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Archives for 179 – The Power of Prayer

By Charles Kiser

Elaine Heath, in her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism, recounts a time she took a group of her SMU students to visit the Missionaries of Charity in Dallas — a branch of the ministry started by Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India in 1950. The ministry was located in a little red brick building in an impoverished Latino neighborhood.

The students met a small Indian woman named Sister Salvinette, who served as their guide. She described the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity: every day the sisters would knock on doors in groups of two and ask their neighbors how they might pray for them. At first they were met with suspicion and hesitation. But over time, as they got to know their neighbors, the sisters discovered needs they could meet. Out of these visits grew a food distribution program. Every week the sisters and volunteers prepared about two hundred bags of groceries for families in need in their neighborhood.

The sisters’ philosophy of ministry was expressed through their own “five-finger exercise”: “You did it unto me,” echoing Jesus’s words in Matthew 25. Whoever they met, the sisters believed that the encounter provided the opportunity to meet and serve Jesus.

For all the sisters’ ministry activity in the neighborhood, Sister Salvinette insisted that their basic ministry was prayer. The sisters gathered four times a day for an hour to pray, usually in silence. Such rhythms for prayer were how they received the love they needed both for themselves and to share with their neighbors.

Sister Salvinette explained the power of prayer in their work: “We could never do what we do if we did not pray this way. It would be too hard.”

The Missionaries of Charity demonstrate the power of contemplative prayer — the kind of prayer usually practiced in silence. In silence we are disentangled from the attachments of ego. In silence we hear the voice of God say to us, just as God said to Jesus in his baptism: “You are my child. I love you. I’m pleased with you. You are enough.” In silence we commune with the Ground of our being; we experience the abundant, eternal kind of life, that of knowing God and Jesus in the Holy Spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, why Pete Scazerro, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, suggests that contemplative practice is integral to emotional health. Silence and stillness helps to unwind the knots of anxiety within us as we encounter the Good Shepherd, under whose care we lack nothing. And of all the years for us to need anxiety knots to unwind, 2020 would be the year, wouldn’t it?

Our own emotional health and well being, however, is not the telos (end goal) of contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer ultimately equips us to be present to others — both to be present to the Other (God), and to be present to God’s activity in and among our neighbors, so that we might participate in what God is doing.

To speak of the power of contemplative prayer is not to denigrate other forms of prayer, namely intercessory or petitionary prayer. Jesus said, after all, that God is like a good father who enjoys giving good gifts to his children, and that if we ask we will receive. But this is to suggest, however, that there is power in forms of prayer beyond what many might normally imagine when speaking of “the power of prayer.”

In fact, I believe contemplative prayer is the fundamental form of prayer because it anticipates and facilitates our union with God — the direction toward which the whole cosmos is headed. Contemplative prayer, to the extent it unwinds our anxieties and helps us to see how our ego is at work, subverts and even reshapes what we might otherwise think to request from God.

If you’re wondering how to begin in the practice of contemplative prayer, I’d suggest starting with five minutes a day. Set a timer, focus on your breathing, release your thoughts and emotions as they surface, and pay attention for God. If it feels like it’s not working, or like something should be happening that isn’t, then you’re probably actually doing it right!

The contemplative life is also meant for community rather than isolation. In other words, we’re better when we engage contemplative practices together — particularly because they are so difficult by ourselves. Find a friend or a small group who can share this commitment to contemplative prayer, even if you’re sitting in silence on your own and talking about it later. The church I’m part of has recently begun a time of shared silence in our worship gatherings as a way of supporting and equipping each other in contemplative prayer.

There are a number of good guides and resources for contemplative prayer. Here are a few in different mediums:

Sister Salvinette poses a question to all of us: What is God inviting us to do that we could not do if we did not pray in this way?

Some of the most heart wrenching words in the entire Bible go like this,

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

– Matt 26:39-42

It is hard to figure out how this works. Jesus and the Father are One. And yet they seem to be coming up to the cross from two different perspectives. I don’t entirely know what to make of this but I do know this – if Jesus had to surrender to God’s will, how much more do I need to surrender to God’s will?

Too often I am more like the disciples, asleep in the hour of trouble, than I am wrestling over whose will is being done in my life. May we follow the example of Jesus and become a people committed to God’s will being done.

If we would make this commitment some big things would happen.

I believe we might actually find unity in Christ. Too much of our division is firmly rooted in who gets their way – us or God.

I believe we would get back to mission – that we could overcome our hesitancy to reach the lost because we want God’s will to be done so much more than we would want to uphold our own comfort.

