Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

Listening to God

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 33, Psalm 81-82

Praying

Praying is a popular pastime. According to a 2008 Brandeis University study, 90% of Americans have a spiritual moment with God every day – even Obama recently admitted that he prays daily  [1]. Yet, how do we pray? Some say blessings before eating or falling asleep. Others pray as needs arise. Some use the acronym ACTS [2] [3].

Listening

In our prayers, however, do we ever stop talking to God and start listening to Him? As Asaph noted, Israel’s problem was not their lack of prayer – in fact, they complained to God about everything – but rather their lack of listening:

Hear me, my people, and I will warn you – if you would only listen to me, Israel! [4] … But my people would not listen to me [5] … If my people would only listen to me … [6]

How do we listen to God? Do we sit in silence and wait for a voice? Do we look in the sky for writing across the heavens? For the Israelites, listening to God meant listening to His appointed representative, Moses, and the message that He called him to deliver, the Law. Today, however, God has spoken by His Son:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son … The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being … [7].

Thus, the best way to listen to God is to read the Bible, which reveals the promise of His Son through the Law and the Prophets (in the Old Testament) and the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus Christ our Lord (in the New Testament). We come to interpret the Bible through community and prayer [8] and, to the extent that we do what the Bible commands, then we can be confident that we are, in fact, listening to God. As Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” [9)

Prayer

Lord, You have spoken through Your Son and revealed Him to us through Your Word. Yet, I confess that I often am more concerned with talking – rather than listening – to You. Open my ears and silence my tongue so that I may hear what You have to say and help me to obey that which You have spoken. Amen.

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[1] LA Times, Obama increasingly talking publicly about his Christian faith (28 Sept 2010)  |  [2] “A” stands for adoration (e.g., “God, you are holy.”), “C” stands for confession (e.g., “I confess that I am sinful.”), “T” stands for thanksgiving (e.g., “Thank you for making a way for me – a sinner – to be in your holy presence.”), and “S” stands for supplication (e.g., “Help me to live in your righteousness.”). For additional help, see here.   |  [3] I actually use each of these methods of prayer. With my niece and nephew, I pray a blessing over our meal (“God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands, we all are fed. Thank you for our daily bread. Amen.”). I say an evening blessing every night before I go to sleep (“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”). I use ACTS to pray almost every prayer that I offer.  |  [4] Psalm 81:8 TNIV  |  [5] Psalm 81:11 TNIV  |  [6] Psalm 81:13 TNIV  |  [7] Hebrews 1:1-3 TNIV  |  [8] The importance of reading the Bible in community cannot be overstated. It guards against apostasy, heresy and arrogance. Thus, it is important to attend church services with knowledgeable pastors or priests, to join a small group, to spend time speaking with friends or family about the Bible, etc.  |  [9] John 8:31-32 TNIV. See also James 1:22 (“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Those who listen to the word but do not do what is says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forget what they look like. But those who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.”).

September 29, 2010

Prayer for Another Great Awakening

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 32, Psalm 80

Books

Although I have many books, I treasure two more than the rest – The Gift of Pain by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey and Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.

The Gift of Pain offers deep thinking about suffering.  As the first physician to discover that leprosy causes the loss of pain – not merely the rotting away of tissue – Brand argues that pain is one of God’s greatest gifts because it indicates that something is wrong.

Not only is Jonathan Edwards: A Life beautifully written, it also offers hope for revival in New England. As William Cooper of Boston noted, “more parishioners sought counseling about the state of their souls in one week than in the previous twenty-four years.” [1]

Sinners

Edwards did not seem like the type to bring about a spiritual awakening. Suffering from acute asthma, he was physically weak and coughed while preaching. Having terrible eyesight, he wore thick glasses and read sermons an inch from his nose.  People strained to hear his frail voice and he lacked any dramatic gestures.

Yet, his delivery was “easy, natural and very solemn.” As Marsden wrote, “The combination of controlled but transparent emotion, heartfelt sincerity both in admonition and compassion, inexorable logic, and biblical themes could draw people into sensing the reality of ideas long familiar.”

