Tag Archives: prayer

On encouraging group prayer

From one of our pastors:

When you’re trying to create an inviting atmosphere for group prayer time, open with something like this:

“Dear God, thank you for this day and the beautiful sunshine.”

And stop.

The natural reaction of everyone else is, “The leader prayed like that?  Surely I can do better!”  Prayer in front of a group becomes much less intimidating – your prayer wasn’t long, wasn’t eloquent, and left things un-prayed for, leaving room for other pray-ers.

 

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Prayer for Scientific Insight

Book XI of Augustine’s Confessions consists almost entirely of him trying to figure out the nature of time based on a few clues in Genesis.  Despite working from a bad Latin translation and having just a few phrases to work with anyway, Augustine describes several remarkably modern theories about the nature of time.

I’ll admit that this book was a bit hard to read.  Augustine has some complicated theories that English just wasn’t built to handle, and at times he seems to chase himself around in circles.

However, there are some gems to be found.  I was especially struck by this passage, where Augustine cries out to God for understanding about time:

My mind is on fire to solve this very intricate enigma.  Do not shut the door, Lord my God.  Good Father, through Christ I beg you, do not shut the door on my longing to understand these things which are both familiar and obscure.  Do not prevent me, Lord, from penetrating them and seeing them illuminated by the light of your mercy.  Whom shall I ask about them?  And to whom but you shall I more profitably confess my incompetence?  You are not irritated by the burning zeal with which I study your scriptures.  Grant what I love. For I love, and this love was your gift.  Grant it, Father.  You truly know how to give good gifts to your children.  Grant it, since I have undertaken to acquire understanding and the labour is too much for me until you open the way.  Through Christ I beg you, in the name of him who is the holy of holy ones, let no one obstruct my inquiry.” – Augustine’s Confessions, XI, xxii (28)

Wow.  I’ve prayed for scientific insight before (including the night before my IB physics test), but never with the fervor Augustine displays here.  I love his hunger to understand and his understanding that God is the one who can provide it.

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Thoughts on Marriage Near my 1/3 Anniversary

I signed in to my WordPress account tonight so I could comment on someone else’s blog. The check box under the password – Remember Me? – sounded more like a plea from my lonely blog than it probably intended. So, here follows random thoughts from these last few months of being a new bride!

– Marriage has been such a natural transition for Greg and me. And that’s odd. For many couples today, marriage is just a change in legal status – where they are living and what they are doing doesn’t change dramatically. So, I can understand such couples feeling like marriage is no big change and completely “natural.”
For us, on the other hand, marriage meant radical changes! I mean, I’m living with a boy for the first time.
Our laundry gets all mixed up in the washer. We share a toothbrush holder and a mailbox. We fall asleep together for the first time.
Marrying each other was a major, life-altering event, but the transition to living and working and praying and sleeping with another human being has felt like the most natural thing in the world. (Except doing the dishes with one another, but I think I mentioned that earlier in my post discussing pre-marital counseling and submission. We’re getting better.)
I’m very thankful to God for that naturalness. We’re learning a lot about each other and how to live as a God-honoring husband and wife, but the newness doesn’t feel weird. It feels like I’m learning about a home I’ve never known until now.

– Greg does feel like home. Two months after our wedding, I took a week-long trip to the northwest for a conference. While I had a wonderful time learning and hanging out with a dear friend, the city felt dark and sad to me – like it desperately needed God’s light to pierce through. Hearing Greg’s voice when I called home was a light and warmth and peace. Thanks be to God for those who point us toward His light!

– On a lighter note, I’ve learned that Greg’s contact case looks a lot like mine when I sleepily reach for a case in the morning. It’s very confusing to put contacts in your eyes and still not be able to see.
(And it’s embarrassing to do this multiple times.)

From goldleafrestorationgilding.com

– I’ve been reminded how good and faithful God is to answer prayers that make us more like Him. One particular evening, Greg was praying out loud in his usual honest, rambling manner.

And it drove me nuts.

I started praying, Lord, help me love him. Lord, help me love him. Lord, help me love him. (I am rarely one for eloquent prayer!)
God did, by doing two things:

1. He showed me that I was getting to witness the intimate conversations between my dear husband and my even dearer Lord. Yes, it was a rambling and perhaps unclear conversation to me, but that’s because it was real. What a privilege to listen to the tender heart of my husband pouring out his inmost thoughts to the One he loves the most!!

