Praying

sometimes I start out praying

on my knees

eyes closed and dry

elbows on the bed

fingers locked and still

head even-keeled

my whole body piously symmetrical

the Thank You For The Food kind of praying

the In Jesus’ Name Amen kind of praying

praying in a posture I can get behind

 

what happens next happens slowly

an arm lies down

a forehead seeking shelter

eyes open in the blanket

legs crossed or bouncing

a shoulder blade protruding

my body wondering who’s listening

the Please Have Mercy On Me kind of praying

the I Don’t Know If I Can Do This kind of praying

whispering my sins into the mattress

 

sometimes I end up praying

on my bed

eyes closed and wet

hands above my head

fists in the pillow

legs at awkward angle

my whole body in desperate display

the Oh Father Father Father kind of praying

the No More Words Just Needs kind of praying

falling into everlasting arms and sleeping

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Unless God Has Spoken

Reminders and prayers when college gets hard.

There is no objectivity
unless God has spoken.
There is no real redemption
unless Christ is risen.
There is no hope of healing
unless there’s an incision.
There is no truth or beauty
without God’s existence.

And the world is a war, waged without waiting for me to wake up.
I’m sleepy from ceaselessly singing my sighs to the silence — speak to me!
Find me in fear, frustration, and f**king things up,
In the midst of the muddiness made by our madness in mushing
Our lies with your truth.
Unmuddle me!

Loneliness lurks, laughing at love and lying about life that’s coming.
I’m tired from trying to take on the task of transforming
The hearts of the hardened, the heads of the half-paying-attentions.
Be with me, bear with me, bring me back to basic things:
Your love of my mess.
Unmangle me!

Because the Lord has spoken,
there is a word that’s certain.
Because the Lord is risen,
I know I am forgiven.
Because there was a piercing,
I know there comes a healing.
Because you are existing,
I’m giving up resisting.

go it alone

Could you?

When he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. -Paul, Galatians 1:15-17

There is a duality in Jesus’ calling. It is to us as a body, as a group, to follow him together as partners and “members” of one another. We remember what Paul said:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many… God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20

Every Christian, therefore, must think of him- or herself as one small part of a larger collective; one citizen in God’s nation, one child in God’s family, one part of Christ’s body. We must pray to our Father in heaven, sharing him between us. No Christian is an island, and God forbids that we attempt it.

Jesus calls to us as a group, but as individuals as well. Paul said that when God first called him, he “did not immediately consult with anyone”–he heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him alone, finding himself terrifyingly alone with the Lord. When Jesus appeared to him in the vision that would define his life, although several friends accompanied him, only Paul could see Jesus clearly (Acts 9:7) and understand the words he spoke (Acts 22:9). He was alone.

“Are we alone with Him now, or are we taken up with little fussy notions, fussy comradeships in God’s service, fussy ideas about our bodies? Jesus can expound nothing until we get through all the noisy questions of the head and are alone with Him.” -Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest”

Right now, I am in a stage of life in which many of my peers and closest friends are moving away from the apparently endless possibilities of affluent youth and into commitments which are marking out the territories of their futures. For me, it’s bittersweet. They are not following divinely inspired plans or timelines that God dropped out of heaven, but they are bravely following God’s leading as well as they can. That’s the sweet part. As I try to do the same thing, listening to Jesus calling me in my aloneness with him, I see him leading me away from them and the lives they are beginning to build. He forces me to ask myself if I am willing to go it alone with no one from my past, with only his voice calling out from a few paces ahead.

A romanticized sense of adventure is well and good for those few who can afford to pursue it. But it is not good enough to sustainably change the course of a life or separate an individual from the tribe. Only the all-constraining voice of Christ is good enough for that, when he speaks to you alone and you can’t mistake his intended audience as anyone but yourself.