Thus, in 1741, after having preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and arguing that it was solely due to God’s unfathomable mercy on sinners that He had not already condemned them to hell, “there was a great moaning and crying out” – even before the sermon was done. Edwards had “to stop and ask for silence so that he could be heard.” Although the wailing continued and Edwards never finished the sermon, those who were convicted had “cheerfulness and pleasantness” in their countenances.

Prayer

Lord, Hear us from your throne and grant us another spiritual awakening! Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we might be saved. Do not let your anger rise against our prayers or feed us with the bread of tears or make us an object of scorn. Restore us, God Almighty. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Amen. [2]

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[1] All quotations and information regarding the life of Jonathan Edwards is taken from Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.  |  [2]  The entire prayer is taken from Psalm 80 (TNIV).

September 28, 2010

A Song for Losers

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 31, Psalm 79

The Deacon Blues

From 1972 – 1975, while the Wake Forest “Demon Deacons” football team won only seven games, the University of Alabama “Crimson Tide” was a powerhouse, winning the 1973 national championship and losing just one game in each of the next two seasons.  In 1977, Steely Dan released Deacon Blues.  Its lyrics read:

They got a name for the winners in the world
And I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me the Deacon Blues.

The Jerusalem Blues

As Asaph looked upon the ruins of Jerusalem and the Temple, the people of God seemed like losers.  The pagan powerhouses of Assyria and Babylon had destroyed God’s chosen kingdoms of Israel and Judah.  The destruction of the once-mighty Jerusalem, therefore, seemed to call into question God’s power, sovereignty and rule:

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.  They have left the dead bodies of your servants … and there is no one to bury the dead [1].

Yet, as we have seen [2], God warned of the discipline that He was bringing to Jerusalem for their stubborn and rebellious hearts and He mercifully offered them refuge in Babylonian exile.  For the remnant that refused, however, Asaph confessed and pled for compassion:

How long, LORD?  Will you be angry forever? … Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need [3].

He appealed to the Lord for victory based on the glory of His name:

Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake [4].

In the end, although Asaph stood before a destroyed Jerusalem, he still determined to give thanks to God and praise Him to the next generation:

Then we your people … will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise [5].

Prayer

Lord,  No matter how things may seem today, there is victory in you.  Yet, I confess that I focus on the destruction around me and question your goodness when I see Your people in despair.  Show me Your ways, O Lord, that I may sing to You in my deepest distress – even as I determine to praise Your great name.  Amen.

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[1] See Psalm 79:1-4 TNIV  |  [2]  See here.  [3]  See Psalm 79:5-8 TNIV  |  [4] See Psalm 79:9-10 TNIV  |  [5]  Psalm 79:13 TNIV

September 27, 2010

The Danger of Amnesia

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 30, Psalm 78

Forgetful Me

As a child, if my parents refused to buy me something, I insisted that I was adopted.  To me, “real” parents gave their children anything they wanted.  Shockingly, my argument had a fundamental flaw – I looked just like my parents.

After having to admit defeat, therefore, I switched tactics and insisted that they didn’t love me.  To me, love meant giving me what I wanted.  Today, however, I can imagine what they thought:  “Are you kidding?  You think we don’t love you because we won’t buy you that thing you decided five seconds ago you had to have?  Your mother gave birth to you.  We give you food at every meal.  We tuck you in and kiss you every night.  We sacrifice to take you on vacation.”

Yet, I remember times when my parents would relent and buy me what I wanted.  They didn’t yield, however, because my arguments were good, but rather because they didn’t want me to doubt their love.

Forgetful Israel

Unfortunately, Israel was no better than I was.  Almost immediately after God miraculously rescued them from slavery, “[t]hey forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them” [1].  Even when they did remember, however, they questioned whether he could do it again: “True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread?  Can he supply meat for his people?” [2].

God was “furious” [3] because “they did not believe in [him] or trust in his deliverance” [4].  Even when they repented, it was false: “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him … But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him …” [5].

Yet, like my parents, “he was merciful” [6].  Although they tested Him “again and again” [7], He lovingly chose a shepherd – who pointed to Christ – to guide them “with integrity of heart” [8].

