Did You Know Charles Wesley Wrote Prayers to Sing? A Prayerful Look at Intercession Hymn #1 “For All Mankind”

In 1758, Charles Wesley published his collection of 40 Intercession Hymns.

These hymns are examples of intercessory prayers set to music. Music is a good way to remember words, and singing helps people have words of prayer and scripture on their hearts and tongues throughout the day.

Although Wesley’s collection of Intercession Hymns represents an era different from our own, many parts of these intercessory prayers are timeless, especially given their biblical foundations. All of Wesley’s hymns are steeped in scripture, and his Intercession Hymns are no exception. Even portions of hymns that are specific to Wesley’s day can be adapted for current situations.

Continue reading “Did You Know Charles Wesley Wrote Prayers to Sing? A Prayerful Look at Intercession Hymn #1 “For All Mankind””

Praying the Psalms in Biblical Hebrew: Psalm 90:1

A student of my Beginning Biblical Hebrew class expressed interest in praying Bible verses in Hebrew, especially from the Psalms. I asked her to choose a few verses that she would like to pray in Hebrew. Psalm 90:1 is one of these. It is noted as the beginning verse of a prayer of Moses.

I will share the Hebrew words below (in the Hebrew alphabet along with pronunciation), as well as a little explanation from the Hebrew lexicon from Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB). Continue reading “Praying the Psalms in Biblical Hebrew: Psalm 90:1”

Prayer for Individuals and Families Living in Poverty

In 2013 I was very blessed to be teaching an eight-week course to a church women’s group. The focus of our course was on the challenges of poverty in the community and the church’s response. We worked through a book on poverty. To use with their reading, I printed up and gave each woman a bookmark containing Bible verses that focus on poverty:

Continue reading “Prayer for Individuals and Families Living in Poverty”

10 Things Moses Has Taught Me about Intercession

I did an inductive Bible study of Exodus 32-34, looking especially at the role of Moses as intercessor between God and His people. Being an intercessor myself, I was curious what Moses could teach us today about intercession. Following are just a few of the takeaways I learned from studying this passage:

Continue reading “10 Things Moses Has Taught Me about Intercession”

Praying the Bible with Gratitude

Life is hard. Sometimes we go through seasons where everything feels so discouraging and futile. During those times (and at all times) it is important to have the support of a community who can remind you who you are and whose you are. I don’t recommend that anyone try to go on this journey of following Christ without a tribe. (Meet my tribe here! I am grateful for them.) God created us for fellowship.

During difficult seasons (and again, at all times) it is also important and so helpful to focus on prayers of gratitude. When you speak to God with gratitude, it realigns your heart and mind with who He created you to be.

Continue reading “Praying the Bible with Gratitude”

A Story within a Story (Learning About “Intercalation” in Inductive Bible Study)

In this Inductive Bible Study exercise, I invite you to read one of my favorite passages of scripture – a double story of Jesus healing people.

Let’s take a look at Mark 5:21-43.

Go ahead and read through the passage prayerfully several times. It’s a great story to read and spend time with. Don’t rush through your reading. Take your time and meditate on the passage. Invite the Holy Spirit to bring this passage alive for you.

After you’ve finished reading the passage several times, I’d like to briefly introduce the rhetorical structure known as “intercalation.” This is where the author inserts one story in the middle of another story.

In this passage from Mark 5:21-43, you can see intercalation. The author (Mark) begins and ends this passage with the story about Jairus’s daughter. In the middle, he inserts the story about the woman who is bleeding. The story of Jairus’s daughter surrounds the bleeding woman’s story. That is an example of intercalation.

Intercalation is used to show comparisons and to highlight and strengthen those comparisons. Spend some time prayerfully looking at what the author might be comparing between the two stories. Why do you think those comparisons are so important for understanding Jesus as our healer?

May God bless your time in His Word.

Explore more Inductive Bible Study lessons.

Lectio Divina for Christian Writers

Lectio divina is a helpful practice for Christian writers – and for anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God.

The term lectio divina means “divine reading.” This is where you engage the Bible spiritually – not with your mind, but with your spirit. While there is a time and place to engage your heart and mind in Bible study, the practice of lectio divina focuses on the spirit. It is an amazing combination of scripture, prayer, and presence. So quiet your mind before you begin.

With lectio divina, you are engaging with God through His Word – spirit to Spirit. This is not the time to take notes about your next book or blog post. Resist stopping to write things down. Just enjoy the spiritual engagement with God. As you receive revelation, just stay present in the moment with God. Trust Him to bring those things back to you later, so you can write about them.

While no spiritual practice is meant to be formulaic, lectio divina has four steps as practiced by the monks for centuries. Let the Holy Spirit lead you through this process. It’s more important to be present with Him than to follow a specific practice. However, these steps will get you started.