2. He showed me how to pray with Greg.  I’ve always been one to pray in images: I picture people where they are, and I see God come close and touch them. I see visions of portions of heaven and feel God’s love. I (try to) envision just how big God is, and how His arms wrap around the whole universe.

So, when Greg was praying, God gave me an image of my prayers dancing around the text of Greg’s prayers like a sprite. A dainty, graceful sprite that leaves gold-leaf filigree in her wake around the letters of Greg’s prayer.  It illuminates them. It was beautiful to see how my image-prayers complemented his heartfelt-words.

And now my dear husband has finished his homework (comments on marriage during grad school another time), and I’m off to make sure our contacts go in the proper cases.

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Learning English

Salom.

That’s the only Farsi word I’ve retained from the past few days. My roommate, on the other hand, seems to pick up a new phrase every time we talk.

In the process of talking, speaking to one another, I’m learning to speak English again. I speak slower and try not to mumble, mutter words under my breath. I repeat phrases, say them in different ways. I use hand gestures for words like “chopping” (not that that’s new for me). My roommate and I will shortly be the best Charades players in the building, uh, the apartment complex.

Yesterday I took her to her first American grocery store. I learned (and promptly forgot) the Farsi words for vegetable, honeydew, and cucumber. I realized how completely unhelpful I am when she started looking at beans and shrimp and trying to find loose-leaf tea and her particular type of untranslate-able breakfast cheese.

We took a long pause in the HEB aisle trying to figure out what dried vinegar was. Hand gestures and alternate vocabulary proved futile. When we got home, she held up a bag. “Dried vinegar!” I giggled a little, so she opened the fridge to show me fresh vinegar. “Those, my friend, are grapes. The dried ones are raisins.” We had a good laugh.

While preparing our gourmet frozen pizza dinner (that I over-cooked), she confirmed that I am Christian and asked me if I am religious. “You go to service, church, every Sunday, yes? You pray every day?” When her face showed astonishment, we tried to talk about prayer through a language, religious, and sleepiness barrier. We’ll have to try that conversation again another day.

Angoor: Farsi for “grape.”

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Prayer, an Embarrassment?

While wondering aimlessly on the internet and procrastinating application essays, I realized something.
I am embarrassed by prayer.
It sort of feels like it belongs with the “Big Three”: politics, sex, religion, and your private prayer life.

I think part of my sentiment stems from this passage:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
– Matthew 6:5-6

Yes! Pray humbly! Don’t pray in order to get attention! Pray to talk to your Father!
But I think there is a huge problem when I use the sentiment from this passage to justify not praying period.
In high school I started taking 10-15 minutes in the middle of getting ready to read and pray, but I always feared my dad or brother walking into the room. I didn’t want to answer the question, “What are you doing?” because, “Talking to Jesus” always sounds like such a fake answer.
One year I said, “I can’t start praying on my knees when I have a roommate. I’ll wait till I go home for the summer.” (Hasn’t happened yet.)
I started a prayer journal last year, and it’s always on the bottom of the stack of books on my nightstand. Partly for the privacy of what’s written in there, partly to avoid answering questions about what the journal is. And thus its use has faded.
I read a book recently that shared the author’s technique of writing prayers on index cards. I really like the ideas he put forward, but I haven’t done anything about it.
What?! Why??! you may well ask.
I have all the free time I desire over break, so time isn’t a burden.
I have a deep desire to talk to God more and to pray for my friends, so desire isn’t lacking.
I asked myself this same question, and came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I just don’t want anyone to know that I pray. I mean, yes, people should know that I pray, but I don’t want anyone to face physical evidence attesting to this fact.
(My brain is currently taking so many issues with the previous sentences, but my heart is screaming, “Hush! I don’t have to make sense.”)

And now I’m posting, on the internet for all to see, my embarrassment at accepting one of God’s great gifts. We’ll see what comes from here.

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God is Great, God is Good

Last week I went on my first mission trip, on which I learned the many melodies to the lyrics, “God is Great, God is Good.”

