Prayer of Mercy for the Sick and Hurting: Day 17 of the Pray-May Challenge

Hurting people are everywhere. Every day we pass by them, and we ourselves need healing.

Day 17 of the Pray-May Challenge: Today we cry out for Jesus’ mercy for those sick and hurting, as well as ourselves.

We will pray using the words of the blind man of Luke 18:35-43 (NIV). (And by way of connection, this is a powerful Scripture we could prayerfully read, in the style of Lectio Divina, as we explored yesterday.) Here’s the whole story.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

What a compelling story. Seven quick points:

  1. The blind man, upon hearing of Jesus’ coming, was not shy to cry out for mercy from his place of need. He did not hide.
  2. The blind man seemed to know something of Jesus, crying out to him with reference to his royal lineage. He professed faith even in his crying.
  3. There were those around him who tried to deter him, feeling he was not worthy of attention or healing, wanting to keep him in his place of hurt. He would not be silenced.
  4. Jesus heard. Through the crowd, Jesus’ ears were tuned to the cry for mercy. They still are.
  5. Jesus asked what the blind man wanted. Think about that: isn’t his need obvious? Yes, but though Jesus knew what he needed, but the man had to admit his need and articulate his desire.
  6. Jesus responded with compassion to this man’s desire for mercy.
  7. This man’s healing resulted in praise to Jesus, both from the man and from the crowds. Healing always does.

So what do we know? Crying out for mercy, we have a God who hears and responds. We can pray this simple prayer from our own place of need, as well as on behalf of others.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

First, take a few moments and identify people in your neighborhood, your church, your workplace or school, and your own family who need Jesus’ mercy today.  Write their names down, along with their specific need.

It may be that the person you are crying out for is experiencing deep trauma today. Cry out for them to Jesus, for his mercy.  Like the four friends of Luke 5, bring someone to Jesus, knowing that your faith on their behalf matters. Others may have ongoing need for mercy, and we will ask Jesus, the Son of David, to have mercy upon them, too. For each one, ask for Jesus to have mercy.

Next, what do you need? If Jesus were to stop and look you in the eyes, asking “What do you want me to do for you?”, how would you answer? What do you want Jesus to do for you? Perhaps you have a physical need for healing, or you have been struggling with anxiety or depression, or are experiencing financial problems. Whatever your need, cry out to Jesus knowing that he hears you, and that he will respond. In the style of breathing prayer, you may even let this cry permeate your day.

Jesus will respond, though that does not always mean that Jesus will answer you according to your stated desire, as he did in the above story. But respond he will, to your deepest need and for your greatest good. Even as we ask, we declare him our king–the Son of David–submitting to his will for us. He may heal, he may call us to trust, he may have a larger vision in mind which sees beyond what we can see. We can trust him. However he responds, he is compassionately loving us.

But we do cry out boldly, not letting the “crowds” deter us, be that the crowds of doubt, cynicism, self-hatred, or insecurity. We will yell louder than any dismissive crowd.  And Jesus hears. Oh yes, he hears.

Let’s cry out to him today. My prayer for us as we do: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, we cry to you for mercy today, knowing how compassionate, how loving, how attentive you are to the hurting, the sick, the blind, the lame, to all those who weep and mourn and struggle. Today we lift to you friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters, asking you to have mercy upon them. And for ourselves, we cry for mercy, ignoring all the voices which would seek to silence our insistent boldness, knowing that you will hear, and that you will respond. May your mercy be upon us today. Amen. 


Have you been enjoying these prayer challenges? Please share this post with someone who would benefit from it.

Are you new to prayer or to this series of prayer challenges? I’m glad you joined us–you don’t need to have taken in all the month’s challenges. You can pick up right here today. However, if you are interested, scroll back through the month and discover ways we can all grow in conversation with God.

Every Martian Matters (even when there’s only one)

the-martianDo we believe every person counts? Not just our friends or the people we enjoy, but every single person? Jesus does, and he showed that in how he lived.

Religious people have never liked Jesus’ people priorities, considering certain people less desirable than others. One way Jesus pushed back against their bigotry was with stories about the value of people. Luke 15 relays three of these famous stories, each one featuring something, or someone, of value becoming lost and then being found.  And the point? Each person really matters to God, so much that they are worth searching for, taking personal risks, paying tremendous costs, doing whatever it takes to bring them home.

I love it when Hollywood shares a story that aligns with God’s heart for people. The recent Damon-Scott blockbuster The Martian, based on Weir’s book,  is a parable resonant with Jesus’ point about the incredible value of one human life, worth expending every effort for their rescue. Like the lost coin, sheep and sons, The Martian underscores the never-changing truth that everyone matters, that every life counts.

Inspired by the parable, I showed this trailer during our Sunday morning gathering to illustrate God’s conviction that every person counts. As Christians, what God cares about, we care about. Because people matter to God, they matter to us.

When I reflected on all four of these parables (ancient and modern), I realized that in each parable people were willing to take great personal risk and pay tremendous costs to restore the lost sheep, coin, son, and astronaut.  The shepherd left the 99 to risk a wilderness search; the woman worked feverishly to find her coin; the father disdained personal reputation and wealth to restore his sons. In The Martian, the crew of the Ares 3 put everything on the line, risking life, limb and legacy, to bring Mark home. Teams on the ground spared no expense to see him rescued. The world launched an all-out effort for one man, stranded far away, to make it back to earth. I love it. That’s the heart of God for people, and that’s our heart, too.

THE MARTIAN
The crew of Ares 3 was willing to take tremendous risk for one human life. Are we?

As members of the church Jesus leads, this is serious business. We want to be the kind of church where every person matters, and not just the “insider,” but those who are far away, out of touch, detached, disinterested, wandering, even lost. Churches often expend great energy to care for those who are present, who “show up,” knowing that they matter (and they do!). But it’s been too easy to forget our call to expend even more energy, more cost, more effort, more money to reach people who will never show up for the party unless someone seeks for them, works for their return, prays for their rescue, does whatever it takes to see them home. The church must become obsessed with finding people who think they’ve been forgotten, who do not know they matter, who are not even aware that an all-out search is being raised on their behalf.

Why? Because to God, every person counts. And if that’s God’s heart, then it’s ours.

How does this story change the way you see others?

Why does Jesus put so much emphasis on people who have been rejected by the religious?

(If you want to hear my original message, using The Martian to reinforce our vision at the Erickson Covenant Church, you can listen to it here.)

Why I Won’t Sing “I’ll Fly Away” (so I re-wrote it)

I’ll Fly Away ranks top among beloved Christian songs. And I can see why. It’s incredibly fun and catchy, speaking to people of hope beyond present struggles. When the banjos start up, the feet start stomping and we all join the rousing chorus, our spirits are lifted high with smiles all around. It feels great. I'll Fly Away Country

But feeling great doesn’t make it great.

And lest you think I’m one of those nit-picky types, hair-splitting on every theological difference across Christian song and hymnody, I’m not. I usually leave things well enough alone, allowing for theological diversity, even singing songs with which I don’t entirely concur in the spirit of Christian unity and generosity.

But not this one. I haven’t sung I’ll Fly Away in years (though I confess my foot may have tapped a time or two . . . the flesh is weak, my friends).

What is wrong with it? Three things come to mind.

  1. “Flying away” is not Christian hope–rising again from the dead is. Rather than looking forward to a time of escape, we long for the resurrection of our bodies in the context of a renewed creation (Romans 8:20-23). It is critical that we recapture this basic truth and hope, because it effects everything else we do, say or pray.
  2. Creation is good, God said so. The idea of “flying” from these prison walls like a bird presents a foul view of humanity: that we are spirits trapped inside bodies, and that our only hope is to someday escape from this evil flesh. Hatched from the ancient Greeks, this “dualism” divides
    Very Good
    “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a)

    reality into the good, spiritual things and the bad, physical things. But the Bible never taught this: God’s creation is good, though it has been “subject to frustration” (Romans 8) due to human sin. Until when? The time humans are resurrected, because the future of the earth and the future of the earthlings are bound up together. Human bodies won’t be scrapped for a more “spiritual” existence–they will be raised to life incorruptible in a new body, just like Jesus.  The same is true of God’s earth; God’s plan is not to scrap it but to renew it.  We’ll be singing on God’s terrestrial, not celestial, shore.

  3. We pray “Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in heaven.” Practically, this is where it hits home. I’ll Fly Away distracts us from praying and imagining God’s kingdom come in our world, in our time. Songs like this place Christian hope in another world, another time, rather than announcing the kingdom come in Christ, here. Christians have been accused of being “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”, but this is only true if what we mean by “heaven” is a bastardized, Platonic view of a non-earthly, “spiritual” existence, rather than the biblically robust, fully recreated, resurrection reality of the new heavens and the new earth joining together as one in the end (Revelation 22:1-5).

bluegrass_old_faceThere’s more I could say, but let’s cue the party music. These guys are ready to play.

After years of stony resistance to the siren song of I’ll Fly Away, I re-wrote the lyrics. Sacred cows make great BBQ’s, and I got a hankerin’ for this one. I’m not expecting to overturn the deep-seated love for the old song–too many memories, too many banjos. But maybe, just maybe, if a few of us started singing of our true hope, our eyes would rise toward God’s kingdom come and coming to us through resurrection, rather than flying away to an imaginary never-never land.

So, here it is, I’ll Rise Again. I’ve included my original video post, from August of 2015, below. It’s a rough cut, but at least you can hear me singing the song.

 

I’ll rise again, oh glory
I’ll rise again
When I die, hallelujah, by and by
I’ll rise again
_____________________________
1. Some glad morning, when this life is o’er
I’ll rise again
Jesus conquered death forevermore
I’ll rise again
______________________________
2. When the Father calls me I will come,
I’ll rise again
Jesus welcomes me into his home,
I’ll rise again
______________________________
3. Give us strength to serve you where you send,
I’ll rise again
Then we’ll join the worship without end,
I’ll rise again

You can watch a video of me singing it here.

 

Be honest: What do you think? What do you like, or not like, about this re-write?

Will you sing it?

Why I haven’t quit the church (and why you shouldn’t either)

The church of Jesus is a marvelous mess, filled right up to overflowing with sinners and saints.  As a pastor, I hear my share of criticism about this mad collection of the Jesus-bought. Maybe you’ve heard it, too.

The church is . . . too inward-focused,  too liberal, too conservative, too spiritual, not spiritual enough, too performance-oriented, too shoddy and backward. Hypocritical, fake, needy, imperfect. Sinful. Broken.

Sigh. 

It’s all true. And believe me when I say that I ache over the mess.  The mess that eats away at people’s lives, the mess that happens when sinners forget their dearly won sainthood, and the saints forget their status as grace-covered sinners. But it’s in the midst of the mess of the church that I also worship Jesus. It’s in this messy, beautiful mix that I pray and give and serve and love and learn. It’s among these people I experience forgiveness, joining in wonder and worship, bearing for each other the burdens of life.

 

Why don’t I give up on the church? Why don’t I just quit?

Because Jesus refuses to give up on the church. Jesus loves his church — broken, sinful, beautiful and alive. Blood-won, Spirit-filled, lurching in grace toward God’s good future.

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, we receive a compelling vision of Jesus.  With vivid imagery, Jesus our High Priest stands with the white hair of wisdom and the bronze feet of strength, face shining like the sun and a voice like a waterfall. The focus is all on him, standing in splendor and wisdom and strength and love.

But, if you can stand back for just a moment, ask yourself: where is Jesus, when he first reveals himself to John in this vision? Where is he located, exactly?

I’m very struck by this fact: Jesus, in all of his brilliance and grace, is standing right in the middle of his church.  He’s not standing off to the side, he’s not somewhere in the distance, not on the outside looking in. Jesus is standing right in the middle of the church, depicted here as lampstands. And he’s not standing in the middle of some generic “church universal” either. Jesus is standing in the midst of the local church–seven local churches to be precise–churches with an identifiable address, meeting in a house just across the way, embedded within a city with a history, a mix of cultures, steeped in idolatry, with a story of where they’ve been and where they are going. A church made up of an odd menagerie of real and imperfect people, sinners and saints, people like you and I.

Lister Fun
Photo credit: Meme Prier

As the Revelation unfolds, Jesus has some challenging and comforting words for these particular churches, each message crafted for each unique congregation. Some of these churches are severely compromised; others are barely holding on. Some are affluent; some, poor. Some are well-known; some, backward and unfamiliar. And as Jesus speaks to his church words that are sometimes difficult to hear, let us not forget where he’s located when he speaks: right in the middle of the mess.  He speaks from the centre, not the periphery, of his people.

Jesus knows his church, situated in each community, each city, each block in the world. He knows my church; he knows yours. And he loves his church, and when he speaks to his church, he speaks right from the middle.

Jesus hasn’t quit his church.

I’m not either.

Three Easy Steps to Start Reading the Bible

1. Get one.

2. Open it.

3. Start reading.

Okay, maybe a little more direction would be handy. But seriously, it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. Oddly enough, though, we often make Bible reading more mysterious than it is, and then leave it on the shelf and never start reading.

My advice? Just start. You’ll be surprised at what you find.  A friend of mine recently started reading the Bible for the first time. Her discovery? The Bible is way more interesting than she expected it to be, the stories about Jesus intrigue her, and she is (surprise!) enjoying it. She is eager to continue.

That can be true for you, too.

Just Start Reading
Just Start Reading

Here’s three more steps you can take to enhance your Bible reading experience.

1. Start with a story about Jesus.  All Christians will agree that Jesus is the central figure of the Bible, so why not start with him? And you’ve got four options: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, located right at the beginning of the New Testament (see Table of Contents in any Bible). Extra tip: Use a modern translation, such as the New Living Translation (NLT) or the New International Version (NIV). It’ll be easier to understand than Grandma’s old King James Version.

2. Read a natural section and ask: What are these stories telling me about Jesus? And what do I think about what they are telling me about Jesus? Pay attention to how you respond to these Jesus stories. What intrigues you? What bugs you?

3. Find a good friend with whom you can discuss what you are reading. The Bible was never meant to be read alone. It was meant to be taken out in the daylight–read and discussed openly.

That’s it. Really.

Let me know what you discover.

PS. As a bonus, check out YouVersion, a great Bible App for your tablet or smart phone. You can even listen to some of the available translations, which is a great way of getting into the Bible.