Category Archives: prayer

David found strength in the Lord his God.

“But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

It’s a simple sentence near the end of 1 Samuel. It’s easy to skip over because of what comes before it.

“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.”

This was one of the worst days of David’s life so far. Right now, on the day where the men are talking about stoning him, David and his small band of refugee soldiers have come home to find their city burned and all their families and possessions hauled away. They were hauled away by Amalekite raiders, in the same way that David had been raiding their cities for the past year. David was getting what he had given.

The city that was burned wasn’t in Israel. Though David had already been chosen as the successor to the current king, Saul, he had no authority yet. In fact, David was living among the Philistines, among people that he had spent his life fighting. He had formed a tenuous alliance with one of the Philistine tribal leaders, a treaty of convenience for both of them. But when the rest of the Philistine leaders were forming a plan to attack Israel, they understandably refused to allow David to be part of it.

So David, on this day, was standing outside of his homeland because he was hated, with alliances that were dissolving because of people who hated him, in a city that had just been burned by other people who hated him, and now his own soldiers are ready to stone him. And his family was in the hands of people who hated him.

It was a bad day.

Which makes Psalm 27, written by David, have some credibility for this Monday. 

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The whole story is in 1 Samuel 27-30. It reads, I confess, pretty rough for our Western tastes. I reads, I suggest, like parts of the rest of the world.

on conversation with God.

Our sense of how conversation should happen is that we say something and immediately the other person says something. When we are face-to-face it happens in seconds. Though often, we don’t hear words in seconds.  We walk a long distance without words with a friend, knowing that silence is part of the conversation as well. The closer the relationship, the longer the silence can linger.

With email, with tweets, with voicemail, it can take a day for a response. (Or longer for me. I’m sorry.) If it’s more than that, we often get frustrated at the delay. We start to fill in the gaps with our guesses. We are often, we discover when we finally hear from the person, really bad guessers.  In the old days, with ships carrying the mail, conversations could take weeks.  A letter smuggled from one hand to another, from prison cell to distant friends could take months and then was read and passed on, read and memorized.

God will converse with us, but it will happen in the longer time frame. Just because the response isn’t like texting doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It may take weeks on some subjects, years on others. And it will happen across many media. Psalm 19 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God. In Acts,  a man in a vision interrupted Paul’s sleep and sent him to Macedonia.  And, as my friend Rich wrote recently, “when someone asks how you knew this was what God wanted you to do, you realize there’s no nice clean answer that’ll really make sense to anyone else.”

I wish, sometimes, the conversation moved more quickly, that God spoke faster. But then I tell myself what David didWait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

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with thanks to my friend Jaala for asking.

thinking about prayer while waiting for a post.

I never know how long to pray about things.  I’m often not sure exactly how to pray.

The other day, Hope and Nancy and I were talking about this question, about what to pray for in a particular health situation. Hope and some of her friends had been discussing it at great length.

I laughed. “Imagine you and Andrew having a conversation about how to ask me for something. You spend a long time talking about how much to ask for, about what the best approach might be. Why wouldn’t you just ask me? And in our conversation we can talk about the best way to ask.”

Discussions of the right way to pray only make sense if God can’t hear us talking. They only make sense if somehow, we can trick God into doing something for us if we can ask in exactly the right way. They only make sense if there is a penalty for asking the wrong way, for asking too much.

When Hope and Andrew and Allie ask me for something, they don’t have to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. They may not get what they want, but they have my attention, and my interest, and my heart.  Andrew, for example, just asked for feedback on something he had written. I gave him suggestions on how to change it. It involved more work on his part. But that’s part of the conversation.

I understand disappointment. I’ve asked for healing when the result was death. I’ve asked for restoration when the result was disintegration. And I’ve watched others ask for rescue when the result was destruction. I don’t think that the problem was in the approach, in asking for the wrong thing or asking the wrong way. But I’ll keep asking and listening, until I know.

A different way to talk with God

God loves to hear us, like any good father. We’ve often heard it said that the model for how to talk with God is The Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus taught his closest followers to pray. That way of praying is a good guide to use, most of the time. But David often prayed in a very different way. And God said David was a man after His own heart.

The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs. David wrote many of them. He consistently starts by crying to God about the trouble he’s in:

  • Being chased by someone who wants to kill you? That’s pretty serious. In the midst of that ordeal, David complained to God.
  • Sleeping with a woman and then arranging for her husband to be killed? Not a light matter. Afterwards, David confessed his actions to God and asked to be made clean.
  • Hearing person after person say untrue things about you? It’s hard for anyone to keep quiet about that. David brought that to God.
  • Watching the nation you lead being conquered by other nations? That would challenge anyone’s feeling of self-worth. David gave God all the details.
  • Spending the night crying till there are no more tears left? David was there. And he told God about it.

After David is done crying out to God, he recognizes who God is and then praises Him for the ways He is great. David doesn’t do that before complaining first. When a child is crying because she stubbed her toe, her dad doesn’t expect her to tell how awesome a father he is before he comforts her. It is OK to cry to God first. After you finish telling Him all about it, He wants you to stay long enough to recognize who He really is.

(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)

Can I take that toilet paper?

“Can I take some of that toilet paper,” my friend said, “or do I need to go buy some?”

That was the request when I walked in our outer office. My friend needed several rolls of toilet paper for a children’s activity. Perfectly appropriate need. A black garbage bag with rolls of toilet paper, paper towel, and napkins was sitting by one of the desks. Perfectly appropriate resource.

But I didn’t know how to answer. The bag of toilet paper that she was looking at was for someone else. But there was no need for her to go buy some. I knew where there was a box with four times as much as she needed. For no cost to her.

All that processing of options took me a few seconds, during which I was silent. I think I appeared baffled. Finally, I said, “You need 8 rolls of toilet paper.”

“Yes.”

I knew how to answer that request.

“I’ll be right back.”

I went upstairs. I went to the closet. I filled a bag with toilet paper. I took it to my friend.

Taking it from the bag in the office would have been quicker, but that wasn’t really available. Buying more would have allowed her to act without inconveniencing anyone, but it would have inconvenienced her and it would have cost more than the paper we can get.

I needed to separate the need she had from the solutions she offered. Once the need was clear, the best solution could come.

I suppose this could be a lesson about teamwork and collaboration. But for me it’s a lesson about prayer. Too often I tell God the solution, and wonder why I don’t get my way. When I let him know the need and wait, solutions I never imagined appear.