PRAISE IDEAS FOR PRAYER

Neal Pollard

Prayer is a very personal exercise, a life built between an individual and God. Thus, these suggestions may of themselves feel intrusive or foreign to some.  However, through the years, I have heard many express some difficulty in knowing how to praise God or what to say in praise to Him when in prayer.  Leah, in naming Judah, was the first to articulate the idea (through his name), “I will praise” (Gen. 29:35).  Moses resolved the same at the head of his song in Exodus 15:2.  The remaining six times the phrase appears, the psalmist pens the words (Ps. 22:22; 35:18; 69:30; 109:30; 145:2; 146:2).  Twice in the Psalms we learn that “praise is becoming” (33:1; 147:1). In fact, it makes little sense to make the case for the importance of praise to anyone who professes a belief in God and has seen His blessings and assistance in his or her life.

Having said all of that, what are some specific things one can praise God for in the exercise of prayer?

  • Praise Him for His attributes (eternality, limitlessness, superlativeness).
  • Praise Him for the wonders of creation (try praying under a starry sky, as the sun is rising, or out in the midst of nature’s beauty—words of praise will flow like water).
  • Praise Him for His blessings.
  • Praise Him for His sovereignty and superiority.
  • Praise Him for His promises.
  • Praise Him for His desire to have relationship with you.
  • Praise Him for His providence.
  • Praise Him for His plan of salvation, giving thought to its component parts.
  • Praise Him for the glorious future He has prepared for you.
  • Praise Him for the victorious work of Christ and the spiritual benefits that brings you.

Obviously, this is just a primer list of ideas.  Contemplate God, His nature, His work, His personality, and you will have an ever-growing, ever-changing, and ever-deepening “praise component” to your prayer life.  It is good to thank Him and petition Him, but take sufficient time to exalt Him by infusing your supplications with praise to Him!  As David urged Asaph and his relatives to proclaim, “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (1 Chr. 16:25a). Amen!

Neal's Phone_20140906_003

“What Have You Done For Me Lately?”

 

Neal Pollard

This is not just something Janet Jackson once wondered.  The late summer and early fall of each year, college football programs have alumni, boosters, and fans asking head coaches the same thing.  Companies ask the same of employees, and stockholders ask it of companies.  While it can be an unfair question, it cannot be unfair if God asks it.

God has a perfect view of our lives, knowing not only what we’ve done for Him in our past but what we are doing now.  As He looks into our lives, could He be wondering, “What have you done for Me lately?”

  • “Have you won a soul to Me lately?”
  • “Have you been in My Word lately?”
  • “Have you been to My throne room in prayer lately?”
  • “Have you and I been close lately?”
  • “Have you been involved in My Son’s work lately?”
  • “Have you been the spiritual leader of your family lately?”
  • “Have you watched your example and attitude lately?”
  • “Have you been the source of unity in My Son’s body lately?”
  • “Have you encouraged a hurting, lonely soul lately?”

These and other questions are ones He has already asked in principle, when He addresses our hearts (Mat. 15:8-9), teaches us our responsibilities (Mat. 7:21), talks about our relationship with Him (Mat. 22:37), and examines our lifestyles (Mat. 5:13-16).  We may have studied with several people in the past, taught a Bible class at some point for a long period of time, and been very close to and in love with God in days gone by.  But how is it now?  Is that really a thing of the past or does it describe the current state of things?  The wonderful news is that you can start right now, building a better relationship with Him and serving Him more effectively.  Today is as “lately” as it gets.  If your zeal is zapped and your fruit has shriveled, get busy right now restoring that.  Obviously, God will see it and He will bless you for it!

Her Closet Was Her Refuge

Neal Pollard

42-year-old Sefa Cebeci was with her husband in a seven-story building in Duzce, Turkey, when just before 7:00 P.M. local time on November 12, 1999, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the city.  The building collapsed, and when all was said and done nearly 1,000 people were dead—including Sefa’s husband who was right beside her.  Despite rescue team leaders from some countries calling off the search for survivors after three days, an Israeli team pulled her from the rubble after nearly 5 days without food and water.  She would have to have an arm amputated and her kidney failure from dehydration nearly killed her.  She was able to survive in freezing temperatures for 105 hours under tons of concrete. How? A closet fell on top of her and protected her from her collapsed house.  Her closet became her refuge (facts via BBC News articles, 5/11/13 and 11/17/99).

