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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

A Black Friday Prayer

posted by nsymmonds

Tomorrow, millions of Americans will be headed out to the malls and to their local Walmarts, Targets, Kmarts and other retailers to celebrate the national retail holiday known as Black Friday. It’s ironic that it is called Black Friday because sometimes things can get kind of dark and scary on the day when everything is deeply discounted. On previous years people have been trampled to death, fights have broken out over gaming systems, people have gotten robbed while putting purchases in their cars, and most people commit the personal crime of spending more then they can afford to when they buy things that aren’t necessary to acknowledge the upcoming Christmas season which is rooted in the birth of Christ and not in the acquisition of goods. (Ok, I’m off my soapbox.) Nevertheless, I wanted to offer up a prayer for everyone who will brave the traffic, the long lines, the crowds and the falling prices of Black Friday.

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Heavenly Father,

We first and foremost thank you for the provision to be able to buy gifts during a time when the world’s economy is still in recovery mode. But as we thank you for this provision, we also ask for knowledge, wisdom, and discernment so that we can be good stewards over the financial resources you have given us. Do not let us exceed our budgets but let us stay within our budgets remembering that beyond the sales, on the other side, are people who could really use the money we would spend on gifts. Let us remember that our wants represent someone else’s needs. Do not let the spirit of greed and consumption overtake us on this day. Let us remember that the Christmas season is not about buying things and receiving things as much as it is about spreading love and reminding people of the great love that came to the earth for us. May that same love extend on this day. May we exercise patience in long lines; kindness in crowds and may traveling mercies be extending to us in traffic. Grant everyone safety throughout the day and beyond. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  

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Thanksgiving Prayer: A Feast as Time-travel

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Thursday is Thanksgiving: a feast, in the real, old, traditional sense of the word. “Feast” means more than food. Oh, feasting involves food, thank The Lord, but the essence of the celebration goes beyond gorging ourselves until we can’t walk. Feasts are really about remembering, about passing traditions and stories and faith from one generation to the next. They are times aside.

As Christians we root our understanding of feasts from our Jewish forbearers. In the Old Testament God instituted specific national celebrations outside the pattern of normal life, yet also in a pattern of tradition, where his people could consciously and intentionally re-state the stories of their history as a way of solidifying their faith in God.

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In our book “Nine Ways God Always Speaks” Jennifer Schuchmann and I discuss the relevance of remembering God’s faithfulness in feasts. When we “remember” in a special meal we do a kind of “time travel” placing ourselves back into the story we recall. As we do this, the miracles God did in the past become present for us. The implications of this miracle are relevant for our Thanksgiving feasts tomorrow. Here’s that excerpt.  

Jesus gathered his friends together for one last blow-out party. There was food, conversation, and probably singing. The occasion was Passover, an annual celebration of the Jewish people to commemorate a real event that took place in history. The details are in Exodus 12, but we’ll summarize it for you here.

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While the Hebrew people were in bondage in Egypt, God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to free the slaves. Pharaoh refused. So God sent ten plagues as a sign he was serious. Each plague was a specific attack on one of Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh’s firstborn was considered the heir to divine status. So the tenth plague was the angel of death–sent to take the firstborn child.

 Miraculously, God made a way for death to pass over the homes of the Hebrew families. Each family was told to sacrifice a year-old lamb, without defect, and spread its blood over the sides and tops of the doorframes. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it as preparation for travel.

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That night happened as God said it would. The angel of death passed over the homes marked with the lambs’ blood, sparing the Hebrew children. As Egypt was in the throes of grief after losing all of their firstborn children, Pharaoh released the slaves, and they began their journey back to their homeland in Canaan.

In Jesus’ day, as they do now, Jewish families gathered together to remember and celebrate the feast of Passover as a reminder of their deliverance from slavery. Eating the same meal their ancestors did, the family listens to the story again. Remembering ancient history is a way for Jews to connect with their past, identify with it, and let God do again in that present moment what he did so long ago. While they may not be experiencing a literal slavery, maybe they seek a release from the bondage of an addiction or from a nagging fear.

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Jewish philosophers view time not as a circle or as a line but as a spiral that moves from one fixed point to another like a stretched-out Slinky ®. Time has repeating patterns (like Passover), but it constantly moves forward. Remembering and reliving the past through repeating patterns– whether it’s a Passover feast or any recurring commemoration–is a kind of time travel. It is a moment when God does it all over again for the first time.

