Christianity 201

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stop was Ascents and while we won’t return to each and every one of our sources as this series continues, this one is no longer active and I wanted to include a third and final article from writer Tim Adams.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 

 

June 14, 2016

Our Father

Praying In Jesus NameMaybe it was the point form (or bullet point) nature of yesterday’s post, but lying in bed this morning I considered the possibility of doing something similar on a phrase-by-phrase basis with the Lord’s Prayer.

Specifically, I wondered, “What does this tell us about our Father?”

Our Father

  • The form of address is abba. It’s a familial term, a mark of family intimacy. But you’ve heard that before in countless sermons, so we’ll move on…
  • He provides us with the means to initiate the conversation.
  • He wants to continue to commune with us as he did in those Genesis moments before the fall.

In heaven

  • He dwells in eternity, outside of time. We don’t. His location versus our location shows that each time we pray, we are ripping apart the curtain separating his world from ours.
  • We basically access eternity when we begin to pray; our prayers take place at the intersection of the two realities.

Holy is your name

  • Despite the intimacy, he wants us to remember who he is. He is holy. His very name is to be treated with reverence.

Your kingdom come

  • We invite the coming of a kingdom that is very much in the future.
  • We are invoking the manifestation of something that is described in terms of the rule and reign of a monarch, and that is often expressed in terms of realm or territory.
  • We see a glimpse of the majesty of God.

Your will be done

  • God has volition, and undoubtedly has a plan for the bringing about of that which is in his will.
  • In stating this, we are placing our will and our plan in submission to his. If there is a conflict, we would defer to him. Better yet however is the idea that his will becomes ours. Then there is no conflict.

On earth as it is in heaven

  • Again we see the intersection of two worlds, the earthly realm mirroring the heavenly realm. We are to be an echo here of what takes place there.
  • In the heavenly realm, God simply speaks and it happens or it is.

Give us today our daily bread

  • This one is complicated, because here we are being told to petition and make supplication for our basic, mundane, run-of-the-mill provisions; some would have it that prayer should be more high-minded than this.
  • Implicit in this also is the idea that such provisions, though we may feel we earn them by the our own labor and effort, ultimately come, as do all good gifts, from God; he is the Lord our provider.

And lead us not into temptation

  • Theologically, this one gets even more complicated than the phrase it follows. Does God ever lead anyone into temptation? He certainly allows temptation to cross our paths.
  • Always important to note that the verse asks for help avoiding temptation, but not the sin that can result from it; in other words, while God may allow us to face temptation, he doesn’t lead us into sin. That’s not his nature.
  • Temptation reflects the freedom — I’m avoiding free will for obvious reasons — we are given. We continue to face choices. But we can also enjoy the contentment of not living in the place of temptation.

But deliver us from evil

  • Depending on your vocation or your location, temptation may abound even where a change of job or address isn’t possible. But the prayer asks God to rescue us from the consequences of bad choices vis-a-vis those temptations.
  • This tells us that God is able to deliver.

For Yours is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory

  • The prayer returns full circle to the majesty of God. Kingdom is repeated; the only key word to appear twice in the English text.
  • As a model prayer, God is asking us to affirm that it’s all his, it all belongs to him, it all emanates from his authority and omnipotence, and in all that happens he is glorified.

Amen.

 

February 8, 2016

Why We Pray

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we pay another return visit to the blog Christward Collective. This post is by Jason Helopoulos. Click on the title below to read this at its source.

Nine Reasons to Pray

Why should we pray? God already knows our hearts. He already knows our desires. So why pray? We could easily say it is because the Bible commands it. Paul goes as far as to say, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)—that is reason enough. But let’s explore a few other reasons for why we should pray.

1. We pray because we love:

A relationship of love is one of enjoying each other. If I say “I love my wife” but never speak to her, it is likely that I don’t love her. If I love her, then I will want to talk with her, spend time with her, and desire her. This is why we see Jesus in passages like Mark 1, “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” He loves the Father. The Father loves Him, so He wanted to spend time talking with Him even before the day started.