We would have communities of faith that are also communities of love. God getting God’s way means me loving you even when I don’t want to or feel like it. Too often I fail to love because I am asleep at the wheel…napping through important moments.

Time to wake up, listen to Jesus’ prayer and consider what would happen if we followed His example.

Prayer is about a relationship. Like any other conversation in your life you build and grow your relationship through conversation. Unlike any other conversation in your life you don’t get the direct feedback like you do from a human being sitting in front of you. Because of that, prayer can be a bit awkward at first. It might feel like you are talking to the wall. You may wonder if your prayers make it past the ceiling, as if God is up there and we are down here. When you start to pray, understand you are talking to Someone…a real being…a personal entity…the Creator of the Universe. You don’t use thee’s and thou’s in everyday conversation and you don’t have to use that with God either.

Prayer isn’t magical. Magic often involves using specific words and phrases said in a particular way to invoke or evoke a particular powerful action or response. Some people view prayer as if it was magical. It is as if they think God can only hear them if they use particular words and those words are not typically everyday words. The truth is there isn’t anything magical about prayer and you don’t force God’s actions by getting the verbiage right. There is no way to guarantee the action of another free and independent person.

Prayer isn’t magical but it can be effectual. Just because prayer isn’t magical, guaranteeing your desired result that doesn’t mean that prayer is ineffectual…that prayer has no effect. This is where things get a bit tricky but stay with me. Prayer is effectual. James 5:15-16 says this,

15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

So prayer matters and prayer can actually effect outcomes. It is a bit hard to know how this works as God knows the beginning from the end and yet we do get instances in the Bible where specific prayers change the course of God’s decision making (see Genesis 18 or Exodus 32). All that to say that although we cannot guarantee a result from our prayers that our prayers can influence the direction God takes.

Last, if you don’t think you are any good at praying you are not alone. Check out Moses’ conversation with God in Exodus 3. He made a mess of it. Check out Abraham and Sarah’s conversation with God in Gen 18. The thing you will find with all of these people who had awkward conversations with God is this, keep on trying. Keep on talking. Keep on praying. It does, like in most relationships, become easier with time and experience!

By Michael Summers

The uncertainty leading up to the Presidential election drove many to their knees in prayer, regardless of political affiliation. For many conservative Christians, concern for the unborn and convictions about marriage or sexuality informed their prayers. For some of them, and for others, concern for ethics and morality in society (especially among our leaders), passion for the plight of the economically and socially oppressed, and a love for life that demands accessibility to healthcare and recognition of civil rights for people most vulnerable to discrimination and bullying inspired their prayers. Some on both sides either ignored the others’ concerns or dismissed them as hypocritical or simplistic, unconstitutional or demonic. Fear of violence and civil unrest, whether the violence was prompted by response to violence against unarmed citizens or by allegiance to white supremacy, also led Christians to pray. Americans across the political spectrum have feared that our system of government might be at risk, whether from socialism or from authoritarian leaders who disregard constitutional procedures. I think it’s fair to say that such fear remains even after the election with former Vice-President Joe Biden projected to have won the election, but President Donald Trump refusing to concede.


The prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 1 of his prophecy seems relevant for people across the political spectrum to me. The prophet feared invasion of Israel by a pagan superpower. He also lamented the injustice he witnessed already in his nation. He prayed:

“How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).


God’s answer startled the prophet. His divine strategy to resolve the collapse of justice among Israelites was to unleash “a feared and dreaded people…a law to themselves [who] promote their own honor” (verse 7). God’s plan to discipline his people and reset them on a right course would employ means and agents that shocked Habakkuk.
God’s plan for our times may confuse us. We may wonder why he does not hear our cries against violence, abuse of power, and disregard for the helpless. God assured Habakkuk that faith would provide fuel for survival (2:4), that God still controls (2:20), and that living in harmony with God empowers (3:16-19). These principles endure, and form the foundation for Peter’s encouraging words to embattled Christians:


“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).


Join with Habakkuk and me in praying for justice. Be prepared for an answer you had not imagined. Live with faith and act with love as you follow Christ (Take time to reflect on his words in Matthew 25:31-46 about priority of action). Pray for Donald Trump and Joseph Biden, Jr. Pray for yourself and for me, hoping that our sentiments are the same as the writer(s) of the book of Hebrews:


“Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” (Hebrews 13:18)

• Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version, 2011.

You can read more from Michael at his blog Call for Fire Seminar

Marriage and family therapists often say that frequency of sex can be a thermometer for the health of a marriage. It isn’t a perfect indicator but a change in frequency of sex can show that other issues are present.

Intimacy requires connection. Obviously, that expresses itself differently between men and women but you cannot have connection without communication.