A group from my church partnered with The Gallery Church in New York City. Gallery Church hosted an event called City Uprising, with the motto, “Propel the Church to Prosper the City.” About 270 volunteers from New York, Texas, and Tennessee came to the three-day event.
Gallery’s focus is the HIV/AIDS problem in New York.
New York has more HIV cases than Miami, LA, San Fransisco, and Chicago combined. Nearly 100,000 New Yorkers have HIV/AIDS, and researchers estimate another 40,000 have the disease but are unaware of it. In Chelsea, the region of Manhattan in which I stayed, 25% of the men have HIV.
One of the reasons Gallery is trying so hard to help with the HIV problem is that the church as a whole has a poor record of dealing with HIV. We stigmatize people who contract the disease through drug needles or sex. One thinks of men and women on New York street corners holding signs that claim “God hates fags” or “AIDS victims deserve it.” One woman who works with HIV/AIDS patients said, “To me, Christians are the same as terrorists.” (Consider what the people of New York have gone through at the hands of religious extremists.)
Though God does not support the drug use or the sex outside of marriage that can lead to contracting HIV, God loves people. So does His Church. It’s time to show it.

Gallery does not combat HIV/AIDS simply because it is an epidemic; Gallery confronts the disease to show the people–the victims of the disease and the doctors, nurses, and volunteers who help them–the love of Jesus. Plain and simple.
City Uprising’s main goal was to help NYC’s many HIV/AIDS clinics tell men and women that free HIV tests are available. If one man were to find out he was positive and change his behavior, over 2,000 people could be saved from infection!
We handed out thousands of these cards. It is a perfect mirror of the gospel message for people whose hearts are hardened to the Good News: “We’re here to tell you about the free help that has been provided to you; all you have to do is accept!”

HIV testing card

HIV testing card


HIV testing card

HIV testing card

Sunday night my group found out that our duty on Monday would be to pass out cards, and we determined where to meet in the morning.
Monday morning I rolled out of bed. Sick. The kind of cramping that makes me want to lie in bed with a heating pad and sleep all day. Near a toilet, preferably, because I’ll likely revisit any medicine I take.
For once, my prayers started as soon as I woke up.

Lord, I’m not gonna make it without some help. Lord, I really, really don’t want to throw up on a New York street. Lord, help!

A song lyric replayed in my head: “When the strength you need is the strength you lack, I’m right where I’ve always been: right by your side.”
One of the blessings of being under the weather so often is I now know what to take. I took my best medicines, walked with my partner to grab breakfast, and went to wait at our designated meeting spot. I crumpled on the dirty New York street to eat and rest. I made it on the subway–got a seat. We made it to the clinic–found out we were in Spanish Harlem. Praying with every step.
I know God was there. My medicine should have kicked in within 30 minutes. It was an hour and a half before I started feeling better. The instant I stepped out on that New York street to hand out cards, all thought of my earlier illness completely fled. Completely!
The timing was God saying, “Hey, this is me, not anything you did.”
Being sick reminded me that I do everything through God’s strength, not mine.

My partner and I had a blessed morning. Many, many people took cards from us. When we returned to “base,” our contact at the clinic said we had done a great job. Maybe too great–they were running out of test kits!
This contact kept referring to “The Universe”: “The Universe has brought us together,” “The Universe will show you where to go.” I hope our small group of Jesus-followers pointed him to the Maker of the Universe.

Mailbox directly in front of our first clinic

Mailbox directly in front of our first clinic

In the afternoon, we had limited success because we were asked to target teenagers. Our mantra was that all of our walking would be completely worth it for one person to get tested, and that God knew who that person was. My partner Rachel and I descended into a playground and saw two teenagers sitting on a bench, to whom we passed out cards. A young man on a bike approached us, asked for a card, and asked for directions to the clinic.

That night at City Uprising’s worship and training session we found out that about 300 people were tested for HIV on Monday. Many of the clinics had completely run out of tests! 3 people tested positive for HIV; one was a teenager. Rachel and I believe we met that teenager on a bicycle. We thanked God that so many people had gone to get tested, prayed for those whose lives had been completely changed, and asked Him to provide more test kits.

Because most of the clinics Gallery knew of were out of test kits, my group volunteered at a thrift store on Tuesday. The store’s proceeds go to purchase more test kits. This store receives a high volume of books, so I got to spend a whole day reorganizing hundreds of books!! The woman supervising us was so excited to have help and had no idea who we were or where we were from. We got to explain that we’re a bunch of kids from Texas and Tennessee working with a church who paid to come and help her out. I hope our conversations and our work lead her eventually to Him.

