Christianity 201

September 23, 2018

A Worship Liturgy and Word Study: Sin, Forgive

by Ruth Wilkinson

Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He gave it to them and said,
“Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
Matthew 26:27‭-‬28 HCSB

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “sin.”

Different words that paint different pictures of different behaviours, but that all have one thing in common — they describe things in our lives that come between us and the God who loves us.

Things like:

  • Missing the target (hamartano) – because sometimes we really do try our best, and still fail;
  • Wandering, going off the path (planay) – because sometimes we stop paying attention, and suddenly realize we’ve gone off course;
  • Defiance, Rebellion (parabaino) – because sometimes we just choose say no to God. Or to say yes to something that is not for our best.

As we take some time to pray through this prayer for forgiveness either out loud or silently,
listen for His still, small voice and what He might want you to see in yourself.

Then take a moment of silence and talk to Him about it.

Lord, forgive me.
For the things I’ve done impulsively, without thinking.
For the things I’ve done gradually, over time.
For the places I’ve gone that I had no business going.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve held tightly that I should have dropped or given away,
For the things I’ve given away that I should have held sacred.
For the things I’ve let go that I should have fought to keep.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the things I’ve said or typed, the links I shouldn’t have clicked.
For the times I’ve kept silent or stood off to the side when I should have spoken up.
Forgive me, Lord.

For the ways I’ve used or put down other people, or held myself more highly than I ought.
For the things I’ve taken that were not mine to take.
Forgive me.
Forgive me.
Forgive me, Lord.

This leads to our second word…

There are a number of words in the Bible that are translated to our English word “forgive.”

Different words that paint different word pictures of how God responds when we ask what we have just asked.

Pictures like:

  • Drop, send away (aphiemi) – because He promises to send our sin to the bottom of the ocean, to the depths of the wilderness, never to be even remembered;
  • Cover, make peace (kaphar) – because He reaches his hand to shelter us from the justice we’ve earned and to reconcile us to himself;
  • Pick up and carry (nasa) – because he takes our burden, pays our debt and sets us free.

And says… “You are forgiven. Let’s start fresh.”

August 12, 2018

A Year of Sunday Worship

53 Weeks ago I introduced our Sunday Worship feature, and then 52 weeks ago, we began including a number of articles on the subject of worship which introduced us to a number of new writers. Our first stop was Ascents and while we won’t return to each and every one of our sources as this series continues, this one is no longer active and I wanted to include a third and final article from writer Tim Adams.

Before you start reading, click here to read Psalm 74.

Psalm 74 – How long, O God?

Can there be a more desperate state than to think that the creator of all that exists, the singular infinite power, has cast you aside? To feel as though God has rejected you?  I can think of nothing more desperate than to see myself forgotten by God.  Psalm 74 informs us how to respond when those thoughts overtake us, and we find ourselves full of despair—feeling useless.

I struggle with the 74th Psalm; particularly, with phrases such as “…why have you rejected us forever?” or, “remember your congregation which you have purchased”.  Does God reject His own?  Does God “need” us to remind Him of His promises? Does God forget?  These notions seem to challenge what we know to be God’s divine attributes, and what we see as absolute Biblical certainties.  Certainly, the psalmist cannot be affirming these ideas, but there is no question that he is struggling with feelings of abandonment by God, and those feelings can be consuming.

In this prayer, I see four stages that the psalmist goes through in his despair.  In the first three verses, he expresses to God his feelings of abandonment—feeling that God has forgotten him.  He feels that God has forgotten His promises to His people.  Even though we know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20, John 14:16, Heb. 13:5), there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the closeness of God.  There are times when it seems like our prayers bounce off the ceiling right back down on us, never to find the ear of our Creator.  I have actually prayed, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say and I don’t feel like you’re listening… amen.”  I’m not proud of it, but I’ve said it.

In the second stage, vs. 4-10, Asaph recounts the circumstances God’s people find themselves in. Their enemies have taken over the sacred meetings of God’s people and arrogantly “roared” in defiance of God.  They have burned the sanctuary to the ground, and there is no one to speak for the Lord (v.9) to tell them when this time of tribulation will end.  So, the psalmist asks again, “How long, O God?”.  Certainly, God doesn’t need me to tell Him what’s going on.  He knows better than I.  But, honestly and humbly taking stock of my troubles helps me to acknowledge that He is my only hope for deliverance.