The same is true of prayer. If you find yourself praying less it is a good indicator that something isn’t right. Maybe you are in a time of depression or anxiety. Maybe busyness has sucked your heart and soul away and make margin for time with God hard to imagine.

It is important in any relationship that is important to us to have consistent communication. To be in touch. To hear and be heard.

Take a moment to consider your prayer life and how in tune and in touch you are with God and if you find it lacking be intentional about setting aside some time each day to increase your connection with your heavenly Father.

He wants to hear from His children!

I believe it is important to pray God’s will be done. We never know what God is going to do. Often what God is going to do is far greater than anything I can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20-21). What I am about to say in no way imagines that I can know the mind of God or anticipate what He is going to do.

Over the last year we have prayed far more specifically. What you see when you do that is the answers are often more easily discernible. For instance,

A little over a month ago one of our Backyard church (BYC) members noticed our kids needed some clipboards to do their lesson work on while outside. Instead of going to the store to buy some she prayed God would just give us clipboards. After worship another parent brought up the idea of clipboards for the kids and volunteered to go and get some.

Around that same time we had a friend attending BYC who needed a vehicle. His truck had well over 350k miles on it and he was driving from Montgomery to Auburn on Sundays. We begin praying about finding a vehicle for him. We hadn’t told him this but intended to help him. When we approached him with the idea he told us he had just ended a lengthy fast and part of his fast was about replacing his truck! Long story short, he ended up with a 2015 chevy that he is loving and telling people the story of how God aligned our hearts and helped provide it.

Last year my Wineskins bank account was running down to nothing and I was going to have to start paying for web hosting out of pocket again. I had never prayed this prayer before but I decided to ask God for the money. Within two days of that prayer something happened that has never happened with Wineskins ever before. A donor approached me asking how they could help and if I ever needed any money to keep it going! Wow! Thank you Lord!

There are many other stories like this but the lesson in all of it for me is yes, pray for the will of God, but also don’t be bashful about praying specifically…then watch and see how God answers! God is watching. God is listening. Let us be bold and “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Heb 4:16.

What are you needing prayer for?

By Carson Reed

In my work with ACU’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry, I have the honor of consulting with congregations all over the country. Church decline and church renewal remain vital and popular themes throughout countless conversations with churches of varying contexts, sizes, and flavors. So I constantly watch for resources to aid churches in this important work of renewal.

Recently I found a work from a British author that offers a simple and useful way to reflect on the practices and life of a congregation. In his book The Healthy Churches’ Handbook (Church House Publishing, 2012), Robert Warren offers seven indicators of what makes for a healthy church.   

These seven markers emerge from his research and engagement with a number of churches throughout England, where many churches have suffered decline and are now experiencing renewal. These markers resonate well with numerous others who have written about congregational health, and I share them in hopes that they will help you in your own context. 

Here is a brief summary of what Warren learned about healthy congregations: 

  1. They are energized by faith. Healthy churches are deeply aware of the presence and goodness of God. Warren declares that “faith is the fuel on which these churches run.” 
  2. They possess an outward focus. Healthy churches are not focused on internal matters but are fully engaged in their context and the life of their broader community. The gospel matters to the world, and these churches identify with both the joy and the pain evidenced in their contexts. 
  3. They seek to find out what God wants. Healthy churches are not content to simply be; rather, they are bent on learning and following God’s will and purpose. They are characterized by prayer and a relentless willingness to move and adapt for the sake of God’s agenda. 
  4. They face the cost of change and growth. Healthy churches, like healthy people, are capable of facing hard facts and courageously moving forward. Relinquishing things of the past for the possibilities of the future is necessary. 
  5. They operate as a community. Healthy churches develop and sustain robust relationships that are generous, trusting, and open. Authenticity and care infuse communication, leadership practices, and ordinary life. 
  6. They make room for all. Healthy churches practice hospitality. They constantly create space for others to join in the life and vitality of community. 
  7. They do a few things well. Healthy churches have a quiet purposefulness about their life and ministry. Rather than rush from one thing to another, healthy churches live with meaning and intentionality, doing what they do with excellence. 

What might you discover by using these indicators as a way of reviewing and reflecting about your own congregation? Could such a review lead to new insights or practices? 

If you would like a conversation partner as you reflect the health of your church, my team and I would love the opportunity to walk alongside you. Some helpful starting points on the Siburt Institute website might be our consulting page, our Church Health Assessment page, and our contact page. 

May God bless you as you seek God’s renewal in your community life! 

— 

A version of this article was originally published in a Siburt Institute e-newsletter. To receive this monthly newsletter or other communications from the institute, subscribe here

Matt, 

In case you’d like to have a feature image on the blog post, here’s the image we used in the Mosaic iteration of this article: https://unsplash.com/photos/lu15z1m_KfM 

And here is Carson’s bio: 

Dr. Carson E. Reed is vice president for church relations at Abilene Christian University and executive director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as director for the Doctor of Ministry program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment as an associate professor of practical theology in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work on governance, transitions, and new ecclesial forms with congregations and church leaders. His teaching and research focus on practical theology with a particular emphasis on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married over 35 years and have four adult children.

By Carson Reed

In a time when so much is changing, the natural thing to do is to reach backward into something from the past. And the sweeping changes that the pandemic brings only heighten that impulse. In many churches, however, the reality of not going back to 2019 is becoming all the more clear as we make our way into 2021. One aspect of congregational life, congregational worship, is particularly vulnerable to new realities that are presenting themselves. 

For example, Barna reported in October 2020, that 50% of millennials have simply stopped watching online worship services. So even as congregations are finding their way into presenting content in digital formats, the most tech savvy persons (young adults) are checking out altogether. Obviously, this is a complex conversation, and I would be the first to affirm that the church’s digital witness is important and vital. However, to think that simply livestreaming a Sunday morningservice somehow gets the job done is to miss the deep relational reality of what corporate worship requires.  

Thus, in my conversations with ministers and church leaders through my work in the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry, I am raising questions like these: What can be delivered digitally? What cannot be delivered digitally?  

The answers I hear are not uniform. However, I do get the sense that some aspects of worship – like singing or communion – simply lack the potent vitality to draw people into an attentive worshipful space when we rely solely on a digital performance. Relational needs are simply so great! On the other hand, sermons, teaching material, and dramatic performative pieces designed to provoke, teach, or persuade usually fare a little better. 

What might this mean?  

Every church is located in a specific context with local laws, practices, weather, and much more in play. Yet I have become increasingly aware of churches that are experimenting with multiple services with fewer people in socially distanced spaces, developing and empowering small groups to meet outdoors or in open spaces, inviting small groups of people to meet in their local neighborhoods (whether for worship or, perhaps just as important, to engage in service to the local community), or reimagining family groups to include multigenerational clusters of brothers and sisters who become “pods” to create safe communities to gather. How might leaders in our congregations innovatively pursue new forms of community that foster relational connection? 

That doesn’t mean digital teaching and preaching should go away. Rather, I think it means that churches need to develop the aptitude for “both/and.” To maintain a robust digital presence along with robust experimentation with smaller, safer gatherings, will be critical for flourishing churches. In so doing, congregations can leverage this season as a time of renewal and opportunity. God is a God of hope and purpose. Let’s not forget! 

If you would like a bibliography of new or recent books and resources on church renewal, pleasevisit this page on Mosaic. You might find a title or two that would be helpful in your context! 

Blessings,
Carson 

— 

Dr. Carson E. Reed is vice president for church relations at Abilene Christian University and executive director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the director for the Doctor of Ministry program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment as an associate professor of practical theology in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work on governance, transitions, and new ecclesial forms with congregations and church leaders. His teaching and research focus on practical theology with a particular emphasis on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married over 35 years and have four adult children.

This poem was inspired by a trip to Carlsbad Caverns. In my mind it plays out like a Pixar Short or a children’s book in the Dr. Seuss style, but since I lack both the technical and artistic skill for those types of projects :-), right now I need to rely on a more powerful resource… your imagination. While it may have some educational value for helping kids remember the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, my bigger hope is that it could serve as a tool to chip away at the contest that the powers of darkness love to keep us trapped in – the “us vs. them” endgame scenarios that lead mostly to despair and destruction. May this open our hearts and imaginations to Jesus’s Kingdom of God future.  Here goes…

Once upon a time, buried deep down in the earth
was a place sadly absent of joy, hope, and mirth.
It wasn’t the darkness, the dampness, or the mold,
not the stillness, the silence, nor even the cold.
There deep in the cave lived tension so thick,
anxiety and fear accumulating with each loud, echoing drip.

You see, long before anyone could remember, those two tribes had been at war.
One camped on the ceiling, while the other defended the floor.
Looking down from above, looking down their long noses – The Stalactites.
And way down below, crouched their mounting foes – The Stalagmites.

Who knows how it started? Their eternal conflict.
One thing was for certain, though, it would not… end… quick!

“They’re sending down bombs! Dropping water on our heads!”
“No, you’re stealing our water! Leaving us nothing but shreds!”

