I just counted the books in the prayer section on my book shelf and I have over 25 of them. I’m pretty sure I have read all of them, and would think I’d be much better at prayer than I am. The title of one of the books, The Struggle of Prayer by Donald G. Bloesch, probably describes a lot of us in terms of our practice of prayer. It certainly does me.

I can relate to Professor W. David O. Taylor’s assessment, “My own prayer life comes and goes. At times I have prayed faithfully every morning before starting the day’s work. At other times I have managed only tired prayers at the end of the day, and they often have not been very good prayers. At still other times I have found myself without prayer, or, more truthfully, without any desire to pray.”

I want to pray, and I want to pray regularly, but that is a challenge for me. After all these years I have still not settled into a daily and consistent routine of prayer. I think Anthony Delaney’s observation that “we pray a lot more when we are trouble than when everything’s going well” is spot on. And I think he’s right because what he says is true for me.

The Bible says a lot of about prayer as well as gives us a lot of examples of prayer. Jesus clearly expects us to pray as three times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7) he tells us “when you pray . . .” what to do and what not to do. In verses 9-13 he gives us a model to follow. In his final instructions to the Thessalonians in his first letter the Apostle Paul tells them “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Pastor and author John Starke encourages me with his suggestion that “the Bible imagines prayer to be a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people.” (In other words, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant to pray.) And then he convicts me with his observation that “It’s not an overstatement to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to begin to spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis for the rest of your life.”

Professor Taylor’s definition of prayer also encourages me: “Prayer is a funny thing, of course, it is about talking to God and listening to God. In practice, prayer is anything but simple.” I think praying can be simple, but listening to God in prayer for me is more challenging.

I think for many who pray, what can be frustrating is what we consider no response from God. With simple honesty, in one of his books Scot McKnight notes “we lay ourselves before God and sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t.” As I have heard many believers say, God sometimes says “yes,” sometimes he says “no,” and sometimes he says “wait.” It’s the “no” answer and the “wait” answer that frustrates many who pray.

I would not charge anyone whose prayer answers were “no” or “wait” of being guilty of his warning, but Pastor Dustin Crowe’s words are worth our consideration, “If honest, many of us pray self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish prayers that sound more like ‘my kingdom come, my will be done’ than ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer C.S. Lewis makes a powerful point. He says the clearest asking prayer in the Bible is Jesus’ request in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Lewis writes, “He asked, but did not get what he asked for. But he asked with a reservation—‘nevertheless, not my will but thine.’ This makes an enormous difference.”

I’m thinking the challenge and the frustration of prayer are both real, but my prayer life could be much more satisfying if I would follow Jesus’ example and ask with the reservation he did.

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A few weeks ago one of my favorite families in our senior adult ministry called and asked me if they could stop by – they said they had a gift for me. Of course I said yes and when they came the gift was in a bag and very heavy. They told me it was for both Jan and me and so I told them I wouldn’t open it until Jan was home.

When we opened the gift we were taken back by a cross. As you can see in the picture above, it is not anything like what most decorative crosses are. Not only is it heavy, it is rough and rugged. It looks like it is pieced together and it has a smaller cross attached to it.

To Christians the cross is a central symbol of what God did for us through the sending of Jesus to die for us. We sing a variety of hymns, songs, and choruses that say something about the cross. One of our favorites is “The Old Rugged Cross.”

What cannot be seen on the picture above of our cross is the entire collection of Bible verses and sayings all over it. I want to share them with you to encourage, affirm, and challenge you as you give some thought to Why the Cross Means So Much to us:

Strength, Hope, Faith, love, grace

Trust in the Lord

A Friend Loves at all Times

May the Lord bless and keep you

Amazing Grace

Live Laugh Love

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

Lord hear my prayer

Rejoice in THE Lord

Let’s also be reminded of some selected passages in the New Testament that speak to us and our relationship to the cross:

Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’

Luke 14:27, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

I Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I agree with hymn writer George Bennard, I love that old cross!

