Help For The Frustrated

Where do we find words for the frustrations that we feel?

I don’t know about you but when I hear about another mass shooting I feel frustrated. Part of my frustration comes from feeling an inability to communicate appropriately about the situation. There’s a struggle to communicate the mix of emotions and thoughts that are stirring inside me.

Maybe you feel that frustration too. So what can we do about it?

As Christians we have a wonderful resource to deal with and communicate those feelings of frustrations. It’s the book of Psalms.

Over the last year I have read at least one Psalm every day. And I can honestly say, the Psalms are a true balm for the soul. They provide a way to communicate about every emotion and every frustration of life.

For example there are seventy-one references to evil alone in the Psalms. One of my favorites is Psalm 10:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.

His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.

He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

 

The early church father Athanasius once wrote, “Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book [the psalms] you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you…learn the way to remedy your ill.”

The world is a frustrating place to live in sometimes. But thankfully God has given us a tremendous resource to help us live and communicate in these times of frustration.

If you are feeling frustrated, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource.


Recommend Books:

The Valley Of Vision

LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,

 

You have brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see you in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory.

 

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

 

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from

the deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells,

the brighter the stars shine;

Let me find your light in my darkness,

your life in my death,

your joy in my sorrow,

your grace in my sin,

your riches in my poverty,

your glory in my valley.[1]

 

 


 

[1] Adapted from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. .

A Disciple’s Prayer

 

“O My Savior,

Help me.

I am so slow to learn,

So prone to forget,

So weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be

on the heights;

I am pained by my graceless heart,

my prayerless days,

my poverty of love,

my sloth in the heavenly race,

my sullied conscience,

my wasted hours,

my unspent opportunities.

I am blind while light shines around me:

take the scales from my eyes,

grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.

Make it my chiefest joy to study [you],

meditate on [you],

gaze on [you],

sit like Mary at [your] feet,

lean like John on [your] breast,

appeal like Peter to [your] love,

count like Paul all things dung.

Give me increase and progress in grace

so that there may be

more decision in my character,

more vigour in my purpose,

more elevation in my life,

more fervor in my devotion,

more constancy in my zeal.

As I have a position in the world,

keep me from making the world my position;

May I never seek in the creature

what can be found only in the Creator;

Let not faith cease from seeing [you]

until it vanishes into sight.

Ride forth in me, [you] King of kings

and Lord of lords,

that I may live victoriously,

and in victory attain my end.” [1]

 

 


 

[1] The original title of this prayer is “A Disciple’s Renewal”. It is taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I slightly edited the original (updating “thee”, “thy”, and “thou” with [you] and [your].

A Prayer For Nepal

 

Would you pray with me…

 

Heavenly Father, Sovereign God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is. You reign over all the earth. You sit on your holy throne.

Yet you are near to the brokenhearted. You save the crushed in spirit. You weep with those who weep, you mourn with those who mourn. There is not a petal that falls from a flower that you do not know about. There is not a tear that falls 1280px-Wind_erosion_Kalopani_Nepalfrom a child that you do not see. There is not a cry for help that you do not hear.

You do not run from the pain of this broken and chaotic world. You will not abandon your image-bearers in their time of need. You are the God who enters into our pain. You are the God who comforts those in devastation. You are the God who provides hope to the hopeless. You are the God who can make all things new.

Oh God our Father, we pray for the people of Nepal. We pray that you would send your Spirit to comfort all those who are mourning. We pray that you would send your Spirit to bring peace and order to this terrifying and chaotic situation. We pray that you would shine your light of life where there is now much darkness. Guide and care for the people. Pour out your grace and blessing upon each and every person. Reveal yourself in this time.

Father, move our hearts to know how to pray, to know how to act, to know how to respond. Continue to raise up from your people caretakers, aid workers, and those with means and resources to help. Give wisdom and discernment to those who are already helping. Guide their plans and their steps that they might be able to better provide the greatest amount of relief and help to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount time.

Sustain those who are sacrificing themselves for others. Give to those who are going without so that others might live. Oh God, make yourself known in this situation.

Show us how to enter into the pain of others as you have entered into our pain. Give us eyes to see what you see. Give us ears to hear what you hear. Give us hearts to feel what you feel. Give us hands to care as you care. Give us feet to go as you go.