Prayer

Lord, You have done miraculous works for your people.  Yet, because I fail to recall all that you have done, I complain as I focus on what you have not done.  Forgive me for my spiritual amnesia.  Help me to speak of your praiseworthy deeds, your power and your wonders to the next generation so that they would know you and put their trust in you and keep your commands. Amen.

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[1] 78:11 TNIV  |  [2] 78:19-20 TNIV  |  [3]  78:21 TNIV  |  [4] 78:22 TNIV  | [5] 78:34-37 TNIV  |  [6] 78:38 TNIV  |  [7] 78:41 TNIV  |  [8] 78:72 TNIV

September 24, 2010

The Christian’s Fear

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 27, Psalm 75-76

Fear

When you fear one person, you usually hope that another will save you.  Yet, we are told to fear God who saves us.  Asaph feared God because he knew that God would judge all people in accordance with the same evidentiary standard.

It is you alone who are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet – when you, God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land [1].

Why

Since only faith in Christ will acquit us, we should fear having a faith that is not in Christ: “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” [2].  When our lives show that our hope is not in Christ – but in money, sex or power – then we should fear.

Moreover, since Jesus’ blood purchased our faith, we should also fear living in such a way that shows we do not count Jesus’ blood as precious: “ … conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” [3].

Yet, since none of us yet has perfect love that drives out fear [4], our lives often show that our faith is not in Christ or that we do not count Jesus’ blood as precious.  In those moments, fear drives us back into His love.  Thus, fear itself is grace that causes us to fall into and trust in His mercy [5].

Prayer

Lord, You are a great and mighty judge.  Yet, I often think of you too casually and live with a lack of fear of you.  Cause me to fear you and, in so doing, gain wisdom to live in a way that shows my faith is in you alone and that evidences that I regard Jesus’ blood as precious.  When I fail to live in these ways, however, cause me to fall back into the arms of your mercy and trust in the foundation of my salvation – namely, the work that you have done in sacrificing your Son and in pursuing me.  Amen.

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[1]  Psalm 75:7 TNIV  |  [2] 1 Peter 1:17 NASB  |  [3] 1 Peter 1:17-19 NASB  |  [4] 1 John 4:18 TNIV  |  [5]  As Jonathan Edwards wrote in Religious Affections: “So hath God contrived and constituted things in his dispensations toward his own people that when their love decays and the exercises of it fail or become weak, fear should arise; for then they need it to restrain them from sin and to excite them to care for the good of their souls and so to save them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion: but God hath so ordered that when love rises and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish and be driven away for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise to restrain them from sin and stir them up from their duty.  There are no other principles which human nature is under the influence of that will ever make men conscientious but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore if one of these should not prevail as the other decayed, God’s people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep would be lamentably exposed indeed.  And therefore God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises, the other sinks …”

September 23, 2010

Non-Sinful Doubt

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 26, Psalm 74

Problem

The more I read the Bible, the less I understand the world.  For example, Paul wrote, “ … in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose” [1].  Yet, what about my twenty-eight-year-old friend who has lupus and who recently discovered that she would not be able to have children?  Is her body not “all things”?  Is health not “good”?  Does she not “love” God?

As Asaph looked upon Jerusalem in ruins, he had similar questions.  He knew God’s character and covenant.  He knew that God had bound Himself to His people, given them land, and dwelt among them.  Yet, Asaph saw God as distant when Jerusalem fell [2].

O God, why have you rejected us forever?  Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? … We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be … Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? [3].

It is not sinful to ask these questions.  This kind of doubt is rooted in a belief that trusts God’s Word and then looks at life and asks, “If I believe that God did that, then why is He not doing this?”  This is an honest question that comes from not being able to make sense of a situation in light of the Word.  This type of doubt is a symptom of belief in – not rejection of – God.

Solution

Yet, as I shift my attention to the Lord, I see that God can be trusted with my life – even if I do not understand Him.

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.  It was you who split open the sea by your power … It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth … [4].

