Moving Bible Prayers blog

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God hears our groans as prayers


Background:
After the sons of Jacob sold their brother Joseph into slavery, many years went by before a famine brought the family together in Egypt. Ironically, the famine also placed many native Egyptians into slavery under the rule of Joseph, who had risen to the position second only to Pharaoh. Whether this enslaved the Twelve Tribes of Israel is not clear. Regardless, the Hebrew people stayed in Egypt long after the famine had passed because, 400 years later, they were still there!

By then Joseph had long been forgotten, and God’s people were slaves for sure. In fact, conditions had become so terribly cruel that the firstborn son in every family was killed. According to the familiar story in Exodus 2, though, Moses’ mother placed her beautiful child in a waterproof basket and set him afloat on the Nile River. When Pharaoh’s daughter found him, she sent Miriam – Moses’ sister – to look for a nurse among the Hebrew women, and the girl brought her mother to care for her own son.

In this environment, Moses’ life began with love and caring. Although the Bible does not mention how long he stayed with his real family or what exposure he had to songs and stories, he most likely heard about God and the godly Patriarchs among his natural forefathers. But from a young age, he also lived in the home of Pharaoh’s daughter so would have had the most superior education in the world – culturally, politically, and academically.

Once grown, his attempts to rescue a fellow Hebrew resulted in his murdering an Egyptian who had been cruel! With Pharaoh himself now after him, Moses fled to the wilderness where, for forty years, he learned firsthand about living in the desert and tending unruly sheep!

When God had fully prepared Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery:

“…the king of Egypt died. And the people of Israel sighed and cried out because they were in bondage, and their cry for help rose up to God.  Then God heard their groaning and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the people of Israel, and knew,” (it was time to act) Exodus 2:23-25.

Question:  Moses and the Hebrew people obviously had to wait many years (centuries!) to be released from slavery. In what ways did this passage of time help to prepare Moses and the people? Did God also have to wait and wait for the right time?

Prayer: Dear LORD God, thank You for Your perfect timing, even when it seems like it takes forever! Thank You for knowing what we need, even when we have nothing but cries and sighs for prayers. Thank You for preparing us for the work You’ve given us to do as free people, fully redeemed by You.

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© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  If you want to share this article with your church group or Bible study, please tell everyone where you found it. Thanks. For additional blogs on Bible topics, see Blogs by Mary. To keep up with new articles and postings, “Like” Mary’s page on Facebook.

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The seldom heard story of Joseph and Judah ending with a people-to-people prayer

Background: Jacob (Israel) had one daughter and a dozen sons. Of the twelve, Joseph was clearly the favorite and everyone knew it, including Joseph. Eventually, the brothers got tired of his spying and tattling on them but were probably even wearier of being ignored and undervalued by a father prone toward favoritism.

The older brothers had had it with the little prince, whom their dad dressed in a colorful coat with long sleeves totally unsuitable for work! But, instead of killing the kid, as Cain would have done, they sold Joseph into slavery.

The familiar story begins in Genesis 37 and keeps going until the Exodus while Joseph continues to have faith that God has favored him. Not so with Judah, who winds up with two sons so wicked that God took them out of the family line!

After his wife also dies, Judah is seduced by a woman he thinks is a prostitute but is really the widow of both of his sons!  In high contrast, the beloved Joseph refuses advances from his master’s wife, keeping his high moral standards and his faith, even though the decision got him thrown into jail!

Because of those choices, everybody knows about the moralism, wisdom, and strong faith of Joseph. Everybody clearly knows that God was with him as he rose to the top position of power in all of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. And, everyone knows, as Joseph did, that the providence of God had allowed events that led to his keeping his entire family from starving to death during a 7-year famine. In short, almost everyone on earth has heard of Joseph, while even devout Christians and Jews often seem puzzled by the name of Judah.

So, what about Judah?  Who was he? What was he like, and why should we care? No, he’s not the lost tribe of Israel, but he is important to us today because he is the forefather of Christians and Jews.

Genesis 38 and 43-49 will give you the primary source of information about Judah, but here’s my somewhat shortened version:

After selling Joseph into slavery, Judah “departed from his brothers” (Genesis 38:1) and moved into an area southwest of Bethlehem later called the land of Judah.

This self-imposed parting from his family may indicate grief, guilt, or growing sense of right and wrong, centuries before the law of Moses. For example, after hearing that his long-widowed daughter-in-law expected a child, Judah proposed that she be burned to death! When, however, she identified herself as the woman he had assumed to be a prostitute, Judah admitted “she’s more righteous than I.”

