The psalms show us that at times it is appropriate to come together to pray and to seek the face of God. The bible shows us that the people of God would occasionally engage in rituals such as fasting, abstinence, wearing of sackcloth, and sprinkling their head with ashes and dust as a sign of communal mourning. All this was part of the observance as the community grieved together.
The gathering together was usually precipitated by a crisis, something that affected the community as a whole. Sometimes it was an invading army, or a plague of locusts.
Michael Card states: “If you and I are to know one another in a deep way, we must not only share our hurts, anger and disappointment with each other, we must also lament them together before the God who hears and is moved by our tears…” Matthew 18 is clear that meeting together to bring our concerns before God is a biblical issue. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18: 19-20).
Today…Read Psalm 80. This psalm reveals the deep anguish of the people at the sweeping away of the nation of Israel.
How would you describe the petition? What is the lament? What has God done for these people in the past? Finally, there is a decision to remain faithful to God. How does one get to this place?
Think about the community to which you belong. If may be your family, your church, or your country. Write out a prayer that expresses the concerns you face as a community.
When was the last time you poured out your heart to God? Sometimes we become so accustomed to putting on a brave face for others that I think we do the same with God. We pray with platitudes, throwing up things we think God would like to hear, asking for things we want. There are times in life when we experience real sorrow, real pain. Do we freely allow God into our suffering?
The Prayer of Lament is a response to this pain and suffering, a true reflection of what we are feeling. Some Christians are uncomfortable with these raw emotions and believe it is wrong to express them to God. However, to deny or suppress these feelings isn’t helpful because they are legitimate. Lament is a constructive way to deal with these emotions as we give them to God. Westermann states: “…the function of lament is to provide a structure for crisis, hurt, grief, or despair; to move the worshipper from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope.”
In the book of Samuel, we read of a woman, Hannah, who desperately wanted a child but was unable to conceive. Sadness overwhelmed her and life seemed unbearable. The bible says: “In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord…” (1 Samuel 1:10-11). Hannah was so overcome with her emotions that the priest who saw her praying thought she was drunk. The priest responded to her empathetically saying “Go in Peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you want.” The rest of the story tells us that Hannah went away no longer downcast and the next morning she went back to the temple and worshipped before the Lord.
Unleashing our emotions to God can bring about healing. Hannah did not know that God would grant her a child, but she went away the following day able to worship God.
Today…Read Psalm 13. Think about a challenging circumstance in your own life and allow God to hear about it. Don’t hide anything.
I think most people would say that they want to live a meaningful life…a life that fulfills its potential. As followers of Christ, we are deliberately living a meaningful life and, by the help of the Holy Spirit, pursuing all that God desires us to be, as well.
The prayer of Examen is a method of examining or reflecting upon one’s life in such a manner that you do not allow your days to go by unnoticed. It is an intentional look at how God is being honored and served as a part of every day. The reflection is focused on a limited time span, most often it is a recollection of the events of the past 24 hours. Developed years ago by St. Ignatius, this has become a form of prayer to help people enter into the presence of God in a more experiential manner and discover the different ways he reveals himself in our daily life. St. Ignatius encouraged people to become aware of and explore their feelings and desires throughout the day. He believed that God would speak through these feelings and desires, but that one must first be aware of what they are experiencing in order to examine and reflect upon it. For example, think about the tasks in your life today. What was your attitude? Were you in the center of God’s presence or were you hurried and self-focussed? Did you move towards God or away from God through certain events? Sometimes we are not even fully aware of how we are feeling and where our heart is at.
Today…Pray through the Prayer of Examen.
Step 1: Recall the presence of God throughout your day. “In God we live and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
Step 2: Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the ways that God is working in your life. “When the Spirit of truth comes He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13)
Step 3: Look over your day with gratitude. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)
Step 4: Review your day to see how you responded to God’s gifts and opportunities. “Test yourselves to see whether you are living in faith; examine yourselves. Perhaps you do not realize that Jesus Christ is in you.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Step 5: Reconcile yourself to what you could have done better and be resolved to move forward in a different manner. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” 1 Corinthians 5:17)
Have you ever heard that if you are trying to break a habit you need to replace the unhealthy habit with a healthy one? Some weight loss experts suggest that if you usually eat sweets at night, you should still eat at night…just not sweets. Fill the fridge with healthy alternatives to the food you would normally eat. Even a few calories less per day will result in weight loss over the course of a year.
This same concept applies to our spiritual battles. When we are trying to change our actions or behaviours, we need to replace those behaviours with things that honour God, others, and ourselves.
Recall the parable of Jesus that warned against half-hearted repentance. Jesus told a story of an evil spirit that had been cast out of a ‘house’ (i.e. the person). The house had been cleaned, swept and put in order, but nothing had been done to fill the house with the protection and power to resist the evil spirit. The spirit returned to the house with seven other spirits! And the Gospel of Luke tells us that “the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:26).
It isn’t enough to part with sin…we must embrace God to be safe.
Today…think about something in your life that you are trying to change. Have you asked for the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to help you? Are you replacing the behaviour / action with something else that is pleasing to God? Is there a person you trust who could hold you accountable?
We speak to others many times a day. How often do we say things just to appease people, to flatter when we really don’t mean it, or throw out a casual “Let’s get together”, when we know very well that we don’t intend to follow through?
Do we do this with God?
Confession is the acknowledgement of our sin before God; our realization that what we are doing, or have done, is wrong. Repentance and confession are closely linked, but in actuality confession precedes repentance. Repentance literally means ‘a change of mind’. Repentance validates one’s confession because if there is no change, confession is little more than words.
In the Scriptures we see examples of confession followed by acts of repentance. When Paul was preaching in the city at Ephesus many people came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and they openly confessed some of the evil practices in which they were engaged. A number of these people practiced sorcery and, when convicted by the Holy Spirit that this was wrong, they brought their scrolls and burned them publically. We are told that the value of the scrolls was 50,000 drachmas, a drachma being the equivalent of a day’s wage. It was through this public act of repentance that the word of the Lord spread widely. (Acts 19: 18 – 20).
Are we really willing to change? Are we willing to change if it is going to cost us something? Being a Christian means that you are going to stand out. The ways of a Christ-follower are not the ways of this world. When we decide to actually live our lives to follow Christ in everything…people will take notice.
Today…choose to renounce sinful behaviour. Pray this powerful prayer. “In the name of Jesus Christ I confess and renounce the sin of (_____________). I declare that I no longer desire to participate in this thought, word, or deed. I rely upon the grace and indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to set me free and to enable me to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.