Tag Archives: prayer

The Power of Lament During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As we approach 2021, we are recovering from significant amounts of celebration during Christmas. Praise and celebration certainly have a rightful place in the Christian life, but during the pandemic, too much of the wrong kind of celebration is driving rates of infection through the roof. As mentioned in a recent post, lament is not much considered in the average Christian’s life. However, in perspective, one-third of the Psalms are focused on lament. I discovered a beautiful prayer of lament on the rzim.org website today to draw focus to the beauty of presenting lament to our creator.

A Prayer of Lament over the Coronavirus Pandemic
Trina Doffelmyer

Hear our cry, Almighty God. Listen to our prayer. How long will we have to hide in our homes from this invisible enemy? Where will it strike next? And whom? And what if…? Our screens relay a continuous escalation of suffering and death around the world. Panic and anxiety abounds. Our souls are weary from the strain of the life-altering unknowns.

Heavenly Father, from the depths of our pain and confusion, we cry out to You. From fear-filled hearts and anxious minds, we plead with You. Rescue us, Father of compassion and grace. We lift up our eyes to You, Lord God, the One who sits enthroned in heaven.

On all who have contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On all who have lost loved ones to this sickness and are in mourning and anguish

Lord have mercy

On all who are unable to earn an income because their jobs have been suspended

Lord have mercy

We cry out for healing and needed resources

We cry out for comfort and peace

On all medical professionals and caretakers attending to those infected with the virus

Christ have mercy

On all scientists and technologists striving to find a vaccine and to make it available

Christ have mercy

On all leaders of institutions and governments as they make decisions to try and contain the virus

Christ have mercy

We pray for strength in the long and exhausting hours of labor

We pray for wisdom in the research and difficult decisions

On all who have not yet contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On the most vulnerable of our society who are unable to buy extra food or get proper medical attention

Lord have mercy

On all disciples of Jesus Christ discerning how to reflect His love to others within this crisis

Lord have mercy

We plead for protection of health

We plead for all to remain calm and kind

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the expanse of the universe. And yet this earth is no longer as You created it to be. Holy Father, our earth groans from the devastation caused by the curse of the Fall. My God, Your Word is true. One day You will liberate creation from its bondage to decay and death.

Life is sacred and precious in your sight. You are the God Who sees us and sustains us.Nothing can separate us from the Father’s unfailing love and kindness, not even sickness or the fear of tomorrow. You are our Light as we walk in this darkness. We will remember to celebrate the beautiful gifts You have given us in this present moment.

Almighty God, You are our Rock, our Refuge from the enemy, our hiding place.

You calm our frantic thoughts and fill our despairing hearts with joy and strength.

In Your Presence living water springs forth in the wilderness.

You restore our souls.

*Please note: this prayer may also be personalized by using “I” and “my” instead of “we” and “our.”

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Churches praying for other churches — an excellent idea

A few years back,  I visited a church that prayed for another church in the community. I was taken aback, as I’d not ever seen this practice in my many years of church visits. The church they prayed for that day was All Saints’ Episcopal Church. Curious, I asked members if something was happening at All Saints’ that prompted them to pray for them that particular day. I was told they pray for another church in the community every Sunday; nothing unusual was happening at All Saints’ that prompted their prayers. (See on.adn.com/2dGKru9 to read the blog post about it.)

In the intervening years, I’ve made hundreds of additional church visits but never seen the practice duplicated. However, it made such a deep impression upon me, I dug a little deeper to see what motivates a church to do this.

I talked with pastor Lon Elliott of that particular church, Scenic Park Bible Church, about this practice. He indicated they still pray for an individual local church each week as a regular part of their service. Although he is unsure of the date they began that practice, it’s been ongoing for many years. He said it was sparked by “some of the struggles and challenges that churches in our area and around the nation were facing. I recall there was an African-American church Outside where a gunman went in and shot several people, and I was burdened for those folks.” Elliott said he realized “that was an extreme event, but the Bible says in the book of Ephesians that there is spiritual warfare being waged, and our church decided we needed to support the other believers of Anchorage through prayer.”

In preparation for this column, I contacted a number of local pastors to see if they practiced prayer for other specific local churches every week, but most indicated they did not. Several Pentecostal churches said they’d done this in the past but were not currently doing so. Clearly, I did not contact the majority of local churches, but I believe I visit more local churches on a regular basis than anyone else in town. If your church is praying for other churches weekly, I’d love to hear from you and find out more about this wonderful practice.

Unfortunately, many churches and denominations have become convinced that their take on the Bible and the gospel is the only interpretation to be followed. As such, members often become exclusionary and fail to remember that many God-fearing members in those other churches are living up to their faith in the way that they honestly believe. I’m not Catholic or Orthodox but I can say most of their core beliefs echo the basics of Christianity followed by Evangelicals and mainline churches.

Pastor Elliott clarified the purpose of those prayers, saying: “Our prayer for the churches is not based on them agreeing with our point of view about everything, but on the fact that the Body of Christ is so much bigger than our little part of it. All true Christ-followers need the support that presenting them to the Father will give. And we do not pray to change other churches to our specific point of view, but rather we ask them what they see as needs and pray for their concerns, and that the good news of Jesus Christ will be advanced.”

Describing the process they use, Elliott noted: “We call the churches we will be praying for, before our next Sunday prayer time. We ask if they have concerns we could bring before God for them. Sometimes they will have specifics for us to pray for; some churches don’t answer at all, but we pray for them either way. We are convinced that we need to support each other this way.”

Personally, I call that leading by example and doing so with a servant heart. Scenic Park Bible Church also prays for our nation, and different missionaries and missions organizations worldwide, whether or not they financially support them.

“We value the privilege we have to come before God,” Elliott concluded, “and hold our spiritual family up to Him for care and help and blessings. With all the clamor and rush of life, this is a quiet way to do what we ought to do for each other.”

Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote in aninsightful 9 Marks Journal article, “Why I Pray Publicly for Other Churches,” that the practice helps him in “crucifying my own spirit of competition,” noting, “It’s so easy for pastors to subtly (if not less than subtly) begin to think of other churches as ‘the competition’ instead of fellow proclaimers of the gospel in their city.” Gilbert says it underscores that “we all have the same mission … to proclaim the gospel of Jesus and make disciples.”

Commenting on the rarity of this approach, just as I first felt when I encountered it, Gilbert says: “Believe it or not, the practice of praying for other churches is so rare in many Christians’ experience that many don’t know exactly how to process it. More than once during my pastorate, a visitor to Third Avenue has walked up to me with a very concerned look to express surprise that such-and-such church is having troubles. After all, why would the pastor of one church pray for another church if there weren’t serious problems afoot there?”

The practice of praying for other local churches as shown first to me by Elliott and his church are worthy of emulation. I’d love to see more churches doing this, as it truly emulates the work and practices of the early Christian church and commendable Christian practice.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Top recommendations for churches — and church members — in 2016

When I write about churches I visit, I am really visiting congregations or assemblies of people. They may or may not meet in a dedicated building. For Christians, the biblical term for church is taken from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” When people refer to their churches, often they’re referring to a specific building, but my columns tend to focus on churches as a congregation made up of its members, including leaders — and this column is no exception.

In this year’s top 10 list, I’m offering  recommendations that can strengthen and maintain strong Christian congregations. But they’re not only for church leaders: Individual church members must also take responsibility for their congregations. Leaders alone cannot achieve what their church’s members are not willing to tackle.

Resolve to attend church regularly

Attendance patterns for Alaska churches are some of the lowest in the U.S. Regular church attendance has strong physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Study the Bible and its origins

Regular, personal Bible study has significant benefit for believers. Don’t depend on what your minister feeds you. I highly recommend studying Bible origins and translations. Several readable scholarly study books might help: Bruce Metzger’s “The Bible in Translation,” Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” and just published, Robert Hutchison’s “Searching for Jesus” will add to your confidence level in scripture.