When that happens, no one can help you. Don’t bother consulting with anyone else, at first, or going to those who heard that same voice before you. First you must go to Christ–not to the capital but to the desert, not to the congregation but to the prayer closet. Can you be alone with him? Find that out before you find out anything else. If you can, nothing can touch you. No change will destroy you and no loss will remove anything from you. You are invincible in Christ.

I think that’s at least part of what Jesus was getting at when he said:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27

From that utter solitude with himself, the Lord leads us back to the crowd, back to the interdependent Church as it should be. Now we are fully his; now we are fully open to his sending; now we are fully free from fear, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

take-home lessons from Honduras (pt. 3): devotion to street kids

Street boys at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

“Street boys” at the Peter Project in La Ceiba, Honduras

In the last two posts (this one and this one) I described what I learned in Honduras about who missionaries are, how they think, and one of the most important things they do, which is hospitality. This final post has more to do with what I learned about how missionaries feel.

“Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” -Charles Spurgeon

As we think about this together, ask yourself where your own mission field is or could be, and who the target people group in your life is or could be to which you want to devote yourself as a missionary.

Paul said to the people in one of his mission fields,

My little children, I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! Galatians 4:19

Dedication to a people group or mission field–such as the streets we live on–always starts with prayer: prayer in the Spirit, in the will of God, for those people, like the prayers of the apostles for their churches and Jesus for his disciples.

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… Colossians 1:9

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened… Ephesians 1:16-17

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment. Philippians 1:9

What begins to happen as missionaries pray for the spiritual enlightenment and redemption of their people groups is miraculous. The deepest longing of their hearts becomes to see those people see the beauty and desirability of Jesus Christ, and to be transformed by the vision. Like Paul in the “anguish of childbirth,” missionary devotion becomes deep and dedicated. Their devotion becomes so sharply powerful that they can begin to lose themselves in an endless search for the perfect program, strategy, curriculum, or ministry model that will finally open the “eyes of their heart” and bring true change to their people group.

One of two things follows: emotional “burn-out,” or a re-centering of each missionary’s life and ministry around Christ’s gospel. The truth is that the beautiful paradox of Christ on the cross is the only persuasion strong enough to melt a stony heart, and the only argument cogent enough to convince a skeptical one. Wise missionaries realize eventually that their only task, ultimately, is to display and explain Jesus Christ, and to affirm and sharpen the vague but universal sense we all have that everything is wrong and that we need a Savior. In other words, it is to tell people to “repent and believe,” making sure they know what that means.

In Honduras, I learned a lot about “street kids” and children (and grown-up children) from abusive homes. If they get rescued from their environments and are put in loving and healthy settings, they tend to follow a pattern. They get the “itch” to run away from home, usually back to Mom, as if to check if anything has changed with the people supposed to love them. Usually, nothing has. Then, they run back to the streets, too ashamed to face their caretakers or adoptive parents, until street life becomes so unbearable that they sheepishly come back home and repeat the cycle.

Every missionary is persuading spiritual street kids and prostitutes to come home, be loved, sleep in real beds (as it were), and not run back to their natural father, the Father of lies, only to discover again that he only binds and steals from them. We are persuading them, and our own selves, that our adoptive Father really will meet us, running to us, with open arms, again. The lies in street kids’ minds about love and God go very deep–as they do in every human heart.

Praise God, because transformation really happens. It is not a myth, though it is usually undramatic. People slowly begin to think about what God wants when they make decisions. They start learning to appreciate the beauty of Scripture. They are moved to prayer by the story about Jesus dying. They feel hope from the story about him resurrecting. They run away from home less often. They start praying for other runaways. They talk about grace and are startled to find, after a while, that they too have become devoted. They are missionaries.

when your good life still sucks

If you ever find yourself with all your physical needs being met, plentiful opportunities to better yourself and contribute to the world, many kind and generous people in your life, and the freedom to make your own choices, but at the same time with persistent feelings of loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness–a bizarre, but strangely common experience, especially in the West–you may also discover that you are the one stealing your own joy.