And then I remind Him of His promises:

Have regard for your covenant … Rise up, O God, and defend your cause … [5].

Prayer

Lord, Although your ways are not mine, you allow me to question you about my life in light of the promises that you have made.  Yet, I confess that I have sinfully doubted you in unbelief at times.  Help me to understand your ways and, even when I cannot, to trust you.  Amen.

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[1] Romans 8:28 TNIV  |  [2] see Jeremiah  |  [3] Psalm 74:1, 9-11 NIV  |  [4] Psalm 74:12-14 TNIV  |  [5]  Psalm 74:20, 22 TNIV].

September 22, 2010

Confessions of a Wordaholic

by Bethany

Today’s Readings, Ezekiel 25, Psalm 73

City to City

Last Thursday, I attended a reception for Redeemer City to City, an organization that focuses on church planting and content resources.  At the event, a church planter from Prague spoke about the years he spent praying for a modern translation of the Bible in Czech.  He would wonder why there were over 400 English translations and only 2 outdated and inaccessible Czech ones:

Did God love the English-speaking people more than the Czech-speaking people?

As he continued to pray, however, the Lord called him to create one.  Fifteen years later, he published Bible21 and, at over 80,000 sales, it became the best-selling book in the Czech Republic in 2009 [1].

Confessions

That night, I went home and wept at my own sinfulness.

First, I confessed how I had taken for granted my access to the Word.  May I never become more concerned with issues surrounding biblical accuracy than I am with issues surrounding the privilege of having God’s Word in my native tongue!

Second, I confessed how I questioned God’s love for me based on life circumstances that pale in comparison to not having access to the Word.  As the Psalmist wrote, I question His love when I see the material prosperity of others:

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills [2].

I then wonder whether the Christian life is worth the struggling for righteous living or sacrificial giving:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments [3].

Yet, when I consider the beauty of having the precious promises of the Lord in my hand at any given moment, I know that God has given me the most valuable thing in the world.

Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever [4].

Prayer

Lord, Thank you for making yourself known through the Word.  Forgive me for taking it for granted through neglect or otherwise.  Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in it that I might not sin against you.  Amen.

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[1]  Redeemer City to City, Czech Church Planter Translates Bible, 1 December 2009  |  [2] Psalm 73:3-5 TNIV  |  [3]  Psalm 73:13-14 TNIV  |  [4]  Psalm 73:25-26 TNIV

September 21, 2010

What do you expect from a king?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 24, Psalm 72

The Expectations

What makes a successful king – fighting a war, expanding a kingdom, planning a banquet, etc.?

To the extent that we see God as king, how we answer this question affects whether we see Him as successful.  For example, if we think that a king should defend his subjects at all costs, then we risk becoming disappointed if God does not guard us as we expect.

Yet, what kind of king has He promised to be?

The Makings

According to the Psalmist, a successful king aims to be righteous, eternal, universal, compassionate and blessed.

  • He rules justly and righteously: “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.  May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice …” [1].
  • His reign is endless:  “May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations …” [2].
  • His realm is boundless:  “May he rule from sea to sea … May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him” [3].
  • He saves in compassion:  “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help … He will rescue them from oppression and violence … ” [4]
  • He sets forth enduring blessings:  “Long may he live! … May his name endure forever … Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” [5].

Yet, no earthly king – neither David nor Solomon – could be counted as successful under these criteria.  Their reigns could not endure forever nor could their kingdoms be universal.

The Coming

Psalm 72, therefore, points to another king – the Messiah King, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Despite expectations, He came on a pauper’s donkey, not a king’s horse.  On the cross, He was mocked, not exalted.

Thus, we cannot expect that our present circumstances will reflect the full reign of Jesus.  At the end of this age, however, a loud voice will proclaim that the “old order of things has passed away” [6] and “the whole earth will be filled with his glory” [7].

The Prayer

Lord, You reign above.  Yet, I confess that my expectations of your kingship are flawed and shortsighted.  Open my eyes and see how you are bringing forth your righteous, eternal, universal, compassionate and blessed kingdom so that I can be a part of your work.  Amen.