View outside the thrift store

View outside the thrift store

Tuesday night we received incredible news. Clinics and hospitals from all over the city, many of whom have viewed Christians as terrorists, called City Uprising offering free test kits and asking for help advertising. Praise Jesus!

Wednesday morning, Rachel and I were set loose near Columbus Circle on Broadway. What a change from the neighborhood of Spanish Harlem just two days before!
At first, we didn’t know what to do. There was a temptation to target people who might benefit from HIV testing. We quickly corrected ourselves: how can we presume to judge who needs an HIV test based on how they look? Only God knows, and He is directing our steps. We proceeded to hand out cards to everyone we passed, including a few surprised tourists.
Rachel’s and my strategy is to walk along a block and to offer cards to people passing the opposite way. Most of our thoughts are focused on which street we should walk down next. I begin to pray with each beat of my foot upon the hard pavement:

Guide us in the right direction. You know which street contains the people You need to reach. Lord, give us direction. Lord, give us people to hand cards to. Lord, make these people receptive. Lord, let these people actually go get tested. Lord, keep us safe. Lord, be glorified. Show us where to go.

I share my prayer with Rachel. She smiles. We decide to follow the Walk signs at each intersection: whichever way says, “Go,” we go.
We look at each other and giggle. This may be silly, or it may be following the will of God. And who says the two are mutually exclusive?
Walk Signal
We plod ahead with huge stacks of cards in our hand and dwindling time. How can we give away so many cards?!
Within a few turns after deciding to follow God’s directions, we come upon a huge line of people waiting for a show. We laugh and say, “Let’s do it.” In about two minutes, we hand out over 70 cards. People seem interested; we give directions.
We turn two more corners. Before us stretch two blocks of construction workers on lunch break. Thank you, Jesus! Every worker gets a card, though some take it more seriously than others.

Smiling, we survey our relatively small stack of cards and the twenty minutes we have remaining. “Oh yeah, we can do it,” says Rachel. We correct ourselves: “We can’t do it, God can.”
The lilting song the mice sing in Cinderella echoes through my head: “God can do it, God can do it, God can help us hand our cards out…”
He does.

Other volunteers passing out cards

Other volunteers passing out cards


After lunch we take the subway to the south Bronx. We emerge looking like lost, white tourists. (Lost and white we are; tourists, we are not.) I hear men talking. “Where’d all these white tourists come from?” “Man, that white chick in the front with the glasses is the hottest.” I huddle closer to my group and pray. “Oh, Lord, what am I getting into? … Well, this does feel like real mission work, whatever that means.”

After speaking with the clinic manager, Rachel and I go. I am scared at first. The people, however, are friendly. I can almost see Jesus walking step-by-step with us, putting His hand on the shoulder of each person that passes. It is beautiful.
I comment to Rachel that, strange as it sounds, I feel safer as just the two of us out doing mission work rather than in a large, lost tourist group. Maybe it’s because we don’t look like tourists, or because we’re doing good work, or because now I am praying with each step and each card.
Near the end of our time in the Bronx, we see some of our group sitting on the steps of the park. We point at groups of people, asking if people have already been approached, if streets have already been walked. Rachel and I don’t want to stop until we have to–we believe that we have good news to share with these people.
Walking into a park, a group of black men sitting on a bench stops us. “I just wanted to tell you that we believe in what you’re doing. Thanks for coming out here. You’re doing good work. May the Lord bless you.” I smile as my heart warms. “May He bless you too, sir!”
I approach a couple on a bench with some cards. “The HIV clinic across the street is offering free movie tickets if you go!” I announce as I give a big West Texas smile. The young couple decides they’d like free movie tickets, so they yell to their child that they will be right back. Rachel and I have to leave soon, so we walk them to the clinic. We got to see the girl leave a short time later–she is negative.

As we walk out of the clinic, a light drizzle starts.
As it pours the next day, our sight-seeing day, we marvel at God’s providence: all Monday, all Tuesday, and Wednesday until that last card was handed out–not a drop in sight. Saturday, Sunday, Thursday, and Friday are filled with rain. Thank you Jesus.

Nearly 1300 people were tested for HIV in these three days, and we still have not heard from 6 sites.
Update: All sites have reported in, for a total of 1847 people tested in New York City in three days, 1221 of those on the last day. Praise God!

Though nothing can quite do justice to all the things I saw and learned last week, these are a few of the many things God showed me. He is Great and He is Good.

More entries will follow.

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