Abba Father, help us to remember that it is only by your grace that we are alive today. We have done nothing to earn it, nothing to deserve it. Help us to remember that our lives are no more valuable than any other. We are alive on earth only because it is to your good pleasure and plan that our lives continue for another day.

Show us what to do with the days that you have given us. Lead us in the way that we should go.

We put all our hope in you–the only wise God.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

My Favorite Contribution From Saint Patrick

 

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”–Saint Patrick [1]

330px-Slemish_mountain_County_Antrim

Compared to other Christian saints, we don’t know a lot about Saint Patrick. For instance, we don’t know for sure if he actually was the first missionary to Ireland.  However, we do know that when he arrived in Ireland paganism still ruled the land and that he faced opposition from many druids who wished to kill him.

We also know that in the face of such opposition Patrick wrote a simple prayer that today is known as “Patrick’s Breastplate”.  It’s a prayer that expresses complete confidence in the Lord and his protection. The prayer is by far my favorite contribution from Saint Patrick.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

In the 19th century the prayer was turned into a song.  To hear the song click here

 

For more on the life of Saint Patrick click here for a brief video or click here for a helpful article.

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

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[1] 131 Christians Everyone Should Know

 

 

Five Books That Helped Me Learn How to Pray

 

In high school I heard somewhere that James the brother of Jesus had knees like a camel. Supposedly he prayed so much on his knees that they became extremely calloused to the point they resembled camel knees.

For some reason I thought this sounded like something to aspire to. So for a time in high school I prayed on my knees. Most of the time wearing shorts (because growing up in California you can do that sort of thing), in hopes that I too might have camel knees.

I had issues in high school.

Now praying just so your knees become calloused like a camel isn’t the best reason to pray. But by God’s grace something in me did begin to change. It wasn’t my knees. But it was a growing desire to be able to communicate with God.

I had a lot of learning to do.

My formative learning on prayer would come through the following five books. There are lots of other great books on prayer, these are just the ones God used in my life to lay a foundational understanding of prayer and how to go about praying.

1. Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

This book opened my eyes to a banquet of prayer options. Not only did it give me a far greater understanding of prayer, it also changed a lot of my thinking on how to pray.

2. Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God

Should I expect to hear from God? Jack Deere emphatically says yes. This was the first book I read (by a Bible scholar) that laid out a convincing biblical argument that God still speaks to us today.

3. Dallas Willard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God

Much like Jack Deere’s book, Dallas Willard lays out the case that God still speaks. But then he focuses on how to hear God’s voice and what it means to live a life in two-way conversation with God. It was a very helpful book to read after Deere’s “Surprised by the Voice of God.”

4. John Eldredge’s Walking with God: Talk to Him. Hear from Him. Really.

This book is not so much a book about prayer as it is as an example of a life of prayer. Reading this book felt like I was spending a year with Eldredge just observing what it looks like to be in continual conversation with God.

5. Ben Patterson’s God’s Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms

Ben Patterson convinced me that the best teacher of how to pray is the Scriptures, specifically the Psalms. Learning from Patterson how to pray through the Psalms not only changed my understanding of the Psalms but also radically changed how I pray and what I pray for.

I still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to prayer, but these books have certainly helped. I can honestly say that learning to pray has been one the best things I have done as a follower of Jesus. So I hope these books will help you too  learn how to pray.

 

Other helpful books on prayer:

Jim Mindling’s Learn to Breathe: The Surprising Path to a Transformed Life

Paul E Miller’s A Praying Life: Connecting With God In A Distracting World

Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
(I haven’t read this one yet, but I have no doubt it will be good)

The best parenting advice I’ve ever received

Early in our marriage there was a time when my wife, Meredith, and I seriously contemplated not having kids. I chose to verbalize this contemplation one evening while we were attending a Christian couples retreat.

We were sitting in a circle with other young couples. Everyone was sharing about marriage, family, and kids. Some couples shared their hopes for future children, other couples shared how great it was to have kids.

I sat there with my knee nervously bouncing, completely unable to relate.  For me, the thought of having children seemed overwhelming and not great.

So I raised my hand, waited for our group leader to call on me, and then I asked a question I knew was heretical in some Christian circles…

“Why should we have kids?”

Dead silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Finally, one husband (a future pastor) piped up, “Because, we are commanded to.”

I knew he was referring to Genesis 1:28 where God commands Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Touche,” I thought.

So I followed up with my real concern.