When Jesus invited his disciples to a celebration in the upper room, they gathered together to remember what God had done in the past. But what they didn’t know was they were about to make history. At that moment in time, a new sacrificial lamb would be revealed.

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All the traditional elements of Passover were present: songs, prayers, readings from the scriptures, candle lighting, blessing of the wine, and washings. There was also the breaking of the middle matzo–the Yachatz, a pouch containing three matzos. The two outside matzos represent strength and unity. But the middle matzo, the Afikomen, which means the bread of affliction, was taken by the leader (in this case, Jesus) who removed and broke it.

A great drama takes place with the Afikomen. Three matzos are placed in one pouch. The middle one is taken, broken, wrapped in white, hidden away, found, redeemed, and shared by all. This middle matzo has taken the place of the lamb in importance, as shown by the fact that everyone at the table must partake of it. Traditions associated with the Afikomen add to its drama. European Jews (Ashkenazi) believe it has the power to heal the sick. Oriental Jews believe it can calm a stormy sea.

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And while this breaking of the bread would have seemed very common to the disciples, Jesus did something that should have seemed strange to them:

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words–I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”

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Uhm, that had to be a little weird.

Usually they wrapped it in a cloth and hid it. Instead, Jesus said this was his body, something about a covenant, and a sacrifice for sins. The disciples should have found this to be pretty disturbing. It was like Thanksgiving only instead of serving pumpkin pie, Mom talks about her death.

Were the disciples disturbed by this proclamation?

Not much.

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The next verse says, Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Think about it this way; to the disciples, this event would have had the significance of a Christmas or anniversary spent with friends. It was a celebration. At the time, they didn’t know it was Jesus’ last supper. It is only through the lens of history that this particular feast takes on the significance of the Last Supper. Only in hindsight are the traditional elements of this holiday recognized as a metaphor for a much more significant spiritual event:

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The three original elements of the Passover were bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and the lamb. Bitter herbs speak of bitter bondage. Believers are to reflect at communion and realize the bitter bondage of sin and the cure for that bondage–the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He was pure, sinless, without spot–just like that unleavened bread.

When Christians remember Jesus at communion, they remember that He–the second person in the Godhead–was taken, broken (or killed), hidden away in a tomb, and then raised from the dead. Believers remember Him by taking a little piece of unleavened bread and eating it. It means He came. The Afikomen is back, not as the Passover lamb bringing physical salvation in Egypt, but as the Savior, the Passover Lamb who brought spiritual salvation to the world.

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This ancient Jewish feast–celebrated for thousands of years before Jesus–was given new meaning and fuller revelation by the Messiah. Now Christians reenact the elements of Passover in The Lord’s Supper.

In Matthew 26, Jesus instituted communion. He took unleavened bread, symbolic of His pure and spotless body, and the cup, representing His blood. The cup He took was the third cup, the cup of redemption. He did not drink the fourth cup, saying he would not drink it until he drinks it with us in His Father’s Kingdom.

Through the history of this single meal, God speaks to us–from the past–of our future. It is a living memory, and a way to pull the past into the present.

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One of the things that history tells us, God has a way of messing with time. While we’ve all experienced a sense of déjà vu, God seems to be able to predict future events in great detail thousands of years before they happen.

And sometimes he can do it in freaky ways.

 

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Thanksgiving Prayer: For Families who have Lost a Loved One

posted by Mark Herringshaw

The big chair at the end of the Thanksgiving dinner table will be empty this year. My father died a year ago last April. I tell about his story and mine in my book, “The Karma of Jesus.” Yes, I miss him always; I’ll miss him deeply on Thanksgiving.

My father loved to tinker in the kitchen. Some of my earliest memories involve watching him artfully wrestle the turkey into and out of the oven, then stand over it, slicing it and smirking at my mother as he “sampled” the juiciest scraps that somehow, conveniently never made it to the platter. That’s what I see when I think “Thanksgiving.” I see Dad.

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But my father isn’t with us this year. I’m thankful for all that he brought to my life, and for the good years I had with him. But still, there’s a bitter sweet undertone of sadness and emptiness as we move toward Thursday. I cannot and probably never will – or should – separate Thanksgiving and my memories of him.

Many of us will be sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner this year having lost a loved one in death. The holidays are difficult because so many memories of friends and family passed are attached to the smells and tastes and sounds and faces of these special days. These memories call up unspoken blends of sorrow and joy and humor and regret. The holidays can bring grief.

