Christianity 201

November 8, 2017

Don’t Stop Praying

Just hours ago we had another article scheduled to run here, but something about it simply did not sit right with me. As the author was developing a theme, I returned one more time to view the subsequent articles and I felt beyond the shadow of a doubt that including it here would only bring confusion. I don’t scrap articles often, especially when they’re all formatted and ready to go, but…

Today we’re grateful for the writing of J. Lee Grady who blogs at Fire in My Bones. Click the title below to read this at source.

You Can’t Stop Praying Now!

So you pray for something for years and then you wake up one day, breathe a big sigh and say to yourself: This is crazy. Nothing is happening. God must not be listening.

Congratulations! If this has been your prayer experience, you are not alone. You’ve been enrolled in the School of Persevering Prayer, and it’s not a one-semester class. It’s a lifelong journey designed to stretch your faith, develop your character, purify your motives, test your patience and increase your capacity to experience God’s amazing love.

I’ve been in this school for a long time. I think I may have failed a few classes and been required to repeat them. I don’t always make the grade.

This past week, in fact, I was whining about God’s delays. For many months I’ve been bringing the same requests to the Lord, yet the answers seem impossibly distant. My faith wavers from calm assurance to frustrated doubt. In my weakest moments I panic and say stupid things that I regret later, such as: “I’m quitting!”

Yet when I bring my complaint to the Lord, He always reassures me. He recently took me to Isaiah 62:6-7, NASB: “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”

There’s just no way around the fact that prayer requires persistence. One friend of mine even coined a phrase to summarize this painful fact: “God is in the waiting.”

Jesus told a parable about an unrighteous judge who granted a poor widow’s petition because she badgered him night and day (see Luke 18:1-8). Jesus asked: “Will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night?” (v. 7). Whatever request you have brought to the Lord, and regardless of how many times you have reminded Him of it, keep these points in mind as you trust Him for an answer:

  1. The work of God takes time. Most people in the Bible who asked God for big things waited a long time to receive their answers. Abraham turned gray waiting for his promised heir—and he is called the father of our faith. Joshua and his remnant company wandered in the wilderness 40 years before they possessed Canaan. Hannah endured taunts from Peninnah and insults from Eli while she prayed many years for a son.

Prayer is not a magic formula. Your job is to ask, not to dictate or control. You must let God be God. You must let patience have its perfect work. You will eventually reap if you don’t grow weary.

  1. Authentic prayer involves a holy process. Prayer is often compared to birth. When God gives you a promise, you essentially become pregnant with it. If you plan to carry this promise to term, you must wait—and then you must travail.

Surely this is what the apostle Paul experienced when he told the Galatians he would be “in labor” until Christ was formed in them (Gal. 4:19). We often think of the prayer of faith as triggering instant answers, but this was not the case with Paul. While God can certainly answer immediately, even with fire from heaven, frequently He asks us to carry a promise until we are mature enough to handle the answer.

  1. You have a Helper who is praying for you. You are not in this process alone. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, Paul wrote, “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). He is praying the perfect will of God, and we are invited to agree with Him. This kind of gut-wrenching prayer is messy and full of anguish; it is not formal or sophisticated.

When we truly pray in the Holy Ghost, we surrender our agendas and allow Him to pray through us. And this takes us deeper with God.

Have you ever been around a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy? She is often in a state of agitation—ready to give birth but weary of the strain. I know many Christians today who are in this same uncomfortable stage of spiritual travail. They’ve held onto promises for a long time. Some are in despair because the gestation period has been so long.

Jesus said: “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:8). The verbs used are Greek present imperatives, meaning constant asking, seeking and knocking. Prevailing prayer requires persistence, but when we feel too weak to press forward in faith, the Spirit provides the extra push.

You may be asking for the salvation of a wayward child, the funding of a ministry, the reconciliation of a relationship, the recovery of a business, the reviving of a stagnant church or the healing of a sick loved one. Or if you are really adventurous, you may be praying for the evangelization of a city or a nation that is currently in spiritual darkness.

Keep on knocking. Don’t give up. The God who moves mountains has heard your cry. You’re closer than you’ve ever been to a spiritual breakthrough.


J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression.

January 16, 2016

Praying the Bible Way, God’s Way

In Touch - Charles Stanley

Today we have a weekend 2-for-1 special for you from Charles Stanley and InTouch Ministries. Click the individual titles to read at source.

Learning to Pray the Bible Way

Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

God wants His children to ask for what’s on their hearts, because He delights to give. Even more, He wants to fellowship with us. What joy can be ours every time we meet our heavenly Father through prayer!

