Prayer part 2

I’ve lost track of how many times people have asked me to put forth special requests to God.

Sometimes, I am humbled, honored and blessed to be entrusted with your concerns while other times I want to roll my eyes and ask “Do you really expect me to pray for that?!”
I am always willing to take time to pray for people, but I’ve learned to be careful and considerate with my prayers.

Sometimes, when asked to pray, I am taken aback and want to either giggle or groan, depending on my mood and the request.
For example: I might groan if you ask me to pray for a really hot, sunny day (mainly because I think anything over 75 degrees is unfit for humans and consider such prayers to be ridiculous). I might laugh if you ask me to not pray for snow, even though you live in North Dakota and it’s December (partly because I happen to like snow and cold weather and why would I ever agree to pray against something I enjoy?).
But I will faithfully pray that God sends the weather that we need and to watch over those who are out in the elements.

I draw the line with some prayers. We all have our limits, and even as a pastor I occasionally hesitate to ask God for some things.
I won’t pray for a sports team to win. I will pray for safety of players.
I won’t pray for you to win the lottery. I will pray that God will work through others to help you.
I won’t pray for the things that I believe are wants or desires. I will pray that God sees your need and gives you what you need.
I will not pray for what appears to be self-serving, but I will pray that God watches over all of us in all aspects of our daily lives.

So here is a word of advice: be careful what you pray for.
When we pray, we better be ready for the prayer to be answered (whether the answer is yes or no). Praying for a snow day because you want a day off might be answered with clear skies.
When we pray, we better be paying attention to exactly what it is that we pray for. Praying for health may not mean that a miracle cure happens or the physical ailment is “fixed” when health might be the emotional or spiritual acceptance of our own mortality.
When we pray, we better be ready to change. Praying for something and not receiving it could lead us to turning away from God (as we claim that since the prayer wasn’t answered how we wanted means God doesn’t listen) or else teaching us patience and trust that God provides, even if we don’t get what we want when we want it.

Whatever the prayer, I use honesty and caution.
Honesty because prayer is the time when we can share our deepest concerns and wishes with God, knowing that God sees into our hearts and knows when we are trying to hide.
Caution because God is paying attention, and sometimes we know what we ought to be praying for even if we don’t want to pay attention to what we feel deep in our hearts/guts should be our prayer.

After all, prayers are powerful and life-changing.

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Prayer Study

Over the last few weeks, I (better known as Pastor Kara) have been preparing a study on prayer. But since I am a fan of technology, I am choosing to make some of the topics and discussion questions available to all who read this blog. Of course, one of the biggest gifts of gathering to study and reflect is that we sit around and talk about points of interest, ask questions as they arrive, and always learn more together. But this online posting (the first of a few) will strive to give you, the reader, at least a starting point for your personal reflection.

We start with the question “What is Prayer?”

The definition that can be found with a quick online search:
Prayer (noun) =
1. a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
2. an earnest hope or wish.
3. an act that seeks to activate a rapport with a deity, an object of worship, or a spiritual entity through deliberate communication

Prayer is, quite simply, talking to/with God. We talk to God. We share our cares, our concerns, our thoughts. But we ideally talk with God. This means that not only do we talk, but we also leave space for a response.

There are no right or wrong words to speak when we pray. In fact, some of the best prayers are those times when we lack words. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that the Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words to express (8:26).
Think of your reaction when you see something spectacular (like a fireworks display – whether man-made or God’s lightning). What is it that you say?
Or how about when you see someone hurting? How do you react?
What noise do you make when you are frustrated? Angry? Annoyed?
Every reaction, every sigh conveys emotions and experiences that are part of our conversation with ourselves, with our neighbors and with God. Being in communication is more than the words we speak; we also include the unspoken and nonverbal.
And since is prayer is by definition communicating with God, even our gasps of awe, groans of pain and sighs of frustration are prayers.