2. We pray out of gratitude:

James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Paul says in Philippians that we are to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we are to return to God time and again with thanksgiving. All that we have been given, all that we have received, is a gift from His hands. Prayer demonstrates and provides a vehicle for our offering gratitude.

3. We pray because we want to know God more fully:

There is nothing more lovely, nothing greater our hearts can seek, and nothing more fulfilling than God Himself. And as we speak with Him, we get to know Him more. As the Psalmist says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). We want to know Him. We want to know God in all His glory. If that is the case, then like a young woman dating and trying to get to know a young man, we will want to talk with Him more.

prayer14. We pray to know our own hearts more fully:

I think of Habakkuk’s words, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). There is a real benefit in coming before the Lord in silence. It is true that we get to know Him more fully in prayer, but we also get to know ourselves more fully. How often we pray and are convicted by some sin that we didn’t know was present before. We hear it uttered from our lips or find our minds entangled by it as we approach Him in prayer. Like Peter on the rooftop, we are made aware that what we have believed or practiced or dreamed or sought is unholy. Prayer lays open our hearts not only before God, but before ourselves. God already knows what is in them, we often do not.

5. We pray to be conformed to His Image:

Some have said that prayer’s purpose is not so that we might change God, but so that God might change us. And there is much truth in this. Calvin said, we pray in Jesus’ name so “that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our desires before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts.” In prayer our hearts are shaped and molded, our affections are stirred, and our minds are transformed. The prayer closet is the academy of righteousness. One may enter as a truant and emerge a cadet.

6. We pray to acknowledge our dependence upon Him:

We are not independent beings. As Paul preached at the Areopagus, “In him we live and move and have our being.” We are and can be nothing apart from Him. Prayer recognizes that. Ursinus once commented that, “Prayer is as necessary for us as it is necessary for a beggar to ask alms.” A beggar is by definition one who asks for alms. We are people, human beings, created in His image; by very definition we are dependent and are to pray.

7. We pray to receive from Him:

James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him” (James 1:5). We ask to receive. Jesus follows His teaching of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 with the story of the man who is awoken from bed by a friend who desires three loaves of bread. And Jesus says, “How much more the Father? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is all in the context of the Lord’s Prayer, which is filled with asking to receive. We do pray to receive. And we have a Heavenly Father, who loves to give. He is the giver of all good gifts. If everything good comes from Him, then in prayer we rightfully seek and ask of Him.

8. We pray because God chooses to use means:

There are many who say, “Why pray if God already predestines all things? Why pray for someone’s conversion, why pray that God would heal my body, why pray for anything?” Because God chooses to use means. He uses rain to make the grass grow. He uses the sun to light the world. He uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes. It is one of the most amazing and humbling realities in the universe, but it is true. God chooses to use us in accomplishing His purposes. Our prayers may be the very means He uses to save our children, to provide health to the person on the prayer list, or maintain unity in our local church. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). We have no clue this side of heaven what our prayers are accomplishing for the sake of the Kingdom, our church, our families, or our person. Frankly, we would be overwhelmed in the present if we knew how purposeful, meaningful, and essential God has made our prayers. It is humbling. And it is terribly exciting.

9. We pray that God might receive glory:

When the lame man is healed in Acts 3 by the prayer of Peter, his response is to rise, leap in joy, and praise God. When God answers our prayers, we offer praise. God receives glory as men receive from Him and respond rightly.

Prayer is a gift from a heavenly Father, who loves to hear from His children. There are countless reasons to pray. Let’s be a people of prayer. Never will one minute in prayer closets be a minute wasted or later regretted.

 

 

January 16, 2016

Praying the Bible Way, God’s Way

In Touch - Charles Stanley

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

Learning to Pray the Bible Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praying God’s Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 14, 2015

Prayer: Jesus Sets the Example

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repentance 2Today is our second of two days looking at prayer as part of a continuing Tuesday series at Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. Click the title below to read this article at source, or click this link to see all the various articles at Scott’s blog on this subject.

Jesus and Prayer

We continue our Tuesday study of prayer but looking to Jesus and His prayer life. John records, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-4, 14).  Jesus was NOT just a man! Jesus was NOT another prophet! Jesus was God in the flesh living on earth with man.