Have you ever noticed a Christian whose life seemed to be crashing in all around them?  You would not imagine they could survive the spiritual carnage.  Yet, they survive.  The reasons certainly vary, but one variable that has to be in place for them has to do with their “closet.”  Do you remember in Jesus’ great sermon that He said to “enter into thy closet” to pray rather make a vain, public show of prayer (cf. Mat. 6:6, KJV)?  That word “closet,” variously translated “inner room,” “your room,” “private room,” and “inner chamber” is one found almost exclusively in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the gospels.  It is translated “storehouse” or “warehouse” (Luke 12:24; Mat. 24:26), but also “bedroom” or “chamber” (Gen. 43:30; 2 Ki. 6:12; Zodhiates, Spiros. The complete word study dictionary: New Testament 2000: n. pag. Print).  It refers to any place of privacy where one cannot be easily seen (ibid.).

Isn’t that where spiritual survival is made or broken, not necessarily and not primarily in our public assemblies or fellowship activities but in private?  When I am alone, do I seek refuge by entering into the closet of prayer, study, and private devotion?  In happy, prosperous times, I should be found there.  It will prepare me for calamitous, catastrophic events.  When my life is shaken to the core, I will survive if in my closet.

Jesus does not specify what kind of reward enjoyed by those whose prayer life is genuine rather than showy, but certainly there is no greater reward than enduring the trials of life spiritually intact. We may come away scarred and hurt, but we will survive!  Be a spiritual survivor!  Spend as much time as you can in your closet.

Actual photo of Sefa Cebeci in an Istanbul hospital (1999)

 

Gratitude (POEM)


Neal Pollard

An attitude of gratitude
Gives anyone the latitude
To express with joy
Each girl or boy
Or adult, too, with fortitude
That “I am blessed”
And if it’s confessed
We all are given
From God in heaven
What’s right and best.
But everywhere
From here to there
Folks forget to say
Or thank Him and pray
“Thanks for Your care!”

What Makes “In Jesus’ Name” So Offensive?

Neal Pollard

At Planet Fitness this morning I caught a glimpse of an old “Fresh Prince” episode, where Will Smith’s character was getting married.  During the ceremony, the preacher prayed, beginning “Dear Heavenly Father” but ending “in Your Name, Amen.”  With the recent controversy about the omission of Jesus’ name in prayers by the Robertsons on the very popular “Duck Dynasty” series, I was surprised that this trend goes back at least a few years.  In an interview on YouTube, Phil Robertson talked to producers who surmised that editors in Hollywood thought the name of Jesus, in prayer, would offend some viewers.  Certainly, judging from court cases, from the ACLU’s lawsuit against government bodies in North Carolina praying in Jesus’ name at their meetings to Freedom From Religion’s bullying Kanawha County, West Virginia, into ceasing prayer in Jesus’ name before its High School football games.  As Annie Laurie Gaynor, co-president of FFR, contended, “We are not a Christian nation, this is not a Christian school district, football games…are not Christian football games” (Dave Boucher, Charleston Daily-Mail, 9/24/12).

Certainly, we understand that we live in a climate of political correctness.  That seems to mean that any attempt to honor and glorify Christ in any public way is offensive.  Yet, why is such so offensive in certain circles?

  • In His name is salvation (Mt. 1:21; Ac. 4:10-12).
  • In His name is life (Jn. 20:31).
  • In His name is remission of sins (Ac. 2:38).
  • In His name is healing (Ac. 3:6).
  • In His name is true unity (1 Co. 1:10).
  • In His name is justification from sins (1 Co. 6:11).
  • In His name is supremacy (Ph. 2:10).
  • In His name is authority (Co. 3:17).

Truly, as the songwriter says, “Jesus, name above all names. Beautiful Savior, glorious Lord. Emmanuel, God is with us, blessed Redeemer, living word.”  There is something about that name!  It is the sweetest name on the tongues of those who know Him.  It symbolizes judgment, unwanted accountability, objective standards, and exclusivity for those who refuse to know Him.  Rebellion is as old as mankind, but what they are missing who reject His name in life.  Some day, at that very name, everyone will be compelled to bow (Ph. 2:10-11).  To do so then will be too late.  To do so now opens the door to joy here and eternally.

“He Heard My Voice…”


Neal Pollard

Do you ever feel like nobody’s listening, or that you have no one to whom to tell your troubles?  Isolation seems to be more characteristic of our society.  We are surrounded by lonely people, even as the country’s population rises, even in the middle of crowded cities, stores, and subdivisions, and even though we are in the “information age.”  Information does not mean intimacy or communication.

Yet, even when we do have friends and loved ones in our lives, there are some circumstances where their shoulders and ears are not enough.  David faced times like that.  He recalls some of those times near the end of his reign as second king of Israel.  In 2 Samuel 22, he remembers times with Saul and other enemies when he was surrounded, afraid, confronted, and distressed.  Have you ever felt that way?  What did you do?

David says, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears” (22:7).  Even when we have the attention of someone on earth, we do not have access to the wisdom and power of heaven.  God can do what no mortal can.  Notice the progression.