The privilege of supplication rests on our relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Only those who are part of God’s family can claim Him as their Father (John 1:12) and avail themselves of His pledge to answer prayer. He makes no such commitment to unbelievers. The single exception is the sinner who asks for forgiveness and receives Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As promised, his or her prayer is always answered with salvation (Rom. 10:9).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses three verbs to describe prayer: ask, seek, and knock. Notice the progression in intensity from a request to a search and then to further action. Prayer is more than giving God requests. It involves seeking His will to guide our entreaties. It means “knocking on doors” by exploring different solutions and obtaining godly counsel to help determine the Lord’s mind. Jesus pledged that we will receive, we will find, and God will open the door for us. We have His assurance that God will respond and what He does is good.

Prayer is simple, yet at times we find it hard to practice. We try different methods but often feel dissatisfied and wonder if our prayers are having any effect. Ask the Lord to teach you more about biblical praying. Put into practice what you learn, and wait in assurance for His answers!

Praying God’s Way

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

We like to keep things simple: Follow a few steps and reach the preferred result. Prayer, however, cannot be reduced to an easy formula. It isn’t some static activity where repeating certain words brings the desired solution. It’s ongoing communication with the heavenly Father and should involve listening, speaking, and acting on what we hear from Him.

God has promised to answer His children’s prayers, but He often waits before responding. He does so for many reasons.

Preparation. Sometimes God has to make us ready for what He wants to give us. We may have some attitudes or behaviors not aligned with His will (James 4:3). He’ll deal with them before He gives us His gift.

Spiritual growth. The Lord may use delays to test our faith or deepen our relationship with Him. No response from Him means He wants us to continue to seek Him and converse with Him.

Timing. God’s timetable often doesn’t match ours. He knows what He wants to accomplish in our spiritual life and in our relationship with Him. We can trust that He will put to good use the time between our request and His reply.

God includes delays as part of the believer’s prayer life. Sometimes He answers our first request, but often it takes several petitions before He responds. In certain situations, we have to keep knocking—as the persevering widow did—before God gives us His answer. (See Luke 18:1-8.)

Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of “asking, seeking, and knocking”—a lifestyle based on trust in God’s promise to answer His children. Are you persistent?

April 19, 2014

“Don’t Repeat Prayers” versus “Keep on Asking”

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Matthew 6:7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Luke 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly…

 

Prayer: I don't think Jesus ever intended it to be this complicated

Prayer: I don’t think Jesus ever intended it to be this complicated

Several weeks back, I discovered Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the subject index to find more topics.

Did Jesus send a mixed message about repetition in his teaching about prayer?

Q.  I appreciate this post and I had a bit of a follow up question. Over the years I’ve struggled with what I see as a mixed message in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” But in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight and in similar parables, Jesus seems to be saying that we should essentially pester God and repeatedly bug Him until we get what we are after. He also gives us the “Lord’s Prayer,” which seems quite fixed in its order and style. How do you understand this apparently mixed message? Do you think that a lot of the prayers we commonly hear in church are made up of the “empty phrases” Jesus warns against? Phrases like “be with us,” “protect us,” “watch over us,” “bless us,” “forgive us,” etc. Often unthoughtful catch phrases . . .

Actually, I think Jesus is talking about different things in these two teachings.

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

On the other hand, in parables like the one about the Friend at Midnight, the Persistent Widow, etc. Jesus is saying that once we have become convinced that something will advance God’s purposes in our lives and in the world, we should pray for it with a persistent, relentless faith.  We shouldn’t pray one or two half-hearted prayers along the lines of “Well, if you think you might want to do this, and you could maybe get around to it, we’d appreciate it.”

Rather, the kind of persistent prayer Jesus describes in these parables is what the author of Hebrews calls “boldly approaching the throne of grace.”  But note that in this case as well the answer to prayer comes as a result of God’s grace, not our efforts.  Hebrews makes clear that it rests on Jesus’ own high priestly intercession for us.  And it begins with a revelation to us of God’s purposes in the world; we then join in those purposes through our prayers, with the faith God gives us to pray them and believe for their answers.  (I suggest in my study guide to John, for example, that Jesus turns the water to wine at the wedding in Cana because “Mary’s persistent faith and implicit trust show him that God is powerfully at work at this very moment.”)

As for the Lord’s Prayer, I think it’s important to recognize that this was Jesus’ response to his disciples request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” after they had seen him at prayer.  When we see it as a teaching, we realize that the Lord’s Prayer is designed to show us what the themes and priorities of our own prayers should be:  for the advancement of God’s kingdom first, and then for our own needs in the context of our participation in that kingdom, as well as for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation.

The Lord’s Prayer is, therefore, a model prayer that we are meant to imitate but not necessarily to repeat verbatim over and over again (as by trying to do “penance” by saying “ten ‘Hail Marys’ and ten ‘Our Fathers’”).  However, I think the Lord’s Prayer can nevertheless be used very effectively in liturgical settings.

