Christianity 201

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


*Reader mini-survey:

Just curious… Have blog posts here resulted in you making the author’s blog part of your daily or weekly routine?  My hope is that in introducing you to a wide variety of Christian devotional and Bible-teaching bloggers, some of them will resonate with you to the point you bookmark their sites and/or subscribe, making their writing a regular habit.

May 23, 2015

Keep on Asking

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy.  Once you shut the door, it’s shut.  Work done.  But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

“Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

“Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

 

August 18, 2014

When Your Prayer Request List is Too Long

Post 1600I know there are days in our household when the list of prayer requests seems to be balloon out in size, and we feel we must be exasperating God with so many requests. Additionally, as I type this, to even list the countries of the world that are hotspots right now would take some time, especially if you are aware of key groups or individuals that need an extra blessing from God.

After a person has been around the church for awhile, they are often instructed that prayer is so much more than just asking for things for ourselves or on behalf of others. Using the ACTS model (acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) that would mean that additionally prayer should include:

  • a point of entry into conversation with God that recognizes who He is, His sovereignty over all things, His immense power, His majesty in creation, His knowing of all things, His holiness.
  • a confession of our sin, both individually and corporately
  • spoken recognition of the good things that life brings us as part of the general grace given to all of us, appreciation for blessings that might seem to be extra or undeserved

But then we are back at requests. The list seems so long. Should we do some editing? Just pray for certain people on certain days?

Scripture would seem to suggest not to hold back.  In Ephesians 6:18 we read:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

The phrases I want to highlight today are all occasions, all kinds of…requests, always keep on.

Of course sometimes we do not really know what we ought to pray. Should we pray for Mike and Carrie’s relationship to be restored, or is it better that they break the engagement now before they end up in a marriage that may not succeed? Should we pray for Shelley to get the job in Ohio when really, she should look for employment closer to home so she can keep helping her sister who really needs her?

I don’t know, don’t ask me!!

In I Corinthians 14:15 Paul says,

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding…

This verse bears on the subject of praying in tongues, which I know is controversial; but the Bible does suggest there are times when human words are inadequate. We see this again in Romans 8:26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The KJV uses, “groanings too deep for words.”

(We hear a lot about speaking in tongues, but not so much about ‘speaking in groans,’ though I’ve been in at least two churches where this was manifested.)

The key in these verses is where Paul says, “What shall I do?” (I Cor. passage) and “We do not know what…to pray for” (Romans passage).

Sometimes we just don’t know. We throw up our hands and surrender our total inadequacy to intercede in these situations.  Should we give up? I think a good place to resolve this is with our key verse again:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”  (Matt 7:7 HCSB; all other ref.s NIV)

April 30, 2014

Prayers of Asking

Today, on the eve of the National Day of Prayer, we continue our look at prayer.

In researching this I came across a number of posts that used a word that you don’t hear much anymore, supplication.  Dictionary.com — not exactly a theological source, but useful — has this:

sup·pli·ca·tion
[suhp-li-key-shuhn] 

noun

an act or instance of supplicating; humble prayer, entreaty, or petition.

It was interesting that while the World English Dictionary’s origin of the verb form talked about “begging on one’s knees,” the Online Etymological Dictionary mentioned, “In ancient Rome, a religious solemnity, especially in thanksgiving for a victory.” Conflicting images? I tried to image a very earnest outpouring of thanks that takes the same form as our an earnest begging for intervention.

The word is familiar to people who grew up with the King James:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
 ~Phil. 4:6

and is retained in the ESV and NASB and others. Newer versions use petition while the NLT says, “Tell God what you need.”

Sadly however, this word has been co-opted by a number of eastern religions and at least one marginal, quasi-Christian group.

The main article I settle on for today was from the blog Words for the Kingdom. Jesse has been blogging since 2009. Please click through to read articles that appear here by other authors, so they know their work is being seen. This was titled A Good Morning.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.  Psalm 5:3

There is something wonderful about beginning your day in the presence of the Lord.  Like many things requiring discipline, you have to train yourself to be consistent about this, but once you do it will radically change your days.

I like this verse above because it full of promise and instruction and hope.  Here are a few things that I have taken from this verse. Hopefully they will help you as well.

  1. Start your day with God.  David is called a man after God’s own heart.  He experienced his share of ups and downs in his life. He sinned, he struggled, he was chased, he was a king, he was an adulterer and a murderer.  He fathered one of the wisest men to ever live.  But his one constant seems to be his relationship with the Lord.  Even when he sinned, he felt God drawing him back; whether through a prophet or in his prayers.  David began his day with God.  We would be wise to do the same.
  2. God will hear your voice.  This is an amazing promise! Have you ever wondered if anyone is listening to you?  I know I have.  We don’t have to wonder that when it comes to God.  He hears our voice.  David states this as a fact.  We don’t have to light a candle or perform a ritual or be in a certain place for God to hear us, we simply lift our voices to him and know that our words don’t fall on deaf ears.
  3. None of your problems are too small for God. David says that he lays his requests before God.  There are a couple of implications here.  First, David doesn’t qualify the type of requests he brings before God.  He doesn’t say, “I bring all the huge things before you, because I know how busy you are and you probably don’t care about the small stuff anyway.”  He knew, through firsthand experience, that God would listen and provide for all his needs whether they were big or small.  I am so thankful for this promise. Some of my prayers are huge and the issue I am dealing with seems to overwhelm me, but some of my prayers are insignificant and seem like they shouldn’t even matter.  Both kinds are welcome to God because he knows the small stuff matters to me.  Because prayer is an intimate language, we can confidently go before him and leave all of our requests at his feet.
  4. You can have confidence that God will answer your prayers. David says that he does two things: he lays his requests before God and he waits expectantly.  That expectantly is a very important adverb.  It means that we give our requests to God, with the confidence and knowledge that he will answer our prayers.  We shouldn’t pray to God as a last resort, when all our other options have been exhausted.  We should bring our requests to him as soon as they cross our mind, fully anticipating him to work in his pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 8:28)

I know that for years I struggled with regularly having a consistent quiet time with God.  Life has a way of getting in the way.  But if you will make an effort to start your day with God, it will transform your day. Your transformed days will become transformed weeks and transformed weeks will become transformed years and transformed years will become a transformed life. (Romans 12:2)

What way of managing your quiet time works for you?

January 15, 2014

Just Ask It

When Jesus told his disciples, “Ask anything in my name and it will be done…” scholars might wonder what type of blanket prayer requesting he was authorizing. Can I ask God for a new car? The one we have is getting old, and I think it’s a fairly valid request.

If you believe that repetition solidifies and establishes doctrine, then you’re in good shape here because the offer of an answered prayer appears three times in Jesus’ Olivet discourse:

  1. John 14:13 & 14

    And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

    Other Translations

  2. John 16:23
    In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

    Other Translations

  3. John 16:24
    Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

    Other Translations

Couple this with other faith-building verses like “With God nothing will be impossible,” and my new car is practically driving up my driveway on its own.

Despite this, there is another passage entirely that theologians refer to sometimes as “the prayer God will always answer” and that is found in James 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

In a way, asking God for wisdom is a form of surrender. It’s saying that he is greater than I. It’s saying that I don’t know everything I need to know. It acknowledges that we are utterly lost in certain arenas of life.

Years ago, a popular worship chorus was the “Cares Chorus.” In our church, we sang it a little different from the lyrics in the video that follows.

I cast all my cares upon you
I lay all my burdens down at your feet
And anytime I don’t know what I should do
I will cast all my cares upon you.

I pointed out to our congregation that the melody in the line “I don’t know what to do” goes up really high musically. I just picture a little kid throwing up their hands in utter helplessness, and it’s not surprising that the song was also popular in Children’s ministry.

What got me thinking about this is the current #AskIt series of sermons running at North Point Community Church. (As messages are posted, you can view them at justaskit.org) The theme of the series is this prayer:

Ask It

Across the North Point viewing audience, people are making their own graphics of the prayer, and you might see these on Facebook or blogs:

In light of my past experiences, current circumstances and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing for me to do?

I believe that just as the Lost Son’s father came running down the road to meet him, so also does our heavenly father want to run to us with the wisdom we’re requesting.

I’m not saying the other prayers, prayed in sincerity, in faith and in right motives won’t get answered, but I believe that the best place to learn to exercise the John 14 and John 16 kind of faith is with a James 1 kind of request.

November 10, 2013

Dear God: I’d Like to Order a Medium Pizza

So I pick up the phone and I call the number of the Chinese Food restaurant around the block, and I tell them I’d like to order:

  • dinner for four
  • two extra egg rolls
  • an order of chicken fried rice

I give my name and tell them I’ll come by to pick it up in 30 minutes. And then I hang up.

I have no idea who took my order. I have no idea if they’re busy or if I’m the first customer of the day. I don’t really know if the person who I will be served by is even the same person I just talked to. And honestly, in a busy world, I usually don’t care.

Are our prayers to God any different? People talk about having a “laundry list” of prayer requests, but I prefer to think in terms of ordering Chinese food or a pizza.

Phil 4:19 (NLT) And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

God wants us to bring our needs to Him. He loves it when we ask. He wants us to keep the conversation going. He wants us to be in relationship with Him. He promises to meet us in the area of provision.

But in the model prayer Jesus gave The Twelve, this type of request was only a small part of a bigger prayer picture. The prayer consists of three requests toward God Himself:

  • that His name be honored and reverenced
  • that His will be accomplished
  • the bringing about of His kingdom to earth

And then toward ourselves:

  • for our basic provisions
  • for us to live in, practice, and be agents of grace and mercy
  • for us to be protected from evil, and the temptation to evil

Now, you could say that if each of these is equal that mean each should form 1/6th of our prayer time, or that each one constitutes 17%. (I don’t think we need to be that literal.) Others might argue that in the Hebrew mindset, where there is a list, things are presented in an order of importance. (Some might say the first thing is doubly important.) In a proportionate percentage guide, that might look like this:

  • 28%
  • 24%
  • 18%
  • 14%
  • 10%
  • 6%

The point is, that we don’t spend 70% on concerns that would fit the patter of prayer toward God, in fact we don’t even spend 51% (using the 17% figure above). We tend to spend all our prayer time on ourselves. That a lot more than the 17% that would put things in proportion.

And we often want our order ready for pickup in 30 minutes.

But interestingly enough, God promises us that if we put him first we might need to spend so much time concerned with health and material provision requests.  You find that in a familiar verse in Matthew 6, provided you incorporate the context of a previous verse:

Matt 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [i.e. 31..What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’] will be given to you as well.

Do people who honor God in their prayer life get everything they feel they need? I have two answers for that. First of all, if they spend less time preoccupied with provision for needs, it is less of a priority, less of an obsession for them. This in itself will give them greater contentment with what they have. Second, I’ve always believed that ‘the desires of the righteous are righteous desires.” So in a way, the answer is ‘yes.’

Now for the hard part:  Lately we’ve had a number of people voice prayer requests that are not prayers for ourselves. We have friends who need a healing touch. We have friends who need jobs. We have friends whose marriage is in trouble. We’ve sensed — and commented to others — that our prayer list has gotten very long lately.

So surely, this does not apply to altruistic prayers like we’ve been praying, right?

Wrong!

I think the principle still applies. I need to be challenged to spend more time working on the part of the model prayer that concerns thoughts toward God. I need to begin my prayer in worship and reverence. I need to pray for the extension and raising of God’s Kingdom. I need to spend more time praying for God’s will to be done on the earth.

A ‘laundry list’ is a ‘laundry list’ no matter how you frame it. God wants my prayer life to be so much more, even when I feel that bringing needs on behalf of others.

If it looks like a take-out order, and it sounds like a take-out order, it’s probably a take-out order.

God, help me to spend more time letting you know that I love you, and that I am in awe of your greatness and majesty and dominion. Help me to be more concerned that Your Will be carried out on the earth. Make my desire that You build your kingdom.

