The Little Dash In the Incomplete Prayer: What Does It Mean, and Why Is It There?

“The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin— (why is this dash here?) but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32, NIV). There is something important in this verse that’s easy to overlook. It’s the dash.

dash

The summer of 1972 I had the privilege of working as a counselor at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boy’s Camp near Colorado Springs. It was a rustic, beautiful camp high in the mountains where boys would come from all over the nation to experience hiking, rappelling, pioneering and living in a teepee for a week (made all the more authentic by the fact that our “facilities” were outhouses). The camp staff was an awesome group of guys, and the experiences were second to none. We rappelled, built stuff with logs and twine, and had mountaintop experiences every day.

What has stayed with me longest from that summer are the lessons learned from several of the Navigator leaders like Lorne Sanny and Leroy Eims who came out from Glen Eyrie and taught us from time to time. Their insights into Scripture and the practical way they applied it are still foundational for me 43 years later.

Leroy Eims taught us this particular passage, and pointed out the almost humorous exchange between God and Moses in Verses 7 and 10. “And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For YOUR people whom YOU brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” Moses’ answer was classic, almost like two parents whose child has done something wrong, so that neither parent wants to claim responsibility. “Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against YOUR people whom YOU have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” The way Moses interacted with God is marvelous, and certainly provides us some solid principles about how to pray: be candid; be fully expressed; be persistent.

Even more than these verses, though, is the principle revealed by the dash. Mr. Eims pointed out that in verse 32, there was this odd grammatical anomaly: “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” He read that verse, and then he asked us, “What’s the dash for?”(Of course, none of us had ever really noticed the dash or given it any thought.)

He told us, “The dash represents a pause by the speaker, but it doesn’t really explain why. It’s there, but it doesn’t tell us WHY it’s there. I believe that as Moses was praying for his people, as he contemplated the consequences of what they had done, he was overcome with emotion and broke down, unable to continue. He was so overcome with grief and empathy that he couldn’t even complete his sentence. When he regained his composure, he finished by putting his own eternal security on the line for his people.”

Leroy Eims told us about the secret of the dash. It represented powerful emotions! It showed how much Moses cared about the children of Israel! When was the last time you broke down in tears and were unable to complete a sentence because you were praying so passionately? And who do you care about SO much that you can’t lift them up to the Lord without getting teary-eyed? Who is in your dash? Yes, Moses prayed with honesty and persistence. So should we. But he also prayed with passion and emotion. So should we.

The people of Israel made them a calf
So Moses prayed on their behalf
And asked the Lord His judgment to withhold
Because they had worshipped a idol calf of gold.
While he was praying and asking for grace,
Tears were streaming from Moses’ face
As he considered his nation’s fate
Which was just too awful to contemplate.
And in his prayer there was a pause;
Maybe it’s in there just because,
But really it’s kind of a mystery
That’s written in Scripture for all to see.
That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
What does it mean, and why is it there?
It’s there because Moses couldn’t take
The way they would pay for their mistake;
While praying, his shoulders began to shake:
How could Israel be so dumb?
As Moses prayed he was overcome,
And couldn’t continue because of his tears,
His love for them, and his greatest fears,
And he asked for his own life to be traded
In hopes that judgment could be abated.
That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
The emotional power residing there
Is more than words could ever show.
Why is the dash there? We don’t know,
But someday I will ask Moses why,
And if he broke down and began to cry…
Help me, Lord , have some prayers with a dash in;
Help me to pray with emotion and passion.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence. Read it and see if you agree:

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. Calvin Coolidge said, ““Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement.

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know–me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away.
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Humble Prayer is Apparently the First Step in Being Healed. Step Out!

The surest way to succeed, our culture tells us, is to be accomplished. Athletes “make history”, and business people keep score by how much money they’ve made. Leaders want power, gangbangers want respect, and everyone dreams of being able to do whatever they want to do. The Bible has a different take on being great: It says if you want to achieve real greatness, start by being humble. If you’ve never considered that, you might be surprised at how much difference that makes in the long run.

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV). This is a pretty well-known verse from 2 Chronicles, which came from a dream Solomon had right after he had made sacrifices and dedicated the temple. God appeared to Solomon and reminded him how important proper worship was, and what God required of his people.

God’s word to Solomon was one of those “If—then” conditional statements that rely upon the fact that God’s character is consistent and unchanging. In this case, God is reminding Solomon (and us) that He will forgive our sins and heal our land. Since we are His children, that makes perfect sense. But what’s required of us? First of all, we have to be God’s people, the ones who are called by his name. We need to be in a relationship with God, one that is exhibited enough externally so that others know what we are about. Second, we have to humble ourselves. In a world full of ego this is an attitude that we don’t see very often today. (The Special Olympics might be a place where humanity comes close to exhibiting this virtue, but the world is far more calibrated to celebrating money, power and looks than it is to celebrating the efforts of humble people.)

humble

We are surrounded by so much ego that we think it’s right to puff ourselves up and to treat the universe as if we are at its center. We approach the Lord that way, too. We figure that if we’re a little bit sorry, and tell God He is Lord, then we’ve achieved humility. Back in the day, people tore their clothes, put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, they wept and fasted, and they lay prostrate on the ground before the Lord. Quick check: when is the last time you humbled yourself and prayed like that? (That’s what I thought. Me neither…) Third, we need to seek God’s face. I think this implies not only seeing eye-to-eye, but being unhidden, open, and intimate with God. Face to face means seeing Him as He truly is, and realizing that He sees us as we really are, without masks or excuses or spin. Finally, He tells us to turn from our wicked ways. If enough of us humble ourselves and do this, He promises to forgive our sin and heal our land. What are your wicked ways? Do you think our land needs healing? Great news! God has already given us the prescription: when you turn from THEM, turn to HIM.