“Ok, but isn’t it inevitable that you’re going to cause your kids pain? Isn’t there going to come a time when they no longer like you or may even hate you? How can you willingly bring a child into the world knowing that you’re just going to screw them up?!”

Again, dead silence.

This time the silence was broken by the leader of our group, a seasoned wife and mother whose children were adults (and still walking with Jesus). She calmly replied,

“Yes, that is all very possible…”

She then shared with us some of her own parenting mistakes. She recounted the many times she and her husband “lost it” with their kids. The many times their kids “disowned” them. And the many times she and her husband did not do the right thing in the right situation.

I thought, “Yes, this is what I am talking about!”

But then she gave us the best piece of parenting advice that I have ever heard.

“Pray for your kids,” she said.

The advice was so simple, I couldn’t help but think, I could do that.

She explained, “That’s one thing we’ve done right is we pray for our kids. Every night after our kids went to bed we prayed for them. When they were still little I would go in their room and put my hand on their warm little backs and pray that God would heal them from any hurt that I have caused them. That he would remove any evil that had come into their life that day. And that he would protect them from the consequences of my sins.”

She assured us her kids weren’t perfect and their family still had hard times.

But she said, “Jesus answered those prayers. Jesus was bigger than my mistakes, and today we have good relationships with our kids.”

In that moment I had a strange sensation of  hope.

As I write this we now have three kids and another on the way. Meredith and I are far from perfect parents. And our kids are far from perfect kids. But we have made it a priority to pray for our kids, every night at bedtime, sometimes in the morning and at times through out the day. I don’t do it because I’m a super spiritual pastor. I do it because I recoginize I am a very imperfect parent with imperfect kids in need of a very perfect God.

And I pray for my kids because in the decade plus years since that couples retreat, I have talked to many other parents. And I’ve met a number of parents whose kids I wish I could duplicate. Parents who have excellent relationships with their kids (even as adults). They all have one thing in common. They all spent time–lots of time–praying for their kids.

And so I pray for my kids.

It’s the best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever received.

Prayer Requests

As many of you know, this week I’m serving on a mission trip with 31 other awesome people from Fellowship EPC. We’ll be up in Sault Ste Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) MI, doing a variety of tasks.

Our group will be repairing homes, serving the elderly, facilitating a children’s ministry, and working on a farm that uses animals and nature to reach out to and educate local children. It should be a great week!

But I’m very aware that when it comes to mission trips, even short ones, great weeks don’t just happen. God shows up when his people call on him and depend on him. And that happens when people pray.

We’ve been praying for this trip for months now, and there are many great people who will continue to pray for us this week. But I would be very grateful if you’d join them and pray for us as well.

What can you be praying for? (I’m glad you asked)

Pray that:

  • God would be glorified and Jesus would be made known by EVERY aspect of our trip.
  • Each of us, as well as those with whom we work and share, would have a powerful encounter with God.
  • The unconditional love of God would radiate in and through each of our lives.
  • God would put a hedge of protection around the entire trip.
  • Satan would be bound from anything that would hinder anyone coming to know and grow with Jesus this week.
  • All participating on this trip would be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • God’s Word would be proclaimed with power and produce life change.
  • God would give us strength and good health throughout the trip.
  • God would protect and provide for family members back home.
  • Divine appointments, both with those with whom we share as well as others we might encounter throughout the week.

If you would pray for any one of those things, I know it would make a big difference on our trip. I don’t always know exactly how prayer works, I just know the more people pray, the more God moves. And this week we really want to see God move, both in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

Thanks in advance for you support!

 

 

A Better Way To Pray…

Last Sunday at Fellowship I led the congregation in a Scripture reading and prayer. The text was Deut. 30:11-20. A key verse in the text was Deut. 30:16:

For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

Often the temptation is to respond to such a text by praying something like this:

Heavenly Father, help us to keep your commands so that we might live and receive your blessing…

We’re tempted to pray this way because we want God to bless us. We want God’s favor upon us.

The problem is that this kind of prayer is, in some way, unnecessary.

Here’s why….

You and I will never (this side of heaven) be able to walk in perfect obedience to God. We will never be able to perfectly keep all of God’s commands. We will never be good enough to receive God’s blessing.

God actually knows this.

So why then does God give us commands?

God’s commands exist for two reasons. First, they exist as a reflection of the character of God. God’s commands show us just how holy God is. Second, God’s commands show us just how unholy we are.

In other words, the commands of God show us we need help. They show us we need a savior.

Jesus Christ is that Savior.