That might not sound like a big deal today, but at the time, even Bible patriarchs were not apt to admit any wrongdoing of any kind. People were also unlikely to be more concerned about other people than they were about themselves. Remember, for example, how Lot had been perfectly willing to throw his unwed daughters to the men of Sodom and Abraham to risk Sarah’s safety in order to protect his own.

Not Judah.

For the sake of his father and brother, Judah made a unique choice that foreshadows the redemption brought by his direct descendant, Jesus Christ. Judah offered to place his own life in jeopardy as surety for the safety of his youngest brother to keep his father from dying with grief.

As Genesis records this episode, “Judah came close to Joseph and said, ‘O, my lord, let your servant speak, I pray thee, a word in your ears, and let not your anger burn against me, for you are as Pharaoh himself,’ Genesis 44:18.

 “And now, I pray thee, let me, your servant, remain with you as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy go home with his brothers, for how could I possibly return to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Surely this would bring my father inconsolable grief and misery,” Genesis 44:33-34.

Question:  What do you think of God’s choosing Judah over Joseph as the family line through whom the Son of God would come?

Prayer: Dear LORD God, Heavenly Father, thank You for knowing who to choose for the tasks You have given. Strengthen our faith, LORD. Help us to hear You, accept Your faith in us, and follow Your leading in whatever You want us to do for Your heavenly kingdom.

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© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  Please ask permission to use with acknowledgement to this site. For additional blogs on other Bible topics, see Blogs by Mary.

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Jacobs prays, wrestles, worships God, and gets a name-change to Israel

Background: When Jacob fled from home after wrestling his father’s blessing from Esau, he vowed to worship God if everything happened as promised. It did, of course, since God does not and cannot lie. However, many years went by before Jacob felt free to go home.

After the long journey began, God sent angels to greet Jacob. In turn, Jacob sent his servants to meet, greet, and make peace with his older twin brother Esau of whom he was greatly afraid (Genesis 32:7.) To protect himself and his family, Jacob divided the people and livestock into two camps, thinking that, if Esau destroyed one, the other would be able to escape. (Genesis 32:8.)

Then Jacob prayed: “O, LORD God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, You told me, ‘Return to your land and the place of your birth, and I will do well for you.’ But LORD, I am not worthy of the least of Your mercies or of Your truth which You have fulfilled for me, Your servant. With only my walking stick, I journeyed, and now I’m going home with a household big enough to fill two camps! Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am greatly afraid he will come and kill my wives and children. But You promised to treat me kindly and multiply my descendants as the sands of the sea — too many to number!” Genesis 32:9-12.

The next morning, Jacob set aside livestock for his servants to give to Esau – one group after another – as a peace offering. When everyone had safely crossed the Jordan River, Jacob alone remained in camp. As he tried to sleep, he wrestled all night with an angel of the Lord or man of God.

When the man saw he would not win the match, he wrestled Jacob’s hip out of its socket, then said, “Let me go for the dawn is breaking!”

“But Jacob said, ‘I won’t let you go unless you bless me’.”

“‘What is your name?’ the man asked.”

“‘Jacob,’ he replied.”

“‘Your name will no longer be Jacob. From now on you will be called Israel because you have wrestled with God and men and have won’.” (Genesis 32:26-28.)

Jacob then saw Esau coming with a large company of men, and he fell to the ground as his brother came near, but Esau ran to greet him with an enormous hug! Jacob blessed his brother, but the two soon parted – most likely relieved by each other’s response yet maybe wary too.

Later, when Jacob found a suitable  field to buy, he pitched his tents and built an altar to call upon the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and, now, not just himself but Israel.

Question: Do you expect God to keep His promises to you in person or in general?  Do you expect the same from yourself and other people too? With whom or what do you wrestle?

Prayer: Almighty God and Heavenly Father of all, we praise You for being The One in Whom we can always put our confidence and trust. Forgive us, Lord, for the times we have been wary of You and unforgiving of ourselves and others. Help us to talk to You about everything and to listen – especially as we toss and turn in sleep and in mind when it’s hard to make a decision or know what You want for us.  Lead us, LORD, with Your Word and heavenly greetings as we come home to You.

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© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  Please ask permission before using. Thanks and blessings. For other Bible-based blogs and also blogs about poetry and In a Christian Writer’s Life, see Blogs by Mary.

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Isaac gives his younger son the blessing of Abraham. God renews the prayer and promise. And Jacob makes a vow and tithing pledge from the bottom rung of the ladder.

“Isaac called for Jacob, blessed him, and said, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman but hurry to the house of your grandfather in Paddan-aram and marry one of your uncle Laban’s daughters. May God Almighty bless you with many children, and may your descendants become many nations. May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings promised to Abraham, and may you possess this land where you now live as a stranger, for God gave this land to Abraham,” Genesis 28:1-4.

After getting the family blessing he had deceptively wangled from his twin brother Esau, Jacob obeyed his father and set off on a journey of a few hundred lonely miles to find a wife.

And so, “Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. Before sunset he arrived at a good place to stop for the night and set up camp. When he found a stone for a pillow, Jacob lay down to sleep, and as he slept, he dreamed of a ladder (or stairway) reaching from earth to heaven with angels of God going up and down. At the top of the ladder stood the LORD, Who said, ‘I Am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. The ground you are lying on now belongs to you. I Am giving it to you and your descendants, who will be as numerous as the dust of the earth. They will spread in all directions—to west and east, to north and south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. More importantly, I Am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. Someday I will bring you back to this land, but I will not leave you until I have given you everything I promised.’  Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place‘, “Genesis 28:10-16.

“The next morning Jacob got up early and carefully placed the stone pillow as a pillar to remind him where he had been visited by God. He then poured olive oil over the stone and named the place Bethel (meaning house of God) even though it had previously been called Luz. Then Jacob made this vow, ‘If God will indeed be with me and if He will protect me on my journey, and if He will provide me with food and clothing, and if I get safely back to my father’s home, then the LORD will be my God. And this memorial pillar I set up will become a place to worship God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything He gives me.” Genesis 28:18-22.

Even though Jacob deceived his father (at his mother’s suggestion!) he inherited the blessings God had promised Abraham. God honored this, too, by giving the young man a vision of heaven and by renewing the covenant He had made with Jacob’s family on earth.

As it’s been said, God has no grandchildren. And so, this vision let Jacob see that, like his father and grandfather, he, too, now had a direct relationship with God, even though his ambivalent response at the time did not include worship but wariness.

Question: When you make a promise to God, does it contain contingencies or escape clauses as did the “if’s” of Jacob? Do you think Jacob showed lack of faith by delaying worship and acceptance of the LORD as his God? Or did he believe God meant exactly what He said? After all, God Himself had promised to stay with Jacob until He had fulfilled His promises, which then gave the young man plenty of time to decide!

Prayer:  Dear LORD God Almighty, thank You for honoring Your promises whether we deserve such an honor or not! Thank You for Your faithfulness and devotion to us even when our faith ebbs and we put off devoting time to You. Forgive us our uncertainties about You, and help us to worship You in Spirit and in truth – forever but also right now.

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© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  Please ask permission before using. Thank you, and may God bless you and the time you devote to God, prayer, worship, and Bible reading.

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Praying for purpose, praying for peace

“This records the family of Isaac, the son of Abraham: When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife because she had no children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. When the two children struggled in her womb, she asked the Lord why this was happening, and the Lord told her, ‘The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other, and your older child will serve the younger,” Genesis 25:19-23.

Questions:  With whom or what do you struggle? Is your old self struggling with your new self in God?

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, looking back at the old year and looking forward to the new is like carrying twin thoughts that fight within me! Help me, Lord, to move forward into Your plan and purpose for my life with no fears and no regrets. Thank You for giving Your prayers, Your guidance, Your peace to me and all You want me to be.

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© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  Please ask permission before using. Thank you and may God bless your New Year!

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Praying on Holy Week: Praying for Light

The prayers in the Bible most likely begin with “God help!” but quickly become quite specific as Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the First Testament ask God to bless their families with a spouse or an heir or a place to live or even a place to hide!

Going by stages, from Genesis to Revelation, Bible people pray to God in many ways for many reasons, broadening the scope of prayer from a simple cry to the plea for the birth of a child to the prayer for an enemy or someone who wishes us ill.

I say “us” because the prayers in Holy Scripture belong to us now – ready to be pondered, ready to be adapted to our needs or situation, and ready to connect us to the forefathers and foremothers of our own faith in the Almighty God.

Lord willing, we will continue to progress, by stages, through the pages of the Bible, but on this first day of Hanukah and this Holy Week of Christmas, let’s stop to notice and ponder as we enter the Season of Light. Let’s pray for the Light.

Questions: What areas of darkness do you see in or around you – for example, dark thoughts, grudges, anger, or fear? What dark areas mar the day’s news or turn out the lights in an already empty school, synagogue, church building, or sanctuary? Where do you most notice the need for Light?

Prayer: Almighty God, Heavenly Father, thank You for this Season of Light. Thank You for Your prayer for us in Isaiah 49:6 as You promise to make Your people “a Light to the nations.” Give us Your Spirit of joy and levity, especially during these Holy Days, and help us, O, Lord, to reveal and reflect Your Light in our centers of worship, our homes, our country, and the whole world. Enlighten us. Brighten us, and fill us with Your Light.

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© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.  Please ask permission before using. Thank you and God bless this Holy Week!

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