The third stage is praise (vs. 12-17), and this is also one I tend to miss in my prayers.  It’s not that I don’t tell God how great, how powerful, and how marvelous He is.  But, far too often, those are just words I’m obliged to say.  The fact is, praise is hard when life is at its low points and God feels far away.  The importance of Asaph’s praise is that it not only ascribes God’s worth, but it also serves to remind Asaph who he’s talking to.  It renews his awe, and strengthens his faith.  It prepares his heart for the fourth phase of the prayer.  He knows that His Lord and Savior can, and will, deliver and care for His chosen people.

In the fourth and final phase, Asaph tells God precisely what he desires Him to do.  With confidence and faith, he petitions God to remember His people and avenge His holy name.  Asaph’s request is not only for the oppressed nation, but also for God’s glory.  Again, God doesn’t need our insight, our wisdom, or our perspective on what needs to be done.  Nor does he need our permission to do what He has promised.  The need, rather, is ours.  We need to remind ourselves of what is true, what is honorable, what is righteous, pure, and so on (Phil. 4:8).  It is then that …the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).

Something that needs to be noted is that when the psalm ends, there’s no indication that the trials are soon to be over.  There’s no indication that Asaph “feels” any better about the circumstances he and the nation are in.  The fact is, feelings can deceive us, and distract us from what is true about God’s character.  Let’s not forget that God wants the best for us, and only He knows exactly what that is.

He will always bring about His perfect will, and even though His will may be hard, He is always a good Father who hears and cares for His children.

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Kevin Stokes & Tony Wood,
©1995 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs 

 

July 8, 2018

A Tower to Run To

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The Beautiful Spirit is designed to encourage women to apply the truths of living a Spirit-filled life. It was founded in 2006 as a print magazine, reaching women around the globe. In the fall of 2017, it moved from the print magazine to a blog. Click the title below to read at source and see images, and then visit the rest of their site.

Refuge in the Names of God

Written by Sarah Hudson. Sarah and her husband, Todd, live in Vienna, Austria.

When we moved into the little house at the edge of the Vienna Woods, I had no idea what lay beyond our doorstep. As the kids and I ventured up a path through the trees, I saw the tower. It was tall and rather narrow with concrete walls, edged with stone work, curving upward in strength. There was no visible door from the path, and I figured it had been used for water or even a lookout tower a hundred years ago. Now it stood like a surprise in a modern setting, surrounded by trees with a nearby water pump and a picnic table.

Not long after we had moved to that house on “Pötzleinsdorfer Höhe,” one of my dear friends encouraged me to study the names of God. My friend and I developed a sweet bond as we prayed the names of God for each other and claimed them for our various burdens. Soon the “hidden tower in the woods” became my special place to run to when my spirit was overwhelmed. Although I couldn’t enter it, it was my symbol of Proverbs 18:10: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous man runs into it and is safe.” There in the woods, I could cry to my God El Roi*, who sees all my struggles and all my exhausted efforts. There I could beg for Jehovah Rapha to bring His healing to the brokenness and hurting. There I could meet with my El Shaddai when I wanted to quit, and He would give His grace and fruitfulness. As I saw my kids and church folks wrestling in life’s battles, I would beg for Jehovah Nissi to proclaim His victory and work His miracle. As I grew weary in my own battles with besetting sins, I would reach for Jehovah Tsidkenu to cover me with His robes of righteousness.

“Finding Him is not just a flat surface that has ‘God’ written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.”

We moved to an apartment about 3½ years ago. I no longer visit that strong tower in the Vienna Woods, yet I continue to run headlong to the strong tower of His name. Discovering the many facets of His names has enriched my Christian journey beyond description. My prayer life has been strengthened as I plead to Him using the specific names He has revealed in His Word.

Have you ever noticed how the apostles pray in Acts 4? After being arrested and threatened, they prayed to their sovereign God for increased boldness—not less persecution. They recognized that He is El Elyon, our sovereign God. How far I have drifted from that example! Have you ever found yourself treating this sovereign God like a giant heavenly vending machine at a church prayer meeting or even in your own private prayer time? While reading about hardships in 1 Thessalonians 3 (ESV translation) I was struck again by the phrase “you are destined for this.”  We will have hardships—that’s what happens to the followers of Jesus. And of course, our Father wants us to cry to Him in our hardships. However, I find myself at such rest as I cry to Him with a deeper understanding of Who He is. This hardship is not an end but a means. It is but for a moment; but it is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. Suffering is never wasted. I cannot escape the wonder of finding God—in all His names, as my strong tower—because of the afflictions that have sent me running to Him as my refuge. My prayers have begun to shift from merely asking that He deliver and heal, to asking that I find Him in the hurting. And finding Him is not just a flat surface that has “God” written on it. Rather it is like opening the cover to an ocean of immeasurable depth and comfort. As our Redeemer, He brings beauty from the ugliness of this fallen world.