Measure, discuss and confront loud music at your church

Many smartphone apps provide the ability to measure the loudness of music in your church. Loud music can damage your hearing and your family’s through repeated exposure. In many churches music is played at 100-105 decibels. My highest reading this past year was 117 decibels. A papercovering 43 studies of hearing loss published by McGill Journal of Medicine demonstrates how preventable it is. It’s foolish for churches to promote physical, mental and spiritual health but create hearing damage. Be proactive and communicate with your church leadership. Your church’s sound people and worship team must understand the gravity of this issue.

Be part of the greeting solution

Why support missions halfway around the world and be dismissive of the stranger who is visiting your church? Be friendly. Introduce yourself to strangers and welcome them. You’d do the same in your home, wouldn’t you? Church is your spiritual home. The number-one reason church guests vow to never return to a particular church is that they are made to feel unwelcome. Every church should adopt the 10-foot rule — meaning every member should be encouraged to welcome those within a 10-foot radius.

Learn about and observe the concept of Sabbath

Christians, for the most part, observe a day of worship limited to a few hours on Saturday or Sunday. A quick read of the Bible reveals Sabbath to be a 24-hour cessation of work. Its intent is for a physical, mental and spiritual R&R. Devoting only a few hours to the observance of Sabbath cheats you of the benefits God gave us at creation, and underlined in the 10 commandments. “Sabbath” by Dan Allender, “Mudhouse Sabbath” by Lauren Winner and “Sabbath Keeping” by Lynne Baab are excellent books about the benefits of reserving a day a week to worship, rest and restore.

Support community needs with direct action

Many Christians in our community avoid helping others. Evangelical churches here often ignore helping the poor, sick, needy and downtrodden. Appeals are often made to support world evangelism and missions, but the greatest mission field is here in Alaska. It is hypocritical to think otherwise. Roman Catholic, Orthodox and liturgical churches regularly care for and support community-wide needs. Why this divide exists puzzles me. The Bible says “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Use group study to replace dying Sunday schools

A distinct national trend has developed about Sunday schools — they’re dying. Some churches have replaced them with small groups that meet at various times during the week or sometimes on Sunday. A tendency of many groups is to read and discuss various “flavor-of-the-month” spiritual books rather than to delve into the Bible, digesting it and learning from it. Don’t neglect the Bible for these types of groups. Be courageous and form your own Bible reading and study group instead. Radical church transformations can occur.

Be comfortable inviting someone to worship or study with you

It’s a wonderful thing to sing about the “good news” of Christ, and be effusive over his presence in your life. If this is true, then share it with someone who may not have a connection with Christ or may possibly be unfulfilled in their current church experience. Offer to personally study with them or accompany you to a meaningful service at your place of worship.

Give back financially

Christians believe a key response to the value of the gift they’ve received merits a heart response in giving. Scripture tells us “God loves a cheerful giver.” If you believe your church is spending too much on overhead and not enough on the “good news” of spreading the gospel, get involved. Ask to be included in discussions of church finances.

Pray more, complain less

Prayer is one of the healthiest things you can do. A recent Psychology Today article listed five benefits of prayer. National polling data indicates that more than half of us pray every day, and more than 75 percent believe prayer is important to our daily lives. Prayer is not posture. One can pray anywhere and everywhere. Very few pastors talk about prayer in their sermons. It should be stressed.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Five new year’s resolutions for Christians – 1/2/15

When you read this column it will already be 2015. New Year’s resolutions are traditional in many cultures. They started in ancient times as Babylonians, and later Romans, adopted the new year as a time for making resolutions. Later on, Christians began adopting the practice with emphasis on desired Christian traits and practices. This is an appropriate time for Christians to make resolutions regarding their spiritual lives as well. Here are five great ways to incorporate them into your life.