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But is there a way to honor our memories of those who have passed and to elevate them and use them as a way to build family unity? I believe so… in prayer. In prayer we invite God, ever present to bring a miracle into the mix of our grief. He can; he does; he will, when we pray.  

Thanksgiving dinner prayer is an enriching opportunity to look backward and forward in our grief, and as we do to relish the present moment. By expressing our obvious loss to God we give him a chance to transform our grief into true joy and hope.

In your table grace this Thursday, consider bringing to God the loneliness you feel from missing your loved one. Invite God to set his tone for the day and to offer his perspective, to heal sorrow and bring his miraculous gift of hope. It’s not natural of course, but it’s “super-natural.”

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Here’s one model of prayer for those of us who have recently lost a loved one in death.

“Dear God, we are here to express our gratitude for all your blessings. You have given us so much, not only providing what we need to live, but in giving us yourself. We are richly blessed, and it is right to acknowledge that you are the source of all good things. Yet this day also brings a mix of emotions to us. We confess our thanks, but also our sadness because of the empty place at our table. We know that death and sorrow were not your original plan, but we also know that you use difficulties to draw us closer to you and to each another. Here and now fill the empty places in our hearts and this empty place at our table. Teach us to savor the moments we have with one another, to rightly remember what we have lost, but also to look forward in hope to what we have promised in the future. We say again, ‘Your love is better than life.’ Thank you for all your blessings, for even through trials and loss you always, somehow reveal your goodness. In Jesus we pray.”     

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Thanksgiving Prayer: Praying to be a Blessing

posted by nsymmonds

For the first time in probably five years, if not more, I am spending Thanksgiving with my family. It is not because I was estranged from them, but more so because the cost of plane tickets deterred me from going. But this year, a way was made for me to be with them and I am extremely grateful and excited about having the opportunity to catch up with everyone. As such, I’ve been thinking about what I will bring with me on this trip.

It started out as a bottle of wine, but then I realized that for the number of people that will probably be at dinner, I would not be able to afford that many bottles. (Besides the fact that it’s illegal to take wine across state lines because of all the rules and regulations surrounding the spirit.) Then I thought that I would bring cupcakes, but then I realized not only would it be impossible to get them through airport security without them suggesting that the icing counts toward that fluid restriction, but my family aren’t cupcake eaters. Then I thought that I might write a prayer or recite a scripture before dinner, as if I were the family minister. It seemed to make logical sense since there is this notion that I am the “goody two shoes” of the clan. But that didn’t seem right either. And then it dawned on me, I don’t have to bring anything with me to present to them besides just bringing myself.

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Now this is not to say I think I’m God’s gift to mankind. No, it is more about offering myself up and preparing myself to be a blessing to my family. You see, anytime we go somewhere or see someone, there is a level of preparation that must take place. And our families should not be excluded from this process of preparation. This preparation I am referring to goes beyond making sure you packed the right clothes. This is about bringing the right kind of mindset, bringing an open heart and having a willing spirit. In church we talk a lot about preparing ourselves for worship and how that preparation doesn’t just begin the night before service, it starts from the moment we step out of service. We start applying all that we’ve heard in service to our lives as soon as we exit the sanctuary. We prepare for worship Sunday to Sunday with no break in between by worshipping throughout the week, reading the Bible, praising God and praying. I believe our preparation to see our loved ones this week can be just as sacred.

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So as many look toward traveling to see family, friends, and loved ones this Thanksgiving, here is a prayer to prepare yourself as a blessing:

Heavenly Father,
 
I thank you for the blessing of family and friends and I thank you for making a way for people to spend time with the ones whom they love during this holiday. As we pack our bags to hop on planes, trains, and in automobiles, may we be mindful of the spirit that we are bringing with us. Give us a joyful spirit so that we may enter our family and friend’s homes with thanksgiving in our hearts just as we enter your gates with thanksgiving in our hearts. Let us enter the homes we will visit with praise for those who have opened their homes up to us. For those of us who may be entering into broken homes or fragmented and dysfunctional family situations, give us hearts that forgive and spirits bent on reconciliation and mercy. Help us to be mindful of our every thought, word, and deed in the midst of our loved ones. Season our speech with kind words and words of encouragement. Open our hearts to love and kindness. Let our every deed be an out flowing of the love you have shown us. Bless our time with our families, friends, and loved ones and make us all better for it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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