Jesus and prayerHe was “God with us”, the “Son of God”, Christ, yet He prayed to the Father – often – VERY often! Jesus did not talk about prayer partners, prayer warriors, and daily devotionals. Christ said nothing similar to “we should pray about it.”  He simply prayed. He did not promote prayer, he warned about vain repetitions. He called for persistence in prayer. At the very least we know He prayed for Peter by name (Luke 22:31-32).

The gospel accounts record over twenty (20) instances of Jesus praying:

Jesus prayed:

  • Mark 1:35 – He rose early to pray.
  • Luke 24:30-31 – He prayed before a meal.
  • Luke 9:28-30 – He prayed at His transfiguration.
  • Luke 22:43-44 – He prayed when He was weak.
  • John 11:41-43 – He prayed at the tomb of Lazarus.
  • Luke 6:12 – He spent the night in prayer.
  • Luke 9:18 – He prayed alone while in a crowd.

Jesus prayed because:

  • He was busy – Luke 5:15-16.
  • He had decisions to make –
    • Luke 3:21-22 – Before His immersion (baptism).
    • Luke 6:12-16 – Before choosing the 12.
    • Matthew 26:36-46 – Before facing the cross.
  • When He faced crisis – John 6:15.
  • When He faced death – Hebrews 5:7.

In John 17 we have a prayer of Jesus’ recorded for us. To me this is the Lord’s Prayer. in this prayer we hear Jesus:

  • Submitting to God – John 17:4, 6-8, 14.
  • Praying for His needs and desires – John 17:1-5.
  • Praying for the needs of the apostles – John 17:9-19.
  • Praying for the Church (you and me) – John 17:20-21.

If Jesus needed to pray, what does this mean for us?


Bonus article:  Here’s a link to one more from the series: Quality Prayer

July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.


Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

November 10, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then toward ourselves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

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

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

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

 

 

September 15, 2013

His Word: Our Sustenance

CEB Ps. 119:11 I keep your word close, in my heart,
so that I won’t sin against you.


NCV Ps. 5:3 Lord, every morning you hear my voice.
Every morning, I tell you what I need,
and I wait for your answer. (emphasis added)


NIV Ex. 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.


NLT Luke 11:3 Give us each day the food we need

Despite the fact I prepare these readings each day, I am also acutely aware of my need to find something that constitutes my own feeding from God’s word; and although I spend most of the entire day immersed in the consideration of Christian resources and doctrinal matters, I am becoming increasingly aware of the times I have omitted to include some personal time in God’s word.

Daily BreadThe graphic at right turned up this week on the Facebook page of a local church. It reminded me of an earlier time in my life when I would run to the Bible in the face of crisis. I remember one time when our family learned of the sudden, untimely death of the daughter of a family friend. As my parents drove to offer them some comfort, I found myself alone basically choking down chapter after chapter of my Bible, trying to find some meaning or peace in the face of tragedy.

But you can’t successfully negotiate a book with which you have little familiarity.

The other type of sporadic Bible readers are those who only turn to the book on Sundays. I was thinking of this today when I looked down at my Bible and realized that if anyone asked, I only use this Bible at church. But the reason is that I have at least a dozen other Bibles which I use during the week, but I only take this one  to church because it has larger print and I can read it without glasses. (My vanity Bible, I guess!) However, it gave me some insight into what it must be like for people who don’t touch a Bible during the week, or worse, people who only read from a Bible at Easter or Christmas. 

This is why I feel it’s appropriate to consider Bible reading as an application of the story of the manna in the wilderness.  In light of verse 20, I was tempted to title this, “When God’s word starts to stink.” But as offensive as that might have been to some readers, it does express what happens if we try to live on yesterday’s input from God. The Word is powerful, and will show itself to be real to you over and over again, but you need a fresh word for each day.