For many, many years, my friend had asked that I would make a calligraphy for her that reflected the refuge we had found in the names of our God. I am not a professional artist, nor do I have a huge overflow of time for such a project, so I put her off year after year. Finally, after a very challenging 2017, I tackled the project. I needed that meditation time, and the art was a wonderful “brain therapy” for me in the middle of the whirl of life and ministry. Of course, the result is more of a “heart work” than an art work—but a deep reminder of all we have in our God. I no longer have a tower just beyond my front door; yet the door to the tower of His name is always accessible. What safety and rest I find there, as I seek refuge in His names.

[click the article title above to see the calligraphy]


*El Roi: The God who sees
Jehovah Rapha: The God who heals
El Shaddai: Lord God Almighty
Jehovah Nissi: The Lord, my Banner
Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord our Righteousness
El Elyon: The Most High God

 

May 5, 2018

Don’t Ask God for Patience!

Once again we’re back with Elsie Montgomery who, as I mentioned previously, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered online. Click the title below to read this on her blog, Practical Faith.

Be careful what you pray for!

Many of my friends who have small children complain that they need patience. Those who know the Scriptures often say, “Do not pray for patience” because we know how God develops it from this verse:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience . . .” (Romans 5:3, KJV)

Praying for patience (or persevering endurance) is asking for trouble! James also wrote that we need to be joyful in trials because this is how we become fully mature — and patient. No wonder I’ve often heard, “Be careful what you pray for!”

From personal experience, I have another example. This one is asking God to reveal what stands in the way of being more like Jesus. I will pray that prayer, but I also know that I need to duck after praying it. He answers quickly and the truth is often painful. This indicates that my heart is not quite as contrite as God wants it to be. Instead of wanting to hide, I need to always be glad that God is dealing with my sin. Not only that, this is the attitude to have. With this willingness to see me sin, I know God is with me . . .

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

Contrite’ comes from an English word that means bruised, feeling and showing sorrow for sin or shortcomings. It means the same in Hebrew and is associated with repentance. At times I’ve identified annoyingly over-confident people as having a need for brokenness. I’m often in that place myself. Unless there is brokenness and a contrite heart, I am in a state of trying to do things myself without relying on God.

Yesterday was filled with examples. Sigh. It was one of those days where I realized God is teaching me to go to Him for help and wisdom for even those tasks that I’ve done all my life without prayer or faith. Even knowing what was going on wasn’t much comfort. I was impatient with me instead of seeking the Lord. Finally, in the late afternoon my prayers of ‘help me’ started to go up and God showed me that this was His intention as I struggled. I just need to trust Him with everything, even the simple stuff.

Tozer writes today of people who only pray for revival when they feel weak and unable, when they deeply desire it. Sometimes those prayers are prompted by corruption in our society, but they ought to be the prayer of those whose hearts are broken over their own sin. I cannot speak for others or motivate them to seek God, only myself. At the same time, I know the cost and challenge of revival. When I pray for it, do I really want it?

Tozer says, “It may be said without qualification that every man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be.” That is true, yet I cannot make Him fill me. I can only block Him, turn Him aside, say NO to the voice of God.

What kind of person would I be if I was more cooperative? Perhaps that is the problem. I’ve a notion of how a revived Christian would act, and what changes could happen. Revival seems to involve more change, more unselfishly directed energy, and a deeper trust that I can imagine myself having. This is one more situation where I am careful what I pray for!

^^^^^^^^

Lord Jesus, when You ask me to trust You and I simply forget, or forge ahead thinking I can do things apart from total reliance on You, it reveals my need for a more contrite heart, a lowly spirit, a greater filling by Your Spirit. When I feel weak and unable and still refuse to pray, my need for those things intensifies. When I would rather sleep than pray, waste time than follow Your leading, I learn that I’m not even close to the trusting, revived person that You want me to be.

May 4, 2018

Prayer: Keep it Private, Keep it Concise

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NASB Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. … 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

A year ago we were first introduced to a devotional blog called Comfort and Challenge. I really like the format and writing here, so in addition to clicking the title below, take a moment to see what God might speak to you through some of the other devotions.

Keep it in the Closet

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Leviticus 16:1-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Other than during a tornado watch, when is the last time any of us prayed in a closet? Most of us would probably answer: “Never.” Yet that is exactly what Christ advised his disciples to do: “whenever 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.”

Most translations use the word “room” but the Greek is closer to “inner room” – or closet. Of course Christ’s point was not the architecture, but the privacy. Even in Christ’s time, public prayer was often more a bid for the admiration of people, rather than communion with God.

