Prayer Changes People

Several years ago I saw the movie Shadowlands. If you haven’t seen it, I really believe it would be worth your time to check it out! It is the story of British author C.S. Lewis (best known for his “Chronicles of Narnia” series as well as dozens of other books relating to his Christian faith) and his relationship with American poet Joy Gresham. The two meet, fall in love, and marry. Shortly after their wedding, however, Joy falls seriously ill and is found to suffer from an aggressive form of bone cancer. After months of painful treatments and hospitalization, Joy’s cancer goes into remission.

C.S. Lewis was a professor at Magdalen College of Oxford University. During Joy’s months of treatment he spent much time at her bedside in prayer. When news spread that the cancer had gone into remission, many of Lewis’s university colleagues shared with him their delight at the good news. In one scene C.S. Lewis, portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, is preparing for a lecture. He is surrounded by several fellow professors, all congratulating him on the good news. One of them says, “It appears that your prayers have been answered.” Lewis’s reply is powerful wisdom about the meaning and purpose of prayer. When I first heard it my understanding of prayer was transformed.

In reply to his friend’s declaration that the remission of Joy’s cancer is proof that God had answered his prayers, Lewis says:

“In these many days of prayer at Joy’s bedside I have learned that my prayers do not change God; God changes me.”

This scene has stayed with me over the years because it helps me understand more fully the nature and purpose of prayer. It also tells us about the importance of practice and what happens when we live with a practice over time.

Prayer is a means of grace. A “means of grace” is a practice, ritual, place, or object that provides access to the power and presence of God. Prayer is a practice that opens our hearts to the power of God’s love that heals and forms our character, damaged by sin, into the image of Christ. In prayer we make ourselves available to God and God’s love.

To understand the purpose and power of prayer we need to understand that faith is a relationship with God who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the way we can regularly communicate with God. Like any important relationship we need to open our hearts and lives to our beloved through honest communication. If a relationship is important, then we desire frequent, intimate, face-to-face conversation. Prayer is how we open ourselves to God. It’s how God’s love can become our love. Prayer is how we become channels of God’s love for the world.

I think C.S. Lewis learned this truth about prayer during his wife’s illness. The many hours he spent in prayer opened his heart and mind to God in a new way. It helped him to understand that we don’t have to convince God to heal our loved ones or give us all we need to become fully human. Lewis learned that when we pray we open our hearts and minds to the heart and mind of Christ. When we surrender ourselves and fully open ourselves to his love then he is able to heal our brokenness and give us “the mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We then become channels of that love for our loved ones and for the world.

“When God Seems Silent”

“When God Seems Silent”
Psalm 83:1

Do not keep silent, O God!
Do not hold Your peace,
And do not be still, O God!

A few years ago, I planned to preach an Easter series called 48 hours … as you may know, there’s a TV news program by the same name.  At least when the first show aired, the idea was to follow a news story for 48 hours and bring the results (before & after surgery, court case, etc.). The 48 hours I was going to explore in my series were the last 48 hours of Jesus’ earthly life … 48 hours before He died on the cross.

But I soon ran into a problem that I hadn’t considered … we know that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, so the final 48 hours of Jesus’ life began on Wednesday … but there’s a problem … the Bible does not tell us of anything that happened on that Wednesday.

There was plenty of activity on Tuesday … the lesson of the withered fig tree, questioning by the Sanhedrin, His last sermon and more parables just to name a few.

Thursday was full of activity as Jesus and the disciples prepare & observe the Passover (Last Supper). But what happened on Wednesday? The Bible is silent!

– we can speculate … Judas may have been finalizing his plan to turn over Jesus to the
religious authorities, Jesus may have secluded himself, perhaps in nearby Bethany. But
we cannot know for certain … the Bible is silent … God’s Word is silent … it’s as if God Himself went silent, at least for a time.

* Does it seem, sometimes that God is silent? If you haven’t experienced that for yourself, keep living and you probably will … those times when we pray and wait for an answer that doesn’t seem to come as quickly as it used to … when we read the Bible but the words don’t leap off the page and speak to our heart as usual … when we come t/g with God’s people to worship, sing, hear teaching and preaching … but we leave without ever feeling that God spoke to us through our time in His house with His people … I’ve been there … sometimes it’s been just for a short while and sometimes it has gone on for much longer than I would have liked … so, what does it mean when God is silent? A few questions we need to ask to understand …

I. What Is Silence?

– that word in the Bible has several meanings
– There is an OT word “hay-ras” often xlated silent. Sometimes it refers to someone who is mute & unable to speak … or a person who has been commanded or forced not to speak.
– but more often the word “silent/silence” is a word that means a deliberate silence by
someone who is capable of speech KJV often xlates it as “hold your peace, forbear, or
sit still).
– sometimes a person is silent as an act of discretion or restraint; caution or shame.