 

 

October 12, 2012

You Don’t Have Because You Don’t Ask

John 14 : 14 (NIV)  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 16 : 23 (NIV) In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

John 16: 24 (NIV) Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16: 23-24 (The Message) “This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!

We are commanded to go to God with our needs — our prayer petitions — and leave them before him. But what are our expectations of what happens next?

There are many people who believe that God’s intervention in the affairs of humankind are an extreme rarity. The world is simply what it is, and that is the answer to the question, “If God… why all the suffering in the world?” We live in a fallen world where there is bound to pain and sorrow; flood, fire and famine; doom, defeat and despair.

(That was a cheery paragraph; I’ll have to remember that one.)

There are other people who believe that God certainly hears our prayer requests and that this is the end in itself: That God wants to be in communication (or fellowship) with us. He wants us to tell us when and where it hurts. He wants each situation to bring us back to him. He wants us to come to him when we are ‘burdened and heavy-laden.’

Still others believe that while God’s intervention is rarity, miracles do exist; they just don’t happen every day. We’re talking about genuine miracles here, not things contrived for the glare of the television lights or the crowd in the arena. 

Further up the ‘hope’ ladder are those who would say, ‘God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to give us what we ask.’ Why this doesn’t happen may be related to the complexities of other situations we can’t see, or a lesson that we need to learn before the answer comes. But absent those factors, God’s default position would be to give us what we come to him asking.

And there are those who believe that God is constantly orchestrating more details in the lives of his people than anything we can possibly imagine; that there are constantly situations where God is even giving us ‘answers to requests we haven’t made;’ or that life consists of many seen and unseen coincidences, defined as, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.”  This view ranges from the dramatic holding on to the hope of healing even when doctors say the situation is incurable; to the trivial belief of some that God is truly willing to intervene in life on Planet Earth so that you will get a parking space next to the mall entrance.

…Parking spaces notwithstanding, I fall into the latter camp. I have to pray believing that my prayer is not only making a difference in me, but also in the situation. Regardless of statistical odds or past prayer performance, I have to go to him with an ultimate faith that he is willing and able to execute deliverance from whatever situation is pressing in. This is the faith of children; what it means to ‘come as a child,’ and it’s a faith that is not double-minded, but believes without doubt (See James 1:8 and 1:6 and Mark 11:23) and without wrong motivation (see James 4:3).

(Deliverance is a better way of defining the situation. If you are praying for money for a specific need you are praying for a deliverance from poverty with respect to that financial issue.)

…The greatest danger I see is in not asking at all. Not coming to God to bear our souls and cry out for help or mercy because the petitions we brought before him last month were not answered in the affirmative. I believe God will respect our tenacity in prayer; our willingness to go to him even in the absence (so far) of the answers we sought before.

He longs to see faith that is lived out in a concrete assurance of things not apparent (Hebrews 11:1).

PW

 

 

 

June 3, 2012

The Great Empowerment for The Great Commission as Prayer Pattern

Okay, a long title today…

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Growing up in Toronto, Canada in Sunday School, our teachers tried to make this somewhat applicable by changing it to, “You will be witnesses… in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the uttermost parts of the earth.”  If you grew up in Chicago, it would be “…in Chicago, in Illinois, in the United States, and the farthest parts of the world.”  Then they would draw concentric circles showing the geographic destinations; and perhaps, maybe in the upper grades, a more astute teacher would reconfigure the verse to suggest that the first destination is the people only you can reach: Your immediate and extended family, your neighbor, your co-worker, your friend.

But as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the verse wouldn’t be interpreted that way by the audience that heard it spoken.  Samaria, would mean the place you don’t want to go to.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

[At this point I’m reminded of the tongue-in-cheek Scott Wesley Brown song, Please Don’t Send Me To Africa.]

…This morning however it occurred to me that there is a place where it would be appropriate to use the concentric circles: In our prayer lives. Most of our prayer petitions are so centered on our family; I believe the phrase is “Us four, no more.”