Do you pray? Do you regularly pour your heart out, and “vomit your feelings,” to the air, believing (sometimes barely) that Someone is there with you, listening? The Father is the very best listener. All the irrational fears and terrifying seeds of doubt in your heart that you disguise even to your dearest friends, even to yourself, do not scare or surprise him, like they do you. He knows you are “dust” (Psalm 103:13-14), even while you expect yourself to be solid rock.

Do you even realize that you do not pray, not really? Do you find yourself able to get through your day without explicitly surrendering to God, and not even notice? Maybe that makes you feel guilty, but it ought to make you feel hungry. You are wired for intimacy with God. Through Jesus the Mediator, he is all yours. If you do not express yourself to him and voice all the vague inclinations that otherwise fester beneath your skin–confession, thanksgiving, pleading, questioning, praise, all mixed together–you are cheating yourself of what you were made for. Talk to your Father.

Do you serve? In a washing feet kind of way? Does your routine ever expose you to broken, needy people? To dirty people? Or are you surrounded by the clean and stable? Are you committed to any relationships that require you to faithfully love an unlovely person? Or do you hoard your love only for people who love you, like the pagans do?

And the acts of service that you do–do you do them where other people see and praise you for them, thus robbing yourself of the more profound reward that only comes from God (Matthew 6:1)?

The Christian has every reason in the world to sacrificially serve broken people. The command to do so was the driving thrust of Jesus’ moral teachings. Yet, often, we still don’t do it, and, again, we cheat ourselves of what God made us for, even of what God saved us for. You can stay in your clean, presentable, predictable rut, and meticulously arrange your comforts, for as long as you like. You will discover, however, that your heart is only getting duller, your spirit drier, and your life more meaningless. Eventually you will find, to your distress, that no matter how often you spoke of him or hung around his friends, you never really knew Jesus.

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'” Matthew 25:44-45 (New Living Translation)

Hug the sick and dying, listen to the unstable and homeless, earn the trust of fearful children, wash the feet of the tired and smelly. To begin, simply commit to befriend one such person. First, open up your heart to her burdens. Next, make the unlovely lovely, by loving her.

To avoid loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness: pray and serve. It seems almost deceptively simple, especially to those of us who are fluent in the dialect of the church. What could be more basic to the Christian pattern of life?

Admittedly, “winter” seasons in the spiritual life certainly still exist, and truthfully, they often most poignantly afflict those who are closest to God. The underlying drive behind all our “good works” is not the pursuit of happiness but the pursuit of holiness, for the sake of showing love to Christ. And yet, at the end of every crappy day in my otherwise good life, I consistently realize two things: that I haven’t truly spoken with God, and I haven’t truly served anyone but myself.

We must “make more time” for these two things in our lives: so that God may show more of himself to us, and so that we may be fully human, and fully alive.

prayers to Jesus in Iran

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of the seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

fasting: a breath of fresh air

Fasting is like a spiritual breath of fresh, cold, mountain air. It may sting your throat for a moment, but it widens your eyes, straightens your back, and clears your head. It feels so much better than the humid stuffiness of oppressively hot, dead air.

Fasting is a biblical discipline found in both Testaments. It is an important reminder that the human person is not merely body, not merely soul, but is both intertwined, and each part affects the other. Biblical saints practiced it as a context for prayer (Daniel 9:3, Acts 14:23), repentance (Joel 2:12-13), petition (Ezra 8:23), humbling (Psalm 69:10), and devotion (Luke 2:36-37). This verse from 2 Chronicles 7, when God confirmed to Solomon his acceptance of the temple, succinctly summarizes the layers of meaning in fasting:

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

Fasting is about humility

Humility, next to love, is probably the most fundamental Christian virtue, just as pride is the fundamental sin. There can be no faith without humility, no endurance, no self-sacrifice, no joy, no Christ-likeness. I can hardly think of a more beautiful or inspiring sight in the world than a truly humble man or woman.  How much love, peace, and joy those people have!