(1) Read

You can begin lectio divina by reading a scripture passage God has led you to read. Read through the passage slowly, several times. It helps to read it out loud, where possible, so you engage more of your senses. Try for at least three times, as the repetition helps move the passage deeper into your spirit. Allow the Word to wash through you and settle deep within you.

(2) Meditate

Now read through the passage one more time. Listen for a part of the scripture that really stands out for you. It may be a verse, a paragraph, a word, or several words. Take time to meditate on that specific part. Savor it like a favorite meal. Through this process, the Holy Spirit is filling you with His Word and forming His Word in you.

When we meditate on scripture, as Christians, we aren’t meditating like other religious or secular practices. We are not emptying our minds; that is the worst thing we could do because the enemy will fill that empty space. Instead, we are bringing our thoughts captive to Christ. We are letting Him fill our minds with His presence. We are meditating on Him and on His truth in the scripture passage at hand.

(3) Pray

After some time of meditating on a portion of scripture, let the Word create a prayer in your spirit. Pray that prayer out loud. For example, if you have been meditating on Psalm 23:1, you may begin to pray, “Lord, thank You that You are my Shepherd. Thank You for reminding me that with You, I lack nothing. You are everything I need.” Let the Holy Spirit move you in prayer over the scripture you have just meditated on. Don’t make your prayer a formula. Let your prayer flow from the Holy Spirit to your spirit.

(4) Contemplate

The last step of lectio divina is contemplation. This is a time for you to sit quietly in God’s presence. Let Him move the truth of His Word through every part of your being. Don’t try to think or write. Just be. Let God do all the work. You might feel His presence and you might not. You might receive revelation or not. Just be with God. He knows how to bring the scripture passage into every part of you. This is part of God forming you in the image of Christ. Just be, and let Him do the rest.

That is the full practice of lectio divina. It is a great way to make scripture a deeper part of your life. And it is a wonderful way to grow in your relationship with God.

 

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Biblical Hebrew from a Neophyte

I just completed a semester of Biblical Hebrew. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege to study 17 languages, and Biblical Hebrew was by far the most difficult.

I’m not sure why I struggled so much, but every time I looked at a sentence for translation, the first thing I did was cry! Then, I just went to work deciphering each word at a time, working backwards as Hebrew is written from right to left, until I had enough written down to try and make sense of the sentence. It reminded me of deciphering code, which should have been a fun challenge if I weren’t pressed for time and stressed about grades.

Each sentence took me about half an hour to translate. When I say “translate,” that means I gave my best rendition. It doesn’t mean I got it right. On the final exam, I noticed each sentence only took 20 minutes. That was either a sign of improvement through the semester, or a sign of the professor’s mercy in crafting the sentences. Probably a little of each. Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Biblical Hebrew from a Neophyte”

A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.

Praying the Psalms in Communion Liturgy

Currently, I am involved in a non-denominational church. Yet I grew up and at one point served in the United Methodist Church, whose prayer roots I continue to learn about. As a seminary student and prayer missionary, I am interested in learning about prayer traditions of the many branches of the Christian Church. It’s fascinating to me. I think we can learn a lot about biblically based prayer from Christian history and different church traditions.

When I was growing up in the Methodist church, we celebrated Communion on the first Sunday of the month. (Not enough, in my opinion.) Back then, before the days of overhead projectors, we used hymnals to read the Communion liturgy. By the age of five, I had it memorized – not because I was trying to, but simply because I had repeated it so many times. What I never appreciated, until now, were the biblical roots of that liturgy.

On Sunday, I opened my email to find this message from Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, who is president of Asbury Theological Seminary where I attend as a student. I am getting ready to take a class this spring on the Psalms, so this particular article caught my eye:

The Grammar of Repentance: Psalm 38

In this article, Dr. Tennent talks about the importance of repentance in Christian life. He also traces the roots of the typical Methodist Communion liturgy to many of the Psalms, as well as Isaiah.

And he says something that really stood out for me: ” … the Psalms have always been the prayer book for the people of God.”

With my passion for prayer, I am more excited than ever to study the Psalms this spring.

Even though liturgy and hymnals don’t seem to be used as much in the church as they used to be, it might be an interesting family activity (or church class) to look at some of the words of earlier church practices, trace the biblical roots, and pray those prayers as so many people have done across the ages.

If you are curious about the liturgy referred to by Dr. Tennent, here is the full text:

A Service of Word and Table IV

As I was reading over this text, so familiar when I was young, I realized that even in traditional services where hymnals are still used for Communion, often the prayers of confession and pardon are left out – probably to cut down on time. Yet that means we’re missing out on this rich tradition of prayer.

Instead of removing these prayers from the Communion liturgy, it might be helpful even to incorporate these prayers in other aspects of church life. They are great prayers.

I am only familiar with the United Methodist Communion liturgy, referred to in the article by Dr. Tennent. However, it would be interesting to look at the equivalent prayers and liturgy in the history of other branches of the Church.

Does your family or church pray any of the older liturgical prayers, or pray from the Psalms? What are your prayer traditions and practices?