Breathing Prayers

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 18.14
The human spirit can endure in sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Reflection: Breathing Prayers
By John Tillman

The social, financial, and mental health costs of this sickness are pushing our culture to the end of the ability of the “human spirit” to endure. We are worn out with anxiety. We are weighed down by ballooning financial burdens. We have lost jobs and profits and we are fearful of losing family, friends, and acquaintances.

How can we possibly endure? What can keep our spirits from being crushed? One source of unending strength and endurance may come through what Richard Foster calls, “Unceasing Prayer.”

Most of us know the famous Pauline verse, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5.17). It is merely the shortest of the many New Testament directives to pray unceasingly. (Romans 12.12; Ephesians 6.18; Colossians 4.2; Philippians 4.6; Hebrews 13.15; Luke 18.1

Few Christians, however, have taken steps to put unceasing prayer into practice.

One of the simplest methods for doing this—and therefore a good place to start—is called “breath prayers.” This practice is outlined in detail in Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.

Breath prayers are simply short prayers which can be said “in a breath.” These are often taken from scripture. One famous breath prayer is adapted from Luke 18.13, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

You can find your own breath prayers from throughout the scripture. Any scripture that God brings to your mind is useful as a breath prayer. A deep familiarity with scripture (made possible by regular and repetitive reading) will make this a more common occurrence in one’s life.

It is perhaps a little too long to be called a breath prayer, but one scripture-based prayer that my wife and I pray regularly is based on Galatians 5:22-23. “Come Holy Spirit, we pray that your fruit would be in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Out of your relationship with God, you can also write your own breath prayers. They can come from complaints, from questions about the Bible, from sermons, from requests, or just a simple acknowledgment of need. Some examples of these may be, “God give me grace.” “God help me forgive.” “Christ, speak through me.” 

Repeating these prayers throughout one’s day keeps one’s mind connected to Christ, keeps one’s steps closer to his will, and readys one’s heart for the next discipline.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 18 (Listen 2:23) 
Colossians 1 (Listen -4:18)

Read more about Praying as Priests
As followers of God today, a part of our identity is as carriers of the blessings of God that are intended for the world.

Read more about Praying Through Betrayal and Failure
May we respond to boasts with humility, to deceit with the truth, to evil with good, and to harm with healing words of comfort and love.

Prayer for Purpose, Community, and Freedom :: Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 17.3-5
The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart.
A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
    a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
    whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

Philippians 4.11-12
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

From John: Hong Kong was one of the earlier cities struck by the virus and the quickest to react with measures viewed as extreme by westerners. Their response to the virus is one of the most successful in the world, yet they are approaching 70 days with schools closed and have no immediate plans to open. They are cautiously taking it week by week, partly due to a second bump in infections as people have traveled home to Hong Kong from other destinations.

In the United States, we are just settling in for this long haul. At this time, some are busier than ever. Among them are teachers, medical workers, first responders, and government officials. But also, many are experiencing a widening margin of unaccounted for time with no work to give purpose, no community activities to provide relational depth and little freedom of movement leading to a feeling of being trapped.

Reflection: Prayer for Purpose, Community, and Freedom :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

The COVID-19 crisis is far from over and normalcy is not around the corner.

As we face a lengthening road through this crisis, this week we focus on prayer. In prayer, we can meet with the God who has a purpose for us and for everything we suffer. In prayer, we can join with a worldwide community to experience being one with God, just as Jesus promised we would. In prayer, we can experience freedom from sins that chain us to mindsets of scarcity, fear, greed, apathy, selfishness, and addiction.

Let us pray over the following scriptures and prepare our hearts to deepen our practice of prayer this week.

Prayer for Purpose, Community, and Freedom:

“The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart.”

You are testing our hearts today, Lord. Burn out of us whatever must go to make room for more of what you wish to plant in us. 

“A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
    a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.”

