Prayer, Plain and Simple

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Three days ago I ran/skated 4 miles on the frozen path around a lake near our home in St. Paul. The snow and icepack is melting in the growing warmth of March, but it’s still a tricky and slippery trek. This morning was different… very, very different. I pushed myself 5 miles, but this time along the lava fields of the western shore of the big island, Kona, Hawaii. From St. Paul to the Pacific Ocean off Kailua Kona – it’s hard to believe I’m on the same planet.

I do love to run. I have no blazing speed, but I have agonized through a couple of marathons and I really enjoy the small victories each time I go out and complete the day’s course. Today was extra delightful. You have to love Hawaii, especially on the heels of a dark and bitter Minnesota winter.

I usually try to pray while I run. Sometimes I have better success than others. Today, I found myself sending little missiles of thanks for creation and a few small petitions. Mostly I just enjoyed myself along the way, and that, I believe was a prayer in itself. I invite Jesus to come with me, so today I’m sure he enjoyed the wonderful scenery too. As Scottish Olympian Eric Liddell in the film “Chariots of Fire” said, “When I run, I feel his pleasure.” I’m not as fast, but I heartily agree!

There are many parables and metaphors in running, ways of connecting the experience to principles of life and worship and a relationship with God and fulfilling our destiny. Here’s a prayer for anyone who runs to finish the race!

“God, you have chosen to give me this race of life, and I run to complete the course and honor you. The way is long and sometimes treacherous. Often I grow exhausted. Sometimes I want to quit. But I have a finish line to cross; I run to get there. Lord, guard me and keep me healthy on my actual, physical runs. You have given me this body and you ask me to care for it. Running is a part of my stewardship. Keep my feet and legs strong and without injury. Strengthen my back. Give health to my heart and lungs. As I run increase my energy and my thinking capacity. Bolster my immune system. Strengthen my bones. You have given me the gift of movement. As I fly along the ground let me soak in the richness of the world you have created. Give me patience when I can’t do all I wish to do. Give me courage to push harder and further than my first instincts want. Help me to strike the balance between rest and reach. Teach me lessons while I run. Show me your character and perseverance by putting a new and deeper perseverance into me. I thank you for the gift of feet. I run the race you have set for me. I will not stop short. I will complete your course, for your honor Jesus…”

“All your sons and daughters will be taught by the Lord; and great will be your children’s peace” Isaiah 54:13.

I have a friend whose child is wandering into dangerous places. There is no deeper pain than for a parent to watch a son or daughter make foolish, life altering choices and to stand by as they reject warnings and counsel and help. I grieve for my friend.

Like the Father in Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable, my friend stands and watches and waits, looking for the day when his child will return. He hopes, not with a wishing kind of fantasy, but with expectation. “God’s promises will come true,” he says, in spite of present evidence. His love is untainted and unyielding, though it is being sorely tested at the moment. Of course, love isn’t always nice. Sometimes it is firm and bold and wrapped up in tough discipline. But a father’s love, THE Father’s love is always, always faithful. I’m praying today for my friend, that his love for his wayward child.

“God, we pray to day for parents who are enduring the onslaught of discouragement over the choices of their children. Give them hope that your promises are never defeated, and that you can make a way through dark places when there seems to be no light. Give them, today, sound wisdom to know specifically how love for their child needs to be expressed. Then give them the same tomorrow, and then the day after. Give them endurance to hope beyond hope. Give the courage, and surprising joy. I pray also for the children who are wandering from the ways of wisdom. We pray today that they will return. Lead them home, coaxing their desires, compelling their dreams, and frustrating their rebellions. And when they do make even the smallest step homeward we will welcome them and celebrate the victory. God, you are a perfect father, THE Father. We know you share this desire with us. Bring our sons and daughters home! We hear your promises and we hold on to them as we hold on to you, and at the same time release our children into your care. In Jesus…”  

My wife and I will be traveling today, flying from our home in St. Paul Minnesota to Hawaii’s big island of Kona. Jill and I both will be attending important meetings there, so there is real business involved. But the fact that there’s still a heavy snowpack on the ground here and in Kona it’s in the low 80’s doesn’t hurt! We’ll have plenty of time to enjoy our visit.

Still, travel – and getting ready to travel – has its own stresses. We both had to work very hard – for much of last week in fact – to get things in order in our areas of responsibility here. And we’re leaving behind four disappointed and somewhat frustrated kids. That beyond doubt is our greatest regret and fear. How will they all do? Our two college-age daughters will do fine caring for their younger brothers. We’re confident in them. But still, it’s a long way to be away from home…

So we are praying, and we will pray. There are dangers of course in travel itself. But even more, there are unknown threats in leaving home and in leaving those who are not coming along. We are so “out of control.” It’s time to give this time to God.

Here’s a prayer for anyone traveling.

“God, you have given us feet to move, and a mind to imagine new things and places and people. You have made us to travel and explore your wonderful world. Thank you for this gift. Still, this world over which we move is wrought with dangers and threats. When we travel, we are vulnerable. Please protect our steps. Protect us on the road, and in the air. Send an angel of protection to accompany us. Shield us from evil and the Evil One who would use this opportunity to bring destruction. Bring us safely there and back home again. And while we’re gone, protect those we leave behind. Keep the peace and secure the boundaries of our home. Assign an angel of protection to stand guard over our property and our loved ones, our children, and our friends and family. Keep us healthy and guard us from sickness, injury, accident and violence. Give wisdom to those flying the airplane and driving the vehicles, and keep the machinery working properly. Moderate the weather on our travels. And even now, begin to prepare us and the places we will visit, so that we can meet you there. In fact, Lord, come with us. Join us on this journey and be our companion and guide and protector and provider. In Jesus we pray…”

Brent and Kelly King of San Diego, California are living every parent’s nightmare. On Tuesday searchers found the body of their 17 year old daughter, Chelsea. She had been raped and then murdered. The following day police arrested John Albert Gardner III, 30, a registered sex offender, and charged him in the case. I can only imagine the trauma the Kings are enduring.

We live in a dangerous, sometimes brutal world. Our children are really never safe. And once they are out of sight, they are often beyond our control. Our arms are not long enough or strong enough to always and forever guard them. It’s at times like this that we turn to prayer, and throw our trust on the One who is always there, and faithful, and strong, and good. We pray for the Kings for comfort. We pray for our own children for supernatural protection, and for ourselves, peace.

God, this world is hostile. And sometimes violence and pain fall on good and innocent people. As parents we see this and the insecurity these threats spark in us are sometimes immobilizing. We cannot insure the safety of our own children. Our reach is too short, and we can never even anticipate all the risks they might face. Often our imaginations run wild. Our fears for our children – and for ourselves seeing our children in danger or pain – can overwhelm us. God, when we come to the end of our ability to control things we turn to you. We ask for your protection over our children, over their choices, over the friends they make, over the encounters they have with other adults. God, stand guard. We do not always understand how your protection works, and why some who call to you are seemingly not kept safe. Still, we ask for your presence in the lives of our kids. Who else can we trust, but we? We certainly cannot secure their lives ourselves. And you do promise to guard and protect when we ask. ‘The Lord is my refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.’ This is the promise we claim for our children. Be ever present with them, and keep them from danger and sickness and violence and foolishness and accidents of nature. Send angels to be beside them today. When we can’t trust ourselves, we trust you. In Jesus…”

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