For example, when I was a pastor we realized that even in our small church we had speakers of a dozen or more languages—African, Asian, European, etc.  So one week, at the time when we usually shared the concerns of the congregation and prayed for them together, we instead had people take turns simply saying the Lord’s Prayer in their own native languages.  This was a powerful and beautiful experience that people talked about long afterwards.

Another time we were visiting one of the great British cathedrals, York Minster.  At noon a voice came quietly over the public address system reminding us that this was not just a historic building, it was a house of worship, and that it had been that since the early 600s.  And so we were all invited to join in a brief moment of worship by saying the Lord’s Prayer together, once again in our native languages.  This, too, was a powerful experience that illustrated the unity of God’s people through space and time by means of shared liturgical material.

Finally, as for the “empty phrases” that can creep into our prayers (“bless them, Lord”—how, exactly?), I think you’re right, we need to take an extra moment to think about what we really mean to say, rather than fall back on platitudes.  This is one more good warning to take to heart from Jesus’ multifaceted—but not mixed, I would say—teaching on prayer.

January 5, 2013

Two-For-One Special

This is one of the most recent posts at Everyday Bible Blog. I appreciate that Brandie, the author doesn’t stop with a single passage, but is willing to explore two quite different themes in a single day!  Sometimes we are too easily satisfied and ‘check the box’ that Bible study is over for the day, when God wants us to spend more time. I also like the idea that she is taking a personal inventory as she reads her Bible, allowing the passages to illuminate her spiritual condition.

Click the title below to read at source, there is a wealth of great study material there.

The Lord’s Prayer (How to Pray); Right Thinking and Quick Tempers
Luke 10:38 – 11:13

In Luke chapter 11 verses 2-4, we are given the Lord’s prayer.  This is the second time so far that I have read the Lord’s Prayer in the bible – the first being in Matthew 6:9-13.  Jesus is responding to a disciple’s request to learn how to pray when Jesus tells him the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus then tells his disciples that persistence is key when praying.  Jesus gives an analogy about a man who knocks on another man’s door late in the evening.  Eventually the man answered the door and granted the request.  Jesus says the following in chapter 11:

 9 And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeing, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

10  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

I have the feeling that these verses get misused often, as an indication that you can get, well, anything your heart desires.  I would first like to point out that the parable that preceded these verses involved a man who needed bread to feed a guest.  The request was urgent enough that the man just kept knocking — he needed that food so his guest wouldn’t go hungry.  This was a prayer for provisioning, which the Lord WILL provide those who ask.  It might come in the midnight hour but it will come.   

As far as prayers for other things go, I believe that your prayers must align with the will of the Lord in order to be answered.  The Lord knows an infinite amount more than we ever do.  Sometimes we are pray for something with our whole heart; something that we think is in our best interest; something that we think aligns with the will of God; yet we don’t receive it.  In those cases we just have to trust the Lord has our best interests in heart.  Many times, later in life, you finally see a blessing in the fact that X thing didn’t happen, even though you prayed so hard for it.  It’s at those times that catch a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the Lord’s plan for you life.  So consider every unanswered prayer to be a blessing.

Proverbs 12:15 – 17

15  Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.

16  A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.

17  An honest witness tells the truth;  a false witness tells lies.

I initially thought verse 17 was a bit … erm, obvious?  But then I realized, maybe someone doesn’t know what a false witness is.  Now if someone asks me, “What is a false witness?”  I can say “a false witness tells lies” and point out where it is defined in the bible instead of the dictionary. Pretty nifty, eh?

It is the first two verses of this reading that really catch my attention.  The subject is Fools — and fools are taught about all throughout the bible.  It is a bad thing to be a fool, it is the opposite of being wise.  It carries death while wisdom carries life.  So I have learned to pay attention to all the bible says about fools. 

Verse 15 really draws me in, because I have a big problem when it comes to thinking my way is right.  I tend to do a lot of research, research about everything and anything.  When someone needs an answer, I have it, right there.  If someone tries to tell me otherwise, I can point out in an instant where that is wrong.  Pretty foolish, eh? 

Today I re-read Proverbs 3:3:7-8.  Those verses tell us not to be impressed with our own wisdom, and that listening to others will give us healing for our whole body.  Pretty powerful stuff, don’t you think?  I really need to work on stepping back and not immediately throwing an answer at someone.  I need to learn to be humble and see what I can learn from another person, instead of only relying on what I can learn for myself.

As far as verse 16 goes, I try not to be quick tempered.  My temper has calmed down a lot over the years.  I still have plenty of room for improvement, though.  I am going to try to a silent chant when I start to get prematurely angry: “A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered.  A fool is quick-tempered.”  Wish me luck — or better yet, wish the other person luck!