If my people, called by my name, will hear what I have to say,
And keep My word which they have heard, and come to me and pray;
If they will humble themselves, confess the wickedness they are in,
Then I will hear, and heal their land, and I’ll forgive their sin.
Come to me without delay– repentance must not wait–
For only through humility can you be truly great.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Pray as if your Whole Relationship With God Depended on it

When you pray, do you sometimes mail it in? Just throw up the quick request and fall asleep? When it comes to praying, do you ever wonder if it matters, or if it is even necessary? Then here’s some food for thought…
“Jesus said, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30; 14:9) You might suppose that, as the Son of God, Jesus had an automatic connection with the Father; But not so. He stayed connected in the same way each of us has the opportunity to stay connected: he prayed. He talked to his Father, and it was an integral part of how he did what he did. Our prayer life is a spiritual lifeline, a way for us to stay connected to the Lord. If you want to understand God and stay connected to Him, take a closer look at a few of the passages about Jesus’ prayers. Maybe you’ll find a clue!
“So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42 NASB)
“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

“After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)
“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23 NASB)
“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35 NASB)
“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12 NASB)
“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9, NIV)

So…How’s your prayer life these days?

Praying sometimes feels like such a bother,
 It sounds pretentious or it sounds so trite--
 So different than just talking to our Father
 When he would tuck us into bed at night.

 You'd think that Jesus wouldn't have to pray,
 Since He was God--the way, the truth, the Light!
 But he prayed often: every single day,
 Early, late, and deep into the night!

 He prayed with passion and he prayed with trust;
 Jesus prayed with such an intimate tone...
 He prayed for others. (Wow, he prayed for US!)
 He prayed in public, and he prayed alone.

 Jesus taught his followers how to care,
 And even gave us words that changed the game,
 Providing his example of a prayer:
 "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.

 Bring on Thy kingdom; may your will be done!"
 It's called "The Lord's prayer". Surely you have seen it,
 And maybe you've recited it once or twice;
 But have you really prayed as if you mean it?
 If not, then here's a little prayer advice:
 If God seems far away, or just seems hid,
 Try this: go off and pray like Jesus did.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Change Your Prayer Life from Perfunctory to Passionate. Start Here:

Is your prayer life lacking power and passion? Maybe it’s time to escape from Perfunctory Prayer… David’s expression of love for his Creator might be a good place to start:
“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” (Psalms 5:3 NASB) David didn’t just pray, he seemed to have a deep, abiding love for his Creator that he could not contain. He wrote poetry to God. He sang love songs to the Lord. He begged for help. He expressed his longing and hunger for his Creator. If you would like a deeper prayer life, there are some clues about how to accomplish that in this short verse.

First of all, David prayed a LOT. He prayed at night, during the day, and here he prayed in the morning to start each day. Perhaps that offers us a template. It doesn’t say he prayed long, exhausting prayers; it doesn’t say that he prayed ornate, flowery prayers; but he did pray OFTEN. Do you spend some time talking with God every day? Does it come first? Do you wake up with a need to worship and adore the Lord and talk to Him about your day? David did.

Second, he ordered his prayer. If you read some of them in the Psalms, David’s prayers consistently included Confession, Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Just remember CATS if you want a quick template for diving a bit deeper into your conversations with God. (Some folks use ACTS, but I like putting confession first.)  Taking even this simple approach to prayer will provide structure and focus to your prayer life.

Finally, after David prayed he eagerly watched. He prayed with expectation, and then like a kid at Christmas, he couldn’t wait to see what would happen. I guess he expected God was going to do something in response to his prayer. Do you pray to God with the confident expectation that He will respond? How often does your time with the Lord include the “eagerly watching” time? Mine usually doesn’t. Perhaps there’s more to prayer than just throwing it out there and moving on…

A Praying Man’s Lament

Save me, Lord, from perfunctory prayer.
Help me connect, and help me care.
Keep me from saying a nondescript grace
When I come to give thanks to you, face to Face.

Hear me, Lord as I start each day,
And give me transparency when I pray.
Order my prayer around spiritual need,
And help me, Father, to intercede.

Give me the passion that David had!
Teach me to pray with a heart that’s glad.
Take my prayer life up a notch.
I want to pray and then eagerly watch!

Help me to make you my everyday choice.
Fill my heart, and hear my voice.

 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread