Christianity 201

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.

April 29, 2017

Praying for Those Who Lead Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today a new writer recommended to us, who posts under the banner Life Lessons from an Imperfect Lady. (Aren’t we all?) I love the idea of thinking of leaders as not just people in government. That it could apply to whoever is leading us; the idea of praying for the people who have input into the lives of ourselves and our community. And while I’ve provided an alternative scripture reading, the vocabulary in verse 9 of the KJV below is not to be missed!

Click the title below to read this at source and look around; there is some very good devotional writing happening on her blog.  (For today’s scripture in a more modern text, click this link.)

The ‘Bridge’ of Prayer

There are days when we find it difficult to pray.

Maybe, we aren’t in a ‘thankful’ state of mind. Maybe, are hearts are heavy with physical or mental pain. Maybe we are burdened by guilt. Whatever the reason, Jesus gave us our instructions on how to approach His Father in the Lord’s prayer. Most people recognize that prayer with no trouble but there are other instructions on prayer.

Paul gives us another example of things to be included when conversing with God and we would do well to attempt to practice these…although they may seem hard.

1 Timothy 2: 1-9–I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

Okay…my first thought is OUCH!!

We are to pray for everyone, especially our leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not altogether happy with how our so-called ‘leaders’ have been leading us lately.

But wait. Maybe we don’t get the entire picture when we think about that word.

A leader is defined as a person who ‘directs or guides’. One immediately puts kings, presidents, and CEO’s in mind of leaders but a conductor is a leader of an orchestra. And a counselor is one who leads us to understand things about ourselves and/or the paths we undertake in life.

As hard as it may be, we should all pray for those who are ‘leading’ whether it be a politician or a pastor. God wants us all to come to him. Those in authority are under a greater burden as they are sometimes elevated to higher standard when we look at them.

Paul also goes on to remind us that Jesus is our leader. His blood is our bridge between sin and perfection which leads us back to fellowship with God. Paul is eager to establish his credentials that Christ appointed him a leader and given him a mission to minister to the Gentiles.

We are to live our heads and hands to God. Paul reminds us that we need not act as if we are better than others–wringing our hands, crying out to be noticed, dressing as if we are special, or touting our earthly goods. We are to come to Him simply, in honesty and humility to pray for those who are in positions of leadership and all others who accompany us to the feet of Christ who remember His grace and mercy.

When we pray for those in leadership, even when we don’t like or respect them, God is charging us to come honestly. Those that don’t do this will be judged by The One who is far greater that we are to have them answer for their actions.

The world may be in turmoil…but the bridge of life built for us built for all humanity by Jesus Christ is eternal and open to all.

April 3, 2017

Pray for People in High Positions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I’m not sure who recommended it, but I have had it bookmarked in my computer for some time to introduce you to Thomas Mathew whose website banner is ‘Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.’ also known as Believer Blogs. I had a really hard time choosing which article to post here, so you’re encouraged to click the title below and then surf the site for more interesting and helpful articles.

Pray for Kings

1Tim 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior

Dear friends, I thank God for the freedom that we enjoy in many nations in this world to worship Jesus in spirit and truth and to proclaim our faith freely. But not every place has this privilege. Always, everywhere, the “spirit of the world” is opposed to the proclaiming of the truth! In the apostolic times, we see the men of God much taunted and persecuted for their passionate preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In such a context, Paul exhorts the church to pray for all people, especially to those who are in authority & the kings especially.

Why should we do this ? Because it’s pleasing in God’s sight. Because, this prayer will help the authorities to change their mind concerning our faith and will cause us to lead our lives in a quiet & peaceful manner with the precious fruits of godliness & honesty.

These people may even come to the faith!! Verse 4 says: It’s God’s will that all men are saved and that they should come to the knowledge of Truth. Dear child of God, the Lord has uniquely positioned you to minister the gospel to certain people who may be your friends, relatives and colleagues. No other evangelist may reach them, but the Lord has given them into your hands to lead them to a knowledge of Truth.

A verse in Phil 4:22 is a great encouragement for me. It says: All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. Someone in those times had the anointing and calling to go into the Caesar’s palace to proclaim the gospel to them, and as a result many were saved there.

I thank God for all the blessed missionaries who are taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unreached nations and people groups. But that leaves a lot of people within our reach: Whom we can reach with the message of God’s love, if only we are filled with God’s love for them, and boldness for declaring the gospel to them. Like Paul says, we need to come to the stage where we say “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the power of God to salvation!”

