When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Lately, prayer has been hard for me. My problem is not that I do not want to pray. My problem is that I haven’t really known how to pray. I am not sure what I want to see God do in some of the situations of my life.

My dad was sick, and I didn’t want to lose him, but the pain was mounting. My pain at his loss has left me feeling empty and alone, and I don’t know how I am supposed to feel right now. My future is unclear, and I am struggling to get through each day. The worst part, I don’t know what I want God to do in my life, I just know I want him to do something. I hate feeling like this.

This is not the first time I have had this feeling. I had it when I lost my best friend in an accident. I had it when I failed miserably in a ministry. I had it when I was betrayed by my sin and felt overwhelming shame.

Maybe you have felt it too? Maybe your life took a right turn you didn’t expect, and suddenly everything changed. Maybe someone you love made a series of decisions that left you unclear on which way to turn. Maybe that trip to the doctor did not turn out like you had hoped and now you don’t know what to do. Maybe you experienced some personal “dark night of the soul, ” and you didn’t know what to ask God to do for you?

What do you do when you don’t know how to pray?

Romans 8:26 says (in the NIV), “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

One of the promises to the followers of Jesus is that God will allow his Spirit to intercede for us. He will search our deepest heart and examine the depths of our soul. He will see what is going on inside of us and do the best for us. He will make sense of our life even when nothing makes sense to us.

What do we do when we don’t know how to pay? We pray anyway.

We open our heart and soul and allow God into our lives. We bow and wait for him to direct us. We hit our knees and sit quietly before him. We stand in the darkness with our God and cry without knowing why.

The promise is that he can hear our words through our groans and our tears. And not only does he hear, but he will also respond in his loving kindness.

Today I claim this promise and pray to God even when I don’t know what to say.

What I Said at My Father’s Funeral

I know this is longer, but a couple of family members asked for it. Here is what I said about this time last week.

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My name is Matthew Harris, and for those who do not know me I am Fred’s youngest son, and I am also a preacher. Yes, that means there are three preachers talking today at this funeral. So this may take a while.

I do feel compelled to say a couple of things about my dad. In part I am motivated by a funeral, I attended some time back. Everyone who stood up to speak talked about the man as “Strong willed” and “determined.” What everyone in the room knew and no one wanted to say was that sometimes he could be a hard-headed jerk.

Well, for those of you who knew my dad and loved him, you also knew he was a hard-headed jerk sometimes. He was strong-willed, stubborn and sometimes mean. I know that everyone here cared about him, and you each have a good story about him, but I am also sure you have some difficult stories too.

What I want to tell you this morning is behind that hard exterior was a soft heart.

Many things he did in life were motivated by goodness.

For example, you might know my dad loved to hunt morel mushrooms. He would do anything at times to get out into the woods. What you might not know is that my dad could not eat them. They made him sick to his stomach. I know he loved to hunt them, but he also found great joy in giving them away. He would bring them home for mom or his kids to enjoy. In a good year, he would drop them off to everyone he knew. For him, the joy was found in the finding and the giving.

You might also know that he loved to fish. He especially loved to walleye fish. He planned his year around it, and nothing would stand in his way. What you might not know is that the first thing he would do is put a big package of walleye in the freezer for this seniors group here at Church. He wanted to make sure he had enough to cook for them at least once a year. He then tried to get a package together for his card club or Sunday school class. He loved to catch fish, but he also loved to cook them for other people. He gave away much of what he caught.

You might know that my dad loved to trap. He spent many winters out in the ice and snow. He loved to catch animals on his trap line. What you might not know is that most of the money he made from trapping went to buy Christmas gifts for his family. He would work hard for the joy it brought him, but also for the joy it brought to his family.

It might have seemed that my dad was always hard-headed about what he wanted to do, but most of it had a selfless side you might not know about.

The second thing I know about my dad was that he continually repeated himself.

He had certain phrases he loved to say over and over.

For example, for as long as I can remember I have asked my dad, “What do you know pop?” He would always respond by saying, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.” Then when I got tired of hearing it, I would say, “Don’t you know anything else?” He would then say, “It takes a tiny dog to weigh an ounce.” Always the same.

Another thing he said over and over was after he fried his fish. While eating, he would say something like, “I will just put these on a paper plate and set them out on the table. They are good to walk by and eat all day.” He said it over and over.

My brother and I must have heard him say a thousand times, “Be nice to your sister, she is not the sharpest tool in the shed.” (I’m joking.)

One of the other things I heard him say the most was, “You know what the good book says, ‘Life is by the twinkling of an eye.’” He always said with such confidence and backed it up with some statement that this phrase was in the Bible. It wasn’t until I went to Bible College that I discovered that the Bible does not say that at all. What it says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

It is a passage about the second coming of Jesus. I don’t know whether dad just interpreted this passage his way or whether he heard someone explain it one way and he just believed it. He took that one statement and understood it to mean that the twinkling of an eye in that passage was speaking of this life on earth. He took it to mean that this life was a flash, a twinkling of an eye to be lived preparing for Christ’s return. He believed we should live every moment preparing for eternity, because this life ends quickly.

