Time to Pray

I’m a detail person.

If the bathroom rug isn’t even with the lines on the tile floor,
I might straighten it.

If the dish towel hanging on the oven door handle is wrong side out,
I might turn it around.

If there are two pillows on one end of the couch,
I might move one down to the other end.

I just notice things.

Sometimes I intentionally leave the rug all wonky, or the towel inside out, or the couch unbalanced just to make sure I don’t become a raging perfectionist. Details matter to me, though, so when one jumps out at me from the pages of the Bible I sit up and pay attention. Like this one:

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer —
at three in the afternoon.” Acts 3:1

Why the specific mention of this exact time of day?
It seems details matter to God.

Three o’clock in the afternoon was a Jewish regularly scheduled time of prayer. It was the precise moment when the sacrificial lambs were slaughtered in the temple. People were called to the holy place to be there as witnesses to the cost of their sin and to receive forgiveness. The congregation recited a brief prayer together and then went on with the rest of their day.

On most days, by 3:00 p.m. I’m in need of a moment to pause and “re-center my scattered senses upon the presence of God”*. It’s an appropriate hour to remember the Lamb of God, who died at exactly 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.

I’ve always considered set times of prayer to be unnecessarily structured. After all, I don’t live in a monastery and I tend to throw up prayers all day long. But if Peter and John did it, I decided I should give it a shot. To make that happen, I set an alarm on my phone and at the appointed hour, the sound of angelic harps reminds me it’s time. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I stop for just a minute and say a brief prayer.

Most of my creativity and energy has been expended by late afternoon, yet there are still several hours left in the day. So I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me up once again that I may finish the day well. I thank my Father for the gift of time and pray He helps me redeem it, not waste it. I reflect on the moment my salvation was won on the cross and I express my gratefulness to Jesus.

What started as an experiment has turned into a lovely afternoon time-out to recalibrate my soul. It’s proving to be a holy habit that is keeping my spirit connected to The Spirit.

*This phrase is taken from the Lectio 365 prayer app.

God’s Prayer Notebook

The biggest and best thing I have learned so far during this year of exploring prayer is that God has His very own prayer notebook. It’s called the book of Psalms. He put it smack-dab in the middle of the Bible so it’s easy to find. God provided 150 prayers right in the Holy Book so we could have words to pray back to Him. The Psalms are God’s gift to train us in prayer!

I’ve read the book of Psalms.

I’ve studied some of the psalms.
(Remember For the Flock — a 15 day study on Psalm 23?
And The Long Song — a 6 month study of Psalm 119?)

I’ve even sung a few psalms.

But it took me this long to catch on to the fact that I’m supposed to
pray the psalms.

Here in the pages of God’s Word
I have found my school of prayer.
This is where I’m learning how to pray.

I used to think the book of Psalms was a good place to find a bit of comfort, a word of assurance or a little inspiration.
Now I’m learning that I’m supposed to live in this book, using the ancient poetry in my own conversations with my Father.

I used to occasionally open to a handful of my personal favorite go-to psalms, depending on my mood.
Now I’m learning that I’m supposed to be nourished by all 150, on a regular basis, even when I don’t feel like it.

I used to believe that these songs belonged to King David, predating Jesus by hundreds of years.
Now I’m learning that Jesus dwells in the lyrics, and that He Himself often quoted from this beloved hymnbook, even on the cross.

I’m learning.

“The Psalms are the perfect prayers
for they are God’s words to us
that become our words back to God.”
Chad Bird, The Christ Key

Next: Time to Pray

Supplication Standstill

My grand plans of dispensing wisdom on the topic of prayer hit a brick wall this summer. Make that a brick wall with cement and steel reinforcements. I whizzed through the first three words in the acronym A.C.T.S. in past posts:

A = Adoration
C = Confession
T = Thanksgiving

When it was time to talk about supplication, I decided I needed some time to think about it. That was back in June. It is now October. I’m still thinking. And re-thinking a few things. God has been kindly restraining me, pulling back on the reins, setting a guard over my mouth.

Back in January I boldly proclaimed that my word for the year was ASK and that 2021 would be the year I finally became a woman of prayer. I even had a notebook to prove it. I was going to crack the code and figure out this thing once and for all. God smiled and patted my head, then took me by the hand and led me down a surprising path.

This is not the first time. Twenty years ago (or more) I bought a book that promised me it held the key to living a life of powerfully answered prayer. The table of contents listed prayers of healing for everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids. It laid out an elaborate system of what to pray for every day of the week so the whole world was covered. Each chapter included lists with boxes to check. For real breakthroughs in areas of struggle, the reader was “prescribed a scripture Rx”: repeat certain verses three times each, four times a day, for two weeks, and the powers of darkness would be overcome. Readers were encouraged by these words, “There is no room for doubt or wavering faith.”

After four days, I quit.
Too many little boxes.
Too much pressure and guilt.
No joy.

My propensity for lists and checks and notebooks almost got me again. Almost — after all, I have learned a few things over the past twenty years. I still have my prayer notebook, but it has become a resource I turn to occasionally when I need a reminder or some help. As it turns out, the prayer I pasted on page one of my notebook is being answered. Just not how I expected.

Help me to ask for the things You want to give.
Help me to seek the things You want me to find.
Help me to knock on the doors You want to open.

I have no wisdom of my own to dispense on this topic.
(It’s taken four months of silence to make that obvious.)
Little by little God is teaching me how to
Ask, Seek and Knock.

This I know for sure:
“Teach me to pray”
is the perfect place to start because it is
a prayer the Father delights to answer.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.
Psalm 32:8

Next: God’s Prayer Notebook

Simple Prayer

I’ve been thinking about that simple prayer of thanks I recited as a child. There’s something about it — it’s concise and unpretentious, yet honest and profound.

The author of this small blessing was Edith Rutter-Leatham and she lived in Durham, England. She published a small volume of poetry in 1913. That’s it. I scoured the internet for information and came up empty. She doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and her book can’t be found on Amazon. Edith was an obscure poet in Victorian England who is remembered for a simple four-line children’s table blessing. Not a bad legacy considering that a little girl in southwest Wisconsin in the 1960s put it to memory, and the now-grown woman is still thinking about it in 2021.

Let’s break it down.

Thank You for the world so sweet.

I know what you’re thinking. “Sweet? This world is sweet? Maybe back in 1913, but not in 2021!” I beg to differ. The sinking of the Titanic had recently shocked the world and World War I was about to break out. There is always turmoil somewhere on the planet. There is always beauty, too. God made us a sweet world, if we would only pay attention. Thank Him for the world, and you’ll begin to see more of its sweetness.

Thank You for the food we eat.

I am so thankful food tastes good. It wouldn’t have to, you know. God could have made nourishing mush with no taste to keep our bodies healthy. Instead, He created tomatoes and yeast and grains of wheat. He gave people the ingenuity to invent pizza. Glory halleluia! Thank Him for the food you eat, and you’ll begin to taste more of its goodness.

Thank You for the birds that sing.

What if birds didn’t sing? What would it be like to go for a morning walk and hear no birdsong? Even in town, the air is filled with chirps and tweets that we often ignore. God created a soundtrack that plays all day, every day. Birds that sing, cats that meow, cows that moo. Thank Him for the birds that sing, and you’ll begin to hear more of their melodies.

Thank You God for everything.

It’s good to have a broad-sweep statement like this. I wouldn’t be able to get through the day if I stopped to thank Him for everything. “Thank You Lord, for sleeping. Thank You for waking. Thank You for my pillow, for my bed, for my blankets. Thank you for toothpaste and bodily functions and the smell of coffee.” It would be a non-stop full-time job. Thank Him for everything and you’ll begin to live a life full of gratitude.

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Psalm 24:1
“Always give thanks to God the Father for everything.” Ephesians 5:20


Simple Thanks

A funny thing happened after I wrote the last post.

I was soundly reprimanded in my heart for slighting the little table prayer I recited as a child. I called it “sing-songy” and a “ditty” and “elementary”. Shame on me. I was urged to take another look at the seemingly simple poem. God impressed on me that if I want to learn how to offer thanks, this is a very good place to start. After all, “Out of the mouths of babes You have ordained strength.” (Ps. 8:2)

I watch my son with his three year old daughter.
Over and over and over he reminds her to say “please” and “thank you”.

Over and over and over.

“Dada, I want milk.”
“What do you say?”
“Please, Dada.”
He gives her a cup of milk.
“What do you say?”
“Thank you, Dada.”

Over and over and over.

Then one day, without prompting,
she looks up at him with those big baby blues and says,
“Thank you, Dada.”

And his heart just melts.
It makes his day.

My granddaughter reminds me what a simple heartfelt expression of thanks means to my Father. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or wordy, or theologically profound. There doesn’t have to be an encyclopedic list. And when it comes to “sing-songy” — well, God rather enjoys that.

Sing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16

Thank God for God

It’s not November, but I’m going to ask you to think about thanksgiving.
T is our next stop on the ACTS acronym, which is a helpful prayer method. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)

Growing up, my siblings and I each had our own special prayer to recite at mealtime. I don’t remember who chose those little sing-songy verses or they how they got assigned to us. Meals didn’t start until dad called on someone to say grace and we all bowed our heads. When it was my turn to offer the blessing, I always prayed this little ditty:

Thank You for the world so sweet,
Thank You for the food we eat,
Thank You for the birds that sing,
Thank You God, for everything.
Amen.

