A Prayer for Mental Health

Dear God, thank you for this day and thank you for always providing for me. These days, when we go to the grocery store, we find empty shelves. Hospitals and clinics can’t find the equipment they need to care for the sick. I know I need not worry about a single hour of my life – about what I will eat or drink or wear or about my health. Your eye is on the sparrow, and I know you watch over me.

Lord Jesus, the world is struggling with all the consequences that a pandemic brings – death, illness, a lack of resources, social isolation. I pray for all the people around the world who are struggling with fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, depression or despair. Comfort them with your loving presence.

Lord, people have always struggled from mental health issues. This crisis only makes things worse. I pray that people will get the help they need. I pray for the psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, psychotherapists, counselors, and other professionals who dedicate their lives to helping people with mental health issues. I pray that you will give them the resources and means to treat their patients while maintaining physical distance.

I pray that you will help me to have more compassion and empathy for others. Help me to understand what other people are going through. Show me how I can help others in need.

Amen.

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A Prayer for Healthcare Workers

Life as we know it, has been turned upside down by a novel virus. People are hoarding TP, emptying grocery store shelves, stockpiling supplies like it’s 1999. Job losses. Worry. Fear. Denial. Social isolation.

In times like this, it really hits home how much we need each other. We are grateful for and need the healthcare workers who put themselves at risk everyday to help other people. We are grateful for and need teachers who not only educate kids but also keep them occupied for hours so their parents can work. We are grateful for and need restaurant and retail workers and all the people, too numerous to list, who provide goods and services to the public.

Several days into this global health crisis, as I read post after post on social media, I had an idea – share a prayer. I pray silently. I am not good at praying in front of other people. As I share my prayers on social media over the coming days, I hope that my personal prayers will help even one person who is struggling during this difficult time.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for your love and protection. Lord, I pray for people who are living in fear of coronavirus. I pray for those who worry about how they are going to pay their bills or pay their employees. I pray for those who have already lost loved ones and for those who are fighting COVID-19 right now. I pray for all of us, the whole world, as we struggle with things that are beyond our control.

Lord, I pray that something good will come from all of this. That we will learn to love one another as we love ourselves.

You’ve got the whole world in Your hands.

God, I thank you for uniquely gifting each of us. Today, I especially thank you for blessing healthcare workers with their talents and for giving them hearts that care about others. Today, I lift up the people in my own extended family who work in the healthcare industry: Cindy, Jamie, Ashley and Gary, Adrian and Cassandra, Garrett and the girlfriend I have not met, Lindy, and anyone I unintentionally missed. Protect them from this deadly virus. Give them courage. Erase all fear. Lord, at the end of their long and stressful days, I pray that you will give them rest.

I lift my eyes up to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Amen

As I think about how we are all connected, I remember what the Apostle Paul said to the church about unity and diversity in the body (1 Corinthians 12). The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…

We need each other.

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The Gaze of the Soul

In the seventh chapter of The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote about a spiritual concept that is mentioned often in the Bible but defined only once: faith. I did my own search for the word faith on BibleGateway.com and brought up 458 results from the New International Version of the Bible. What is faith? As Tozer noted, Hebrews 11 gives a functional definition of faith – explaining what faith is in action, not what it is in essence.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Tozer next explained a New Testament reference to an Old Testament story. In Numbers 21, we read that God sent venomous snakes after the people of Israel spoke out against Him and many of them were bitten and died. The people came to Moses and said, we have sinned. Moses prayed for the people. God then told Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole. Anyone who was bitten could look at the bronze snake and live.

When Jesus explained how people can be saved, He said that it is by believing. He compared believing in Him to the story in Numbers:

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

John 3:14-15

“Looking” at the Old Testament serpent was synonymous with “believing” in the New Testament Christ! The people of Israel looked at an object with their external eyes and were saved; we believe with the heart and are saved. With this connection between looking and believing, Tozer defined what faith is in essence.

Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.

Faith isn’t just a one-time act, it is “a continuous gaze of the heart at the triune God. Sin turns our vision toward inward and makes us think too much of ourselves. Faith causes us to turn our eyes away from the self and towards God. “Faith is a redirecting of our sight…”

Simplicity

As I continued to read chapter seven, I found myself feeling emotional about the timeliness of Tozer’s message about the simplicity of faith. We do not need special equipment or a special place or a special time to look upon a saving God! I cannot go to church on Sunday. It’s been closed by a pandemic. It doesn’t matter whether I am allowed to go to a place of worship on Palm Sunday or Easter. My soul can gaze upon my Savior any hour of any day, whether I am sitting in a pew or taking a walk down a deserted street!