Stalactites, stalagmites, full of venom and spite,
in a quest to be right, further filled them with fright!
Charging toward one another, determined to win,
It seemed rocky violence was how this would end.

These two groups, bent on conquest, acting so “brave,”
Would likely bring an end to their shared home, the cave…

But, then… out of nowhere, a new song arose,
a love song – growing slowly, as the two sides almost froze.
A stalactite, looking down into the eyes of its mate,
saw beauty, and grace in the stalagmite, embracing its fate.

And as they joined hands, a column was formed,
uniting the cave, a new future was born.

So, consider carefully the cave we find ourselves in,
it’s not perfect, but it’s home to all creation’s kin.
The secret, you see, is not making sure that “we” win,
but approaching our opposites not as enemies, but friends.—

Alan Howell

The context for the Book of Psalms is the public worship of God’s people, that is the people who use these prayer hymns are not primarily the person/people who composed them. In this way they are analogous to our hymnals. Every text presupposes corporate worship in the temple.

As we enter the literary sanctuary of the Psalms we join a cloud of witnesses already worshiping through these texts. In this arena we learn that both Scripture and prayer function as a means of grace. Among the throng before the throne we become conscious of at least two graces that come through worship.

First, we “look to the Lord,” we “seek the Lord,” that is we desire communion with God. We want to be with our God. Worship is not about laws or even precision obedience but fellowship, basking in the glorious Presence of the King. The hunger to be in the Presence of God is what makes us worship.

Second, as we have communion with the King we look for healing, for an experience of God’s merciful Hesed – God’s never ending Steadfast Love. It is in the Presence of our God that we find infinite steadfast love that takes our brokenness and bathes it in Hesed.

These two thoughts permeate the Psalms. To illustrate we will examine the short section of Psalms 26-30. In these five texts the hunger for genuine fellowship/communion with God and the resulting healing is expressed. Psalm 27.14 stands out pulling other lines together.

Look to the LORD” (27.14)

That is the psalmist talking to the church/the assembly. Previously he/she confessed,

O LORD, I seek your face!”

Here is the ultimate gift of worship is not the act or the ritual, rather it is communion with the living God. The transcendent One is the also the Welcoming One. So, God’s people call out,

I love Your temple abode” (26.8)

“only one that I seek …
One thing I ask of the LORD,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (27.4)

There in the assembly, Yahweh comes to his Gathered People and shares God’s personal Presence with sinful beings in an act of astonishing grace. The Psalm describes this “showing up” of God in Psalm 29 as a massive thunderstorm. When God appears the earth itself responds with quaking and the trees are stripped bare. And the King of Glory is enthroned in the midst of the people (this is sort of what Isaiah witnessed in Isa 6).

And all in His temple cry, ‘Glory!‘ (29.9)

God is not just powerful. God is not some celestial cop. God is not many of our imaginary idols. God’s people crave the Presence of God because God is glorious Beauty itself. That is why we “look to the Lord.” Jesus had used these Psalms in Temple worship his whole life, no wonder he said “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall SEE GOD” (Mt 5.8)

God’s glorious beautiful Presence does something to creation that is wounded by Sin. God’s Beauty brings merciful healing to those who seek the Lord. This desire for healing grace runs through our prayer texts.

Note this marvelous juxtaposition of statements,

But as for me, I walk without blame;
redeem me,
have mercy on me!” (26.11)

How can this be? The psalmist is not claiming to have “arrived.” What is claimed is simply to be on God’s side … the side of the One who is merciful.

Listen to my plea for mercy” (28.2)

Do not count me among the wicked” (28.3)

For he listens to my plea for mercy” (28.6)

Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me …
You turned my mourning into dancing” (30.11-12)

The psalmist, and God’s gathered people, are hardly sinless people. God’s people are not welcomed into the Lord’s Presence because they have anything like precision obedience. We are able to experience God’s Beauty because of love (hesed) alone.

We come to God because it is here, in God’s Presence, we find mercy for our shattered world and lives. There in God’s merciful Presence we

focus” our “eyes on Your steadfast love” (26.2)

Do not forsake me … O God my deliverer.
Though my father and mother abandon me,
the LORD will take me in” (27.10)

Yahweh becomes a Father to orphans, to people whose world is vandalized by our own sin. There with the other scared people we find the gift of life, the gift of grace, the gift of mercy and we are healed in the Presence of the Lord.

My own world has been ripped to shreds in the past. There is only one thing I seek, to gaze upon the Beauty of God and there find more than I can ask or dream of: communion with beauty itself and healing steadfast love. Two gifts of grace the Psalms offer to all who pray them.

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