Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

Sacred Rest

I saw a funny T-shirt recently. It said:

JESUS TOOK NAPS.  BE LIKE JESUS.   Mark 4:38

Funny, right? A pretty familiar story, Mark 4 recounts the story of a very busy day in Jesus’ life. He had been teaching by the sea and such a crowd appeared that he got into a boat and spoke to the crowds from the water. The acoustics were probably better. The img_5732sun was probably hot, the crowd was probably tough. Well, I don’t really know that, but the story says He taught the crowd in parables. Sounds exhausting. Later when the crowd had dispersed and He was alone with his disciples and a few others, they asked him to explain the parables even further. Then later still, verse 34 says: “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”  That’s a lot of talking and teaching. Sounds like a full days work but his day still wasn’t over:

 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Ever have a day like that? You work and give and talk and teach and care and then do it all over again at least a dozen times? Then just when you finally think you can get a little break, a little peace and quiet… a great storm arises. Maybe not a literal storm, but interruptions, nuisances, aggravations, accusations, or the unexpected. Where is the peace, the calm, the still, the rest?

I recently read a book that addressed peace, calm, and rest img_5722from a fresh, creative perspective. Sacred Rest was written by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a medical doctor familiar with the serious negative physical, emotional, and spiritual effects that lack of rest produces in our bodies.

Merriam-Webster lists several definitions of the word “sacred” but the two that seem to shout the loudest about stilling the busyness of our minds and lives are these: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity and highly valued and important.

When I first picked up the book, I expected the typical clichéd responses about rest: you need eight hours sleep, remember the Sabbath, be still and know, take some time for yourself, you can’t give away what you don’t possess, etc… What I actually found were unique ideas about various forms of rest I had never recognized or encountered…so much more than I ever expected. As I read real-life stories of actual people who struggled img_5730with physical and emotional pain, unrest, or turmoil, I saw bits of myself through the words of the author and through the eyes of the Great Physician. I walked along side people who felt guilty for resting, who felt the need to perform, who were so busy doing…they weren’t just living and loving and being.

Physical rest we understand. Mental rest? Emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, creative? Connections I hadn’t recognized or at least hadn’t let my mind fully understand.

Being in health care, it was easy for me to see through the eyes of the author, an internal medicine physician. I recalled many faces of patients I had seen who complained of anxiety, pain, sleeplessness, poor memory, exhaustion, img_5726personal conflict, and a myriad of other symptoms either real or perceived. I remembered countless faces of people in tears about the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or simply feeling overwhelmed by busyness, responsibilities, and hectic schedules. I also saw parents and kids, husbands and wives, friends, and other relationships staring blankly at phones and other devices rather than interacting with one another while waiting in the lobby or in the exam rooms. So many were not alone, but were isolated or lonely. Still, but not resting and at peace. They were going and working and doing and getting…and yet still wondering why they felt hollow, scattered, or heavy-laden. I have been there too.

Healing occurs when we allow ourselves the time, space, and grace to be in the presence of God in the middle of our busy lives.

As I write this, it is two days before Christmas. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The time when people are busy working, shopping, preparing, traveling, visiting. A sacred time of year when we celebrate Immanuel, God with us. But do we slow down and remember why he came?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

This is not a book review; although I do highly recommend the book. I have been both challenged and encouraged by the stories, the fresh ideas and suggestions, and the tools the author provides. But this is more of an observation, a testimony to the fact that we are busy and bustling but are still often weary, worn, and isolated. It’s also an acknowledgment and reminder that we often don’t realize the impact that the stress, busyness, and lack of true rest have on our lives, our health, our responses, and our relationships. It’s a call to recognition, to renewal, to restoration, to rest. A call to lay down the burdens, still our minds and our bodies, quieten our devices, gather our loved ones, and bask in the gift of today. Be still and know.

“Peace! Be still!”  “Who then is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” 

 

 

…may you never become so busy you neglectimg_5736 to enjoy the life you create.   Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith

bit.ly/SacredRest  #SacredRest

Friends In Low Places

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Ecc 4:9-10

It’s inevitable… We will all have a day, a week, a month, or an IMG_6078entire season when we hit a wall…experience discouragement… walk through the valley…shoulder the weight of the world. Not necessarily a dark night of the soul, but a dark cloud of the head and heart. A place where life and liberty and estrogen and serotonin collide. In the midst of trials, conflict, confusion, and darkness, today I am thankful for friends who walk the path, sit in the ashes, and travel though the valleys: friends in low places.

I suspect that the low, surly rumblings of the old, well-known country song are resonating in some ears right now. In the song, the “Friends in Low Places” were the people who were accepting, fun, welcoming …not necessarily wealthy and accomplished, but familiar and trusted. Elements of loss and rejection rang familiar…and maybe even a little retaliation for the hurt; but those are not the “low places” or the friends I have in mind. What about the friends who bend low, stoop, crawl, or just sit? The friends with big ears and big hearts and comfortable sofas and hot coffee? Those with wise words, bowed heads, outstretched arms, and knowing eyes?

The road to a friend's house is never long...
The road to a friend’s house is never long…

The world often measures success by material gain, social status, and ability to achieve. We’re encouraged, often feeling entitled, to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, regardless of consequences…to not be concerned with others’ opinions of us because we have”rights” and expectations; but with all this increasing independence, self-sufficiency, and self-focus often come disconnection and loneliness. We’re encouraged to do it our way, on our own, with no help or advice. Yes, I’ve been guilty. I’ve been prone to isolate, to keep silent, to smile and say everything is fine…and it is. But I’m learning to admit when it’s not: when life is hard, I’m struggling, or I’m just tired, discouraged, weary.

How about you? Do you have friends in low places? IMG_6081Brothers or sisters to shoulder the load, bear the weight, be the hands and feet of Jesus?

The group Need To Breathe has a popular song out right now: “Brother.”

Let the lyrics fall on open ears and a receptive, teachable heart. Today I am thankful for friends in low places.


“Brother”

Ramblers in the wilderness, we can’t find what we need
Get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between
Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes
Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea

Brother let me be your shelterIMG_6075
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am strong, but
It’s your love that brings me home

Brother let me be your shelter                   
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

And when you call and need me near
Sayin’ where’d you go?
Brother I’m right here
And on those days when the sky begins to fall
You’re the blood of my blood
We can get through it all

 thankful

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