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Why I Pray

“…But I give myself to prayer…” (Psalm 109:4)

There was a time I didn’t pray.  I saw no need for it and thought that, at best, it was a ritualistic act performed by religious people of whom I was not.  Then, some things happened ((I’ll skip the numerous details) and I was converted.  That’s when I began to pray.  Most of the time, I did it out of a sense of duty, although I believed it was important.  The truth is, I didn’t rank prayer highest on the list of “spiritual” things I enjoyed doing or participating in.  A lot of the time, it felt like work.  It occasionally still feels that way, but more times than not, now, I pray because I experience a deep need to pray…to seek beyond myself to satisfy the hungers of my soul.  

Dwight L. Moody (19th century American evangelist) was speaking to a group of children in Scotland.  To get their attention, he asked them a question, “What is prayer?”  He was expecting the kind of simple answers children might give, but one little boy said this, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”*

It was an extraordinary answer for one so young and suggests his parents took seriously the admonition, “Train up a child in the way they should go; when they are old they will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  Reading this account last week caused me to think more about my reasons for praying.  Here are a few:

  • I pray because I believe that GOD is who He says He is.  I believe He is Creator, morally perfect, transcendent (beyond the limits of experience and knowledge), eminent (perceivable) and personal.  
  • I pray because GOD has done and is doing for me, through Jesus Christ, what I could not and cannot do for myself: given me a new life free from the stain of sin, proven sufficient for my weaknesses, given me freedom from the fear of death, and a conviction that even after the death of my body, the redeemed me will live on in the risen Christ.  
  • I pray because prayer sensitizes me to awareness of GOD, His presence, His love, His peace, His will, His words.  As mystical as it may sound, I commonly experience all of this.  It’s not enough for me to become acquainted with Him from a distance; I want to be acquainted with Him in the same way that many, many table conversations intimately acquaint me with those on the other side of the same table.  The more we talk, the more aware and appreciative I become of who they are.
  • I pray because I am confident that reliance on self and human wisdom apart from GOD is both vain and deceitful.  Jesus was right; life’s lasting fruitfulness is found only in Him; apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).  Prayer opens my inner vision to the reality and depth of my poverty and smallness and the great privilege offered me to freely share in His great riches. 
  • I pray because there are still times when I am morally wrong and need to repent of those things (reverse course and turn towards GOD) and confess them to be free from the guilt.  He freely and mercifully offers forgiveness and I receive it, gratefully.  
  • I pray because there are spiritual and material needs all around me and I have an obligation to approach GOD on behalf of those who have those needs that they too might share in His riches.  GOD has shown me His love, mercy and grace and encourages, even challenges me to do the same for as many others as I can.  Prayer is one way I do that.             

Some may say they look to other means to experience some of what I have shared, things like meditation or therapy. I think meditation can be good.  It is even better when it opens us up to the realization that we need more than we can self-generate.  And I definitely don’t have an axe to grind against therapy.  I have recommended therapy to former parishoners from time to time and have utilized it myself after experiencing a family trauma and the need to make a major life decision.  Two of my children are therapists and the work they do is valuable.  Even with that, I don’t believe we can separate emotional health from spiritual health and actually be healthy.  That is an unfortunate dichotomy rooted in human but not godly wisdom.  They are two sides of the same coin (life).       

Seeking GOD’s presence for the pure sake of being with Him, expressing thanks, petitioning Him for the things I need and desire, and interceding for others is something to which I now look forward.

I pray because GOD is no longer a part of my life; He is my life.  

* Found in Deep Fire, Daily Challenges for a Burning Heart, Harold Vaughn (ed.). p.237.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved except when otherwise noted.  

I Need More Than A Prophet

“…For it is GOD who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

I’m deeply appreciative of the men and women of days past and of the present who have proclaimed GOD’s Word.  More may be familiar with the term “prophet” as being about those who have been gifted with the ability to foretell the will of GOD, but the term also applies to those who are called to forthtell His will, that is, to forcefully proclaim what has already been revealed. 

When I say that I’m appreciative, I’m earnest about that.  Being able to read the words of prophets of the past and seeing the evidence of their prophecies revealed in later historical settings are a unique kind of faith builder.  Similarly, to sit before someone skilled in opening the Scriptures and experiencing them framing it in ways that are both mentally and emotionally impactful is food for my soul.  

Still, I need more.  I need the words of the prophets, GOD’s revealed truth, to become alive in me.  The prophet cannot do that.  What they can do is to raise my awareness.  They can even stir me.  What they cannot do is the inner work of transformation that leads to godliness.  For this, I need the Spirit who alone cultivates the seed of the Word and grows it in my soul so that my life begins to take on the character of GOD and my choices reflect His will for me.  

Like plants need the Sun and the rain, I need the Word and I need the Spirit.  I need the prophets to speak and I need the Spirit to work within.  Without the Spirit, the words of the prophets (even when true), are no more than the basis of human-based ethical systems disguised as religions. These, in turn, require systems of control and enforcement (which are also subject to corruption).  There is no freedom in this.  Without the Word, the Spirit has no substance of GOD’s on which to act and is easily replaced by a counterfeit, feel-good emotionalism which has no power to transform. 

No, I need both in full measure so that I might fulfill His good purpose.  I’m grateful the Word and the Spirit are freely available.  That is good news.  

© Byron L. Hannon, 2021.  All rights reserved for text content unless otherwise noted.                  

Borrowed Thoughts

I’ve not done this before and don’t foresee doing it again anytime soon, but the opportunity was too great to pass.  For several years, the theme of how accumulated spiritual rubble degrades devotion to GOD in individuals and cultures has percolated in me.  I wasn’t thinking about this, however, when I read something by a favorite teacher that grabbed me as I read it.  Below I repeat his thoughts, verbatim.

“Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found”

“Seek ye the Lord.  The impulse to align oneself on the side of that which is whole is a natural one.  Sometimes it springs from the desire to cover up, to take refuge in the strength of another so as to shun the necessity of dealing with one’s own weakness.  Sometimes it springs from the desire to discover a way by which to understand one’s own needs and to do something about meeting them. The Other-than-self reference is a necessity for peace of mind and spirit.”

“This day I seek the Lord.  I seek to know God that I may understand myself, that I may grasp the true meaning of my own life and have its purpose increasingly defined.  I seek His judgment that I may discern an ever clearer meaning between right and wrong course of conduct.  I seek His love that I may be inspired to love more and more what is good and true, and to transcend all barriers which stand between me and my fellows.”

“Seek ye the Lord while He is near.  This does not mean that God will withdraw from me but it does mean that if I quench the desire to seek Him over and over again, there may come a time when the desire itself becomes buried beneath all kinds of debris in my own life.  The desire will never die, but I must not run the risk of pushing it so far out of my consciousness that there seems to be no hunger in me to become whole, clean and redeemed.”

“Seek ye the Lord, while He may be found.”1

May you be blessed by this reading as I was.  

  1. Howard Thurman. “Seek Ye the Lord,” Meditations of the Heart, Beacon Press, Boston, MA, © 1981.  

Family

I grew-up disconnected from most of my extended biological family, although they are quite numerous, particularly on my father’s side (he was the second oldest of 15 children).  Consequently, I have (or had) lots aunts and uncles and a slew of cousins, most of whom I’ve never met. The reasons for that disconnection are complex and due to a family dysfunction that was in play before I was born; I was just one of the beneficiaries of it.

Thanks to one of my uncles, who used to stay with us during the summers when he was a college student and I was very young, I later learned a lot about the history of my dad’s family.  As a child, I had a special affection for Uncle Joe.  He was ten years younger than my father and still had enough play in him that I just enjoyed being with him.  I looked forward to him arriving every summer to work at the candy factory on the boardwalk in Asbury Park.  

One of his later in life hobbies was genealogy which he took seriously.  His research was pretty extensive, going back to my great-great-great-grandmother, a slave woman named Lucinda owned by a family from whom my family takes our last name.  He did research into that family as well and shared much of what he found with anyone in our family who was interested.  I was interested and have a lot of that documentation, including some very dated pictures.

I later connected with one of my dad’s younger sisters, and through her I met several cousins, her children and the children of other siblings of my father.  Some of those connections have been in person and some by Facebook® because they live so far away.  Sadly, a few of those face-to-face meetings have been at family funerals.  Still, establishing these connections has been a nice addition to my life; they have filled in some voids for which I’m happy.  One of my west coast cousins sent me a picture I didn’t have: my great-grandmother (b. 1867 – d.1944), and the family resemblance is uncanny.  These things are valuable nuggets to me, and I look to pass them on whenever I can.

The day Thanksgiving, two of our grandchildren (18 and 16yrs) surprised visited us.  My wife’s birthday was on Thanksgiving, and although they had called to wish her a happy birthday (we didn’t do the family gathering we normally do because of Covid concerns), they decided we needed a face-to-face visit.  When the doorbell rang, I asked my wife if she was expecting anyone, to which she said “No.”  I opened the door and there they stood with their Covid masks on.  They came in and hung-out with us for a while.  