Pray for all people without ceasing! Pray for Kings and rulers and governments! Pray for nations! Pray for your near & dear! Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send His chosen ones into the fields. Ask the Lord to show you the people whom you should be reaching with the Gospel. As we pray faithfully, we will see the hand of the Lord moving in our nations and turning the hearts of even the rulers towards the Lord Jesus.

God bless you !

March 17, 2017

Peace for Jerusalem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our second visit in six months to the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. You may learn more about her books at this link. To read today’s post on her blog (with an appropriate picture) you are encouraged to click the title below:

A Prayer that Will Change Your Perspective

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
Psalm 122

This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.

On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.

And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!

It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.

Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.

It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.

They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.

Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.

Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.

From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.

December 13, 2016

The Prayer that Looks Upward

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. – Psalm 57:5 (also 11)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? – Psalm 89:6

Like so many, I often wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep. I have found that simply focusing on scriptures passages I have memorized is very helpful, but often I take 20 minutes before I remember to focus on those scriptures.

The Psalmist said he had hidden God’s Word in his heart “so I might not sin against thee;” but in a recent article Jacob Young remembered something John Piper had said about memorizing scripture for the inevitable onslaught of old age:

He commented that one aspect of the value of Scripture memory for him was to fill his head with as much Scripture so that when everything else goes (via dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) there will hopefully remain the truths from God’s mind. When the likelihood of losing all memory is coming at you, what do you want to remain? When the paint and drywall of the mind behind to be taken away, what are the studs and foundation?

So it was several nights ago while processing the words of The Lord’s Prayer (what Catholics call The Our Father) that I realized there are two nouns in the prayer which occur twice.

The first is “heaven” occurring in Matthew 6:9

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

and also in the next verse:

“…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

It was interesting to note that absolutely without exception, in verse 9 all the English translations kept the same word (Phillips used ‘heavenly Father’) and in verse 10 only The Message dropped the term, replacing the phrase with ‘as above, so below’ which keeps the simile but phrased in reversed order.

You could say that in Christianity, the concept of heaven is a given. Like the cross and resurrection, there is no substitution of terms required.

While your first reaction might be to look up the term in Greek (Matthew is New Testament after all) it’s interesting to see how heretofore Jesus’ followers would have understood the Hebrew term Shamayim. The word is taken from a root not found in scripture which means lofty. BibleStudyTools.com provides this definition:

heaven, heavens, sky

  1. visible heavens, sky
    1. as abode of the stars
    2. as the visible universe, the sky, atmosphere, etc
  2. Heaven (as the abode of God)

and informs us the Hebrew equivalent term is used in the Old Testament 392 times with other meanings including horizons and sky.

This prayer, which includes an acknowledgement of God’s holiness, the establishing of his kingdom, the carrying out of his will, the petition for daily provision, the request to be kept from temptation, etc. is also a prayer which causes us to look upward.

BibleStudyTools also contains Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Bible Theology. There we read:

“Heaven” is the created reality beyond earth. “The heavens and the earth” ( Gen 1:1 ) circumscribe the entire creation, or what we call the universe. God does not need heaven in which to exist. He is self-existent and infinite. Place is an accommodation of God to his finite creatures. God transcends not only earth, but heaven as well.

“Heaven” designates two interrelated and broad concepts, the physical reality beyond the earth and the spiritual reality in which God dwells…

Three nuances of meaning are given first, and then we are brought to:

…Fourth, the vastness and inaccessibility of heaven are visual reminders of God’s transcendence, God’s otherworldliness, however, is a spiritual, not a spacial, fact. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple, he acknowledged, “the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ).

The Dwelling Place of God. Heaven most commonly refers to the dwelling-place of God. Heaven is where the glory of God is expressed in pristine clarity. The term “glory, ” therefore, has popularly been used as a synonym for heaven ( Rom 8:18 ). Actually, God’s glory is above the heavens ( Psalm 113:4 ; 148:13 ) because it is the sum total of his attributes that are expressed wherever he is present ( Exod 13:21-22 ; Psalm 108:5 ; 2 Col 3:7-18 ). In heaven there is a continual acknowledgment of God’s glory ( Psalm 29:9 ). Various figurative expressions identify God’s heavenly abode such as “the highest heaven” ( 1 Kings 8:27 ), “the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ), and “his lofty palace in the heavens” ( Amos 9:6 ). Paul speaks of being taken up into “the third heaven” ( 2 Cor 12:2 ). Although he does not identify the first two, possible references to the atmospheric and celestial heavens are suggestive.

