members, or people I was only acquainted with, the verse was easy to adapt to them and their needs. I also had some big-picture items on my list—like the Burkina Faso terrorist attack and the upcoming US elections. The verse seemed to lend itself especially well to those.

I experienced several benefits by praying this way.

  • Instead of worrying my prayers, as I sometimes do, I felt like I was able to pray more in line with God’s view of the situations. Praying God’s truth into the situations replaced anxiety with hope.
  • Because I was praying God’s Word, I knew I was praying in accord with His will.
  • When I finished, I was in an attitude of worship. Because I’d prayed that verse 30 times, it was ingrained in me that God was the answer to every prayer I’d prayed. God Himself.
  • And, I probably don’t even need to mention, that I’d practically memorized the verse by the time I was done with my laps.

Will I try one-size-fits-all praying again? You bet! If you decide to try it, or to adapt this idea somehow, won’t you post a comment to let us know how it went for you? If you don’t know about Bible apps, here are a couple of good ones that provide a new verse for every day: https://www.biblegateway.com/; https://www.youversion.com/

*Just in case you’re curious, or perhaps you’d like to give one-size-fits-all-praying a try right now, here is today’s verse from YouVersion: “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:35-36, NLT) Now is that a verse everyone needs, or what?

 

Take a Break

Set times of prayer–morning and evening–work pretty well for me. But including God throughout my day is harder. Sure, my day is punctuated with lots of “Help!” prayers and a generous portion of spontaneous “Thanks!” prayers. But I’d like to nurture even more connection with God during the busiest parts of my day. So when blogger Bob Hostetler recently wrote about how a simple egg timer can keep us on track with God throughout the day, it caught my attention. Maybe it’s something that will inspire you, too. Check it out at https://www.guideposts.org/blog/when-you-only-have-a-few-minutes-to-pray. Let me know how it goes!

“Do the Things You Did at First”

When I took time for my New Year’s reflection last week, I was surprised by what God said. Instead of prompting to pursue something new, He prompted me to return to something old.

I realized that many of the goals I had set for last year I had actually followed through on. There are no looming areas of neglect that call for setting new objectives. And yet, when I talked over the year with God, I felt a strong sense of dissatisfaction. In spite of my good disciplines and practices, I didn’t feel close to God as I once had. I missed that—a lot. And I told Him so.

His response was simple: Do the things you did at first. I recognized His reference to Revelation 2:5 where Jesus exhorted the church at Ephesus to return to their first love. Although I didn’t feel as if I had abandoned Jesus, my first love, I had to admit that the loving feelings weren’t as strong as they have been in the past.

So I asked God to help me recall the “things” I had done previously that had helped to cultivate the close relationship with God that we both had enjoyed so much. I jotted down things like music, nature, days alone with God, lectio divina, Sabbath, and a few more.

I know from experience that none of these are magic bullets to spiritual intimacy. There is no such thing. But I also know without nurturing my friendship with God by creating intentional “space for grace” that the closeness I long for isn’t likely to happen. So that’s why I plan to be revisiting some of the practices that have helped me draw near to God in the past.

What about you? Are there any things you used to “do at first” that God might be inviting you to return to? What has helped you to enjoy close relationship with Him? Won’t you share your ideas and experiences with the rest of us?

 

 

 

Questions for a New Year

I first posted this piece on New Year’s Day two years ago, in 2014. It’s just as timely now as it was then, so here it is again. 

I spent a good chunk of this morning reflecting with God about the year just past and the new one beginning. I like to start my new year like that. As I ponder the joys and sorrows, the successes and failures, the dreams and disappointments, the prayers answered and still waiting, I gain perspective, direction, and even some wisdom.

This annual pause for reflection is a tradition for me. It always holds surprises and delights as I see areas of growth, moments of grace, and new possibilities. And it helps to bring closure and peace to the places where things didn’t go the way I’d hoped.

I don’t follow any one pattern or procedure. I’m sure there are many ways a person could undertake a year-end reflection like this. But, in case you’d like to try it, here are the questions I took to God this year.

  • What gifts and graces did You share with me in 2013?
  • What prayers did You answer in this past year?
  • What lessons do You want me to take away from 2013?
  • What did You and I accomplish together in this past year?
  • When were You and I closest in 2013?
  • What dreams and desires do You want me to pursue in 2014?
  • Is there anything You want to say to me about my relationships, finances, health, work, or ministry as we start this new year?
  • Are there any areas you want me to focus on in prayer this year?
  • Is there anything new You want me to go after in 2014?
  • How can I grow closer to You in this new year?

Do you have a way you start the new year with God? Tell me about it! I’d like to hear.