He lived this out in a couple of ways that I saw. After his first stroke, I went to visit mom, and I sat down in his chair. There to the left of it was a Bible. I picked it up and page after page of notes written in the margins. There inside was a Sunday school lesson. He was preparing to teach on Sunday morning. He read and studied and taught the Bible until he was no longer able.

He life and teachings made an impression on not only me but also my family. You see, the last time I was in this Churches auditorium was when my dad baptized my son. (Right up there behind me)

My dad’s life was a testimony of faithfulness to God as we prepare for eternity.

I know he was not perfect. Sometimes he was mean and self-centered. We are all that way. But behind that tough exterior was a kind man who loved the Lord. He tried to do his best through this life to be ready for eternity. I think he did a good job.

My Three Questions of Scripture Application

While working on a sermon recently, I began thinking about the two sides of reading the scripture. Every time you read anything in the Bible you have the fundamental question of “What does the passage mean?” and then “How does that apply to my life?” My professor in college called it the “What” and the “So What.”

Each one of us goes through this process when we read the Bible. We need to clearly understand what the original writer of each section meant to say to the original reader. Every word has its own meaning within its own context. Once we have arrived at primary meaning, then we can begin to understand what that means to our life today.

This second part of Bible reading is where I see many people struggle. There are a lot of resources out there to help us understand what each passage is saying. While there are some controversial passages, most of what is written is plain for us to understand. The difficulty comes when we try to apply those Scriptures to daily living.

Through the years, I have come up with three primary questions I ask to help me apply what I am reading in the Bible. I primarily use these questions when I am writing the application part of my sermon each week. Maybe you will find these helpful as you read the Bible and try to follow the instructions of our Lord.

1. How does that work?
Recently I was talking about having peace in our lives. I asked myself some hard questions about this topic. How do we get peace when we have made a mess of our past? Do we just try to forget the past and move on? Does God do anything that will help me through this process? Is this passage about doing something specifically? How do I get it?
Does God just give us a principle or does the Scripture give us any insights into how his plan works?

2. What does that mean to me?
There is a very personal element to every piece of scripture application. For me, the question is, “What does this passage mean for a 45-year-old married man with children to have peace?” I think that it is easy to see Bible application for other people, but it is hard to see it clearly for myself. Quite often this requires me to take a long look in the mirror and be brutally honest with myself. I may tell everyone I have peace, but why do I lay awake some nights and replay the scenes of my childhood? Maybe I haven’t accepted what I calmly speak about? Where does scripture rub up against my life? I have found that most of us have the same struggles, but no one talks about it. That is where real application takes place.

3. What does that look like?
For example, how does a middle-aged man with Godly peace look different from a regular guy? Is it the look on his face, the clothes he wears, the books he reads or simply the time he spends at places of worship? What would it look like for a person to experience real peace with their past? We need to be careful of creating caricatures of what it means to be a follower of God that have no connection to reality. When Jesus was asked about loving our neighbor he told a story about a good Samaritan that pushed the application of a principle into the everyday experiences of life. We need to do the same thing.

I think it is easy to create simple applications that do not actually address Biblical transformation. The end result is that we produce Christians who have easy answers but look nothing like Christ. My hope is that we will read the Bible with a mind fixed toward understanding, but once we understand what it says, we will work to make it happen our lives.

Some Thoughts on Canceling Church

It happened again yesterday. We had to cancel Church because of an ice storm. I hate it when this happens, but we are concerned about people’s safety on weekends like this, especially for the oldest and youngest members of our congregation. When we have times like this, I would like you to remember these thoughts.

1. Please Worship Some Way on Your Own

Be sure and take some time this week and set it aside for the Lord. Take some extra time to pray, to read scripture, to connect to other believers and to focus on the cross of Christ. Christians understand that we do not have to be in a Church building to worship and what better time to exercise this freedom than this week.

2. Please Consider Your Giving
A pastor friend and I were talking about the possibility of canceling this week. The first words out of his mouth were, “Missing 1/52 of our annual giving will hurt.” I had not thought about it since our budget is not that tight, but I understand what he means. Many people will simply not give any extra if there is no Church. Unfortunately, all of the expenses of Church continue even when we do not meet.

3. Please Come Back Next Week and Don’t Get Out of the Habit.
One of my fears on a weekend like this is that we lose people. There were people who just started attending over the Christmas season and now they have missed. Once you miss one Sunday, it is easy to keep missing and eventually get out of the habit. This is true for everyone. I want to invite everyone back to Church personally. We are in a sermon series on “What Difference Does Faith Make” and I will continue with a sermon entitled “In My Work.” Please come and take the time to invite a friend or encourage others to come back.