The Heavenly Perspective. God invites human beings to adopt his heavenly perspective. All blessings, whether natural or supernatural, are from God ( James 1:17 ; see John 3:27 ), who is Creator and Sustainer of the universe ( Rom 11:36 ). Israel rightly regarded rain as a heavenly gift from God ( Deut 28:12 ). Likewise, drought was a sign of God’s displeasure ( Deut 28:23-24 ).

So we are not only being asked to look upward, but we are looking beyond.

  • Beyond what we can see from our perspective
  • Beyond what we know; God is wholly other
  • Beyond what we can fully comprehend; the place of God’s glory

The other noun which occurs twice, depending on which version of the prayer you learned, is kingdom and we’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Previously at C201: We looked at two songs, How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place and Better Is One Day.

all sections today were NIV

October 20, 2016

Non-Stop Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today I messed with Clarke Dixon’s original title! It appears along with the link below…

Pray Always, and . . .

by Clarke Dixon

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and . . . Luke 18:1

We might get thus far into this parable of Jesus and already be off to a false start. We could read “their need to pray always” and jump to the conclusion that this parable is about being persistent in prayer. We might then find ourselves persistent in what I call amazon.com prayers. What are those? Well with Amazon, you pay for something and it shows up. We may expect something similar with God. We pray for something and it shows up. Therefore we may think from this parable that if it does not arrive, be persistent and keep praying and it will eventually show up. However, there is something far deeper going on here. Let us turn to the parable, and as you read, watch for a certain theme that shows up a lot. I have used underlining to help you spot it:

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8

Spotting the word “justice” is crucial in understanding this parable. Knowing that Jesus has promised opposition for his followers also helps. This is not, “Why hasn’t God given me what I want yet,” but “Why are God’s loved ones, if God loves them, facing opposition and injustice?” Christians have faced opposition and injustice from the get-go. We still do, in fact we are said to be the most oppressed people group around the world today. This sounds hard to believe in the West where we are conditioned to believe that Christians are the worst oppressors ever known. This conditioning is also part of the opposition that we face. We sometimes face opposition in the form of ridicule and contempt which is far milder, of course, than the threats and death faced elsewhere. This opposition is why Jesus calls us to “pray always and not to lose heart.”

When I tell my boys about all the hard work and homework that is required to be successful at school, they may be tempted to drop out. A temptation to drop out in the face of opposition is reflected by Jesus when he asks at the end of the parable if “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  So why not drop out? With school, my boys ought not drop out because all that hard work and homework turns out to be worth it in the end. Here is another key to understanding this parable of Jesus. Look to the end. Jesus gives us a better option to dropping out, namely keep praying and do not lose heart! We will find justice in the end.

The gist of the parable is this: if at the end of the day an unjust judge will grant justice for someone he does not care about, then how much more can we expect to see God deliver justice for people he loves deeply?! So keep praying and do not lose heart, hang on and look forward to the day God brings justice.

We find these same themes reflected throughout scripture. Consider, for example, this example from 2nd Thessalonians:

4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

The Christians at Thessalonica were facing persecution. Facing injustice as they were, they might begin to question if they should drop out. But the Lord will put things right and the persecutors, if they do not repent, will be facing separation from God. Justice is coming, so keep praying and do not lose heart!

Likewise consider this from the book of Revelation, a book written originally for people facing persecution for their faith in, and loyalty to, Jesus:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11 They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. Revelation 6:9-11

Later on in Revelation we learn about the Millennium:

4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Revelation 20:4

There is great discussion as to whether these particular scenes should be taken literally or symbolically. Either way, this scene points to a great reversal. Justice will come to the oppressor and for the the oppressed. So keep praying and do not lose heart.

Another thought; we may assume this parable is thinking of prayer as a shopping list of wants. However, it is perhaps better to see prayer here as a means of remaining solid in our relationship with Christ in the face of troubles. Prayer is part of what we do to “abide” in Christ which we are instructed by Jesus to do in John 15. It is interesting to note that immediately following the instruction to abide, or “remain” in Him, Jesus goes on to talk about the world hating His disciples. Prayer is an important part of a relationship with Christ and a relationship with Christ is an important part of facing opposition.

This parable of Jesus is not for those who may be tempted to quit praying when their ‘letters to Santa Claus’ are not answered by God. Rather this parable is for God’s children who may be tempted to drop out or sell out under opposition. Hang on, keep praying and do not lose heart. How will your life be an answer to Jesus’ question?

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:8

 All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

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