On Sundays, my brother would usually get the nod because his prayer was short enough to get in between plays of the Packer game: “God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Hut. I mean, Amen.”

I still often find myself rattling off a few generalized “thank yous” that sound like my elementary table prayer.

Thank You for my family,
for my food, clothes and shelter,
and for this good day.
Thank You God, well, You know, for everything.

There’s room for improvement here, but the idea of making a list of everything I’m grateful for is overwhelming. Do I actually put everything on the list? Do I go over the whole list every day? How specific does the list need to be? What if I miss something?

Lately, I’ve been approaching this part of my prayer time a little differently. Instead of thanking God for stuff I have, I’ve been focusing on things He’s done.

God, I thank You for…

  • making me in Your image, capable of knowing, loving, serving and enjoying You.
  • preserving my life thus far, bringing me through injuries, sickness or troubles.
  • Your Son, Jesus, who emptied Himself of His glory for me.
  • Jesus’ death on the cross, paying for my sins.
  • the Holy Spirit, who helps me to understand Your truth, know Your love, be conformed to Christ’s character, and serve others with Your gifts.
  • the Word of God and its wisdom, truth and power.
  • the church, especially my congregation and its leaders who help me grow in faith.
  • the assurance of salvation, that I can rest in the hope of a future eternity with You.
  • the mercies You bestow on me.
  • giving and sustaining my life.
  • ways You’ve helped me change and break bad habits.

Although this list can also go on and on, I feel like these are the kinds of things for which God most appreciates my thanks. I still wrap it up with the same catch-all phrase: Thank You God, for everything.

In other words —
Thank You God, well, You know, for You.

Let your lives overflow
with joy and thanksgiving
for all He has done.
Col. 2:7

Come Clean

People have been making confessions for centuries.
Their words can become our words
when we need help with our confession.

Today I’m sharing four short prayers —
the first from the 18th century,
the second from the 19th century,
a third from the 20th century,
and finally one from the 21st century.

Pick your century.
Choose your confession.
Come clean and then leave clean.

From “The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions”

Merciful Lord,
Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
sins in private and in the family,
sins against light and knowledge.
Pardon all my sins,
known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear;
and hearing, forgive.

From Rev. George Ridding — 1867

Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as you see us.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From pride and self-will,
from the desire to have our own way in all things,
from an overweening love of our own ideas,
and blindness to the value of others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.
From strife and division,
from magnifying our certainties to condemn all differences,
from all arrogance in our dealings with others.
Save us and help us, O Lord.

From “The Book of Common Worship” — 1906

Gracious God,
our sins are too heavy to carry,
too real to hide,
and too deep to undo.

Forgive what our lips tremble to name,
what our hearts can no longer bear,
and what has become for us
a consuming fire of judgment.

Set us free from a past that we cannot change;
open to us a future in which we can be changed;
and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Scotty Smith: Heavenward — 2012

I’m annoyed, irritated and wound up tight.
I have been for several weeks.
Please gentle and soften my edgy and crusty heart,
by your grace and for your glory.

I can offer explanations, but I won’t make excuses.
I just come to you as the knotted mess that I am.
You are filled with mercy, compassion and patience.
You convict me without condemning me.
You humble me without humiliating me.
You don’t just tell me what to do, you give me yourself.
What would I do without you Jesus?

I repent of keeping a record of others’ wrongs.
I repent of not repenting.

Convict me when my sense of humor reveals a lack of kindness;
when my poor manners show a lack of love;
when my words tear down more than they build up.
I pray in your powerful and holy name.


Pardon Me

I beg your pardon, but I have one more word on this topic of confession:

“The wise prayer of confession always leads to an acceptance of God’s pardon.” George Buttrick

Coming clean before God isn’t simply airing out your dirty laundry.
(There are plenty of day-time talk shows available for that kind of thing.)

It also isn’t groveling in sackcloth and ashes, ruthlessly berating yourself.
(That just leaves us feeling hopelessly worse off than before.)

Doing the dirty work of unearthing our inner stinky garbage must be followed by heaving it into the trash can, rolling it out to the curb, watching the waste management truck squish it to smithereens and waving goodbye. Sure, there will be another load next week — all the more reason to stay on top of it — but God never fails to remove our confessed sins, as far as the east landfill is from the west landfill.

Although God invites us into forgiveness, it didn’t come without cost.
But He prepared and paid for it, so we dare not squander such a gift.

When I am invited over to a friend’s house for lunch, I don’t wait for the bill. I don’t ask her how much I owe her. I don’t leave a few dollars on the table for a tip. She paid for the food and she prepared the meal from a heart of joy for our friendship. Receiving her gift in the same spirit of joy is the only appropriate response.

As I wrap up my confession, I might say something like this:
“Lord, I’m so sorry that it took Your Son’s blood to pay the price for my sin, but since it’s been done and my sins have been completely paid for, I will not insult You by refusing to receive forgiveness. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.”

Then I preach to myself by speaking aloud an assurance from the Word. Any of these would do just fine.

  • There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
  • Blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Rom. 4:8)
  • I, I am He who blots out your transgression for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isa. 43:25)
  • If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness. (Ps. 130:3-4)
  • In Him we have redemption, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. (Eph. 1:7)
  • If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Beset

That thing I did yesterday?
I did it again.
I’m sorry again.
Already today,
I’ve done it again.
I’m sorry again.
There’s a good chance that tomorrow,
I’ll do it again.
I’ll be sorry again.

Besetting sins: sins that we continually struggle with and have a weakness toward; vices that easily entangle us.

We all have besetting sins. Maybe it’s gossip or jealousy or telling white lies. It’s that same-old-same-old thing that gets us every time. We get weary of confessing it because we sound like a broken record and assume God is sick and tired of hearing it on repeat. We hover on the edge of hopelessness. When will we ever get some victory here?

I’ve got besetting sins. In fact, I have a list of ten of them in my prayer notebook. It’s not pretty. I don’t love it. But I have found a way to deal with the sins with which I am beset.

Every personality type has assets and liabilities. Since I’m a sucker for temperament tests, I’ve taken them all. Most of them reveal my preferences, how I like to do things and the areas in life where I thrive. The Enneagram is a little different. One of the insights it offers is a rundown of how each of the nine types function, both at its healthiest and its unhealthiest. Thus, my list of ten besetting sins. There were no surprises, but still, reading through the unhealthy character traits feels like a slap upside the head. Awareness is half the battle, though.

When I am at my healthiest, when I am the best version of myself, these are my strengths:

  • Wise and discerning
  • Realistic
  • Inspiring
  • Conscientious
  • Self-disciplined
  • Strong sense of right and wrong
  • Principled and fair
  • Responsible
  • Strong sense of higher purpose
  • Integrity

When I am at my unhealthiest, when I am the most surly version of myself, these are my weaknesses:

  • Critical
  • Fearful of mistakes
  • Perfectionism
  • Correcting/Nagging
  • Impatient
  • Self-righteous
  • Unemotional/Impersonal
  • Always right
  • Judgmental
  • Self-critical

This makes a perfect prayer list.
I confess the weaknesses that have entangled my heart.
I pray for the Spirit to beef up the strengths.

Dear God,
Let my weaknesses grow weaker
and my strengths grow stronger.
Amen.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses.
Heb. 4:15

My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Cor. 12:9

Coming Up: Pardon Me
Looking Back: True Confessions

True Confessions

I confess I’m not very good at confessing.

Confession was not a big part of my faith tradition so I never learned the proper words to use or the correct posture to strike or the acceptable attitude to display. This section of my prayer notebook is thin. I have much to learn.

When it comes to confession, I tend to swing between two extremes:

#1) I think about things I’m really ashamed of and recoil at the thought of rehashing them. Let bygones be bygones. Sweep them under the rug and move on. The past can’t be changed, so don’t look back.

Lord, have mercy.

#2) I can’t think of anything to confess. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs and I don’t sleep around. I go to church, I read my Bible and I’m a really good girl. There’s no sense in drudging up something that isn’t there.

Lord, have mercy.

I know that both extremes of that swinging pendulum are filled with error. Somewhere between beating myself up and puffing myself up, there is a place where God is patiently waiting for honest truth.

So I went looking for help. I needed words I didn’t have. If confession is a cleansing of the soul, then I wanted to learn the language, understand the posture and adjust my attitude.

King David got me started with the scariest prayer I ever prayed:
“Search me, O God,
and know my heart;
test my thoughts.
Point out anything
You find in me
that makes You sad.”
(Ps. 139:23-24)

It’s not up to me to delve into the deep, dark places of my soul to drum up some impressive sins. That’s God’s job. He does a thorough search and makes me aware of what’s lurking there. Once it’s pointed out, it’s my job to look it square in the face, agree with God that I was out of line, and say “I’m sorry”. And mean it.

Many others have written heart-felt confessions
that provide words I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
It’s okay to steal those prayers —
no confession needed.

Coming Up:
Beset
Pardon Me

Looking Back:
Pray to Pray
Adore