Next we ask, “Why do we pray? For what/whom do we pray?”

Draw a picture of your prayer(s). Stick figures are perfectly acceptable. In fact, if your work of art looks like it belongs on the fridge, you’ve done well!

Here are some common types of prayer:
– Petition = we seek out and ask for what we need
– Thanksgiving = we share our gratitude for gifts and blessings that have been provided
– Worship/praise = we glorify God by stating what good things God has done and will do in our lives

The Book of Psalms is one of the best resources for prayers in the Bible. The 150 psalms each have their own special message to be shared. These are both prayers and songs. Many hymns sung in church are based on the psalms, but you can also pray them silently or spoken aloud.

Read the Psalms 4, 88 and 145 SLOWLY. As you read the psalms, pay attention to words and phrases that stick out to you. What rings true? Also, pay attention to your emotions as you read. Do you feel mad, sad or glad? Do the words lift you up or pull you down?

Here are some reflections:
– Psalm 4 – This is a prayer asking God to provide one of the most essential needs: protection. Note how the psalm begins: “Answer me, O God.” This is not a nice “Oh, when you get the chance…” This is a bold statement and (dare I say it) demand for God to take care of his child. The psalmist cannot even go to sleep without trusting that God will provide safety through the night.
– Psalm 88 – This is the most despairing of all the psalms. Most psalms end with some form of blessing or praise to God. This one does not. This psalm remains “depressing” and very realistic about the pain the writer is feeling. One of the biggest gifts of this psalm (and others similar to it) is that we are given words to express our pain. We do not always have to be bubbling over with joy, especially when life is not joyful.
– Psalm 145 – This is one of many “praise” psalms. Notice how this psalm talks about God and what God is capable of doing. But also, this is a psalm that invites the reader (and consequently speaker) to also declare what God has done and who God is.

The next question we consider: How do we pray?

One of the parts of prayer that we often overlook is what our bodies are doing as we pray. Think about your favorite prayer position. Are you standing, sitting, kneeling, laying down, walking around? What are you doing with your hands and arms? Are your eyes open or closed?
Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to pray. But paying attention to how we pray can help us focus on our prayer.

Try sitting still with your hands folded, head bowed, and eyes closed. How do you feel?
Try standing up with your arms outstretched, hands open and eyes looking outward. How do you feel now?
Try kneeling with your palms up. Or laying face-down on the floor. How do you feel?

So many times we were taught that the “best” way to pray is to remain still and bow our heads. That is a position to focus us as we pray, and it can work for some.
But it can also close us off.
Sometimes we need to have our bodies open so that we ourselves are open for God’s message. This is why so many people feel closest to God while wandering out in nature, not closed up in a room with head bowed down.

Recently, I learned a random fact: most of our brains are capable of doing 1.5 things at once.
This means that as we talk with someone, our brain is a) listening to what is being spoken, b) helping us to think a reply, and c) doing something else (whether compiling a to-do list in your mind or showing as a physical movement).
I think of this in regards to my “fidgety” fingers. While in the midst of a conversation (listening to words and thinking my response), my fingers are often busy playing around with whatever finds its way into my hands (jewelry, cell phone, pens, etc). I have also experienced shifting weight while standing, shaking my legs, doodling on paper, or tapping out rhythms.
While many of us can find such motions distracting, for the person involved, such movement may be necessary in order to focus on the conversation.

In regards to prayer, this means that we strive to use our bodies and our movements carefully and intentionally. This is why some people pray best while swaying. Others pray best while knitting or crocheting. Others paint, walk, or bake in order to focus while praying.

Prayer is not just a formula of words to be spoken: “Dear God, I need ___. Thank you for ___. You rock!”
Prayer involves all that we are (thoughts, speech, actions).
There is no right or wrong when praying. The most important thing is that we pray.

I hope that this helps you to think about prayer a little more than you might have before. If you have any comments or questions, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation.

