For the last few weeks, I’ve had every intention of waking up early to watch a sunrise. But the steadily declining autumn temperatures and my warm bed hold me prisoner to my own sleep. This prayer below is an imagined sunrise prayer, written in the evening while dreaming about the earlier hours of quiet.
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord,
Let my knees wear a spot in the floor in this prayer space. Let my tears fall so hard, they stain the wood. Here, before the dawn breaks, I’m asking for your unfailing love to cover me for this day. Thank you for all the ways you are working in life, especially in drawing my children nearer to you and strengthening this household in Christ. Lord, I ask that you please move for the people I’ve been praying for—new and familiar—and use your hand to guide me through the troubles of this day about to come. You grant me so many of my prayers, I know you listen! I know you know my heart! Please, I pray, let me know yours. Every morning, it’s just us, and I pray you reveal yourself as brilliantly as the cresting sun.
Sick the lions on me. Drop me into their den and let’s see if they have the courage to feast. I’ve been thrown into their cave before by my enemies. And sometimes I’ve brought myself here. Quietly, Lord, seemingly without reason, you’ve tossed me a sword. You lowered me a life line. When I was my most desperate, you reached in and lifted me up. Safely in your palm, you hid me under your wing until trouble passed. Why do they surround me with their temptations? Worse, why do I work so hard to bring it on myself? My human eyes are blinded to your plan. When you set me down safe from the lions, I pray you give me strength to become what I am to become, so I can slay something more than my own demons.
My perfect moment in 2019 came before daybreak on Easter morning. I woke my children in darkness so they could ready themselves for church. The outdoor sunrise service was to start at 6 and I was anxious to experience the perfect moment of a brilliant peach-pink sky finally broken by the sun while we sat listening to the word being preached. But that wasn’t the perfection I found. Instead I was standing in the kitchen watching my daughter eat breakfast when I slid open the kitchen door and stepped out onto the deck and the morning darkness. The moon was still lit in the tree branches above me and the clouds were moving quickly as though they were being pushed by angels. It was silent out except for the singing birds who’d come back after six months in hiding. A feeling of renewal came over me there in the dark. I could hear my daughter scooping her cereal methodically, a few clangs of spoon against a ceramic cereal bowl, and I had this vision of that moment, 2,000 years ago, in a garden halfway around the world. Before dawn, Mary finding the tomb empty. Mistaking Jesus for a garden hand. The reason for her existence both confirmed and turned upside down — instantly. I imagined a setting just like this, and the sounds of the chains breaking and snapping from all of us in rhythm with my daughter’s inadvertent clangs. I could see and feel it in my soul. I spent the next several mornings awake at dawn, asking for that kind of clarity. The voice and Spirit of Jesus. Sometimes, it came.
Some of us have to be broken before reaching this point — before we have a heart for truth. Before we are willing to let someone teach us. Before we can be saved or put our hope in a source we can’t see. But that’s the paradoxical nature of the gospel. The act of putting up your hands in surrender is actually heroic, and it finally brings you into the loving heart of Jesus. The moment we quit relying on our own strength is the same moment we win eternity.
In the deepest thicket of woods, on the remotest of walking trails, we can feel closer to God than any of the places we find ourselves in on a normal day. Somehow, by escaping the noise and the everyday places so familiar to us, we can experience God with more intensely.
Jesus realized this himself as the gospel authors mention many times when he left his band of disciples to be alone to pray, whether it be a few yards away from where the men slept or higher up on a mountain where he could be closer to his father. These getaways were so frequent, Luke specifically mentioned them in his gospel: “But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16, NLT)
We can all understand the need for privacy, especially if we have younger siblings who keep barging into our rooms or interrupting our time to ourselves. But there’s something more here for Jesus than just privacy. The wilderness was Jesus’ creation, as Colossians 1:16 tells us:
“For through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we see and the things we can’t see – such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.”
The wilderness was Jesus’ best teaching tool and he referred to it in many of his parables.
Using Jesus as our example, we too should seek to find ways to be closer to our father. A walk around the block by ourselves or even a trail hike with friends can give us the serenity to feel God’s presence stronger, even if we aren’t entirely alone. What Jesus sought was closeness to the one hearing his prayers. That means simply taking a walk can be one of the best Christian acts we can learn to adopt.
This body once given to so many others
Now belongs to you.
This mind once confused and led astray
Now is rooted in your words.
This heart once was darkened
Now radiates your light.
This spirit overcomes me
Now I am renewed.
This world once demanding my acceptance
Now no longer carries any weight
This body offered up each day
Now is your sacrifice.
This path I walked unknowing
Now is guided by your will
This Savior I once ran from
Now leads me toward eternal life.
Three stones, Lord
Put them in my pocket.
A slingshot, Lord
Firm in my hand.
My giant sneers,
He mocks my faith.
Fill my heart, Lord
with your courage.
Give me spirit, Lord
Make me strong.