We need to make the needs of the greater world part of our prayer life.  I want to use the phrase, we need to “pray big,” but Will Davis has already used that phrase for his series of books.  Here’s the publisher’s precis of the first book:

Do we test the Holy Spirit’s patience with prayer that asks nothing of him? This might sound surprising at first blush, but most people have experienced being at a prayer meeting, in church, or (gasp!) in their own personal prayer time and hearing prayers like this: “God, bless Tom” or “God, just be with Sue in her need.” Will Davis Jr… calls believers to a more risky and rewarding practice of prayer. Pray Big teaches readers how to pray with biblical, pinpoint accuracy. In other words, it teaches them prayers that get things done. From audacious prayers for miracles to mundane prayers about lost car keys, Davis takes the reader from a point of weakness to one of boldness. As a result, readers will want to pray more, they will see more results from their prayers, and they will be emboldened to ask God for everything he has promised them.

There have been several recent books written about “praying big,” and I’ve referred to three of them on this blog and at Thinking out Loud:  Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and Spirit Rising by Jim Cymbala.

But as important as it is to ask God to increase our faith, I think we need to think about the concentric circles and pray wide.  (Or for you American football players, pray long.)  We need to take the verse above from Acts, the verse that tells us we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the command to “go into all the world and share the gospel;” and use its geographic model — JJSR, where R=rest of the world — and use it as our prayer pattern.

I’ll be the first to admit that we struggle with this as a family, but help is available through websites that will keep us abreast of what’s going on in areas of hunger and persecution.

We need to broaden our prayer horizons.  We need to pray wide.

~Paul Wilkinson

April 27, 2012

Praying, ‘Lord, Teach Me to Pray’

It’s hard to imagine anyone cruising the Christian blogosphere and not discovering  Canada’s Tim Challies. While his blog is among the top five Christian destinations available, many people assume it to be mostly links to other writers and breaking news stories, when in fact, he includes a good number of original pieces each week.  We’ve linked to him once before here, back in August 2011, but I thought you might want to take some extra time to meditate on this piece, which he titled Seven Ways to Pray for Your Prayer Life.

Here are seven ways that you can pray about your prayer life. These are seven items you can add to your prayer list as you consider your own prayer life or another person’s.

1) Pray that your prayers would be the expressions of a humble heart.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

2) Pray that God would remind you that he doesn’t want or need your eloquent prayers.

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. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

3) Pray that you would remember what the really important requests are.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)

4) Pray that you would remember biblical examples of answered prayer.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. … Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:13-14, 17-18)

5) Pray that God would give you confidence in his sovereign power.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

6) Pray that God would help you to persevere in your praying.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:1-8)

7) Pray that God would encourage you that he is your loving Father and will give you only what is good.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

~Tim Challies

March 23, 2012

Just Because You Get Results…

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

 6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

 9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock?After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous. 

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


Finding an image to attach to today’s thoughts landed me at the blog Agapegeek! If you want to go really, really deep into today’s passage, click on the image above.


If you’re a newcomer to C201, scripture verses here are in green because the scriptures have life.  Nothing that the contributors here write carries as much weight as God’s word. If the passage doesn’t have life to you, read it again!

January 10, 2012

Believing Prayer

Today’s devotional reading is by Robert Moon, who happens to the husband of the author of yesterday’s post.  In many ways this is very similar to yesterday’s theme.  It appeared at the blog Musings by Robert under the title Prayer Memo.

II Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

Paul in his introduction greets the brethren with encouraging words but I want to emphasize the words “Your faith is growing abundantly or exceedingly.” Faith is all there is for the believer.

By faith we are saved, and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, if your denomination allows it. By faith we approach GOD in every way whether in worship or in prayer. We use our faith to accomplish great things for God, and stand when victory is slow in coming.

I don’t know exactly know how to say what I’m going to say. and that is one of the hardest things to get by, is when we pray and then miraculously the answer comes. Then at another time, we pray and it seems like the heavens are closed. The door to answered prayer is shut tight and our exercise of faith can’t get the door to budge. Confusion attacks us with questions, and we mull over without a conclusion.

Having had to deal with this phonemon many times I have learned a few things, and there are still a few questions I am working on. If one is not careful they can get lost and spiritually weakened when this happens; but when properly understood this is the time for faith to flourish. This is the time to continue to give substance to our requests.

Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

Always keep in mind we are at war with the forces of evil and must always be armored up as in Ephesians 6:13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand and having prayed, stand until GOD answers or says otherwise.

I believe in GOD!  I believe GOD!

~Robert Moon

December 29, 2011

What Happened During That Long Walk?

In John 21:25 we’re told that if everything Jesus did was written down, there isn’t a library big enough to contain it.  Okay, I paraphrased that verse a little.  But the point is we’re often given snapshots of the beginning and ending to a story, but left to fill in the middle.  Such is the case in the story today, though I had never considered a “missing middle” until I checked in, as we do on a regular basis, with Jon Swanson at the blog 300 Words a Day.  He called this, Living Between ‘I Will’ and ‘I Have.’

We struggle with goals. We read that telling people your goals is dangerous. It can give you the buzz of affirmation without having to do the hard work. Having goals is fine. But keep them to yourself.

But this isn’t a story about goals. This is about a walk captured in the Bible, but never described.

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus. We aren’t told the distance of the walk. It probably wasn’t more than a few hundred steps. But any of us in the middle of emotional devastation know that the distance in our hearts has little connection to the distance for our feet. Throughout that walk, his daughter was dead.

“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home.

We don’t know what they talked about, or if they talked. Was Jesus silent? Did he ask Jairus about his daughter’s favorite foods? Did he talk about the 1969 Mets?

No idea. Apparently, it doesn’t matter for us. But Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

~Jon Swanson

October 21, 2011

Interceding Specifically

This week I returned for a few more chapters of Penetrating the Darkness a book on intercession by Dr. Jack Hayford, who for years was lead pastor at Church on The Way in Van Nuys, California.

In chapter four, Jack indicates that intercession involves three elements:

  • praying for somebody else; praying on behalf of
  • reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance and help to pray beyond the intercessor’s knowledge or understanding
  • a challenge to our helplessness to deal with the larger issues of life

Later in the chapter, he teaches three easy-to-remember terms:

  • intersection
  • intervention
  • interception

I might come back to those at another time, and I do want to challenge you to get a copy of this book for your own, especially those of you who have a prayer and intercession ministry.   One couple in Jack’s church was Michael and Stormie Omartian and if you’ve read Stormie’s The Power of a Praying… series of books, this makes an excellent companion. 

…This morning at 5:00 AM, I woke up and felt led to pray for a man we know who has been estranged from his wife for nearly a decade.  As I thought about their situation, I felt led to pray very specifically for a number of things that need to happen.  I prayed that:

  • God would soften her heart
  • she would feel led to reopen communication
  • there would not be a barrier created by pride; that she would be humble
  • that she would be truthful with people to whom she may have painted a one-sided picture of their situation
  • that she would repent of wrongdoing on her part
  • that she would seek reconciliation and restoration of the relationship
  • that the decision she makes would stick over the long-term

I also prayed for him, that:

  • he would be open to receive her forgiveness and accept it at face value, in expectancy of reconciliation over the long-term
  • he would do his best to be the kind of person she needs
  • God would heal the wounds and scars that the last few years have created

Usually, I have great creative and spiritual clarity at that hour, but when I go to the keyboard many hours later, I have forgotten everything.  (I even considered finding a pen at 5:00 AM and making notes; I say that with apologies for those of you who are up at that hour anyway; I’m not!)  However, this time, I have recorded here point-for-point what came to me earlier in the day.

I think it’s important — it’s necessary — to pray specifically like this, and there are probably other aspects of this I could add to the example, but I want to preserve the anonymity of the people involved.

My point today is simply that to pray only, “God, bless__________;” is inadequate and even to pray, “God, bless ____________ and __________ and bring them back together;” is to miss the many barriers that often need to come down before something like that can happen.

Well then, what shall I do? I will pray in the spirit,  and I will also pray in words I understand.  ~ I Cor. 14:15 NLT

The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.  ~I Tim 2: 1-3 The Message

 

Postscript: Feel free to join us in praying for our friend and his wife.