We’ve all heard prayers that sound like the person praying was being paid by the word. Christ tells to pray privately, and not heap on words as if desperately trying to tip some divine scale. Ideally prayer is not a monologue, so it needs a lot of silent time to leave room for God.

When Christ says those who pray or give alms in a public manner have already received their reward, he is commenting on motive. People who make a show of piety in order to win admiration have their reward when someone notices, but not beyond.

On the other hand, going too far the other way and making a show of hiding our deeds is still missing the point. People seeking a relationship with God pray or fast only as an expression of their love for God, and attention (or its lack) doesn’t matter. God isn’t a trophy wife, so Christ teaches us to behave in ways that don’t sully the relationship by making it about other people’s opinions.

From the time we are assigned our first 200-word essay, we are taught the number of words we use is important. One of the toughest lessons for any professional writer is to cut, and cut again, until only meaningful words remain. Perhaps this is why writer Anne LaMott’s two favorite prayers are: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Comfort: God knows what we need before we speak.

Challenge: Find an isolated place to pray.

Prayer: Compassionate God: help me. Thank you.

Discussion: What do you feel is the role of public prayer?

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March 18, 2018

Your Voice Should Be Recognized in Heaven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s devotional is from the Prevailing Family Network site, based in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa. It was slightly edited for flow. Click the title below to read at source:

Personal Praise

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. – Psalm 103, NIV

I just want to make two points points in this message.

The first point is this: It is important we understand that our worship to God is personal, God sees us as individuals in the place of worship. Each of us is expected to come to a point God will say, ‘That’s James worshiping… oh, Johnson is praying now… that’s Jane praising me’ in other words, your voice should be recognized in heaven.

Sometimes we think like how can God have my time when there are billions of people in the world? Of course He does have time for each of us, in a church of one million members in attendance God recognizes the voice of each one, the story of Cain and Abel confirms what I am sharing here. It is important you realize that as we gather to worship or worship personally God is waiting to hear your voice.

The second point is this: It is important you realize and acknowledge what God has done for you. Don’t allow the thought of the things God has not done overwhelm your heart to the point that you forget His goodness; rather thinking of His goodness will give you reasons to bless the Lord.

The psalmist considered this absolutely important so he spoke to his soul, ‘Bless the Lord, o my soul‘ he enumerated good great things God has done for him. God has been good to everyone include you, no matter what you’re going through now, if you think deeply you will realize the goodness of the Lord.

I know you still have questions to ask God, questions like; why am I going through this? Why me? In the midst of your challenges and trials God is still good, and as you worship Him continually, He is committed to walking you out of the tempest storms.

God bless you, do have a praise-ful week.

PRAYER.
* Lord whatever will make you reject my praise please remove it.
* Your praise will not depart from my mouth.


We have two worship songs that were suggested by today’s reading. The first one was just presented here three weeks ago, but fits so well we’re repeating it with a slightly remixed version. The next one appears for the first time.

March 10, 2018

Encouraged and Satisfied

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Elsie Montgomery is one of the most faithful devotional writers I encounter when preparing these articles to share with you. She’s now in her 12th year of writing and this is her 14th article here at C201. Click the title below and read it at her blog, Practical Faith.

Content with God’s plan?

God arranges devotional readings to fit whatever is going on in my life. I don’t know how He does that but am so thankful for it. Some days I need correction or a rebuke. He knows and does it. Some days I need something new to challenge me. He does that too. Some days I need to be encouraged and He always knows what to say, both from the Scriptures and from A.W. Tozer’s refreshing perspectives.

My main function in the Body of Christ is prayer. I used to teach and be more involved with other people. Now I am still with people, yet my role has changed from talking and teaching to observation and intercession. God is teaching me to pray as I listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful thing, yet at times I feel disconnected. I sometimes wonder if this is all He wants.

Tozer says that many ordinary folks may have nothing to recommend them but a deep devotion to the Lord and the fruit of the Spirit which they unconsciously display. The Lord says to me, “This is where you fit.”

Then Tozer goes on. He says the church could not carry on without these people. Some of them are the first to come forward when work is required. My health spoils this, but then he says some are the last to go home when there is prayer needed. The way I see it, prayer is always needed. Tozer says I might not be known outside of the local church because faithfulness and goodness are rarely newsworthy, but people like this are a benediction wherever they go.

I am encouraged. Being great might produce admiration in carnal people but God helps me be content to walk with Him in the fullness of His Spirit that I might pray His will and be satisfied that this is a relatively hidden ministry. He also encourages me in small ways that far out-weigh any accolades. For instance, in the past month He put on the hearts of three children, a three-year-old girl, a boy of about six and a girl of about four to make cards for me. One said, “We hope you are feeling better. I love you.” The boy’s said, “I pray that you are not afraid because God is with you.” Last week, I was blessed by a card with hearts and handprints. Her mother said it was totally the child’s idea to make it for me.

Today’s verses are about what comes from the heart. The children’s cards tell me of their openness to the Holy Spirit and as a result are blessing others. The devotional does that too. Those verses begin with Jesus’ rebuke to the hypocrisy of religious leaders:

“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:34–37)

Those children leave a fragrance of Christ that lingers in my heart. I want to be like them. God assures me that in praying for them and for others, this role in His kingdom has great value. He hears my heart, puts blessing into the hearts that listen to Him, even the hearts of “the least of these” so that they become a blessing to others, even to me. There is great joy in being loved by little people who hardly know me. Imagine the joy in the heart of Jesus when those who know Him express their love by obedience and by loving others.

^^^^^^^^^
Dear Lord Jesus, Tozer ends with this: “Come unto God, unite yourself to God, and the doing power you have is infinite!” You have encouraged me. Prayer is sometimes a delight, yet also at times very hard work. It is spiritual warfare for the enemy wants to stop me, but also is an unimaginable link to You — and it sometimes results in great surprises.

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

February 22, 2018

Great Expectations

by Clarke Dixon

We are sometimes quite clear in what we want God to do for us. We have clear expectations of a long life, a great life. We expect to not suffer. We expect God to work in power on our behalf. We expect our team to win. We forge ahead with our lives and expect that God will bless our agendas.

Expectations lay at the heart of what is known as Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Before the Triumphal Entry there were certain expectations of Jesus. The sick could expect to be healed. The curious could expect great teaching. The religious leaders could expect Jesus to say or do something blasphemous. All theses expectations were based on what Jesus had being doing. But at this point, there are not the kind of expectations that come with being a Messiah. Yes, Peter confessed Jesus as being the Messiah in Mark chapter 8, but Jesus told the disciples to keep quite quiet about that. The public at large were generally not thinking that Jesus could be the Messiah, but some thought he might be “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:28.

However, all that would change at the Triumphal Entry. In entering Jerusalem the way he did, Jesus was in effect saying “I am the Messiah.” The timing was right, for it was Passover, the celebration of freedom. What better time for a Messiah to show up and bring freedom. But it was the way Jesus entered Jerusalem that really sent the message. Consider Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

This corresponds with how the Triumphal Entry happened.

People had great expectations of the Messiah, which of course now meant great expectations of Jesus. These expectations can be summed up by the question of the disciples in Acts 1:6: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”. People were expecting a free kingdom of Israel. They were expecting the Messiah to lead them to military and political victory taking them back to the glory days under King David. This meant freedom from Rome.

By the end of the week, things had changed. Jesus is a captive rather than captivating. He is beaten up. He is insulted and mocked yet puts on no show of force. If he were truly the Messiah, God could be expected to do something grand at some point. There is still a glimmer of hope, on the part of at least one man, that God would pull through and Jesus would be shown to be His Messiah:

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Mark 15:34-36

But by the end of the day there was no rescue, of either Jesus from the Roman cross, or Israel from Rome. There was no shock and awe, just a dead man. According to then current expectations, a dead Messiah was a failed messiah, which was no Messiah at all!

By dying Jesus failed to live up to the expectations aroused by His Triumphal Entry.

Or so it seemed.

As we look at how Jesus failed the expectations of the people, we will learn something that will help us when we think God has failed ours.

First, we can expect God to exceed our expectations. What Jesus accomplished through his death was actually something far greater than what the people expected. Here is what happens when Elijah is a no show and there is no rescue:

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:37-38

Elijah didn’t show up, but there was a rescue! Something remarkable did happen which is symbolized by the tearing of the temple curtain, a symbol of separation from God. In Jesus, God dealt with that separation. No one was expecting that! People were expecting the Messiah to be like King David, ensuring liberation from surrounding enemies. Jesus turned out to be King God, with liberation from the true enemies; sin and death, the things that separate us from God.

When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, trust God to actually exceed them.
We expect longer life, God offers eternal life. We expect God to work in power, He works in love and power. Expect God to exceed your expectations.

Secondly, our expectations need to match reality. The expectations of the people were not realistic in the first place. While they expected a military victory through the Messiah, they really ought to have expected judgement. This is why Jesus had a message of repentance from the beginning. This is why Jesus cursed the fig tree on the day following the Triumphal Entry, as an object lesson of judgement. When it seems God fails to meet your expectations, be sure your expectations are realistic.

