Tag Archives: prayer

Lesson from a Praying Mantis

Accompanying this post is a photo I took of a praying mantis insect on an open Bible. I’ll admit that I staged the photo, gently lifting a docile praying mantis onto the page of the Bible.

The praying mantis on the Bible is symbolic of the two facets traditionally attributed to spending time with God, often referred to as a “quiet time” with God. Those two facets are reading the Bible and praying, two spiritual disciplines that, when practiced intentionally and regularly, can nurture our relationship with God.

The praying mantis is, of course, not praying. It gets its name from the posture it often assumes, a posture that makes it appear as if it is praying.

Neither does the praying mantis have any idea that its feet are standing on God’s Word. Presumably, at best, the praying mantis sees alternating splotches of black and white beneath its feet. It does not know that the black splotches are words, that those words have meaning, and that countless people believe that the words are from God.

The lesson we can learn from the praying mantis on the Bible is this: we can go through the motions of praying while not connecting with God at all. Our eyes can scan the words of a Bible, understand their meanings, even study it in depth, but unless we allow it to be transformational in our lives we’re as clueless as the praying mantis on the Bible. We can have the forms and expressions of faith but not the substance!

It’s interesting that Jesus’ harshest words were for the religious leaders of His day. He called them “hypocrites” for having the outward forms of being religious but not having the inward reality.

I’ve always tried to take these teachings of Jesus as a precautionary warning for my own walk with Him. Even as a pastor (which I was for nearly 40 years) there’s the temptation to pray publicly for others but to let the personal and private conversations with God be infrequent or the repeating of many words, and to pray often but to do so without much sincerity. As a pastor there’s the temptation to read, study, and deliver with great insight and fanfare a message from the Bible but not allow it to confront and conform one’s own heart.

People will say they’re not actively pursuing a relationship with God because they’re turned off by those who claim to be doing so but are hypocrites at it. The logic of this response is difficult to identify; why would you allow someone who appears to have a hypocritical faith keep you from pursuing the real thing?

The praying mantis standing on the Bible is neither praying nor, in a deeper sense, standing on the Word of God. I want to be the opposite on both counts. You too?

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22

Celebrating Answered Prayer 40 Years Later

prayerhandsSam Anderson was five years old in 1975 when he put a pin on a world map where Easter Island was located. His parents worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators and were living in Nevada working on a translation for a tribe of people who didn’t have a Bible in their language. Sam’s parents encouraged their children to pray for a specific Wycliffe translation project somewhere in the world and give a tithe, ten percent, of their allowance to the project.

The only problem with Sam putting his pin on Easter Island was that there was no one there from Wycliffe doing translation work. About the same time Sam started to pray for a Bible translation on Easter Island newly married Bob and Nancy Weber, both children of Wycliffe missionaries, were praying where God would have them serve.

Some time later Sam’s parents got a letter from a friend who mentioned that the Weber’s were being assigned to Easter Island to strengthen the Rapa Nui language, on the verge of extinction, and then translate the New Testament into Rapa Nui. Sam started to send the tithe of his allowance to Wycliffe, designating it for the work on Easter Island.

Bob and Nancy Weber would send notes of thanks to all of their supporters, including Sam. Nancy said, “We had no idea that he was just a child [at the time] or that he had started praying for us when he was a very small boy, so we wrote our thank-you notes to a ‘Mr.’ Sam Anderson.”

In early 2019, over 40 years after their work began, the Weber’s were at the Wycliffe headquarters in Orlando, Florida, celebrating the completion of the translation of the New Testament in the Rapa Nui language of the people on Easter Island. Sam Anderson was there as part of the celebration!

Sam said, “Growing up as a missionary kid, I knew that a Bible translation is a huge undertaking and takes a long time. It was amazing to hold the Rapa Nui New Testament in my hands and to see living proof of God’s faithfulness in answering prayer.”

God calls us to participate with Him in what He wants to do in our world. One way He has us do this is by praying. God listens to what we have to say, to what we ask for, and He responds. Of course God doesn’t give us everything we ask for, just as a wise parent doesn’t give their children everything they ask for. We leave it up to Him to do what’s best with our request.

The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Prayer can unleash God’s good working! Prayer changes things!

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds…” Psalm 65:5a

Reality Praying

When our son Dan was a little boy he would sometimes do something wrong and stubbornly resist admitting it. Stewing in his unconfessed guilt, he was miserable. I often found that a gentle and loving approach would soften his heart. He’d admit his offense, I’d say I forgave him, we’d hug, and he’d go bounding off happy as could be!

It’s been said that confession is good for the soul. I believe it, not just from observing my young son, but also because I’ve experienced the same with people and, more importantly, with God.

I’m an older gray haired man who’s attempted to connect with God for over sixty years in what is usually called prayer. I’ve read stacks of books on prayer, and I’ve preached and taught on the subject more times than I can remember. I’m still learning the art of praying, but one thing I’ve become convinced of is the importance of being honest to God in prayer. Can I call it for what it really is? It’s confession.

Okay, I know, this isn’t the most popular part of praying. If we pray, the most passionate of our praying is usually pleading for God to give us what we need or even just want. Maybe we’ll remember to thank God for something good that’s come our way. Confessing something to Him just isn’t a priority. After all, don’t we have enough people telling us what’s wrong with us? Don’t we sometimes secretly struggle with admitting that we’re far from perfect? Then why would we want to get negative in our praying and bring up what’s wrong with us?

Why? Because confession’s good for the soul! My experience has been that when I’m honest to God in my praying, identifying what’s not right and good, and asking His forgiveness, I feel a whole lot better, a lot like my small son did years ago. Reality TV shows may be popular, but reality praying is what needs to gain in popularity.