Bible Study and Music

Over the last couple months, I have been leading a Bible study in McVille where we have been talking about prophets.
We looked at the big names within the books of Samuel and Kings: Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha.
We talked briefly about Jeremiah (whom we shall revisit in a couple weeks).
And the last two weeks we have been talking about Isaiah.

I wanted to talk about prophets because their words mattered and continue to matter.
The prophets spoke to specific situations and people. They preached to kings, community leaders and the misguided children of God. They looked at the world around them and sought to encourage people to give up their misguided ways and turn back to God.
Their words mattered thousands of years ago, and their words matter today as we can still learn from their messages.

The prophets were not afraid to look closely and honestly at the world to see what was going wrong. They talked openly (even if no one wanted to hear their message).

Their words of judgment can sting because we live in a world just as broken and messed up and misguided.
When we stray from God and God’s path for us, we are chastised and warned.
But their words of promise also give us hope when we read about how God did not abandon the people of God then but instead continued to provide hope and a future.
When we trust and believe in God, God is gracious and merciful and kind and generous.

The words in the Bible connect to our experiences today.
Our prophets today show up in unlikely places, are unlikely people, use different ways to get their messages out.
I have learned to really appreciate musicians for their willingness to write and sing honest words about how they view the world.

Yesterday we looked at oracles against nations and cities, against people who have not been following God.
I paired the prophet Isaiah up with a song by Flogging Molly. We listened to “Don’t Shut ‘Em Down” then read chapters 17, 22, and 24 from the book of Isaiah.
We listened to a song that talked about troubles faced in the 21st century then read messages preached 2700 years ago to places that faced trouble.
Homes would be and have been destroyed.
Businesses would be and have been closed.
Panic would be and has been prevalent.
Despair would be and has been a reality.
Nothing has changed in 2700 years and yet everything looks different.

And through all the troubles we can so easily cause for ourselves, God still waits for the people to figure things out and turn back to God.

Let the games begin…err…Let our education begin!

I can just imagine an announcer with a booming voice letting people know that the fun is about to start.
My last post was about how September has arrived and with it comes programming.
But it seems like now things are really getting started.

This past Sunday, two of our congregations had Rally Sunday, and two more celebrate theirs this coming Sunday.
The kids are back to Sunday School after a summer off.
We are getting things ready to learn and teach all we can about our triune God, the Bible and our Christian church.

But we are also educating not just the children.
Adults need to learn and grow in their faith as well.
There are a few educational events starting up and all are welcome to attend.

Tomorrow night (Thurs, Sept 13) at 7:00 at First Presbyterian in Cooper, a group of people interested in God and church are gathering together to discuss the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. If I’m not mistaken, the chapter is titled Community, so you can come whether or not you’ve read much Bonhoeffer. This group that meets monthly is officially called “lay disciples” but don’t let that name scare you off. Anyone who is interested is welcome to join, whether clergy or lay people, since we are all disciples of Christ.

Next week, Lutheran Church of McVille will be hosting a Bible study where Pastor Jessica will walk through various stories about women in the Bible. That group gathers at 9:00 am on Wednesday mornings. The folks in Binford heard much of this during last school year, but we can read and hear the same lessons numerous times and learn something new. This group meets weekly through the school year, so feel free to stop by whenever you are in town!

Also next week, we are starting up a new group in McVille. Some men have expressed an interest in having their own time to study Scripture since most Bible study groups tend to have the men outnumbered by women. I set up an initial time of 4:00 on Thursday as a time to start meeting. This is a new ministry and I hope that there are men across our TCM parish and in surrounding communities who would be interested in gathering for some time to read scripture and talk in a setting meant for them.

I know that next month, Trinity Lutheran in Binford will be starting up adult education once again following their 8:30 worship time. More details to come later.

If you ever have an idea for education or activities that you feel we have overlooked, please let us know.
I love planning and organizing events and helping you to find a place in the Church where your interests and needs fit.

