Brothers and Sisters,
Christmastide greetings to you all!
First off, I’d like to share two things on the near and slightly-less-near horizon:
We’ll be starting a new series this Sunday (1/2/22) titled “Rejoicing Together: Paul's Letter to the Philippians.” Among other things, this little book will teach us to know the joy we have in Christ and share it with one another and the world.
We’re launching Sunday School in January with a 10-week study on the Apostles’ Creed titled Ancient Faith, Ever New. We’ll have classes for ages 0-4, 5-9, 10-16, and 17+. All classes will cover the same ground, but each at an age-appropriate level.
If you think you’d like to teach Sunday School, please let me know!
Now that we’ve covered exciting happenings at Hickory Grove, we turn to our regularly scheduled programming… sort of. I normally tag this weekly letter to what I preached on the previous Sunday, but I’m taking this one in a slightly different direction.
The New Year is nearly upon us—a time to reflect upon the past and anticipate the future. As we celebrate our wins, brood over our losses, and consider what changes we may need to make in 2022, I hope you’ll consider the vital importance of prayer.
There’s much more we could say about prayer (I recommend this resource as a place to start), but the learning is ultimately in the doing. Rather than lecture you on the subject, then, I offer this simple list of items to help focus our prayer energy as we head into 2022.
I hope that this admittedly-incomplete list will spark your intercessory imagination and that this will be the year when you and I truly learn how to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).
1. Kings, Rulers, and Authorities
The Bible tells us to pray for all people, including those in positions of authority over us (1 Tim 2:1-4). This includes, of course, all our government leaders—irrespective of their political party or worldview. Pray that the Lord would grant them grace and wisdom (even in spite of themselves), so that they might truly be servants of the common good (Rom 13:1-7).
2. National Peace & Unity
The Psalms tell us how good it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity (Ps 133). Although this applies most directly to the Church, there’s no denying the blessing of civic unity. Pray that God would work supernatural peace amid the many divisions that exist in America and that we would be able to love our neighbors well in spite of them.
3.The Sick and Afflicted
COVID continues to rage here and abroad, though it is by no means the only illness that afflicts us. Cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety—these are just a few of the maladies of body and mind that we, our neighbors, and loved ones face every day. Pray that the Great Physician would be merciful and show us how to love those who suffer in our midst.
4. Healthcare Workers and Medical Researchers
Speaking of great physicians, pray for those whom the Lord has called to minister healing to the sick and afflicted. After the past two years, our world’s healthcare providers are running on empty. Pray that God would protect them, not only from disease but from deep discouragement. Pray also that He would give them the strength to persevere.
5. The Majority World
We are blessed in more ways than we can count—a fact that has been made abundantly clear during the pandemic. Pray for those areas of the world in which access to healthcare is limited and supply chain disruptions make for real scarcity and starvation. Ask God to raise up His Church to meet the needs of the poor and how He might have you participate in that work.
6. The Persecuted Church
Speaking of the church and the majority world, believers around the globe face intense persecution. The souls of the martyrs cry out from beneath the heavenly altar (Rev 6:9-11) and those who’ve not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Heb 12:4) call out for relief. To learn more about how you can pray, take a look at Open Doors’ World Watch List.
7. The Church in America
For good and for ill, much of the moral consensus that marked our national life in recent generations has eroded. We find ourselves in a transition where cultural Christianity is either diminishing or taking on new, not-so-healthy forms. Pray that we would not be taken captive by ideologies that are opposed or indifferent to Christ (Col 2:8) and that we would seek, above all, to be the church He is calling us to be.
8. The Presbyterian Church in America
Our denomination is wrestling through a number of issues having to do with homosexuality, the nature of indwelling sin, and the power of God to heal our sinful desires. Right now, the discussion is generating much heat and little light. I’m confident we will emerge stronger from this debate, but only if we continually seek the Lord in prayer—not just for our denomination, but for those churches who are struggling to toe the line between hospitality and truth.
9. Hickory Grove
We do not face the same trials as our persecuted brethren, yet we do have our fair share of challenges to face as we transition into a new phase of ministry at Hickory Grove. Pray for our congregation, that the Lord would work in us a sense of unity, excitement, and anticipation as we seek to follow His will for us here in Mount Juliet.