Those of us who believe in the risen Jesus have found the secret of seeing God from anywhere. Something in our hearts sees God.

Heavenly Father, for the past three days, I have begun the day quietly gazing at You and giving You praise even as this nation battles the coronavirus. I lift my eyes up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. I praise You for giving me eyes to see You! Lord, may the gaze of my soul be my inward habit, even when this storm passes. Amen.

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Praise You in This Storm (Casting Crowns)

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

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Word of God, speak

The sixth chapter of The Pursuit of God (The Speaking Voice), began with one of my favorite verses in the Bible – John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. A.W Tozer wrote, “it is the nature of God to speak, to communicate His thoughts to others.” God spoke the universe into being. God spoke to nothingness and it became something. God still fills the world with his speaking voice. The question is, do we recognize it?

The Bible is the written word of God but it is admittedly subject to the limitations of paper and ink. Tozer wrote that the Bible isn’t a record of a brief period of time when God was in the mood to speak. And God didn’t just write a book and send it by messenger to be read by “unaided minds.” He sends the Spirit to reveal His truth. His speaking voice gives the written word the power to affect the reader’s heart.

Tozer wrote that ancient Hebrews referred to the universal voice of God as wisdom. He also believed that human creativity is a response to the creative voice of God.

As I reflected on what Tozer wrote about God’s speaking voice, I recalled a Bible study my church group did a few years ago. I don’t remember the name of the book but I remember that we read about God’s call to Samuel. The voice of God sounded so much like a person to Samuel that he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” I came away from the Bible study wondering if I am doing something wrong if I don’t hear the audible voice of God, or even worse, that God doesn’t want to speak to me.

I’ve learned that my expectations for that Bible study were wrong. I should not expect to hear God speak to me out loud. God is Spirit and he speaks to the human spirit. God’s speaking voice is a gentle whisper. I’ve heard that whisper loud and clear when I have needed to hear it. Once, when I was feeling really hopeless and rejected, I sat on the floor crying to God about how badly I had messed things up. I heard Him say to me, “A broken and contrite heart, I will not despise.” God’s living word from Psalm 51 transcended the limitations of paper and spoke to my heart when I was ready to hear it.

The truth is, God still speaks to people, even ordinary people like me. God has never been silent. His voice is alive and free.

Imagine you get in a car and turn on the radio to listen to some music. You’re in a busy city in range of many stations. You turn the knob from station to station and scan through a variety of genres. Classical, jazz, rock, country, R&B, hip hop, gospel, the blues. Now imagine you’re driving in an isolated area like the great plains. You turn the knob and hear a station that’s just out of range. You can’t make out the words or the tune. You keep turning the knob and hear nothing but static.

The point is, if we want to hear the speaking voice of God, we must draw near to Him. We must tune in. We can’t let the noises of this world distract us from the living God who wants to be heard. No one is ever out of His range.

Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Jesus was with God from the beginning. The Word became flesh and and made his dwelling among us. Through his example and his words, Jesus expressed who God is. His voice still speaks to those who hear with their hearts. His voice is a light that shines in the darkness and gives understanding to the simple.

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

Psalm 119:130

Lord, I thank you for sending the Word to become flesh and to live among us. Give us ears to hear and hearts that understand Your quiet, gentle voice. Unfold your words and give understanding to the simple.

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Receptive to God’s presence

Wherever we are, God is here. No point is nearer to God than any other point. No one is in mere distance any farther from or any nearer to God than any other person is. A.W. Tozer wrote these truths about the omnipresence of God in the fifth chapter of The Pursuit of God, The Universal Presence. He then asked the question, if God is everywhere, then why doesn’t mankind celebrate that fact? The answer is simple: men do not know that God is here.

In previous chapters, Tozer wrote about the manifest presence of God. The presence of God and the manifest presence of God are not the same thing. God is manifest when we are aware of his presence but God is always here whether His presence is clear to us or not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

Why does God manifest His presence to some people and not to others? Does God love them more? Or does the answer lie with us?

Tozer pointed out that if you think about any of the great saints whose lives and stories are well-known (not just people from the Bible), you will see that they were all unique individuals. Moses was not like Isaiah. John was not like Paul. C.S. Lewis was not like St. Francis. God did not choose to reveal Himself to these men because there was something really special about them.

What quality do all of these people have in common? Tozer concluded that it was spiritual receptivity – being open to God and being responsive to that inward longing that so many of us feel. Spiritual receptivity is not just one thing; it is “a blending of several elements within the soul.” Spiritual receptivity is not a constant quality; people possess it to varying degrees. We must actively cultivate these “elements within the soul” if we want to be open to God’s manifest presence.

God is here but man does not always know it.

During this Lenten season, my church is reading Scot McKnight’s 40 Days: Living the Jesus Creed. In the reading for day nine, McKnight wrote about a God who is “on call.” When Scot was a teenager, he foolishly drove an old car 100 mph on a two-lane highway. The road crested slightly and the car was slightly airborne. Then the road curved and Scot realized he couldn’t make the curve at such a high speed. Through the mercy of the God who is always on call, Scot was able to slow down enough to navigate the curve.

We are made aware of God’s presence through personal experience. Like Scot McKnight, I have had a couple of near-misses on the highway when I was very aware of and thankful for God’s protective presence! I have felt God’s comforting presence in moments of grief and emotional turmoil. I am aware of God’s guiding presence as I navigate the difficult spiritual tests of this life.

Tozer did not attempt to identify any of the elements of spiritual receptivity. From my own experience, I’ve listed a few elements of the soul that open me up to God’s manifest presence.

Devotion

The greatest commandment (part of what McKnight calls The Jesus Creed) is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Simply said, it is to love God with everything you’ve got! It is having a personal relationship with God and making God the most important part of your life.

Many religious people treat God as just an icon or a set of beliefs. Loving God is more than loving the idea of God. As Jason Gray sings, this is more like falling in love than religion. I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes. It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in. More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance. Jesus made God real to me and swept me off my feet!

Humility

I just read a non-religious article about the power of intellectual humility. The author wrote that humble people are more open to learning from others because personal growth is their goal, not social status. Likewise, spiritual humility is the key to spiritual growth.

I think of humility in two ways. One, I am the small ‘c’ created being and God is the the big ‘C’ Creator. He is omniscient. There is so much I do not know about countless topics, even in comparison to other mortals. I can’t see the future; God already knows it. He is powerful; I am weak. Two, God is holy. He is the source of all that is good and moral. I am confronted daily with my sinfulness and inability to ever be pure in my thoughts and deeds.

Humility makes us receptive to God because we have to first acknowledge our fallibility and weakness to seek God’s help. Humble people are open to learning from Him. Humble people get their courage and strength from God.

Honesty and Openness

I believe that God reveals himself to those who are honest with themselves and with Him. We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings from God. Before an all-knowing God, it’s pointless to pretend to be something we are not. Before an all-seeing God, it’s pointless to cover up our thoughts and feelings. God is not fooled or impressed with our pretenses.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

In the psalms, I find the kind of honesty and openness that characterizes a person who is receptive to God’s presence and to the transforming power of the Spirit. David was honest with God about his fears. At times, David felt ignored and rejected by God. He was honest about his frustrations with injustice. In Psalm 10, David asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” He then went on to complain at length about the actions of the wicked before acknowledging that God sees the troubles of the afflicted. God hears the cries of the afflicted. God is not indifferent to our suffering. God defends the oppressed. God is here.

Hunger

I eat several times a day. It’s hard for me to ignore hunger and the allure of my favorite foods. I am fortunate that I never have to be hungry for long because food is almost always readily available.

To be receptive to the presence of God, we have to long for God just as much as we long for our favorite snacks. God is readily available. We must long to fill that gnawing spiritual emptiness that exists when we are not fed by God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

Lord, you are here. You are always near, even when it feels like you are far off. You are always on call. I am always in your hands. Thank you for loving me and protecting me from harm. I pray that you will cultivate the elements of my soul that make me receptive to your presence. Search me and show me the errors of my ways. Fill me with your goodness! Give me eyes that see and ears that hear your truth. Amen.

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