II. Why does it sometimes seem that God is silent? When our prayers don’t seem to be answered?

– theologians have attempted to answer that question for many years … listen to what John Wesley said … God may seem silent during times of unseen spiritual warfare, forcing us to grow or encouraging us to deal with unconfessed sin.
– God may be silent as punishment or judgment (Psalm 50:16-21)

16 But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to declare My statutes,
Or take My covenant in your mouth,
17 Seeing you hate instruction
And cast My words behind you?
18 When you saw a thief, you consented[c] with him,
And have been a partaker with adulterers.
19 You give your mouth to evil,
And your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son.
21 These things you have done, and I kept silent;
You thought that I was altogether like you;
But I will rebuke you,
And set them in order before your eyes.

– often when we disobey God is silent … (Saul disobeyed & God did not speak to him
– When we are distracted by the “noise” of life ( … couldn’t hear over the noise) & not just
the noise of others but the noise of ourselves … selfishness, etc.
– When it’s not time for Him to speak (Daniel, Shadrach etc., Jesus in Isaiah 53:7 )

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.

– When He has nothing to say … doesn’t chit-chat, not a doll that talks on command.

III. What should we do when God seems silent? (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to [b]buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

– Don’t give up
– Ted Turner story of when God didn’t heal his sister.
* Most of you will recognize the name Ted Turner … for those of you who don’t, he is the founder of many of the cable and satellite networks … TBS, TNT, TCM or Turner Classic Movies, CNN, all started by him.
When Ted was 15 years old, his 12 year old sister contracted lupus. She suffered with it for 5 years until she died at the age of 17. She was ill. It ruined her mind. She became insane. She used to go around the apartment and run into the padded walls and say, ‘God, I’m in such pain. Please let me die.’”
Turner has spoken matter-of-factly about the toll her illness, and his seemingly unanswered prayers, took on his life.
“How could God let my sister suffer so much? She never did anything wrong,” Turner said. “She was 12 years old.”
He ended his tale about lost faith simply by saying, “I prayed an hour a day for my sister.”
– keep praying, pleading
– God resists the proud but gives grace unto the humble
– PUSH (Pray until something happens!)
– Consider an opportunity to mature
– Trust in His promises (Hymn “On Christ the Solid Rock” … “when darkness seems … “)
– Be still & listen (sensitive listening devices used in 9/11 … could hear over all the other
noise b/c focused). There are so many things that compete for our attention. Keep
– Revelation 8:1 says silence in heaven preceding judgment … but one day that silence will give way once a/g to rejoicing … we’ll be there.
– but for some, there will be a permanent silence … (Revelation 20:11-15)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before [c]God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second [d]death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

“The More The Merrier”

There are dozens of expressions and sayings we use every single day. We
have heard them all our lives and they are part of our vocabulary. If
somebody tells you something you find hard to believe, you might say,
“you’re pulling my leg”. This week, I asked somebody how they were
feeling. They said, “I’m sick as a dog”. Those expressions might sound
odd to someone who hears them for the first time. But we know exactly what
those phrases mean. But do you ever wonder where sayings like that come
from? It’s interesting and sometimes surprising to learn when expressions
like that first entered the English language. Some were taken from books,
plays, or poems. Other sayings come from famous celebrities or

One phrase we all know is, “the more the merrier”. But do you know where
that old saying comes from? I did some research and found that the first
recorded use of that saying was way back in 1530. You might be surprised
to learn that it was a description of food. The author was noting that the
more food present on a banquet table, the merrier the people would be.
From that point on, the phrase was used in many different ways. Some
writers applied it to having children, the pursuit of money, or rain.

I think we can apply that phrase to church as well. The more people who
are present and involved in the worship and service of God, the merrier!
Think about it – a Sunday School class is more enjoyable with a larger
group of people. The more people in a choir, the richer and fuller the
music. I’ve preached to sanctuaries full of people and some with only a
handful. I don’t know how to describe it, but worship services are more
inspiring when the pews are filled with God’s people.

Whenever you are absent from church, please know that you are missed. You
may think that you are the only one who misses something when you are away
from Sunday school, but your absence leaves a void in the class. You may
think that the choir can get along fine without you but I promise you that
the other members miss you. Maybe you’ve been staying away from church for
a few weeks, or maybe you haven’t been in years. Do you think anybody
misses you? Guess what, they do! There are people who are looking forward to seeing you this Sunday and every Sunday … there is a place for you in God’s church … the more the merrier!

Trick or Treat?