My giant overwhelms me,
Exposes all my flaws.
Root me in your word, Lord
Give me patience, steady aim.
Hear my prayer, Lord
Feel my faith.
My giant stands to fall,
A display for your might.
Let me stand upon his body, Lord
Wield his sword
A victor for the meek.
This morning I was searching through some old papers and found this journal entry. I wrote these words in May 2014, when I was at the beginning of my faith journey:
The voice began as a feeling. I had to still my life before I could hear it. For four years, I had been trying to heal the wounds of a broken marriage through a whirlwind of relationships. The path I was walking left me empty on the inside and hurt many around me. I was always a good father and involved in my children’s lives, but beyond that, I was not living for anything. The gifts I had been granted as a writer were languishing, as was my career. My life served no purpose. I was spiritually empty and I was not leading my children toward a future with meaning. So I closed down my world to focus on our quiet lives together. And then I began to hear something speak to me. I heard no words. I felt them … I felt them telling me I could be more than what I was. I went out and bought a bible for myself and one for the kids. My daughter began voraciously reading hers, and I mine. And I recognized for the first time the passion and divine talents of the various writers of the Bible. I knew the voice I was feeling was Jesus Christ. I knew I wanted to serve Him, give my life over to Him, and use whatever gifts I had to glorify Him. One afternoon, I sat with a good friend at my kitchen table, praying and accepting the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart. I agreed to live for him. And now I want to finalize this incredible conversion through the process of baptism, the same as Jesus Christ did.
When it seems no one in your life appears to be listening, it can be stunning to realize that the creator of the universe wants to hear what you have to say.
At times, you might feel your friends, your siblings or even your parents aren’t all that interested in what’s happening in your world. They all have involvements and challenges in their own lives that are fighting for their attention, so naturally your perspective might not always be first on their minds.
So how is it that God – the maker of your friends, your parents and siblings, and you and everyone else in the world – has the time to pay attention? The bible tells us that he hears all who believe in him:
Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him.”
In that verse, we learn that “faith” is the first key to God hearing our prayer. Secondly, we must believe that He is (or rather, that He exists and is who He says He is.) And lastly we see that if we accomplish those two important
First, we must have faith that God is … and second, we must have confidence in the Lord’s willingness to hear our prayers.
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous
And His ears are open to their cry.
Prayer is an open line of communication between you and the creator of the universe.
Our father is always home. He’s always willing to take our call, no matter how we may have let him down. We should not be ashamed to let him hear our voice.
Have you ever met someone and gotten the feeling that they were going to play an important role in your life? Even before you got to know them, you just had a feeling they were going to leave some sort of imprint on the path you were going to take?
I’ve been blessed to meet a few people like that, and while I can’t tell you exactly what it was that gave me those thoughts, I still remember how it felt to welcome them into my life.
When we meet someone who we think is going to make a difference, we tend to remember our first interactions with them — and sometimes even the first words they speak to us. Do you remember when you first met Jesus and how he spoke to you?
The Bible gives us four first encounters with Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You know those names. They are the writers of the four Gospels. These authors give us first hand accounts of what it was like to walk next Jesus. The miracles he performed, the love he showed to everyone (no matter what their past involved), and of course the beautiful sacrifice he made for all of us to live lives free from sin. But the gospels also provide us our first “meetings” with Jesus.
These are Jesus’ first words in each of the gospels:
Matthew 3:15 – “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”
Mark 1:14 – “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Luke 2:49 – “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
John 1:38 – “What do you want?”
In the first statement above from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to John the Baptist who is about to baptize him. Here Jesus reveals that he has a plan to carry out on earth and it begins with ceremonial baptism. His mission will change the world forever.
Jesus’s words in Mark imply even more about his mission. We need to repent of our sins and negative ways and believe in him. The Good News is that through belief in him, we can be washed clean of our sins.
His opening statement in Luke was spoken to his parents, Mary and Joseph. After losing track of Jesus during the Passover festival, they finally find him in the temple teaching the religious teachers. Jesus seems astonished — or maybe disappointed — that his parents didn’t think to look for him in a place of worship. Jesus is always with the father, and if we want to find him, we should know where to look. He is in our hearts now. As is the father. As is the Holy Spirit.
And finally, his first words in John were spoken to his first two disciples who been following him. He asks, “What do you want?” Of course, his disciples don’t know yet that what they need is Jesus himself. His love, his spirit, his outlook and of course his forgiveness. When we pray, we also ask Jesus to fulfill our needs and sometimes our wants. Through Jesus, anything we want in this world can be fulfilled.
Our first interaction with Jesus immediately leave us indebted to him. Our lives become overwhelmed with his love and every moment with him becomes special. For many of us who have been Christians for years, we want to get back to the early days when we first met him and had his fire in our hearts. Jesus’ first words our way to get back to our first encounters with him. Or we can simply respond to his question: What do you want?
“We want you, Lord!”