4. Please Keep Praying On Your Own
Every week we have a list of prayer requests on our printed program. We also add those immediate requests that people put in our prayer baskets. Those requests remain needs in our congregation. Please keep praying for your needs, others needs and all the people in our congregation.

I know several other things could be said, but these are the biggest to me. Every time we have to cancel Church, it is a big decision that I hate to make. The good news is that it does not have to be a step back for our Church. With a little thought and effort, this could have been a day of rest to prepare us for the work God has for us the rest of the year.

Words for a Time of Loss

I want to write this while the wounds are still fresh. It has been less than a week since I lost my dad. I have just experienced my first time of family visitation and the funeral of a close relative. I want to share a few thoughts on my experience that may be helpful for you. Today I want to give you a few words that I found useful and a few I did not.

1. Your Presence is Enough, Don’t Feel the Pressure to Say Something Meaningful.
When Mom and I sat down after everything was over, we began to talk about who came and who was surprisingly absent. If I know you, then few words are required. If I don’t know you then tell me your relationship with him and why you felt you should come. That is enough, honestly.

2. Tell Me Personal Stories About My Dad.
When people told me about dad speeding in his car to work, talking himself out of tickets and other various stories, I learned a little more about this man I loved. Funny, entertaining, and personal stories that I might not know are a real blessing.

3. Remind Me of the Promises of God.
Dad was a believer, and I am confident about this eternity. Remind me of what the Bible says about heaven. Mention the removal of pain and a life without mourning, crying or pain.

4. Sharing Your Pain With Me is Okay.
A few people told me of their loss of their father and even their spouse. They said how hard it was for them, but God got them through it by his grace and mercy. Those stories helped me to connect with people and see a small light at the end of this journey.

5. Resist the Urge to Make Eternal Guesses.

Saying things like, “He is up there fishing right now” are not really helpful. Telling me about him talking to your deceased relative are not encouraging either. Telling me about a dream you had or some eternal vision are kind of weird. I know you mean well, but it is not really helpful, in fact, some of it was upsetting – at least for me.

Over the last several days I have heard everything. The words ranged from a comfort that only I know to words that upset me. I hope that this little reflection will be helpful the next time you attend a family visitation or funeral. This is an excellent time to minister to people, but we must be thoughtful in everything we say.

When Faith Meets a Funeral

I have been dreading the next two days. The past two days have been filled with memories of my dad and tears shed with family. I have traveled all day and am back in Indiana for my father’s funeral. The next two days hold the visitation time and the actual funeral. I know I stand on the edge of some of the most emotional days of my life.

I approach these days full of faith. I am a devoted follower of Jesus. My father was also a committed believer. I know this is an event that calls on all that we trust as people who place our faith in Christ.

With that said, two passages of Scripture keep coming to mind as I approach these days.

First, in John chapter 11 we have the story of the death of Jesus friend named Lazarus. Jesus reaches the place where they laid him and it says in John 11:35 that “Jesus wept.” Jesus knew the reality of eternity, and yet he was sad at the loss of his friend to the grave.

I have thought that he might have wept because he knew that God did not desire for death to enter the world. Jesus knew that his death was the result of sin corrupting God’s perfect work. Maybe there was some deep theological meaning in his tears. But maybe his tears were more basic in their meaning, and he was simply sad at the loss of his friend.

Second, the Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica and says in chapter 4 verse 13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.”

The indication is clear. Grief is fine, but it should not be excessive. Followers of Jesus cling to the hope of eternal life. All is not lost. We know that those who have passed away will be with us for eternity.

For me, the next two days will be filled with the grief that only a funeral can bring. It will also be filled with the hope of eternal life. It may be a sad time, but it is not the end of this story.

In Memory

Early Sunday morning January 8, 2017, Freddie Lewis Harris, my father passed away in his sleep. Over the last two years, he had suffered two major strokes and several “minor” strokes. The last one hit the Friday before Christmas. His health steadily decreased until the Lord called him home.

He was my father, Pappy to my children, mentor, and friend. I will miss him in every way. I look forward to seeing him in heaven again one day. Love you, Poppa.

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Weekend Reading

I am doing something different for 2017. Every weekend I am going to post some of the best and most helpful articles I have read in the past week. Sometimes this will be only one or two pieces and other times it may be several. I would just like to share what I am reading every weekend in 2017. Hope you enjoy.

When the Angels Are Gone

I KNOW WHY YOUR CHURCH DID (OR DIDN’T) CANCEL CHRISTMAS

John MacArthur’s Ten Crucial Lessons We Must Teach our Children

It Matters Whom You Marry

46 THINGS NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT PARENTING A TEENAGE BOY