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In a new book (The Art of Dying Well)  I’m reading about getting older, author Katy Butler asked a question that prompted me to do some thinking: “Have you mostly been a ‘taker,’ an ‘exchanger,’ or a ‘giver’?” Most of us I would think have one we would like to claim and one we hope doesn’t describe us.

Butler’s main point in her discussion is about what she calls our interdependence.  She suggests younger people want to be independent, but in later life interdependence is worth cultivation. All of us have probably had moments when we thought we wanted to be independent, but most of us have been interdependent all our lives.

Prior to reading Butler’s question, I don’t think I’d ever heard or thought about the idea of being an exchanger. Her definition of an exchanger is “one who keeps track and returns favors.” Of course all of us have done a lot of exchanging good deeds and help with others, but I doubt as Christians we have kept track of such things.

What most unsettles me about Butler’s question is the idea that some have mostly been takers. I’m sure it is true with some, but it is an ugly word. I would think no Christian would want to be called a taker only. But to be fair with Butler, I don’t think she meant by taker how most of us would understand it.

Rather than using the word taker, I’m more inclined to use either receiver or acceptor. And I would hope we all would be gracious and grateful receivers and acceptors. My sense is that our response to what someone gives us determines whether we are takers or acceptors. As I reflect back on my teenage years I am sorry I wasn’t more grateful and gracious with regard to everything my parents did for me and gave to me. If taker is an ugly word, so also is ungrateful.

Of the three possible answers Butler gives us to choose from, most of us would like to say we have mostly been givers. That does not rule out that we have been exchangers and receivers, only that we have also been givers. As I read Butler’s reflection I could not help but be reminded of what the Apostle Paul quoted from Jesus in Acts 20:35, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ All of us have been blessed by both, haven’t we? I have one more thought on being givers. When we give, and those to whom we have given thank us, don’t discount their gratitude by telling them something along the lines of “it wasn’t a big deal.”

I’m thinking all of us are interdependent in a variety of ways. How would you answer the question, “Have you mostly been a ‘taker,’ an ‘exchanger,’ or a ‘giver’?”

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photo credit: symphony of love <a href=”″>C S Lewis I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;


If you are reading this post I’m guessing the title probably got your attention. To clear the air I want to answer the question with an emphatic NO! Jesus did not contradict himself, but there are two passages in the Sermon on the Mount that some have thought to be contradictory.

The first teaching in Matthew 5:14-16 and is well known by Christians and those who are somewhat familiar with the Bible. Speaking to his followers Jesus explains, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” On first reading it seems pretty clear what Jesus was saying.

The second teaching is in Matthew 6:1 and at first reading seems to contradict Jesus’ previous teaching: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Again, it seems pretty clear what Jesus was saying.

Which is it? Are we not to practice our righteousness in front of others or are we to let our light shine before others? Are we to hide or show? I know to some it will sound like what is called “situation ethics,” but the answer is it all depends! What does it depend on? Jesus is saying in both these passages it depends on our motive.

Note the difference between what Jesus says in each of the two teachings. The first passage suggests if our motive is right we should show. Look again at Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1 suggests if our motive is wrong we should hide.

If our motive is to draw attention to our self, to be seen by others in order to be complimented, what we do is not pleasing to God. On the other hand, if our motive is not about drawing attention to our self but to bringing glory to God, we have the right motive.

Not only that, if we have the right motive – we are not doing it to draw attention to our self, but to honor our Father – and someone compliments us, it seems to me we should simply thank them and not necessarily downplay what we have done.

On a personal note, through the years as a pastor I have been thanked and complimented for things I have done more times than I could ever count. I never downplay what someone is complimenting me for so as not to detract from their appreciation. While I’ve not done what I did to draw attention to myself, I think it would be rude to rebuff their expression of appreciation.

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