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Perspectives
A Prayer of National Repentance, Part 1


Ezra_Kneels_in_PrayerAnd at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” Ezra 9:5-6

Appalled by Sin
In 458 bc, Ezra the priest traveled from Persia to Judah in order to help the exiles (who had returned from Babylonian captivity) restore their spiritual foundation. They had been back in the Promised Land long enough to finish rebuilding the Temple; now, they needed to understand their spiritual heritage as expressed in God’s Word. As a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6), Ezra was well qualified to instruct them in the Law, to interpret the Law for them, and to evaluate how well they were obeying the Law.

What Ezra learned about some of these returnees, however, provoked him to utter the prayer quoted above (9:5-6). For Ezra learned that some of the people – including some leaders – had violated the Mosaic Law by marrying pagan wives (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Upon hearing this news, Ezra tore his garments, pulled his hair, and then “sat appalled” (Ezra 9:3) – all classic signs of a man in mourning.

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An Example of a Prayer in the Face of a Potential Danger—Genesis 32:9-12


Jacob_Wrestles_With_AngelIn previous articles in this series on prayer, we examined Jesus’ great prayer for us in John 17 which He prayed just prior to His crucifixion. We also examined four of Paul’s prayers, two given in the letter to the Ephesians, and one each given on behalf of the Colossian and Philippian believers. In the prayer that Jesus prayed for us, He prayed that we would be the messengers and the modelers of His love in the world, especially as we believers were united in love for one another. Paul’s prayers, although expressed using different words, also concerned love, especially as we grow in love, wisdom and understanding in the inner person as we pass through life’s circumstances.

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José Gregorio Hernández (1864-1919)
Christians Who Changed Their World


Jos_Gregorio_Hernndez_200x300Christianity has a long history of being involved in healthcare, especially of the poor. From the days of the early church, Christians have been taking care of the sick even when physicians and others have refused to do so. Wherever Christianity has spread, hospitals have followed. Part of the reason for this is probably the fact that Jesus Himself was a healer. Even beyond that, the ethics that Jesus taught—whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me—was a powerful motivation to serve the sick and the poor. Further, as background to all this, and unlike the Hellenistic-influenced world, Christianity has always affirmed the goodness and importance of the body, and thus the need to care for it.

Although the majority of Christians serving the poor and healing the sick remain largely unknown, José Gregorio Hernández is an exception. He is a major figure in the history of his native Venezuela and is remembered even today for both his medical skills, and his generosity and service to the poor.

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A Better New Year's Resolution


New_Years_ResolutionI appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

Futile Promises
With Christmas now past, we prepare to bid farewell to 2014 and greet 2015 with that annual exercise in futility: making our New Year’s resolutions.  We tell ourselves that this year will be different: we will lose weight, get in shape, stop smoking, stop drinking, spend less time working and more time with our families, spend less time watching television and more time in Bible study and prayer, etc. In whatever areas our conscience is pricking us, we promise ourselves that we’ll make the necessary changes for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And yet … despite our sincerity when we make these promises, within a few days or weeks (at most) our good intentions fail, and we go back to the same old routines. And with every broken New Year’s resolution, we re-learn an all-too-human lesson: change is hard while failure is easy.

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How Can We Pray without Ceasing? Part 1


prayer_sunsetIn 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “pray without ceasing.” This admonishment perplexes many non-Jewish Christians. Praying without ceasing seems impossible. How can I do that? In the Fifth Century, the Eastern Orthodox sought a solution to this command by using what is now called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer is a wonderful reminder of who we are, sinners in need of grace, who Jesus is, Lord and Christ, how He relates to the Godhead as Son and what His atonement enables Him to continually do for us—show mercy. It is one way in which we can “breathe” prayer throughout the day without ceasing.

But immediately after this injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is verse 18: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Paul says something similar in Philippians 4:6, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

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The Colossians 1:9-12 Prayer for the Inner Person


Prayer_with_Bible_2_300x200

9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Paul begins this prayer with a statement of his faithful, continual intercession on behalf of the Colossians. Many people use continuous and continual interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Continuous is something without interruption, such as the color spectrum. Continual is something over a long period of time that has interruptions, such as hammer strikes. Paul prays continually for the Colossians which means frequently as he moves through his day. How faithful are we in our prayers for others? Do we pray continually for people we know?

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