Seven years ago I traded in a Triumph Sprint motorcycle with 123 horsepower for a Honda CBR125R which has 13. I remember taking such a Honda for a test ride and the parting words of the salesman: “Prepare to be underwhelmed”. If I were expecting the feeling of power, then yes, I would be disappointed. But what I expected was a frugal riding experience. My expectations matched reality and I was not disappointed. Do our expectations of God match reality? Do our expectations match His promises? Has God promised what we have been expecting?

Expect, not what you want, but what God promises. And expect God to exceed your expectations.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

 

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV 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?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

November 16, 2017

More than a glimmer of hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:26 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

“I lift up my head, the world is on fire”. This is a lyric from a song that struck me as being all too true these days. It seems every time you look up, something bad is happening in the world or to your loved ones. The lyric is from a song called “Pray“, by Sam Smith, which captures a tension that many people feel today. Here is a selection of the lyrics:

I lift up my head and the world is on fire
There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones
And I just don’t know what to say

Maybe I’ll pray, pray
 Maybe I’ll pray
I have never believed in you, no
But I’m gonna pray . . . .

You won’t find me in church (no)
 Reading the Bible (no) 
I am still here and I’m still your disciple
I’m down on my knees, I’m beggin’ you, please
I’m broken, alone, and afraid . . . .

And I’m gonna pray (Lord), pray (Lord), maybe I’ll pray
Pray for a glimmer of hope

On the one hand, where is God when the world “is on fire”? On the other hand, what else can people do but pray for a glimmer of hope? Here is another take on hope from another man whose world was on fire:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

What a contrast. From prayer out of desperation, to a prayer of confidence. From a glimmer of hope, to hope shining brightly. What is the path to having hope, to more than just a glimmer of hope? Let us go back to where Paul’s discussion of hope began:

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, …
Romans 15:7-13

Hope is found in the promises of God.  Jesus is the evidence that God keeps His promises. The phrase “the truth of God” refers to the fact that God will do what God says He will do. He is honest. Jesus is the confirmation that God is making good on all His promises. The apostle Paul goes on to give a sampling of some of these promises from the Old Testament Scriptures. Let us make some observations on them.

First, there will be praise:

. . . and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”; Romans 15:9

. . . and again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”; Romans 15:11

Far from questioning the existence of God, the goodness of God, or the love of God; when we come to realize He has fulfilled His promises in Jesus, we instead praise the Lord for who He is, what He is like, and for His amazing love. As we grow in our relationship with Him, lingering doubts are replaced with confidence. We should not think of this praise as being dutiful and forced, but spontaneous and joyful. When we see God keeping His promises, how could we do anything but joyfully praise Him?

. . . and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; Romans 15:10

Second, those who are oppressive rulers over us now will be replaced by Christ and His rule:

. . . and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.” Romans 15:12

The emperor was the ruler at the time Paul quotes these Old Testament verses. Something we should know about the emperors in those days, that whatever you may think of Donald Trump, they all made President Trump look like an angel! Hope is dashed when our leaders fail to lead well. Hope shines brightly when we have good leadership. There is no better shepherd than Jesus!

When we think of people that have oppressive rule over others, we should also think of things that can rule over us. Things like poverty, addiction, disease, toxic relationships, discrimination, abuse, bullying and the like. Whatever things seem to rule over you now, gets the boot. Jesus is Lord and He shall reign. We begin seeing this in the here and now. We will see it fully in the days to come.

Third, God’s promises are accessible. The word that shows up through all the Scriptures quoted by Paul is “Gentile”, i.e. non-Jew. Though God had chosen a specific family to be the people through whom He would work out His promises, His promises went far beyond them:

2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 12:2-3 (emphasis mine)

In the first three chapters of Romans Paul speaks about the Jews and non-Jews alike. There was an advantage to being Jewish in that the Jews had a much fuller revelation of God and a closer relationship to God. However, that advantage was similar to the advantage of someone stuck on a  Caribbean island without drinking water compared to someone stuck in a desert lacking drinking water. I think we would all agree, that the person on the island has the preferable situation. Yet without water, they both face the same outcome. So, in conclusion, “both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9). They will both pay the penalty of sin, which is death. However, Jesus is the water. Both can come and drink and live. The invitation is open to anyone who thirsts. Including you. The words of Jesus:

37 “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” John 7:37-38

When we look at the world around us, when we lift up our heads and see the world on fire, we may wonder if there will ever be a glimmer of hope. When we look back at the promises of God, promises confirmed by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, hope shines brightly.

(All Scriptures are taken from the NRSV)

 

 


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

October 9, 2017

Prayer is not Cathartic

Today we’re paying our second visit with Joe Waller at the blog As I Learn to Walk. Click the title below to read this at the original page or to leave comments.