First, God heard (7).  God is not disinterested when it comes to His children.  His ears are open to the righteous (1 Peter 3:12).  David had that same confidence at other times in his life (cf. Psalm 65:2).  The only thing restricting God’s ability to hear the faithful Christian’s prayers is that Christian’s lack of faithfulness to pray to Him.  “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”  God intently waits for our prayers.  Marlin Connelly once spoke of God’s presence with the faithful in Revelation 8:1-4.  In explaining the meaning of the silence in heaven for half an hour (1), Connelly commented that it is as if God is saying, “Hush!  I’m listening to the prayers of the saints!”  What a thought!

Second, God reacted (8-14).  God is not neutral when it comes to His children.  Think about it.  If you are a parent, are you neutral when it comes to your children?  If they are being harassed, if they have problems, or if they are hurting, how does it make you feel?  Notice how vividly David, by inspiration, poetically describes God’s reaction to how David is being treated.  The earth shook and the foundations of heaven quaked.  Smoke went up from His nostrils and fire from His mouth. He thundered from heaven, sending out lightning bolts.  Why?  “Because He was angry” (8).  He was angry at how His son David was being treated.  Will you remember that God cares that much about you?  Such knowledge should make us confident that we can weather any trial that comes!

Finally, God acted (15ff).  God is not passive when it comes to His children.  He rescued David (17-20) and punished His enemies (15-16).  David says he took me, drew me, delivered me, supported me, rewarded me, and delighted in me.  Through providence and answered prayer, God acts on our behalf.  And think about what He has already done to show He cares (cf. Romans 5:8).  Remember a cross?  Or a big event on Pentecost (cf. Acts 20:28)?  If we pay close attention, God constantly proves His love and concern for us.

Let us not miss David’s part in all this.  David understood that God’s hearing, reacting, and acting on David’s behalf was tied to David’s manner of life and response to God’s love.  David heard God (22:21-23).  David also acted obediently (22:24-25).  Our relationship with the Father cannot be shallow or one-sided.  But, what joy to know that even at the lowest, hardest times, if no one else knows, He hears our voice!

 

THE DAY WE HIT JOYCE

Neal Pollard

I have told this story to several individuals in the last seven-plus years, but have never mentioned it in a sermon or in print.  It was a remarkable event, one my son, Gary, and I shared with five other people right outside Boma Ngombe, Tanzania.  Gary was 10 years old and it was the first full day for one of our sons to be out of the country on a mission trip.  One of the American missionaries was driving us back from Moshi, where I had taught Bible class and preached that morning.  We were on our way back to Arusha, nearly halfway, when a teenaged orphan girl on a bicylce darted from behind a Coaster bus attempting the impossible feat of crossing the road despite automobiles going more than 50-miles per hour both ways.  Our driver did everything he could to avoid hitting her, but the embankment where we were was sheer and steep.  When she hit the windshield directly in front of me, I remember the feeling of horror that went though my head hit the dashboard almost as soon as we hit her.  Gary was sitting in the second row, behind me, and watched the whole thing.  I saw her continue to roll after hitting the road several feet behind our SUV.

As a Christian and human being, I felt anguish and disbelief at the girl lying there. As a father, I felt much guilt for exposing my son to such trauma and danger.  As a brother, I felt great empathy for the young man who had to cope with the knowledge of what had just happened and how it might effect him.  As a fellow passenger, I felt fear and shock.

To allay any apprehension you might feel, the girl survived the accident.  She broke her hip and suffered substantial abrasions.  Yet, I think of that day often.

That day, I saw how zealous some are to evangelize.  Elly Martin accompanied the missionary, who drove the orphan, Joyce, and her adopted mom to the hospital back in Moshi.  By the time they had driven the distance, Elly had gotten the woman police officer from Boma Ngombe into a Bible study and had taken the opportunity to teach Joyce’s “mom,” too.  Could there have been a better object lesson about the uncertainties of life than that?  What gave him the presence of mind to try and win the souls of the officer, the mother, and the orphan?  He appreciated his own salvation.

That day, I saw how quickly things can change.  One moment, we are thinking about lunch at the Meru Game Reserve.  The next moment, and for many moments after, we thought about the suffering of that girl, the devastation of our driver, and how it might impact the work there.  What was Joyce thinking about as she started her day?  Did she have plans?  What was she looking forward to in the days to come?  All of that changed in an instant.

That day, I saw the fragility of life.  I am still amazed that she survived that encounter.  Many, especially on that highway, have not.  My son would tell you that moment helped clarify the importance of his being ready to meet Christ.  Life, that precious gift from God, can be recalled at any moment.  While the whole episode happened in a seeming flash, the Bible refers to the end of time and earth as a mere “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52).

How I wish that never happened!  But, how instructive it has been for me since that day.  Hopefully, undesirable moments like these can be our teachers, guiding us to look past here and now and ponder that which lies beyond, Him who is above, and those that are all around us.