Deceitful and destructive speech is rampant in our world. We are addicted to it. We praise the cleverest put-downs, the harshest, destructive words, and the brusquest of manners. We are addicted to facts that are convenient to us, rather than convicting to us. 

Rebuild integrity in us. 
Renew a commitment to truth in us.

“Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
    whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.”

When times get their hardest, the hardest parts of our hearts are often shown. Keep our hearts soft and our words and actions loving toward the most vulnerable and most needy among us.

“A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” 

You have shown us, O Lord, how to be a friend. Let us willingly limit our freedoms to lovingly help our brothers and sisters in this time of adversity. May we lay down our lives for our friends.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

There do not exist circumstances in which we cannot be content, at peace, and joyful as we suffer along with our community and along with Christ who bears our burdens.

Come, Lord Jesus. Have mercy on us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 17 (Listen 2:58) 
Philippians 4 (Listen -3:20)

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
The purpose of the crucible is to cause these things to rise so that they may be removed and us purified.

Read more about The Way of Love Amidst Fear
Fear is natural and one shouldn’t be ashamed of being afraid. However, the response of a Christian must be supernatural. 

Transformed by Koinonia

Scripture Focus: Philippians 1.4-6
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Reflection: Transformed by Koinonia
By John Tillman

The word Paul uses to describe the partnership that he feels with the Philippian church is koinonia. Like many Greek words, it has multiple shades of meaning. The word in English primarily refers to the “fellowship” of the church as a community. This meaning is not incorrect, but another interpretation is of being a business partner or having a “share” or investment together in a business. 

Paul knows what it is to have partners in business, having supported himself at times through the skilled trade of tentmaking which he had in common with Priscilla and Aquila. However, the business to which Paul is referring, that we all have a share in, is the gospel.

The business of the gospel is the “putting right” of everything in the cosmos. And the means by which we do so is by “fellowship” or “partnership” with Christ Jesus, whose work continues until “the day of Christ Jesus.” There is no koinonia with Christ without change.

In this phrase, Paul is redefining the ancient Jewish concept of the “Day of the Lord.” This is the “last day” to which Martha refers when discussing her brother Lazarus’s future resurrection and is sometimes called the “eighth day” to symbolize that God is both ending and renewing creation.

This is a day when all will be put right. The day of Lord will be a day of leveling. It will mean tearing down those who have built themselves up and lifting up those who have been crushed.  Earth will be transformed into another place—a place in keeping with all that God desires for us, but we are too foolish to ask for or seek.

Christ’s correction of the cosmos is not limited to all that is without us but includes all that is within us. It is not just Earth that will be transformed but Earthlings. We, each of us, have an inner cosmos that must succumb to a “Day of the Lord” transformation. Within us are exalted idols and habits that must be torn down. Within us are fruits of the spirit that we have trampled under selfish feet.

As we submit to him, Jesus will, with axe and fire, tear down in us what must burn, and with tender nourishing care will tend and cultivate the fruit that he always designed to grow in us. Christ is our partner and our koinonia with him means every trial, suffering, isolation, loss, and sadness, shall work together for our betterment, strengthening, and righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen 3:45) 
Philippians 1 (Listen -4:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 15 (Listen 3:36) Philippians 2 (Listen -3:45)
Proverbs 16 (Listen 3:15) Philippians 3 (Listen -3:21)

Read more about Jesus with Axe and Fire
John the Baptist describes a Christ who stands ready with both axe and fire. May we ask him regularly to cut down our idols.

Read more about Lamenting Materialism
In an environment in which some who claim Christ have suggested we sacrifice lives to save profitability, we need this lament more than ever.

Confession as a Crucible

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 6.10, 13
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Reflection: Confession as a Crucible
By John Tillman

The crucible of COVID-19 is revealing in our society and ourselves the ugliest most sinful parts of our nature. 

In our society we have already seen this crucible give rise to racial hatred as Chinese-Americans face violence and verbal attacks. We have seen hoarding and even violence over scant medical supplies. We have seen carelessness and a selfish refusal to observe CDC guidelines by spring break partiers and planners of weddings and other gatherings. And being cooped up with our families for days, we have all probably seen our tempers and frustrations flare at one another.