A Realization

Asking for prayer is not just a sanctified sympathy request (though I often unconsciously see it that way).

Verses such as 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter calls believers to “[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you,” bring great comfort to Christians. We revel in the fact that God comforts the downcast, that he cares about us though we are as fleeting mists before him. As the psalmist testifies, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). God, the creator and the sustainer of all, gives ear to his children. Though infinitely transcendent, God is also beautifully immanent.

In spite of this profound truth, I live like God is only transcendent, separate from my life and experiences. When I find myself struggling, in need of support, I often desire the sympathy of my friends rather than the strengthening of God. I ask those near me for prayer, but, recently, I’ve noticed that I share those requests in part to get attention, not simply to seek the Lord. (To clarify, I don’t mean to say that all of my prayer requests are solely for the sake of attention; I’m simply highlighting a problematic tendency I’ve noticed in my walk.) I’ve noticed the issue extend into my personal prayers as well. I pour out my heart to God, yet I do so in some ways more for catharsis than for the pursuit of God’s help. I pray, but I don’t consider the fact that God may answer, that God may speak.

As I considered this trend, I realized that such a practice is completely bogus. Biblically, God not only cares about our needs, but he responds to our prayers. James writes that God will give wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5-8). Toward the end of his short book, he calls believers to pray for one another, citing the example of Elijah who “was a man with a nature like ours, [who] 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 5:16-18). The psalmists also speak of God’s faithfulness to answer prayers. One writes,

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
Psalm 66:16-20

Throughout Scripture, we find testimonies of those who prayed and were answered, of those who turned to the Lord and were heard.

I can relate to the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). I am no expert on prayer. In fact, I regularly feel inadequate when I pray. Slowly, graciously, God is teaching me to pray, to come before him in humility and in hope. God’s Word changes how I think about prayer and about prayer requests by changing how I think about myself and how I think about God. Meditating on Scripture, mining the depths of God’s self-revelation, turns my gaze away from myself and fixes it upon him. I worry less about feeling better and focus more on honoring him. Suffering becomes an avenue of sanctification (James 1:2-4), and joys become opportunities to praise (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This week, let us live, and pray, for his glory, trusting that our good is found in the pursuit of his kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

October 7, 2017

Constant Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog, The River Walk written by BJ Richardson. I encourage you to click through to read this at source by clicking the title below. Note: The link to the day’s scriptures takes you Bible Gateway displaying all the indicated scriptures on a single page.

Day and Night, Continually

O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord. (Isaiah 62:6)

Read: Isaiah 62:6-65:25, Philippians 2:19-3:3, Psalm 73:1-28, Proverbs 24:13-14

Relate: I tend to read a lot. If there is such a thing as reading too much, I skirt that line awfully close. It isn’t just fluff that I like to read either. Some of my recent titles would be Summa Contra Gentiles (Brilliant mind, antiquated philosophy), Insurrection (reading Peter Rollins is like enjoying a train wreck. What stupid heretical things will he say this time?), Aids to Revelation (I like Watchman Nee but this was a disappointment), and Reaching Out (always love Henri Nouwen).

Goodreads says I have read seventy-four books this year. It also says I am three books behind my 100 book goal but since I will probably be finishing up Peace In the Post Christian Era by Thomas Merton tonight, I’m not doing all that bad. I have read between seventy-five and a hundred books a year every years since I started keeping track a decade ago. The most common question people like to ask on hearing this is, “What is your favorite book?” That is a tough one to answer. There are just so many. This year is a tough one, but I would probably say Bonke’s biography, Living A Life of Fire. Last year is much easier to answer. All In by Mark Batterson probably has had the greatest immediate impact on my life of any book outside the Bible.

Another book that joins All In on my short list of all time favorites has got to be Practicing the Presence. It is one of the shortest, easiest reads I have ever picked up. Probably an hour cover to cover. But it is also one of the hardest, most challenging reads I have ever read. Brother Lawrence was an illiterate monk who served in the kitchens half his waking life, and spent his other half in prayer. Over time, his discipline and devotion was such that, wherever he was, whatever he was doing, the man was in steady constant prayer.

React: I have my devotions in the morning. Then, by the time I have stepped out the door to start my day, my mind has run in a thousand directions. Someone shoves their way to the front of the queue to get on the bus or subway, and I’ve got words running through my mind that certainly not prayer. Little things throughout the day, some good, others… not, tend to pull my mind in a thousand directions.