Adult Discussion Group at Trinity Learn about Women in the Bible

Today the adult discussion group from Trinity finished up their discussion on some women of the Bible.  We had a chance to explore Sophia (Wisdom) & Eve, Sarah & Hagar, Jael & Judith, the woman at the well & the Syrophonecian woman, Elizabeth & the widow of Nain, and, finally, the women in Romans 16.

 These women had stories to tell.  We knew them from the scripture passages that introduced us to them; but, we also learned that as women of flesh and blood their stories held more than just what was in print.  And, as for Sophia, her story begins before time began. 

Some things that struck us were (just some things – there were so many I can’t list them all):

            Eve had to mourn the loss of a son to murder and another son to exile (because he was the murderer)

            Hagar is the only person in the Bible to give God a name.  (El-roi)

            Both Jael & Judith were women of strong character who delivered their people from the enemy.

            Phoebe was a deacon and Junia was an apostle.

            Sophia (Wisdom) was with God in the beginning.

Through these stories we learned that we have stories to tell as well.  That all who gather to learn about the people of the Bible and read their stories have the stories of his/her own in his/her journey with God.  Some of the women’s stories helped us to speak; some caused us to pause and look at our own lives; some will keep us wondering.

Maybe during this Lent season you may find yourself wanting to explore the women of the Bible and through them take your own journey of discovery.  Forty days of learning about them; forty days of learning more about yourself: who you are, and whose you are.

 Blessed Lent, Pastor Jessica

End of Genesis

This morning at bible study in McVille, we completed reading through all 50 chapters of the book of Genesis.

We started this journey back in early October and officially finished on Feb 15. That is 4 months of reading the stories and hearing how God was always at work with imperfect people prone to making stupid mistakes, and yet in the midst of their brokenness God was always at work and accomplishing what God intended to happen.

Next week, on Ash Wednesday, we are going to start reading the gospel of Mark. For the church year, Mark is the gospel we focus on and read from. So we are going to sit down, read through it without jumping from story to story like in the lectionary, and take time to discuss what we are hearing and learning.

Please join us either in person or if you can’t be there, read the gospel on your own knowing that you are not alone.

And yes, I did give out certificates (although the pink did not print since I didn’t use a color printer).
Cause who doesn’t love having something simple to help celebrate the accomplishment?

McVille Bible study update

When I moved up to McVille, I was warned that there was a strong core group of people who value their weekly Bible study. The past couple months have been focused on reading our way through the book of Genesis. It is a long book (50 chapters), but it has been fascinating to take our time and read it together. We read the stories and share whatever thoughts or reflections we’ve had about the text, the locations or the history.

We are to the story of Jacob (he has just fled for his life and has ended up at his uncle Laban’s where he just met Rachel). We read about the fallout that Jacob and Esau had, and how their parents Isaac and Rebekah had picked their favorites from those twins. Taking the time to read the stories is enough to try patience at times, but is worth it. Some stories are easier to connect with than others. With the recent story of Jacob and Esau, the people who show up are unsettled to read how two brothers act around each other, but even more shocking is how the parents act. Each person reading the story finds something that fascinates or appalls.

Everyone one of us enters into the story of Genesis because we have different understandings of what life looks like, of how people ought to behave, of what we expect God to say and do. But when we read Genesis, we find that people are just people. We may want to disconnect ourselves since they lived in a very different time/place, but in reality they are much like us today. They are not perfect (far from it, as a matter of fact). We cannot shy away from the fact that we’ve read stories of murder, incest, lies and deceit. Each character in Genesis has tough lessons learned through constant mistakes. People are tested and usually fall short. But God is a God of promise who is faithful to the people he chose to create and bless.

We are taking next week off, but we will be resuming Jan 4 with Genesis 29:15. If you can’t get to McVille at 9 am, at least you know where we are in the story of a broken people who find that God is faithful.