In America, today we celebrate the National Day of Prayer. This annual observance is held on the first Thursday of May. Since 1952, it has been designated as a day when people are asked to pray and meditate.
I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I struggle with my prayer life. It is much easier for me to read and study the Bible. Sitting quietly and praying is more difficult. Meditating is even harder. Honestly, it is easier for me to fast.
Here are some techniques I have found helpful:
- Every day I pray for my husband and children. For my husband, I use the book “The Power of a Praying Wife”. See this blog post for more. For my kids I have daily things I pray for – their friends, their faith, their schooling, their future husbands, their choices, etc.
- I keep a journal with list of what to pray for based on the day of the week.
- Monday – My husband’s family
- Tuesday – My church (the staff, elders, ministry partners, any prayer requests I’m aware of from the church body)
- Wednesday – My family
- Thursday – I ask God to show me things I need to forgive or ask for forgiveness for. I also pray for my “enemies” (this ranges from people who have hurt me to terrorists)
- Friday – God’s direction and for wisdom
- Saturday – Elected officials
- Sunday – My ministry to others and for God to fill me with love
- Pray through the news headlines: Take the newspaper or news headlines and pray for the top issues facing the world. For example, looking through today’s news here are prayer ideas:
- Prayer for elected officials to have wisdom while making decisions on America’s healthcare. Prayers for our elected officials to seek God’s will.
- Prayer for peace in Venezuela
- Prayer for Syrian refugees and peace in Syria. Prayer for Christians in Syria.
- Praise: Make a list of all your blessing and everything has God has done in your life. Go through the list one by one and thank God for what he has done and praise him.
Did you know there are olive trees alive today that are estimated to be between 2,000 – 4,000 years old? There are trees at the Mount of Olives who some believe may have been there when Jesus prayed in the garden. Pretty incredible. Makes we want to plan a trip to visit the Holy Land!
I’ve never given olives or olive trees much thought (expect when contemplating going on a Mediterranean diet which sounds completely wonderful . . . except that anything with the word “diet” tends not get past mental contemplation for me). But as I was doing my morning Bible reading I read a verse that stuck out to me:
But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8 NIV
I love this image that David created in this Psalm. “An olive tree flourishing in the house of God.” I can just picture it – a beautiful tree in God’s garden. So I dug a little deeper into this verse as well as other verses about olive trees and branches in both the Old Testament New Testament, as well as from a historical perspective. The Bible is full of references to olives and olive trees:
- The olive was a major agriculture product in Israel. In addition to food, the oil was used for cooking, lighting lamps, sacrifice and anointing.
- When Noah was on the ark, looking for dry land, he sent out a dove. The dove returned with an olive leaf in his beak which was a sign to Noah that the flood was receding. It symbolized that God was done with his judgement and the world was coming back to life.
- When two battling enemies were ready to make peace they would extend an olive branch between them to show they were done fighting.
- In Romans 11:17-21, Paul referred to Gentiles as wild olive shoots, being grafted into Israel. He said:
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
- Not necessarily an olive tree, but I love this picture that Jesus creates in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
There are so many more verses that reference olives, trees, and branches . . . and so many lessons to be learned.
How to Be a Flourishing Olive Tree
- Be Planted in Good Soil: Jesus told a parable of a man scattering seeds that landed on different types of ground – a path, rocks, thorns and in good soil. I can relate to each of these – sometimes I think I’ve been each of them in the span of a week! What does it mean to be good soil? Jesus explains in Mark 4:20: “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” Read the Bible, believe it, and apply what it says.
- Stay in the Vine: How do we bear fruit? Jesus says it is by staying in the “vine”. Spending time reading the Bible. Praying. Meditating. Fasting. I even love meditating on John 15 and picturing myself as branch attached to Jesus. If I am spending time with Jesus and applying what I learn from him I will naturally bear fruit.
- Let your Light Shine: The fruit of an olive tree is an olive. When crushed, olives produce olive oil. Olive oil had many uses in the Bible, including lighting a lamp. In Matthew 5, Jesus said: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
- Accept Pruning: God is my gardener. And sometimes I need pruned. I need to get rid of bad influences and bad habits. I need to cut sin out of my life. I need disciplined. And I need to understand that God does it because he loves me and it will help me mature as a Christian.
Let’s follow David’s lead. Let’s become Olive Trees. Flourishing. Trusting God. And going deep into the vine of Jesus.
A Life Focused on What Matters Most.
God had offered the Israelites blessing upon blessing if they just followed him. And they would . . . for a short while. And then they would reject him. He wanted to be their King and take care of them, but they kept walking away from him.
I can relate to this.
I could give you a million examples from my teens and early 20s, but even now in my 40s (when I am reading my Bible every day and should be more mature) I reject God regularly. I put idols above him. I disobey him.
God’s number one command is to love him with all my heart. And second to love others. If you were a fly on the wall in my house some days, observing how I spend my time, you’d think my greatest loves were Facebook, being exasperated with my kids, Word Cookies, and my career and budget.
God had offered the Israel – his chosen people – a life of peace and blessings. But they chose something else. They wanted another king. A human king. They wanted to fit in with other nations who had “real” kings. They came to the prophet Samuel and asked him to find them a king. Samuel was personally offended, but when he came to God, God said:
“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” 1 Samuel 8:7 NIV
How many times have I done the same thing? Put someone or something on a pedestal. How often have I made it my main focus, instead of Jesus?
But the wonderful thing is, even though Israel strayed from God over and over, when they repented and turned back, God was right there waiting. Still loving them. Still protecting them. Showing mercy and grace.
And he does the same thing for me and for you.
Prayer: Dear God, Please show me areas of my life where I have put people or things above you. And help me to always put you first.
David was a man after God’s own heart. He was chosen by God to be the king of Israel. From his family tree came Jesus. But David wasn’t perfect. Far from it.
King David was a murder. King David was an adulterer.
In today’s reading (if you want to join me in reading through the Bible comment below and I’ll be in touch! Here is the plan I’m using this year. It is never too late to start!), the plan including Psalm 51, which King David wrote after he was confronted by a prophet, Nathan, about his adultery.
I think there is a lot to learn in this chapter, by David’s example, about what to do when confronted with sin:
- David admitted his sin.
- His heart was broken because of his sin.
- David asked God for mercy.
- He asked God to cleanse him from his sin.
- David asked God to create in him a pure heart and to renew a steadfast spirit.
- He praised God.
We have all sinned – whether its lying or cheating or gossiping. King David’s sin was huge – murder and adultery. But when confronted with his sin he admitted what he had done and his heart was broken. His heart wasn’t broken because he had been caught. His heart was broken because he had hurt God. He asked for forgiveness. He turned away from the sin.
God forgave him.
And God turned evil into good . . . as from David and Bathsheba’s family line came a baby named Jesus who would save the world.