God has called me to be an intercessor. I have no doubt of this. It is stronger in my life than that to be a writer, or a teacher, or a witness, or a… worker for Daddy on foreign soil. My primary calling is that of an intercessor. So why is it so difficult for me, for us to live up to the directive given here in Isaiah, “I have posted watchmen on your walls; they will pray day and night, continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord.” Why can I not follow Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing.” I know it can be done. God does not call us to the impossible. Brother Lawrence is evidence of how it can be, but the discipline in getting there is…

Respond: 

God, I come to You again in prayer. Let me never leave. Even though I have to step from this moment to continue forward in my life, please go with me. Help me to develop the discipline of constant and consistent communication with You every moment of every minute in my life. Help me to practice the presence of a life ever surrendered to You. Keep my mind from wandering. Give me a touchstone, or a reminder point that will constantly pull my mind back to You no matter where I am and no matter what I am doing.

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

June 16, 2017

The Biblical Role of Incense

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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We linked to Elizabeth Prata at Thinking Out Loud but I believe this is the first time here at Christianity 201. This article follows from another from her blog The End Time and you might want to pause in the first paragraph and click the link in order to go deeper.

In the meantime, for this article, click the link in the title below to read at source.

How is incense like prayer?

by Elizabeth Prata

Yesterday I wrote about incense, and how the LORD told Jeremiah to tell the people that their sacrifices of incense were not going to be received, because of their sin. He was going to send judgment instead. I’d said that there is a connection between incense and prayer, to be explored today.

First, let’s look at the Temple and the altar of incense, called the golden altar. (Exodus 39:38).

for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 28:18–19).

The Lexham Bible Dictionary explains that pure incense was manufactured from equal parts of the following substances:

•      stacte—oil of myrrh
•      onycha—an extract from a Red Sea mollusk
•      galbanum—thought to come from the gum of an umbelliferous plant
•      frankincense

This mixture was seasoned with salt (Exodus 30:34–38). The LORD raised up perfumers whose job it was to produce the incense. (Exodus 30:34-38). One of the responsibilities of the priest was to keep incense burning on the altar daily. (2 Chronicles 13:11). Not to burn it was disobedience. (2 Chronicles 29:7-8).

There’s much more to the actual incense ingredients, blending, burning, and spiritual uses, but for now, let’s turn to the main idea for today- the connection between incense and prayers.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. (Zechariah, in Luke 1:8-11)

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews makes a distinction between the two times incense is used in the temple.

Whereas, therefore, there was a twofold use of the altar of incense; the one of the ordinary priests, to burn incense in the sanctuary every day; and the other of the high priest, to take incense from it when he entered into the most holy place, to fill it with a cloud of its smoke; the apostle intending a comparison peculiarly between the Lord Christ and the high priest only in this place, and not the other priests in the daily. discharge of their office.

Incense both accompanies and symbolizes prayer. ( Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3-4). The burning of incense as a sweet smelling offering before the Lord, indicated the worshiper’s duty to present prayers or offerings that were pleasing to God (1 Samuel 2:28).

When the New Covenant came, the new way of praying came. (Matthew 6:9,) No longer needing a priest to intercede, no longer needing incense to symbolize types and shadows, we now have the Spirit in us to intercede, and resurrected Jesus next to the right hand of the Father to intercede. We can ourselves go boldly before the throne of grace.

John Owen in his commentary on Hebrews lays out four ways incense is like prayer.

1.) In that it was beaten and pounded before it was used. So doth acceptable prayer proceed from “a broken and contrite heart,” Isaiah 51:17.

(2.) It was of no use until fire was put under it, and that taken from the altar. Nor is that prayer of any virtue or efficacy which is not kindled by the fire from above, the Holy Spirit of God; which we have from our altar, Christ Jesus.

(3.) It naturally ascended upwards towards heaven, as all offerings in the Hebrew are called “ascensions,” risings up. And this is the design of prayer, to ascend unto the throne of God: “I will direct unto thee, and will look up;” that is, pray, Psalms 5:3.

(4.) It yielded a sweet savor: which was one end of it in temple services, wherein there was so much burning of flesh and blood. So doth prayer yield a sweet savor unto God; a savor of rest, wherein he is well pleased.

Owen further observes:

We are always to reckon that the efficacy and prevalency of all our prayers depends on the incense which is in the hand of our merciful high priest. — It is offered with the prayers of the saints, Revelation 8:4. In themselves our prayers are weak and imperfect; it is hard to conceive how they should find acceptance with God. But the invaluable incense of the intercession of Christ gives them acceptance and prevalency.

What an inexpressible privilege it is to pray. The curtain is parted, we may boldly approach the throne of God. He not only hears our prayer, he Himself intercedes for us when we utter groanings too weak to understand. (Romans 8:26).

Do not neglect prayer, a sweet smell of our sacrifice of praise to our Lord who hears.

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