These failings remind us that we are weak and it is only in God’s mighty power that we may be able to stand.

The purpose of the crucible is to cause these things to rise so that they may be removed and us purified. Rather than deny their existence or give in to their ugliness, may submission to Christ and his Word draw these elements out of us to be disposed of as dross and fruits of the Holy Spirit shine forth instead.

Lord, help us to see our current sufferings and struggles as evil that you will use for good.
May the flames of suffering that some may think will destroy us be used by your Holy Spirit to purify and strengthen us.

Reflect in prayer on part of the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” (The great hymn’s authorship is unknown, attributed only to the mysterious “K.” It was published in 1787 by John Rippon.)

“Fear not, I am with thee; oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand
When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

*How Firm A Foundation” recording by Norton Hall Band — SBTS

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 13 (Listen 2:45) 
Ephesians 6 (Listen -3:17)

Read more about The Labor of Love
The believers were transformed by the labor of love within them. Their attitude towards their suffering had changed.

#Suffering #LaborOfLove #Love #Faith #Work #Transformation

Read more about Cameos of Love
May God raise up in us the image of Christ, and carve away from us other parts of our lives to show to the world, his perfect cameo

The Way of Love Amidst Fear

Scripture Focus: Ephesians 5.1

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

*Photo credit: Texas Baptist Men delivering 10,000 N95 masks, 2,000 biohazard suits and four decontamination tents to Texas Division of Emergency Management officials in Austin

Reflection: The Way of Love Amidst Fear
By John Tillman

In an email to students enrolled in his online course on the book of Philippians, (which I highly recommend) Professor N.T. Wright said concerning the pangs of social distancing, “It’s like an odd Lenten discipline, without any idea of when we might celebrate the Easter victory over this wretched disease once and for all.”

As people of hope not fear, we know that the Easter victory professor Wright refers to is coming. The one on the calendar will be here in 18 days. At the current pace of rising infection rates it is highly probable churches may not meet for this most sacred day of the year. I pray that if this occurs, it will make Easter more precious to us and more holy, not less.

It will be a difficult moment for the church as a whole, but one that reminds us that we live in between the resurrection of Christ and our ultimate resurrection victory on the last day. During this time, we live in suffering and groaning—even Creation itself groans with us. 

Meanwhile, in the groaning in-between in which we live, Paul challenges the Ephesians and us to walk in “the way of love,” following the example of Christ who went before his disciples into suffering and is with us now in the suffering we endure. We are to offer ourselves as he did, “a fragrant offering.”

As Christ prepared for his own suffering, he also prepared the disciples for the suffering they would endure both at that time and in the future. He told them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home (…as we are scattered…). You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone (…just as we are not alone…), for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16.32-33)

Fear is natural and one shouldn’t be ashamed of being afraid. However, the response of a Christian must be supernatural. As we have written before, we can respond TO fear instead of responding IN fear. (1 John 4.18)

While maintaining an abundance of caution, for the protection of the vulnerable, and following all CDC guidelines, to support the flourishing of our community, we can be known as people of peace rather than panic, people of faith rather than fear, people of sharing rather than hoarding, and people of sacrifice rather than self protection.

This is how we live the way of love in a time of fear.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Let us make a vow to the Lord our God and keep it; let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy to be feared. — Psalm 76.11

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.


Today’s Readings
Proverbs 12 (Listen 3:07) 
Ephesians 5 (Listen -3:42)

Read more about The Opposite of Hoarding
Hoarding is a natural response to fear…we are not to give in to our natural responses, but instead to respond supernaturally.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/the-opposite-of-hoarding/

Read more about Revelation of Love
Fear leads only to bad places. Decisions dominated by fear lead to selfish evil. Churches dominated by fear sanctify hatred. Governments dominated by fear commit atrocities.

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