Read the Bible

Earlier in 2014, I devoted a column to the significant lack of Bible study by Christians in Alaska. Based on the American Bible Society/Barna Group study for 2014, only 19 percent of Christians are engaged with the Bible. For many, the only exposure to the Bible is that which they receive in church when they attend. Why not resolve to actively study the Bible daily this year? There are many excellent reading plans. YouVersion.com offers some innovative ways to read the Bible, including a January 21-day challenge and many plans to read the entire Bible in a year, reading only 15 minutes a day. I have YouVersion’s app on my iPhone and frequently refer to it. They offer dozens of Bibles which can be read or played online or offline. Olive Tree offers 36 downloadable Bibles for computers and smartphones. Daily Bible study enriches the mind, increases biblical wisdom and gives strength for the journey. The Apostle Paul wrote, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Get healthy

Many people, Christians included, have unhealthy practices in their lives. Negativity, excessive drinking, smoking, unhealthy dietary practices and lack of sleep and exercise have been documented to bring ill health and lead to shorter lives. The Bible is rich with helpful advice for healthier living. Often Christians don’t understand that God requests we do all we can to maintain the wonderful gift of life he has given us, even blaming him when sickness and disease come. Churches, too, should take a look at practices that discourage healthy living. Many of the church suppers and potlucks I’ve had in years past were extremely unhealthy — high in fat and carbohydrates. Yet in the past 10 years I only heard one pastor deliver a practical sermon encouraging his parishioners to live healthily, in all aspects.

Attend church regularly

In a February 2014 column, “Churchgoing is good for the body as well as the spirit,” I noted the significant body of research connecting churchgoing with improved measures of health, including better blood pressure, longer and healthier lives, happiness and reduced rates of divorce. The focus of my research and writing for many years has been on finding churches that provide warm greetings, genuine Christian hospitality, great biblical messages and music that is not purely entertainment. Our faith community does provide some great examples of such churches and I regularly report on them. Unfortunately, Alaska ranks at or near the bottom of many surveys of church attendance or membership. If you are already a regular church attendee, that’s great. If not, why not resolve to start attending regularly in 2015?

Pray more

A popular Christian aphorism is to “Pray more, worry less.” Surveys show that many of us neglect prayer to the detriment of peace and true contentment. It’s difficult to pray unless you intend to do so. The Apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” Daniel prayed three times a day. Pew Forum surveys reveal 58 percent of U.S. adults report praying at least once a day, while 31 percent report praying and receiving an answer to prayer at least once a month. A University of Rochester study showed more than 85 percent of people facing a major illness prayed. Prayer and meditation is an important part of a healthy living regime including diet and exercise. It invokes the relaxation response, which is very healthy. Prayer can be done any time and any place and does not require any particular posture to perform.

Share your faith naturally

If you are experiencing a Christian life that is satisfying and providing many benefits, why not share? I often hear people excitedly exude glowing information about hobbies, recreational pursuits, books being read and so forth. What I rarely hear is people actually sharing their joy about their Christian walk. When someone shares something of extreme interest to them that is providing huge benefits to their life, it can be exciting and possibly inspire others to take a deeper look. I’ve often noted in my column that I do not get invited to visit the churches of people I come into contact with, or to take a look at their religion. (This, of course, does not apply to those who write to me or comment on my columns saying I should investigate or write about their church or religion.) National research consistently shows the only reason people do not go to church or visit another’s church is that they have never been asked! Yet it is so easy to do. If you’ve found power in prayer, tell someone. If you find your church helps you in unique ways, share it. If healthy living has given you a new lease on life, share the wealth. Too often we forget to share the good news.

2015, like preceding years, will come with its share of challenges; it’s a given. But adopting some of the practices I’ve enumerated can add new dimensions to your life, and to those around you. Happy New Year and may God bless your life in the coming months.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.