October is finally here and I can’t remember when I’ve been so happy to
welcome a new month! When I was a little boy, October was one of my
favorite months. I have never liked hot weather, so I welcomed the cooler
temperatures of the fall. The fish always seemed to be biting and you
didn’t sweat as much sitting on the banks of the pond in October. But in
all honesty, I looked forward to October for one major reason – Halloween!
I liked to go shopping for a new costume to wear. I enjoyed watching the
Charlie Brown special about the Great Pumpkin on television (I still do … and
have the DVD!). I even looked forward to putting up the Halloween decorations.
But most of all, I looked forward to going trick-or-treating and getting candy.

In recent years, many people have become critical of Halloween. They
claim it is a pagan holiday and say that many of the traditions and practices
associated with Halloween began with the rituals of false religions. Well,
they are exactly right! But there are also traditions associated with
Christmas and Easter that were parts of ancient superstitions and beliefs.
But Halloween has taken the fall and many Christians do not even recognize
it as a special day on the calendar.

These days, fewer children go trick-or-treating. I believe that speaks
more of the times we live in than the aversion to celebrating any
traditions associated with Halloween. When I was a boy, I knew practically
every family that lived in our neighborhood. My parents didn’t worry about
me going door-to-door and accepting candy from our neighbors. But those
days are gone and today we recognize the dangers of letting our kids loose
on the streets after dark.

Recently, a few parents asked me if Christians should celebrate
Halloween. The answer isn’t as easy as you may think. Halloween is a
holiday that celebrates fear. From jack-o-lanterns, witches, ghosts and
goblins to dressing up in frightening costumes, Halloween is a day for
scary things. It is a holiday that creates a climate of fear. In 2 Timothy 1:7,
Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of
love and
of a sound mind”.

But when we keep our kids home because we believe celebrating Halloween
is contrary to what the Bible teaches, most children don’t understand.
They just know they’re missing out on fun and a bag full of candy! But we
can provide an alternative. October 31 is just another day on the
calendar. So rather than let the devil use it for his wicked purposes,
let’s take it back and use it to honor and glorify God. Let the boys and
girls have their candy and include a Bible story or devotion. I know
several people who hand out gospel tracts or information about their church
along with lollipops and chocolate bars to the trick or treaters in their
neighborhood. Play some games with your children or grandchildren and make
time to sing some songs they know from church. Instead of being a witch or a ghost,
encourage the children to dress up as their favorite super hero, cartoon character or choose a costume based on what they want to be when they grow up … a police officer, a
firefighter, a ballerina or a cowboy. Make it a special day involving the entire family
and create memories and traditions. Let’s make this October 31st a day to
“hallow Him” who died for us and celebrate the sweet fellowship we enjoy as

Have a plan

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, no pun intended. As I
planned to sit down and work on sermons, schedule some visits, and prepare
for some upcoming church meetings, my mind was preoccupied with the
hurricane approaching the east coast of the United States. We have several
friends, many of them pastors and staff members, who live in the areas that
were in the path of the storm. As former residents of South Louisiana, we
know firsthand what it’s like to prepare for the worst and pray for the
best as hurricanes and tropical storms approach. Even though this storm
wouldn’t directly impact us, I couldn’t concentrate knowing so many
people‘s lives were about to be changed forever. Finally I stopped to pray
and asked God to take care of the people on the east coast and protect
them. After a few minutes of talking the Lord, I went back to my work
knowing that He was in control and able to meet the needs of those who may
endure some hardships as a result of the storm.

Hurricanes, like many events in our lives, are unpredictable. I remember
watching the meteorologists for a week or two predict where a storm would
make landfall. Every weather forecaster seemed to have their own idea on
whether a tropical depression would strengthen into a hurricane, where the
storm would make landfall, the wind speed, and the amount of rain expected.

As many of you are aware, I’ve lived in the south most of my life. I was
raised in Columbia, Mississippi and lived for a few years in Hattiesburg
and even a few months in Mobile, Alabama. For a dozen years, my family
called south Louisiana our home. I’ve been through my share of tropical
storms and hurricanes. I’ve even provided radio and TV news coverage for a
few of them back in my days as a reporter. One thing I have learned is
that the best way to survive a major storm is to have a plan. Due mostly
to the foresight of my wife, we were always stocked with practically
everything we needed to remain secure and comfortable when the lights went
out. We had fuel, water, food, flashlights, batteries and all of the
necessities. I was always amazed at how many people waited until the last
minute to look for gas or shop for groceries only to discover there was
none to be found. TV stations interviewed some of these people and most of
them said they would start planning earlier next time.

As important as it is to plan for natural disasters, I’m reminded that
it’s even more important to plan for eternity. I pray we all know and
confess Christ as our Lord and believe His death on the cross paid the
penalty for our sins. When we ask Him to forgive us, we’re taking an
important step to plan where we will spend eternity. God also said in
Jeremiah 29:11 that He has a plan for each of us. His plan is a good plan
that leads to blessings and hope. I pray that’s one plan we’ve all put
into action!