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[1] Psalm 72:1-4 TNIV  |  [2] Psalm 72:5-7 TNIV  |  [3] Psalm 72:9-11 TNIV  |  [4] Psalm 72:12-14 TNIV  |  [5] Psalm 72:15-17 TNIV  |  [6] Revelation 21:3-4 TNIV  }  [7] Psalm 72:19 TNIV

September 20, 2010

A Wasted Life

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 23, Psalm 70-71

Great Meaning

All people – Christian or not – seek life’s meaning.  For the Christian, it’s in the gospel – “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” [1].  The Psalmist wrote:

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed [2].

He longed for his entire life to testify to it:

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come [3].

Yet, given this high meaning, why are our Christian lives complacent?  Why do we beg for God’s help to find a parking space, but we ignore Him in our pursuit of “pleasures forevermore”? [4]

American Dream

Is our meaning in Christ nothing more than the American Dream?  Do we care more about acquiring a good job, spouse, kids, apartments and vacations or about making a difference for the gospel?

In Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper writes,

I will tell you what a tragedy is.  I will show you how to waste your life.  Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51.  Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”

At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke.  A spoof on the American Dream.  But it wasn’t.  Tragically, this was the dream:  Come to the end of your life – your one and only precious, God-given life – and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells.  Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment:  “Look, Lord.  See my shells.”  That is a tragedy.  And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream.  Over against that, I put my protest:  Don’t buy it.  Don’t waste your life.

Unwasted Life

Lord, You define the meaning of life.  Yet, I waste mine on frivolous pursuits.  How I long to daydream about things that last, not pass!  Help me wisely spend my time, money, relationships and all my resources to glorify you.  Amen.

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[1] Romans 1:16 TNIV  |  [2]  Psalm 71:19, 22-23 TNIV  |  [3]  Psalm 71:18 TNIV  |  [4] Psalm 16:11 ESV

September 17, 2010

How My Tatters Have Changed My Prayers

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Ezekiel 20-22, Psalm 66-69

I first started thinking about the idea of aging when I read Sailing to Byzantium in high school:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clasp its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress [1].

I determined to celebrate the tatters of my mortal dress as I aged.

By thirty [2], my dress was already well worn.  I had experienced many interesting things (e.g., attending the WEF, serving as a Presidential appointee, singing at a national political convention, taking a private jet, running a marathon) and many trying ones as well (e.g., losing four close friends, experiencing a broken engagement just weeks before the ceremony, doubting my faith and God’s character).

Since having turned thirty, these tatters have influenced my prayer life in (at least) two definite ways.

First, my prayers have turned from requests to questions.  I used to ask for things and then be angry when He would not give them.  As I see how foolish my requests often were, I recognize now how little I know of what I need.  Today, I pray,  “Who are you, Lord?  What are you doing in this situation?  What are you calling me to do in it?” [3], and I celebrate His work: “How awesome are your deeds!” [4].

Second, my prayers have turned from gratitude to confession.  Each night, I used to give thanks for three things.  Although I admit the importance of gratitude, I now recognize that God Himself is the essence of worship [3].  Seeing how sinful I am, I confess three things every night.  It has transformed my honoring of God and my believing in His love for me.  As the Psalmist wrote, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.  Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” [5].

Lord, Your deeds are awesome and your power is great!  Yet, I assume that I know what is best for me and I come before you with unconfessed sin.  Help me to approach your throne with great humility, as I admit my limited perspective on life and as I confess the sin that has separated me from you.  Thank you for Jesus, whose sacrifice has enabled me to be in your presence. Amen.

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[1]  William Butler Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium (excerpt).  |  [2]  In case you’re wondering, especially you more mature readers, I fully admit that I’m still young.  I can’t wait, though, to grow older and see even more where my prayer life will go!  |  [3]  Many Psalms ask the Lord questions, e.g., “How long, O LORD” (Psalm 6:3 NIV), “Who may dwell in your sanctuary?” (Psalm 15:1 NIV)  |  [4] Psalm 66:3 TNIV  |  [5]  Psalm 66:18-20 TNIV

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