10. Your Elders and Deacons
God has called qualified men to oversee the spiritual and material needs of His people. This is a holy and heavy calling. Pray that the Lord would give us everything we need to lead like Jesus does—humbly, sacrificially, gently, and with joy (1 Pet 5:1-5; Heb 13:17).
11. Covenant Family Child Care
This ministry touches the lives of nearly 100 families in our community. Pray that God would bless and direct Stephanie, her staff, and all the teachers as they seek to love and teach these children. Pray that they would contend well with COVID closures and that God would bring new teachers so that they can lighten up their waiting list and make the most of their space.
12. Harvest Prison Ministry
Rick and Richard do amazing work ministering to prisoners at DeBerry and Riverbend. If you haven’t yet, you ought to ask them to share some of the incredible things God is doing through their ministry there. Pray for endurance, financial provision, and favor with the various officials and guards who can either help or hinder their access to inmates.
13. Missions - Local and Abroad
Hickory Grove and its people support several local and global ministries. For privacy’s sake, I’ll leave them off this letter. Please pray that, wherever they are, God will equip and protect them as they seek to minister the life, light, and love of Christ to a dead, dark, and desperate world. If you’d like to know more details, just let me know.
14. Every Gospel-Preaching Church in Our City
We’re committed to building the kingdom—not our own. To that end, pray for God’s hand of blessing to rest upon every faithful church in Mount Juliet. Pray that we would find ways to work together for the advance of the gospel in our community. For those churches who may have fallen out of touch with the biblical plumb line, pray for conviction and restoration.
15. The City of Mount Juliet
God gathers His church in particular places at particular times. Our place is Mount Juliet, and now is our time. Pray that God would make us increasingly sensitive to the needs that exist in our rapidly-growing area and that He would equip us to speak truth and minister love into those contexts—wherever they are.
As individuals, we too have our own place and time to tend to. God has planted us in neighborhoods and surrounded us with people who need what we’ve got—the love of Christ. Pray that God would open your eyes to the people around you and that He would grant you opportunities to get to know them. As you do, look for specific ways you can pray for them.
17. Local Businesses (Dining, Retail, Healthcare, etc.)
Pray for the local business owners and their employees who contribute in so many ways to our community. Ask that the Lord would point out ways in which you can bless and be a good neighbor to them. Pray that he’d give you the boldness to strike up relationships with them so that you can embody Christ’s love for them specifically and directly.
18. The Providentially Hindered
COVID impressed upon us all the embodied reality of worship. Church at home just isn’t church. Worshipping from the “comfort” of our couch is no match for the messy-yet-beautiful “discomfort” of standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow sinners-turned-saints. Pray for those who are unwilling or unable to worship in person. Ask that God would enable them to gather or that He would comfort (or perhaps convict) them until that time.
19. The Prodigals and Their Parents
My heart still breaks for parents of children who have left the faith. Pray for the wayward, that God would send His Spirit to convict and draw them back to their first love (Rev 2:4). Pray for their parents, that He would strengthen them by His love and grant them rest in knowing His arm is not too short that it cannot save or His ear too dull that it cannot hear their cries.
20. Family and Friends
We are a royal priesthood, saved to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Part of our priestly and proclamatory ministry is to represent our loved ones before God and Him before them. As Martin Luther said, we should never talk to others about God until we’ve talked to God about them.
Pray specifically for the people you see every day at work. Get to know their personal and professional needs, and lift those regularly before the throne of God. When God answers, tell them so.
22. The Lost and Your Capacity to Reach Them
Last but not least, pray regularly for the lost around you. Pray that the Lord would grant you sensitivity to see openings for spiritual conversations, that His Spirit would overcome whatever hesitation you might have to “speaking a word in season,” and that He would communicate the life-giving words of the Gospel through your lips.
As I said above, this list is certainly incomplete. I invite you to add to, subtract from, and amend it however you see fit. What I long for above all else is that we (myself very much included) become a people of deep, meaningful, and incessant prayer.
In Christ Alone,