Fasting is useful, therefore, because it humbles us. Speaking from personal experience, fasting reminds me of how utterly dependent I am on God’s daily provision, both physical and spiritual; it reminds me of how pathetic I am on my own, and how weak my will”power” is; it reminds me of the luxury I live in everyday while so many millions in the world go hungry, prompting me to pray for them; it reminds me that just as I cannot live without food feeding my body, neither can I live in newness of life without the words of God feeding my soul. Fasting reminds me of my neediness, in every aspect, which only God satisfies.

Fasting is an outward expression of an inwardly humble heart; or, more likely, of a mostly proud heart that wishes to be humbled.

and prayer

Fasting cannot be separated from prayer. More often than not, in the Bible, the two are mentioned together. Along with a decluttered digestive tract comes a decluttered mind. With clarity of thought comes clarity in prayer.

Often in the Bible, fasting was a way to focus on praying for something really specific, such as a pressing need or a certain issue in the world. Fasting, like that breath of cold air, heightens the senses, physical and spiritual. It tunes you in to the world outside yourself; to which, in our self-absorption, we are all too often oblivious. It also tunes you in to the Holy Spirit, who speaks profoundly in scripture, and truly communes with the humbled heart in prayer.

A word of advice: do not bother fasting without setting aside a special time of prayer. In prayer, speak honestly, casting all your cares on God, confessing your sins to him, interceding for others. I often default to the Lord’s prayer or a familiar psalm for words. Remember that it is not about the number or piety of the words in a prayer, it is about the love and the honesty in the words.

and “seeking his face”

“Seeking God’s face” is a biblical expression used throughout scripture, and it means what it sounds like it means: to seek intimacy with God, longing to interact with him “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

As the body cries out for food during fasting, so the mind and spirit cry out for the living Bread, Jesus (John 6:51). Communion/the Lord’s Supper/the Eucharist vividly and regularly reminds us that Jesus himself is what satisfies the hunger in our souls. Fasting does the same thing, using the same metaphor.

Jesus said,

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast in that day. Matthew 9:19-20

Jesus is the bridegroom, we are the ones fasting while we wait for him. One day our fast will end forever, at the “wedding feast of the Lamb.” Meanwhile, we fast, seeing as through a glass darkly, anticipating the day when we will really see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).

God’s “face” – his character and personality – is painted for us in scripture. Seeking his face mostly means seeking him in the Bible. Meditation is crucial. If the words of God are food, then meditation is digestion. Christian meditation is not mindless. It means engaging with the text in a personal, slow, thoughtful way, absorbing it into your head and heart. I would recommend meditating on one paragraph over skimming one chapter every time.

Fasting is useful because it eliminates distractions, making the way to God clearer.

and turning from our wicked ways.

 I think Joel says it best:

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Joel 2:12-13

There is something called “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10) which Joel describes here. It means seeing sin for the ugliness it is and mourning for one’s commission of it. It exists under the beautiful truth that God is a God who gives grace, mercy, and unending forgiveness. That is its basis and its hope.

Here in the book of Joel, the prophet was also referring to mourning for the corporate sins of the Israelite nation. That kind of repentance (such as, on behalf of America) is real too. Things in this country would change if every disciple of Jesus living here regularly set aside days and times for fasting, praying, and repenting on behalf of America. Too often we “don’t have enough time” because we are too busy buying into the lies and sins of America along with the rest of America.

 “Yet even now” – even though your sin is piled to the sky – “return to me.” To fast is to repent; to turn from the vain things of the world and our petty concerns and turn again to the living God. It is a grace-filled thing.

As always, the motivation is much more important than the method. Look elsewhere on the Internet for suggestions of method; there are plenty of resources. However you choose to do it, do it wholeheartedly and humbly, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing it is better by far to ignore the rewards of this world and to instead live Corum Deo – “before the face of God.”

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:18

when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning

I do not know if waking up and feeling absolutely no desire to get out of bed and begin the day is a universal experience. I do know that it is a common one. If it is a feeling you are familiar with, here are some things you can do:

Receive grace. I hesitate to call this something you “do.” Receiving is inherently passive; but there is a sense in which the gift must be recognized and remembered by the receiver. Similarly, “free grace” or “the gift of grace” are redundant expressions. Grace is, by definition, free. By definition, it’s a gift. It is never something other than something you receive.

Sometimes this is what “receiving grace” looks like for me:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesus | My Lord and my God. My King and Master. My Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep and calls me by name. The One by whom and for whom all things were created. The One not ashamed to be called my brother.  The One to whom I am united in spirit. My Husband. My Friend.

loves | Is committed to. Is patient with. Desires the ultimate good of. Feels compassion for. Gives strength to. Withholds nothing good from. Sacrificed for (once for all).

me, | A complete screw-up whose greatest spiritual strength is begging for mercy.

this I know, | This I believe. This I have experienced. This reality I cling to, sometimes barely, but always somehow, by faith.

for the Bible tells me so. | The Bible, the majestic and sufficient Word of God, tells me of this Jesus, and of this love, from start to finish.

[Jesus said:] As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

Pray. There are a few components of prayer which I see present in nearly all biblical prayers.

One, which is perhaps the most fundamental and essential of all, is addressing God personally. Sometimes it looks like “God of heaven, maker of all that is”; sometimes “God of Jacob, our Redeemer”; sometimes just “Father.” Honestly, at times this is as far as I can get in prayer; but then, sometimes it is all I need to say.

Another is giving thanks. Like never before, lately, I am utterly convinced of the power and importance of intentional thanksgiving. If I express only one thought to God today, if I do only one pure thing in twenty-four hours – let it be that I give thanks.

Another is confessing sin and asking for forgiveness. If thanksgiving is hard to do on feeling-less mornings, this is harder; but if there are any two things a Christian must be convinced of, it is their sin, and God’s forgiveness. To return to confession and forgiveness-claiming, over and over, is not like a dog returning to its vomit, but like a child returning to its father. Over and over.

Finally, prayer includes asking for help. Prayer comes, at the elemental level, from the profound, yet plainly demonstrable idea that we need God. Asking for help recognizes that fact in the simplest way possible. “God, help me”; “Lord, she needs you, they need you, help them”; “Father, help us.” It is childlike, and therefore sweetly appropriate.

Feed his sheep. John 21, the last chapter of John’s Gospel, is, to me, one of the most poetic and tender chapters in the New Testament. Three times, on Galilee’s beach, Jesus asks Peter, that remarkably devoted and remarkably flawed disciple of his, “Simon, do you love me?” Simon was his old name.

“Do you love me?” Jesus knows what Peter will say. He asks him the question three times, echoing Peter’s three denials of knowing Jesus just a few chapters earlier. The repetition grieves Peter, but it is not a guilt trip. It is a truly extraordinary display of forgiveness, a forgiveness so comprehensive that Jesus applies it specifically to each of Peter’s denials.

Jesus’ replies to Peter each time Peter affirms his love – “feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep” – speak of something greater than merely “apology accepted.” Jesus’ message is: “I am not only pardoning you, but I am giving you a mission. Here you are, fishing again, going back to your old life, your old name, your old self as if you are not good enough for what I have called you to. But I am not done with you yet, Peter. I promised to turn you from a fisherman to a fisher of men and I will do it, even now, just you wait. Go. Feed my sheep.”

That is how total Jesus’ forgiveness is. It gives us a purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. Help his people. Feed his lambs. Tend his sheep.

Now, Christianity is not the same as cognitive therapy: change how you think in order to change how you feel/behave. That is part of it. More than that, though, Christianity is an objective statement of reality – a hope. A status – child of God in Christ. These realities have many biblical labels, but intrinsic to their definitions is that they do not change, even when we do not feel we can get out of bed in the morning. They are stable, which is another way of saying God is stable.

For that, let us praise him.

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things… 2 Timothy 2:11-14

the valley of vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy 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 deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.
-From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions edited by Arthur Bennett
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Isaiah 40:4
And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley. Ezekiel 8:4

prayers for the pilgrimage

Christians have long thought of the life of faith as a journey, a pilgrimage. “Walking with God” is one of the Bible’s most frequent metaphors for living in a relationship with him. This walk, the “ancient path” (Jeremiah 6:16), is difficult (Matthew 7:14) but blessed (Psalm 119:1). It is a walk in “newness of life,” opened to us by the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-4).

This journey, like any other, includes a lot of ups and downs. At some of its stages, even putting one foot in front of the other (metaphorically speaking) feels like too much. Sometimes, the detours and byways look so tantalizingly easy and pleasant, and the road of carrying crosses (Luke 9:23) so steep and dark, that to make it through even one day without straying is a battle. Some days it takes everything we’ve got not to give up and turn back.

On those days, or during those seasons, the Word of God truly is the “lamp for our feet,” “the light for our path” that we so desperately need (Psalm 119:105). Seasoned travelers often know the scriptures that have brought them through life’s highs and lows in the past, the ones to which they have returned again and again for reassurance and guidance. These are the scriptures they have prayed so often that the phrases now spring up naturally in their prayers.

I’m at the beginning of my journey, but I know of a few prayers from the “guidebook” to which I repeatedly turn on those days when temptation, trouble, and doubt threaten so fiercely. Perhaps they can help you too.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

In this story from Mark’s Gospel, a father of a mute, convulsive, demon-possessed boy brings his son to Jesus seeking healing, saying, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies by saying, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes,” to which the father gives the memorable answer above. The footnote in my Bible says that some manuscripts add that he cried out “with tears,” in his desperation. Jesus responds by healing the man’s son in front a large crowd, making the point of his power in spite of weak faith exceedingly clear.

“I believe, help my unbelief” is my prayer too. Jesus’ promise about faith the size of a mustard seed is a promise I must claim (Luke 13:18-19, Luke 17:5-6). I am like this father, desperate, hard pressed for faith but turning to Jesus because I know no one and nothing can help me like he can.

[A Canaanite woman] came and knelt before [Jesus], saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Matthew 15:25-27

In this story, a Canaanite woman pushes through the cultural barriers of race and sex, ignores the ignorance of Jesus’ disciples, and challenges even the apparent reluctance of Jesus himself in her insistence that Jesus heal her daughter. She does not entitle herself to Jesus’ mercy, accepting her status as really being like that of a dog begging for scraps. Instead, she bravely, relentlessly asserts that Jesus’ grace is wide enough even for her. Jesus labels her assertion “great faith.”

When my sin or circumstances make my life look like that of a dog looking for scraps, “Lord, even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” is my prayer. I will not give up on the grace that has not given up on me. Like this woman, crying out after Jesus, and like Jacob, “wrestling with God,” even when God wounds me, I must simply cling to him and claim the promise of his blessing, saying, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:25-28).

And [Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say… ‘Give us each day our daily bread…’” Luke 11:2-3

“Give us each day our daily bread” is the line at the center of the Lord’s Prayer. It is not a prayer for a lifetime of bread, or even for tomorrow’s bread, but simply for the bread needed today. It is a prayer for grace one day at a time. “Father, give me today’s grace” is my prayer each morning, and I mean it the most when I know what kind of difficulty to expect from the day.

These prayers from the Bible, along with being expressions of what we need, are promises to us from God.

  • “I believe, help my unbelief” is a promise that his power is greater than our doubt.
  • “Even the dogs eat the scraps from your table” is a promise that his mercy is bigger than our mess.
  • “Give us each day our daily bread” is a promise that his grace is enough to get us through each day, one day at a time.

Praying these prayers simply means claiming his promises as our own.

Jesus goes before us on this pilgrimage. He opened the gate, he paved the way, he carried the cross. He will bring us to the finish.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:24