When Jesus lived on earth he did what we could not do. He walked in perfect obedience to God the Father. He fulfilled every command of God. He showed us what a perfect life actually looks like.

But Jesus did more than just show us how to live. Jesus lived a righteous [right relationship to God] life for a bigger reason.  He desired to give his righteousness away…

In Romans 3:21-24 the Apostle Paul writes:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Paul’s point is this: because none of us can keep the commandments of God perfectly, none of us on our own can be righteous [in right relationship to God]. Therefore we need another way of being righteous. A way that is outside of the law of  God. Jesus is that other way.

Furthermore, when we put our faith [trust] in Jesus Christ, we are justified [judged innocent] by God. And redeemed [put back in right relationship] by God.

This is called “The Great Exchange”. When we repent and put our faith in Jesus, he takes on all our sin, and in turn gives us all his righteousness.

This changes how we pray.

Now when we read verses such as Deut. 30:16, we can respond very differently than before.

Our prayer no longer needs to be “God help me to keep your commands,” but instead something like this:

“God, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to keep all the commands on my behalf.

Thank you, Jesus, that you lived a righteous and perfect life, and that you gave the righteousness you earned to me. Thank you that by your grace you delivered to me the favor and blessings of God.

Jesus, I want to do your will—not so I can earn your favor, but as an act of gratitude for what you have done for me!

When we see Jesus Christ as our righteousness, we will no longer be burdened by the law of God. What is more, the entire Old Testament will open up to us, beautifully displaying just how much Jesus has done for us. Understanding this will allow us to pray in a better way.

 

Today,  I pray that you will put your trust in Jesus. That you will trust that Jesus has made you righteous. I pray that you would know that, because Jesus has made you righteous, the favor and blessing of God is already upon you. And I pray that, because God’s favor is already upon you, your life today will be filled with grace and gratitude.

When You Don’t Know What To Pray

Years ago, Meredith and I decided we wanted to start praying together before going to bed. It seemed like a good idea, but often it turned out to be frustrating.  I found myself not knowing what to pray. It was kind of embarrassing. I had no problem praying in front of dozens, even hundreds of people, yet I was struggling to pray the simplest of prayers with my wife.

My problem was that by the end of the night my mind was usually fried and feeling rather uninspired. And so when it was my turn to pray I usually found it hard to focus and pray for anything meaningful.

Things changed when we decided to start reading Scripture before we prayed. This for me was a Godsend. Because now I didn’t have to think about what to pray, I could just pray back what was in the text of Scripture. I felt like it was God’s way of saying, “I’ve already taken care of the words, just pray them back to me.”

Praying through Scripture is something I come to thoroughly enjoy–especially when it’s the Psalms. The Psalms are God’s little prayer book– a hundred and fifty God-breathed prayers. They are the prayers Jesus prayed. And when I pray the Psalms I feel like I identify more with the life and heart of Jesus.

If praying through Scripture is unfamiliar to you, I would encourage you to give it a try. Below is a couple examples of what it can look. The prayers are based on Psalm 16.

Psalm 16 

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord apart from you I have no good thing.” 3 I say of the holy people who are in the land, “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.” 4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. 5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. 6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. 7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

  A Prayer of Praise

Oh Lord you are our refuge. Apart from you Lord, we have no good thing. You, oh Lord, are our portion and our cup, you are our security and inheritance. We praise you Lord Jesus, for you give us wisdom and truth throughout the day. We desire to keep our eyes always on you. With you at our side we will not be shaken. Our hearts are glad, and our tongues rejoice in you. For in you we find rest, and we know that you will not abandon us. You, Jesus, make known the path of life, in your presence there is fullness of joy, and eternal pleasures at your right hand! Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

Lord God, we confess that we have run after other gods. We have sought our significance, our success, and our security in things other than you. We have looked to created things to fulfill us, instead of you–our Creator. We have not looked to you for refuge. We have not run to you for good things. We have not sought the joy of you presence. For all these things we repent and ask for forgiveness. Amen.

As you can see praying through Scripture is just a matter of reflecting back what is already in the text.

The more I pray through the Scriptures, (especially the Psalms) the easier and more enjoyable it is to pray without the Scriptures. It is like learning the language of God. Which makes it easier to talk to God. And thus,  keeps me from wondering what to pray.

 

What are you favorite Scriptures to pray through?

 

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For a great resource on praying through the Psalms, check out: