Upstairs Prayers

“They went upstairs to the room where they were staying.
They all joined together constantly in prayer.”
Acts 1:13-14

The hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” always makes me cringe a little bit.
A whole hour?
Of prayer?
Sigh.

What does that say about me?
I can watch TV for an hour.
I can read a book for an hour.
I can talk to a friend on the phone for an hour.
But an hour of prayer sounds daunting, if not impossible.

Then I read Acts 1 and a mere sixty minutes on my knees didn’t seem like such a big deal.

After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, the eleven disciples walked back to Jerusalem, went upstairs, and prayed for ten days. I did the math. The resurrected Jesus spent 40 days on earth. Before ascending, Jesus told the disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for a special gift. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, which landed on the 50th day after Christ’s resurrection.

50 – 40 = 10

The room upstairs must have been big — there were 120 people up there, all of them joined together constantly in prayer. For ten days. Waiting for something. Not sure what.

Which begs some questions:

  • Was it the same room in which Jesus and the disciples ate the Last Supper?
  • Who owned the house where the room was?
  • Did they use old Jewish prayers or was it extemporaneous?
  • Did somebody lead or did everybody pray at once?
  • Did anybody get testy?

Which begs some more questions:

  • Could I meet with 120 church members in somebody’s attic and pray that long?
  • Would we be able to take breaks?
  • What about eating? Who would feed all of us?
  • How long would I wait around for something to happen?
  • Would I get testy?

“Whenever God determines to do a great work,
He first sets His people to pray.”
~ Spurgeon ~

Something has been stirring in my soul,
telling me to make prayer a priority this year.
Perhaps a great work of God is on the way.
Maranatha!

Pray to Pray

And pray in the Spirit
on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Ephesians 6:18

I’m a herky-jerky pray-er.
Some weeks I storm the gates of heaven with ferocious faith.
Other weeks, I limp through the days with barely a whisper.

A large percentage of my prayers are focused on me and what I want.
And then I have the audacity to tell God how to go about answering.
“Lord, here’s my problem and this is what I want You to do about it.”
It’s no wonder my prayers don’t availeth much.
Am I the only one? ūüėČ

We all have room to grow in this area, I’m guessing. How can we become better pray-ers? It’s something I’m going to explore in 2021. Here are a few ways I’m going to try to grow in this area.

  • Remember that church directory from a several years ago? I’m going to dig it out and starting with the “A’s”, pray through it, taking a page every week or so. It won’t be long and complicated. When Paul prayed for people, he simply mentioned them to the Lord. (1 Thess. 1:2) When I come across a picture of someone who has passed on to glory, I’ll thank the Lord for their life and the ways they influenced me. I’ll listen for God’s prompting to get in touch with someone I haven’t seen for a while.
  • I like lists, so I’ll make a list of 30 people I know and lift up one name every day for a month.
  • During the sharing of prayer requests at church or Bible study, I’ll actually write them down and actually pray for them during the week.
  • When someone shares a struggle with me, I’ll ask them if I can pray right then and there, out loud, short and simple, instead of using “I’ll be praying for you” as an exit line.
  • If I can’t physically be with someone, I’ll write a short prayer in a text and send it.
  • I’ll keep a list of people to pray for in my phone and turn to it instead of scrolling Instagram during down time.
  • This year, I’m keeping all the Christmas cards we received and I plan to pull out one card every so often throughout the year and pray for God to bless them.
  • I’ll ask God to bring people to mind who need prayer and immediately lift them up when someone pops into my thoughts. Then I’ll send a quick message telling them God brought them to mind and I prayed.
  • Pray the alphabet.
  • I won’t be so shy about making my own needs known so brothers and sisters in Christ can pray for me.
  • I’m going to find a place to make a pile of stones and add one every time a prayer gets answered. Maybe pebbles in a vase on our kitchen counter or a stack of rocks in our front yard.
  • Let’s all pray for church staff and those in teaching/leadership positions on our drive to church every Sunday morning.
  • I’m making a prayer notebook. More on that later!

What ideas can you add to the list? Share, please!

Lord, I pray to become a faithful pray-er.

ABC Confession

Remember the post “Praying the Alphabet”¬† from two weeks ago? Several people have told me how much that has helped them and I’m so glad. I find I need to discover new ways to give thanks because I tend to get in a rut and say the same things over and over. “Thank you, God, for my family and friends, my house and food and clothes, and for Your love.” I wonder if God gets bored listening to me. Using the alphabet forces me to be grateful for some things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. “Thank you, God, for my Arms, for Babies, and for Cheese…”

2

We’ll end this week’s study by putting a twist on using the alphabet to help us in another aspect of prayer.

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, was considered the most important high and holy day in the Jewish faith. It was the one day each year when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies to ask for forgiveness on behalf of the Israelites. A rope was tied to the ankle of the high priest, just in case he died in the presence of God, so he could be dragged out of the inner chamber. Approaching the mercy seat was serious business.

Still today, Yom Kippur includes a 24 hour fast and day-long services at the synagogue. Leading up to the Day of Atonement, there are ten days of introspection and repentance for sins, both individual and corporate. Ten days is a long stretch to keep coming up with sins to confess, so according to Jewish tradition, they use the Aleph-Bet to guide them in their penitence.

Atonement18_MS_Header_01

When asked why the confession of sins was to be done in alphabetical order, Rabbi Yizak of Vorki (1779‚Äď1848) answered, “If it were otherwise, we should not know when to stop beating our breasts. For there is no end to sin, and no end to the awareness of sin, but there IS an end to the alphabet!”¬†

I confess that my confessions sound just as repetitive as my thanksgivings sometimes do. “I’m sorry, Lord, for eating too much, for general laziness, and for using snarky, sarcastic words. Again today.” Ho-hum. Perhaps alphabetizing my transgressions will force me to be sorry for some things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. “Forgive me, Lord, for my Attitude, for being Bossy, for Criticizing the way PB makes the bed…”

Now I see why there are ten days to prepare for the Day of Atonement. Thank goodness it only comes around once a year. At least I know that when I finally get to confessing my lack of zeal, I can stop. Until next time.

If you need to catch up:
Monday – Stanza B
Tuesday – Long Song Study, part B
Wednesday – Bet
Thursday – B is for But

Adoration

adore

The ACTS acronym has been around a long time. ¬†It serves as a method of prayer that includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. I remember learning this handy dandy prayer model when I was a kid. Plus, it’s in the book “Christian Prayer for Dummies”. ¬†So it’s nothing new.

I’ve never had trouble coming up with things to confess — there’s plenty of fodder for that. ¬†Thanksgiving is easy — I just have to open my eyes and look in front of my nose. ¬†My prayers tend to lean heavy on the supplication side¬†— there’s no end to the list of things I ask God for on a regular basis.

Adoration is my weak spot.

I can’t think of much to say.

According to the dictionary, to adore means to regard with the utmost esteem, love and respect; to like or admire very much.

If I was at Menards and happened to see a certain HGTV decorating star, I’d go up to her and say, “I love your show! Your style is so warm and inviting and your creativity is so inspiring! ¬†I so look forward to seeing your designs each week! ¬†You are my favorite decorator!” ¬†(Yes, I would use all those exclamation points.) ¬†(And I would say “so” three times.)

If I was at the library and ran into an¬†author I highly respect, I’d whisper, “Your books have meant the world to me. ¬†I admire the way your stories connect with life. ¬†You are so good at putting things in a way that resonates with me. ¬†I’m so honored to meet you and be able to tell you how I feel.”

If I had a backstage pass at a concert and had the chance to speak to a musician I’ve always loved, I’d say, “The songs you sing speak right to my heart. ¬†I play your albums all the time and know every one of your songs. ¬†I think you’re the best songwriter ever.”

There. ¬†That wasn’t so hard.

Adoring God is simply telling Him what I love about Him.

“God, I love Your style, Your creativity, Your words, the way You touch my heart. ¬†You are my favorite — the best ever, and I’m honored to worship You.”

Adoration.

Teach Us To Pray

The disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to

walk on water,

or multiply loaves and fishes,

or quiet a storm.

They never asked for lessons in

preaching

or healing

or driving out demons.

There was no request for interpretation of Old Testament passages,

or an explanation of original sin and the fall of man.

The only thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was

how

to

pray.

So let’s not ask God to wow us with wonders,

or check off our wish list,

or indulge our whims.

Let’s not get hung up on

eschatology

or hagiology

or epistemology.

Let’s just lay down our pride and say,

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

teach us

Going Into the Closet

closet“But when you pray, go into your closet, close the door and pray to your Father….” ¬†Matthew 6:6

What do you think Jesus really meant when He said this?

Was He implying that I should try to find a happy place in my mind so I can feel a sense of calm and peacefulness?

Was the Lord hinting that I should shut my eyes when I pray to cut down on distractions?

Did Jesus mean that I should pray about what clothes to wear every morning?

Could He have been suggesting that if I can’t close my closet doors, that perhaps I have too many clothes?

Or was He instructing that I should

go into a closet

close the door

and pray?

Could you do it?  Would you do it?  Should you do it?

I mean, actually clear a place in an actual closet in your house, put a folding chair inside, and go sit on it for a few minutes every day. What would it be like to close your closet door and talk to God in there?

prayer closet

Nah, that can’t be what He meant. ¬†I’d feel foolish sitting in my closet, praying. ¬†What if someone heard me? ¬†That would be embarrassing. ¬†How would I explain my unusual actions? ¬†Surely He wouldn’t ask me to do something odd like that. ¬†What could possibly be the benefit of such a strange practice? ¬†I must be taking Jesus’ words too literally.

“Prayer is not learned in a classroom, but in a closet.” E.M. Bounds

Prayers

praying childI used to pray the same bed-time prayer every night.  My mom would tuck me in and listen to me recite this verse:

‚ÄúDay is done, gone the sun,¬†God be with us everyone.‚ÄĚ

Then I would go on to “God Bless” everybody — Mommy and Daddy, Grandpas and Grandmas, brothers and sister, cousins and friends.

When our family gathered around the supper table and it was my turn to say the blessing, I always rattled off this little ditty:meal prayer

“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.”

My siblings and I¬†each had our own special prayers to recite.¬† I don’t know 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. ¬†For Sunday dinner, my brother would usually get the nod because his prayer was short enough to get in between plays of the Packer game:

‚ÄúGod is great, God is good.¬†Let us thank him for our food. Amen.‚ÄĚ

My prayers have changed since those days, but sometimes I still feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again.  If I’m getting bored with the way I pray, I wonder how God feels.  I have a lot to learn here.

Prayer is one of those topics that tend to induce guilt (‚ÄúI know I should pray more.‚ÄĚ) or anxiety (‚ÄúI don‚Äôt have to pray out loud, do I?‚ÄĚ) or doubt (Does it really make a difference?‚ÄĚ).¬† Prayer can seem mysterious, but as Billy Graham once said, ‚ÄúPrayer is simply a conversation between you and God.‚Ä̬† And most of us are pretty good at talking. ¬†Listening, on the other hand, can be a problem.

This fall I’m going to be leading a Bible study on prayer, so expect¬†the topic to come up here in the coming weeks. I don’t expect to have an¬†answer for every question about prayer or attempt to solve this thing once and for all.¬† Instead, my hope is that we will take a step forward in enjoying our relationship with our loving Father, who wants to chat with us awhile every day.

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth.  Psalm 54:2

Praying for Me

Somewhere along the line, I got it in my head that praying for myself was selfish. Prayer time was better spent lifting up other people, not my own wants and desires. Lately, I’ve heard holy whisperings that seem to be correcting this untruth.

Then, this morning, I saw this.

prayer

This blackboard is in one of our Sunday school rooms that goes mostly unused in the summer. ¬†During the school year, our Bible study ladies put prayer requests on the board each week so we can remember¬†who needs extra prayers. I happened to walk in the room this morning and glanced at the board. There it was — a message from heaven. ¬†I stared at the words for a good minute, sensing this was meant for me.

I’ve kept a prayer list for years. ¬†Some days, I go slowly¬†through the list, pausing at each name, each need, each request. Other days, I lift the piece of paper up high and say, “See this list, Lord? Good. Amen.”

On most days, by the time I get through the line-up of family, friends, the church, and the world, there’s little time left. I may tag on¬†some petitions for guidance in a decision or help with a particular situation, but as a rule, I keep myself off my prayer list.

Today, I read the writing on the wall.

It’s time to put another name on the list: Me.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God.” ¬†Psalm 51:10

Here’s My Heart

heart

It’s a dangerous prayer.

“Here’s my heart, Lord. ¬†Speak what is true.”

That kind of prayer is an open invitation to the God who knows all, sees all, hears all.

Here’s my heart, Lord.

It’s opening the deepest part of me for His examination.

Speak what is true.

It’s listening to His diagnosis and the prognosis for my neurosis.

While it’s true that I am loved and I am redeemed and I am hidden with Christ in God,

it’s also true that I am¬†controlling and I am selfish and I am anxious.

Thankfully, God speaks the Truth about Himself as well:

“I, the Lord, am strong.

I am sure.

I am good.

I am true.”

This week, David Crowder and I are singing this song:

Expired Prayers

The thing about prayer is — there is no expiration date.

So, sometimes I have to go back and undo foolish requests.

“Oh God, You know that thing I said I wanted? ¬†I changed my mind. ¬†I don’t want it anymore, so please don’t give it to me.”

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah in the holy place,

Gabriel’s words might have thrown the elderly priest off a bit.

“Your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13) ¬†

Ummm….which prayer is that, exactly?

Evidently, one that he had prayed a long time ago.

“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”

Ahhhh….that¬†prayer.

I suppose Zechariah and his wife had prayed for children during the early years of their marriage, probably into their 20’s and 30’s. ¬†Perhaps the fervency picked up in their 40’s, but surely now that they were well along in years, those prayers were abandoned.

The thing about prayer is — God knows better than we do what’s good for us and when we’re ready for it.

Sometimes we need time to grow into our prayers.

Still, I wonder if any 30 year old prayers of mine might be answered today.