What I find important to remember is that God is a loving God. He yearns to have a closer relationship with us. The way I picture it is that He is far more ready to extend grace and forgiveness than I was as a father with my young son.

When you think about it, we’re more likely to admit to someone our wrongdoing if we know beforehand that we’ll be extended grace, mercy, and forgiveness by the person. This is what God is like, but even more so! This is why I find confession a doable part of prayer, because I know He’s anxious to forgive and ready to help me move on to something better!

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave me the guilt of my sin.” King David in Psalm 32:3-5

The Importance of Prayer


The photo is of my mother praying. While visiting my mom last year I quietly and quickly snapped the picture. She’s 88 years old, in poor health, and doesn’t get out much. She still works, however. She works at prayer! She always has a long list of people and concerns that takes considerable time each day to cover. Then too, I know she simply talks to God about, whatever. She does not live alone, she knows, for the Lord is her constant companion, and she talks to Him often. 

Most of her praying takes place while she sits in her chair and some while she spends sleepless hours at night in her bed. She tells me, however, that if it’s a really serious situation of crisis proportions she will get flat on her face on the carpet to pray. I suspect that her concluding request at such times is that she can get up again! 

Mom tells me every Saturday afternoon when I call her that she’s praying for my preaching that weekend. I’m really glad to hear that! I tell her that her main job now is to pray. I just returned from a trip to Mexico to visit our daughter and family (my wife Diann is taking a second week with the family). Upon my return home from the Detroit airport I called my mother to tell her of my safe return. She exclaimed, as she always does after my return from a trip, “Thank God.” She means it! 

Prayer is simply communication with God. It seems one-way, for we do all the talking, but, really, it’s two way communication. We may not always realize this, but it’s true. Prayer deepens our relationship with the Lord. 

Yes, prayer is primarily to be relational (communication with Him) but some praying is that of requesting God to act in some way. God’s so designed this world that some of what He wants to get done will only happen when His people pray for it to happen. It was Alfred Tennyson who said that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” 

There’s nothing new, deep, or profound in this blog. It’s just intended to remind us that in our busy week, when we do a lot of talking and communicating with people, that we remember to communicate with God. He’s telling us, “Talk to me!” So, whether it’s an extended few minutes in prayer or short “arrow prayers” let’s keep talking to Him! 

Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)


The “Step Back” Prayer

prayerhandsA man went to his doctor and said, “Doc, I’m listless, lie around a lot, and don’t feel like working.  What’s wrong with me?”

After checking him out the doctor said, “I’ll give it to you straight.  Your problem is that you’re lazy.”

The man replied, “OK, I can accept that.  Now could you give me a fancy medical term that I can tell my wife?”

The man wanted to know what was wrong with him, and he wanted to get better — sort of!  He’s not alone.

We want to overcome a weakness or be able to resist a certain temptation, but there’s part of us that enjoys it.  We know we should want to get closer to God but if we’re honest, we have to admit it’s not always a deep concern.  We know we should forgive a person who’s done us wrong, but we really don’t want to; we enjoy carrying a grudge too much.  What to do?

I’ve gained an important insight on how talk to God when my attitude or belief isn’t as holy or as strong as it should be.  It comes from a father who asked Jesus to give him more faith so Jesus would heal his son.  Before I share his prayer, let me show you how I apply his prayer to my own situation.

“Lord, part of me doesn’t want to give up that which is wrong in my life.  Help me to want to want to give it up.”

“Dear God, I don’t always want to draw near to you.  Help me to want to want to draw near to you.”

“Lord, I don’t want to forgive.  Help me to want to want to forgive.”

I call it the “Step Back” prayer.  If I can’t honestly pray for something with my whole heart and deepest conviction, I take it a step back and pray that I may want to want to do what God wants.  That’s a prayer I’m convinced God is anxious to answer.

“I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”  A father’s request to Jesus in Mark 9:24

A Prayer I Often Pray

The Practice of Prayer

Frequently my wife Diann and I hear the familiar sound from our computer of someone calling us on Skype. We glance at the screen and are delighted when it’s one of our kids. The same is true with the phone. Caller ID tells us that it’s Julie or Dan, and no matter what we’re doing, we pick it up.

God wants to hear from us! He created us to be in a relationship with Him, to communicate with Him. He’s anxious to hear us talk to Him — pray to Him.

However, It’s not always easy to pray well. After all these years there are still many times I feel my prayers aren’t getting any higher than the top of my head. I find my mind wandering. I pray with more doubts than faith.

Richard Foster, who wrote the definitive book on the spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline, wrote, “One of the liberating experiences in my life came when I understood that prayer involved a learning process.” (p.33)

“Practice makes perfect” is an old adage that certainly can apply to talking with God. It’s better to pray imperfectly than not to pray at all! If God’s anxious to hear from me, more anxious, even, than I am to hear from my kids, then this is one “kid” of the Lord who’s going to keep talking to Him!

“Lord, teach us to pray.” (a request by the disciples of Jesus in Luke 11:1)


Quote for Reflection….

A Sevenfold Prayer

I recently read an article titled A Sevenfold Prayer of Transformation by Dr. David deSilva, a professor of New Testament and Greek. He referenced the prayer of seven parts that’s part of the baptismal liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

Dr. deSilva personalizes these seven phrases. It makes for a good personal prayer for those already on their journey with Christ, not just for those being baptized into the faith. He spends a paragraph reflecting on each phrase. This prayer is best reflected on slowly and not raced through quickly.

Deliver me, Lord, from the way of sin and death.

Open my heart to your grace and truth.

Fill me with your holy and life-giving Spirit.

Keep me in the faith and communion of your holy church.

Teach me to love others in the power of the Spirit.

Send me into the world in witness to your love.