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When I was crossing a corner as I prayerwalked in our small town in the Sierra Valley, I remembered the gist of a passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount about not praying on the street corners to be seen by men. Instead, we are to pray privately behind closed doors.

That moment led me down a twenty-year path of studying the Bible for teachings on prayer—focusing a lot on the prayer life of Jesus. Only secondary to his teachings on eternal life, his teachings on prayer provide much direction as we strive to live a prayer-focused life.

  • Pray simple prayers. The purpose of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) was to teach us to pray simply. Jesus prefaced the prayer by telling the listeners not to babble on and on (Matthew 6:7-8). As a former journalist, I find this refreshing and reassuring, because I believe in short and simple. Jesus taught us that we do not need elaborate vocabulary. We cannot impress God with the number of our words. After all, he knows our heart already. The simple fact that we go to him is a prayerful act already.
The simple fact that we go to him is a prayerful act already. Click To Tweet
  • Pray with a clear conscience. Forgiveness seems to be crucial to answered prayer. Jesus said that if we do not forgive others, our Father will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). He also said we should be reconciled with others before making an offering (Matthew 5:23-24). I know that if I’m harboring ill feelings toward someone, I’m focused on myself—not God. So forgiveness shifts me from my single viewpoint to God’s bigger one. If we want the Father to forgive us, we need to forgive others’ offenses toward us, but we also need to be proactive in seeking others’ forgiveness when we have hurt them.
...if I'm harboring ill feelings toward someone, I'm focused on myself-not God. Click To Tweet
  • Be persistent. In Luke 18 Jesus told a parable about a woman who kept bugging a judge to make a decision in her favor. Because she was persistent, that unjust judge granted her request. Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7). The Father wants our hearts to bend to him—persistence in prayer makes that happen. No matter how bleak a situation looks, our Father wants us to continue to take our heart cries to him.
No matter how bleak a situation looks, our Father wants us to continue to take our heart cries to him. Click To Tweet
  • Pray boldly. God also wants us to pray beyond our reach. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Big, bold prayers are statements of our big, bold faith in our God who can do the impossible (Matthew 19:26). Last year I had a HUGE prayer need relating to the restoration of a relationship. Things looked bleak, and I had about resigned myself to a negative outcome. But then one day I saw a wooden sign that said “pray big.” So I bought that sign and kept approaching God boldly with my prayers. A couple months later in a series of the miraculous, the relationship was restored. Don’t pray small: pray big.Don't pray small_ pray big..png
Don't pray small: pray big. Click To Tweet
  • Pray with faith. When Jesus healed a boy from demons after the disciples had failed, he said that we can move mountains if we have faith as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:14-21). Faith is belief and trust in a God who has created and sustained all living things. We need not trust in the miracle; we simply have to believe God can do the miracle. One of my life verses is Matthew 19:26: “With man this is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” We simply need to believe that God can move that mountain.
We need not trust in the miracle; we simply have to believe God can do the miracle. Click To Tweet

I do not pray aloud on street corners in my little town; I pray silently for whatever God puts within my eyesight. And I’ve been privileged to see marriages saved, sick people healed, and hearts moved to faith. Jesus prayed, so I do, too.

Janet gold at rock wall.jpg

Janet Holm McHenry is a speaker and the author of 23 books, including the best-selling PrayerWalk and her newest book, The Complete Guide to the Prayers of Jesus: What He Prayed and How It Will Change Your Life Today (Bethany House, June 5 release). A former educator, she lives in the Sierra Valley in northeastern California, where she prayerwalks for her town and where she taught high school English. Featured in Health, Family Circle and First magazines for her prayerwalking, Janet is convinced that prayer is the best problem-solving strategy.

 The Complete Guide to the Prayers of Jesus is the only comprehensive guide to the prayer life of Jesus. It is an engaging, vivid journey through Jesus’ prayers, as well as his teachings on prayer and his prayer practices. With reflection questions for small groups, it is available at local bookstores and online sources.

https://www.facebook.com/JanetMcHenryAuthor/

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proverbs-15

When my children were small and learning to talk, I delighted in the sound of their voices and each sweetly expressed syllable. Heather spoke with a high-pitched, tinkling voice while the boys—especially Connor—had unusually deep, raspy voices for such young children.

I met each simple request, exclamation, and phrase with keen interest and excitement. I’d lean nearer to hear the words of my precious ones, wondering what amusing little speeches might leave their lips.

In the same way, a believer’s prayers fill God’s heart with joy. Scripture even tells us that “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” (Proverbs 15:8 NIV)

Though written directly to the people of Israel, God extended His promises to those who claim Christ as savior. As Christians, we can look to the truth of Proverbs 15:8 to encourage us in our practice of prayer.

At the time of the Old Testament writings, a sacrifice entailed any number of complicated preparations of meats, grains, or other items presented to God in an attempt to gain God’s favor and direct attention to the needs of His people. Sacrifice required a lot of work!

Prayer? Communing with God? That was—and is—all about relationship. Prayer is a heavenly invitation from the King to meet Him in the throne room where we can marvel at His beauty, find safety in His presence, and express the deepest part of ourselves to a Father who bends close—leaning ever nearer to capture each word in His memory.

Unlike an earthly parent who may listen half-heartedly to her tween’s dramatic relaying of the latest sixth-grade drama in the lunch room and respond with a noncommittal, “Uh huh. Really?” our Abba Father delights in the times we set aside to pray…to thank…to request…to worship.

And during those moments—whether we’re joyful or depressed, content or needy, subdued or expressive—we have the Maker completely to ourselves. Oh, the beauty of being able to pray!

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“The great battle of our spiritual lives is ‘Will you believe?’  It is not, ‘Will you try harder?’ or ‘Can you make yourself Worthy?’  It is squarely a matter of believing that God will do what only he can do.”

-Jim Cymbala

I’ve read about Chrissy.  Raised as a pastor’s daughter in a loving home, she deserted her faith and family.  For two years, Chrissy’s parents lived a nightmare–unsure their beloved child was safe or warm–and wondering  if she would ever return home.

One evening, Pastor Cymbala asked his congregation to intercede on Chrissy’s behalf.  And those gathered at church that night lifted their voices to heaven beseeching the heavenly Father to rescue one who had been stolen.  Two days later, the lost daughter knocked on her father’s door.  She was finally home.

This story is an incredible encouragement to me.  It gives me hope for my own prodigal.

While he wasn’t born into a pastor’s family, our prodigal’s story began in a Christian home.  We prayed over our child, dedicated him to the Lord, and read scripture together.  His gentle spirit responded to God’s and this precious blonde haired, blue eyed child invited Jesus to be his savior when he was almost five years old.

Our shy little boy told other children about Jesus…raced to the car in his red AWANA vest eager to go to church…and began growing in his own faith.  Several years later, one life altering moment shattered everything in Benjamin’s life.  Unaware of the his pain, my husband and I were confused by the sudden change in Ben’s personality and choices.

This was the moment that opened the door and allowed the enemy access.  He stole one who rightfully belongs to God.

Since then, I have battled on myknees.  I have begged God to loose the chains…to “replace the heart of stone”…to return our prodigal to us.  Still, the enemy holds fast–reluctant to give up the child we claimed for Christ before he was ever born.  But I am convinced there is more to this story…that God has a better plan for Ben…that one day God will replace the deadness in my boy’s eyes with the light of joy and that words of praise will flow from the lips of the son who now utters words that deny His power.

As my brothers and sisters in Christ, can I be vulnerable with you?  After not having seen Benjamin for several weeks, yesterday we stopped by the apartment where he is staying.  We stood awkwardly in the doorway…invited him to dinner…asked about his plans.

Giving each of us a hug he quietly asked, “Can you please leave?”

Reluctantly walking down the rickety iron steps, I imagined our unspoken conversation.

Why are you here?  Don’t you realize I’ve cut you out of my life?                                                                                                     

Yes, son, but we love you just as God does–without condition.

I feel so alone in this life.  teddy-828506_640                                                                                                                                                           

You don’t need to walk this road alone.  We are here–and there is one whose loving presence is ever-constant. Call out to Him, my son.  He will never leave you or forsake you!  

But the words were never spoken and my son sleeps on the floor of a one room apartment.  What does he eat?  Is he safe?  And I wake during the sleeping hours to pray.

And today I follow Jim Cymbala’s example.  Friends–in all humility can I lay my heartache before you?  Would you please pray for Benjamin?  I believe he is at a critical juncture and I am pleading with God that in his mercy He will do a work in Ben’s life..that he will set the prisoner free…that he will rescue that which has been lost.

If we share in the same journey, would you also gift me with the opportunity to pray for your prodigal?  Let’s pray our prodigals home!

Scripture for Reflection

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear to dull to hear.  (Isaiah 59:1)

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:30-31)

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. (Isaiah 42:3)

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

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God shapes the world by prayer.  Prayers are deathless.  The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them.  Prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world.  –E.M. Bounds

If you have a share in a story like mine, you understand the pain of loving a prodigal.  Your prodigal might be a spouse, a parent–or, like so many, a treasured and precious child. I know my experience is far from singular.

The Christian speaker’s adult child has turned from God to alcohol….the Sunday School teacher’s son glares at the clock as the passing of each day reminds him the iron bars are a visual representation of  choices that have bound him to more than this place…the adopted child raised “in the fear and admonition of The Lord” lives for the next high…and, for at least the last four years my own son has walked a painful path–his soul searching for fulfillment in a lifestyle devoid of the God he trusted as an innocent boy.

And that painful path?  He may not realize it….or may even resent it–but, my heart has been with him the entire time.  Like Mary, I feel “as if a sword had pierced my own soul”.  But, I refuse to give up the fight for this is “not a battle against flesh and blood…but against the powers of this dark world”.

Above all, I know that neither your prodigal nor mine wanders alone.  In the dead of the night…when the lion of this world prowls about seeking to satisfy his gluttonous hunger, the Lion of Judah stands strong and vigilant–the eternal victor who “will contend with those contend with you, and your children I will save”.

Be encouraged, Friend, and continue to pray on behalf of those who refuse to pray for themselves.  If you do not have a prodigal in your life, then pray–without judging–for someone who does.

Scripture for Reflection

Ephesians 1:18-19

John 16:33

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Shoulders slumped, the Farmer gazed at the cracked earth.  Reaching down he plucked a stalk from the edge of crop.  Nothing.  The hulls were empty…worthless bits of wheat lay scattered across the ground.  The potential for harvest was dim and the Farmer shudder.  Who will provide for my family?  Why hasn’t God answered my prayers for rain?  Doubt fell  across the Farmer just as the drought left the cracked earth and shriveled crops in its wake. 

Moving away from the evidence of failure, hopelessness, and defeat the Farmer turned away.  Wait…it couldn’t be.  A cool, damp breeze–the promise or rain, the promise of tomorrow, the promise of God’s faithfulness–brushed across the Farmer’s face like a the dampness of a tear cried by a child’s mother at her little one’s suffering and fear.  

God understood the Farmer’s need and He understands our needs.  Praise God for the relief offered by the very breath of refreshment and hope!

He has not forgotten.  The True Gardener sees the need and offerer his assurance.   

 

Verse for Reflection

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.

Isaiah 44:3

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calendar

The to-do list sat passively on my desk as if mocking my attempts to cross each item off.

  • Call the doctor’s office.  (Schedule three children on different days to avoid missing work.)
  • Write Christmas thank-you’s. (Never mind that it’s almost Valentine’s Day.)
  • Finish that writing assignment.  (Remember, it’s due tomorrow.)

I did manage to arrange appointments between bites of chewy, warmed-over Sesame Chicken but my little notepad is clearly lacking a display of satisfying check marks–and I love check marks.  There is something so wonderfully tangible about slashes of pencil disecting the daily chore list.

I used to fall into the same self-affirming practice with my faith.  If I could just stick to the plan, complete the list, maintain the ritual–then I would have done something worthwhile.  Moved ahead.  Prove myself worthy of God’s love.

  • Get up before the sun and read X number of Old Testament chapters.  (Forget that I can’t concentrate before 6 a.m. unless I go to bed by 10:00 p.m.–a minor miracle in a home with four children.)
  • Forgo the laundry for prayer time.  (While there are times to kneel in prayer without the encumbrance of Fruit of the Loom in my hands, I’ve discovered the attitude of prayer is as important as the circumstance of prayer.)

Self-affirmation of faith doesn’t get me–or anyone–anywhere.  It only reveals our need for Someone to erase the unattainable list we’ve created for ourselves.  And Christ is that Someone.  There is no list.  The slate is wiped clean.  Dear friend, let’s find our satisfaction in Him today.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-2

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A child reacts to police and fireman staged nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. REUTERS-Adrees Latif

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…Isaiah 42:3

Like the rest of you, I’m in mourning today for the horrific and senseless loss of life in Connecticut. I sit helplessly in front of my computer screen–watching in stunned silence–wanting to do something, to help someone, to erase those fatal moments from history.

I cry and wonder aloud, How could something like this happen to innocent children? What if these were my little ones? Why would God allow such evil?

I don’t have the answers to the hard questions. I wish I did–or that someone did.
All we can do now is to bend our knees in prayer for those families who have been robbed of the gift of their precious children.

One day there will be justice for this unjust loss of life–for the children.

Lord,
We can’t begin to describe the sadness, anger, and bewilderment we are feeling. We can’t begin to understand how such an evil act can occur within the walls of a school building where crayons and books are the norm. But you, Father God, are the Comforter and Healer. You are the Rock and Sustainer. You bring about justice and offer us life everlasting in Jesus Christ.

We ask you to surround those families who have suffered and lost all hope today. Act mightily in their lives and turn our nation toward you because we are desperate for our Savior and in need of his redemption.

Amen

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany years ago a Far Side cartoon featured a small dog and it’s owner.  The words in the bubble read, “Blah, blah, blah, Minnie.”  Like Minnie’s owner, I’m certain my words–though spoken–are often unheard.  I imagine it something like this.

Tammy:  Child 1, please put your toys away when you’re done playing with them.

Offspring’s Interpretation:  Child 1, blah, blah, blah…play with your toys.

And…

Tammy:  Child 4, call if you’re running late.

Offspring’s Interpretation:  Blah, blah, blah…run late.

Or…

Tammy:  Child 3, when you calm down then we can talk.

Offspring’s Interpretation:  You can talk.

You, too, might struggle with a similar problem.  Maybe your colleagues don’t consider your opinion, your children disregard your guidance, or your husband ignores your input.

Christ understands, friend.  His words fell on the ears of the religious leaders of the day, but they ignored the forgiving call of his voice.  The masses dismissed him as worse than a criminal and overlooked his promises of freedom.  Even Christ’s own family dismissed him as deluded.

But there are some who listen…some who respond.  They are the ones He came to save.

Scripture for Reflection:  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  (John 10:27)

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One mid-September evening is etched indelibly in my mind.  My two preschool aged sons and I were hunched under the stairs in a closet made to accommodate nothing more than a vacuum cleaner and a few jackets.  Trying to forget the swaying of the house, Ben, Connor and I imagined we were pirates tossed about by the fiercest of storms.  “Lower the main sail!” one shouted.  “Aye, aye, cap’n.”  The children, delighted by our game, were momentarily distracted from the real danger screaming outside our front door.  Hurricane Floyd had crossed the threshold from sea to land, poised to lay waste to all of Hampton Roads, Virginia.  “Will these walls protect us tonight?” I wondered.  “Is the foundation solid enough ?”  Only time would tell.

As Christ taught, a house built on shifting sand can’t stand because it lacks a foundation.  In other words, my faith is only as strong as my spiritual foundation.  Without the stability of a solid foundation, I tend to suffer damage and, occasionally, even crumble when surrounded by life’s storms.    Such inattention usually results in my faith requiring a major overhaul.  The foundation needs to be stabilized or renovated.  But, where to begin when my relationships, finances or health are lying in a shambles?

Simply on my knees.

I have to choose to take my eyes off the storm and direct them heavenward.  Otherwise, I begin to doubt God’s love or his reasons for allowing a tempest to crash into my life.  I feel my spiritual foundation begin to crumble and then, like the disciples, my preoccupation with self and fear results in a desperate plea, “Lord, don’t you care if I drown?”  (Mark 4:38 NIV)  But, when I turn the focus away from myself and toward Him, I can look beyond the storm knowing that at his command, the wind and waves will be quieted.

When I meet alone with God and lay my burdens down, I discover a place of shelter and calm—a respite from the tumult.  Doesn’t the promise of such a place encourage your heart?

Scripture for Reflection

“Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I have breath!”   Psalm 116:2

Lord, help me to entrust all of my life to you today knowing that you can quiet my heart even if you don’t quiet the storm.

 

 

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This week, I’ve been creating a new kindergarten report card that includes all of the new state standards.  What a chore!  There are broad standards, specific standards, reasonable standards, and unattainable standards.  How can I possibly put together a record that will convey each child’s unique qualities, abilities, and weaknesses?  Will it be fair?    Accurate? 

Hunched over the computer keyboard, I’ve been struck by the thought.  What if God used heavenly standards to determine MY position with Him?  Without Christ, it would look something like this.

Work Habits

Works for God’s glory rather than glory of self.     Needs Improvement

Communication Skills

Responds to the promptings of the Holy Spirit willingly and in faith.  Sometimes

Expresses self through prayer rather than complaint or worry.  Needs improvement

Spiritual Habits

Consistently demonstrates love to others.  Inconsistent

Comments

Tammy tries hard, but often forgets she has can’t earn her way to heaven. 

 

Thank God for His abundant love.  Dear friend, you and I can rest in the assurance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We don’t need to meet an impossible standard or live up to unattainable expectations.  We have the freedom to mentally tear up our imaginary progress report and throw it in the circular file. 

Why?  Because Christ IS the standard. Through Him, we can approach Heaven’s throne with confidence–void of condemning red pencil marks or fear of not having passed the final exam.  Jesus’ never fails.

Verse for reflection

For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle.  (1 Corinthians 4:7-8)

Prayer of praise

Father God, thank you for your boundless mercy.  In your overwhelming love and kindness, you offered up your son as a sacrifice to present  me as an unblemished example of your glory.  Because of His sinless life, I can call you Father and stand unafraid in your presence–certain of my standing as your forgiven child.  Help me, Lord, to live this day for your glory with a heaven-focused heart.  Amen

 

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