It was good visit.  We got caught-up on how our granddaughter was faring in her first semester of college and how our grandson (a high school junior) was dealing with going to school a couple of days a week and the rest of the week taking virtual classes.  We talked about their aspirations and even some of their struggles and concerns, all of this with the TV on as background noise in the room where we sat.

I noticed our grandson scanning some of the pictures we have on a bookcase, pictures of various family members, and decided to pull out some others of their dad and our two daughters (their aunts), when all of them were very young.  I passed three or four of the pictures around, and it generated some conversation and few chuckles.  Before long they said their goodbyes and left, headed to the Panera Bread® a few miles from our home. 

As I was putting those pictures back into the albums, I was thinking that there is so much about our family my family members don’t know, and I would love to share it with them.  Isn’t the transfer of important information one of the responsibilities and privileges of older family members?   

I don’t want to push it on them.  Perhaps one day, they’ll develop an interest and an appetite for it.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise indicated.                              

How Can I Say Thanks?

I write this only a few hours from the dawn of Memorial Day, the day in which the nation is explicit in giving thanks to those who sacrificed and served in times of war, and principally to those who lost life and limb in this service to the country.  I am the son, grandson and son-in-law of men who served in two different wars (World War I and II), the nephew of one who served in Vietnam, and the cousin of two who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.  One of my cousins lost his life fighting and the other shows signs of PTSD.

The war in Vietnam gained height during my high school years and peaked in my early college years.  There were many horrors evident to anyone paying attention.  There was still a military draft in those days, and even though I was eligible to be drafted, I never was, and I never served in a branch of the military.  Still, I’ve seen enough of the ugliness of war to never wish it upon anyone.  There’s nothing romantic about it.  People who experience war are never quite the same.  Often families are never quite the same.

Memorial Day parades are nice, but much of what is seen in VA hospitals isn’t.  Sometimes, the words “Thank you” just don’t seem sufficient.

We’re in a war now with an unseen enemy.  Significantly more people in this country have been killed by COVID-19 in the last few months than in two decades of fighting in Vietnam.*  Many more have died since the publishing of the referenced article, and the numbers will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.  Many of the stories are heart-wrenching as family members cannot even be with their loved ones as they are admitted, treated in hospitals and recover…or don’t.  I just heard of one a few minutes ago impacting people that I know and love.

We are all potential casualties of this war and among the most vulnerable are physicians, nurses and other essential hospital workers, EMTs and paramedics, police and fire personnel.  Odd working hours and extra-long shifts, insufficient rest, the constant risk of exposure, and concerns about their own health and the health of their spouses and children are just samplings of things they face each and every day.  A couple of days ago, I read the story of a physician who cries in her car at the end of every shift before she goes home.

None of them will ever be quite the same after this.  And some are dying as a direct result of their proximity to the war’s hot zones and their attempts to serve those suffering.

I have a nephew who is an EMT.  His wife is a RN who normally works as a school nurse but is also working hours in a local hospital.  They have a child.  The wife of a good friend is an essential hospital worker and has experienced multiple exposures to COVID-19.   They have two children.

I really don’t know how to say “thanks” to them, but I am thankful for them, all of them.  This Memorial Day is for them and so many like them who, along with those who sacrificed in past wars, sacrifice today in order to secure a safer world for all of us.  They are worthy of our honor and our earnest prayers.

*David Welna, Coronavirus Has Now Killed More Americans Than the Vietnam War, NPR Online, April 8, 2020.

© Byron L. Hannon, 2020.  All rights reserved to text content unless otherwise noted.

Check out my Thoughts from Others page for some interesting, encouraging and challenging ideas.

 

I Wonder If There Will Be TVs In Heaven

I wonder if there will be TVs in heaven.

I wonder if Eleanor Rigby will be too busy to be lonely, and all will hold her dear.

I wonder if Father McKenzie’s sermons will be preached, and everyone will hear.

I wonder if Stevie will still wish for days gone by, and will Marvin sing Mercy, Mercy Me without a hint of plaintive cry.

I wonder if Job will rest, satisfied, knowing now, “Why ‘ask why?”

I wonder if Jeremiah will yield his wounded heart, with each and every tear because all  the evil kings and false prophets will be seen, and there is no need to fear.

I wonder if Kipling’s “If” will be needed at all, for none will need help to stand tall.

I wonder if the reason why the revolution won’t be televised in heaven is because the        revolution will either enlist or consume us all.

 

© Byron L. Hannon, 2019.  All rights reserved.