…The above quotation from Psalm 5 reminds us that hearing from God is one half of the ongoing conversation we are encouraged to have. Prayer and Bible reading go hand-in-hand. Here I have to be brutally honest; I spend more than a passing measure of time each day in prayer, and I endeavor to spend more than a token amount of time reading the Bible each day, but in truth, the two disciplines are rather separated. I confess that my Bible reading time and my prayer time are not integrated, and even as I write this, I realize this is a deficiency on my part.

One of the best writers in this area of spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster. On a Wikipedia page about him, someone has identified these practices as:

inward disciplines of

  • prayer,
  • fasting,
  • meditation, and
  • study in the Christian life;

the outward disciplines of

  • simplicity,
  • solitude,
  • submission, and
  • service;

and the corporate disciplines of

  • confession,
  • worship,
  • guidance, and
  • celebration

Today we’ve looked at the inward disciplines, but I believe they are foundational, and there is a reason why the list appears in this order.

Questions:

  1. Do you feel the time you spend overall in prayer is adequate?
  2. Do you feel the time you spend in prayer is consistent on a daily basis?
  3. Do you feel the time you spend overall reading your Bible is adequate?
  4. Do you feel the time you spend reading your Bible is consistent on a daily basis?
  5. Is your prayer time and your Bible time integrated or are they somewhat divorced from each other?

April 17, 2013

Tell it to Jesus

This appeared at the blog associated with the Blue Letter Bible online Bible platform under the title F. E. Marsh: What is Prayer.

The following is taking from the mini-commentaries of F.E. Marsh, now available at the Blue Letter Bible. Marsh’s text commentaries were released with the new beta version of the Blue Letter Bible.


“But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told Him about her at once.”
(Mark 1:30 NKJV)

What is prayer? It is illustrated in this verse. Speaking to Christ is prayer. Prayer is not getting on to the stilts of word-ism, nor floating in the balloon of honeyed phrases by the aid of the gas of human eloquence, inflating the mind with self-conceit; but it is simply telling the Lord the heart’s need, or speaking to Him in a natural manner as we ask favors for others.

It is…

  • Telling Him the trouble, as the disciples of John, when they went and informed Christ that their teacher was beheaded (Matthew 14:12).
  • Telling Him the sorrow, as when Mary went to Christ about her dead brother Lazarus (John 11:32).
  • Telling Him the pain, as when Paul prayed about the thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8).
  • Telling Him the grief, as when the Syrophenician woman cried to Christ about her daughter (Matthew 15:22).
  • Telling Him the joy, as when the disciples spoke of the demons they had cast out in His name (Luke 10:17).
  • Telling Him the difficulty, as when the disciples asked to be taught how to pray (Luke 11:1).
  • Telling Him the sickness, as in the present case.

“They told Him about her…” Jesus has made it possible for us to tell Him, for He has died for us; hence we can come boldly to the throne of grace through the consecrated way of His atonement, and speak to Him face to face. He has told us to come to Him, for He has said “Whatsoever we shall ask in prayer, believing, we shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). His promise is our plea and introduction in speaking to Him. We remember who He is, and as we do so we are drawn towards Him, as the needle is drawn to the loadstone.

He is the Shepherd who tends us, and ever looks after our interests.
He is the Priest who represents us, and succors us in the hour of temptation.
He is the Friend who thinks of us, and always sympathizes with us.
He is the Brother who cares for us, and is ever ready to aid us.
He is the Savior who delivered us, and will always keep us.
He is the God who has blessed us, and will never leave us.
He is the Lover who loves us, and will never be unfaithful.

Tell Him, for He cares. Tell Him, for He knows. Tell Him, for He loves. Tell Him, for He is listening. Tell Him all. Tell Him often. Tell Him always. Tell Him now.

“They told Him about her...” They were very definite in their petition and pointed in their plea. They did not vacillate or hesitate, but they went right to the mark and hit it. And methinks as they saw the once fevered patient calm and cool, as she waited upon them, they rejoiced; and if they had wanted a new name for Simon’s wife’s mother, they might have called her Answered-Prayer.

June 21, 2012

Non-Stop Praying

Today we’re going to talk about prayer not as a nightly upload, but more in terms of a chat channel we stay logged into all day.

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Common English Bible (CEB)

17 Pray continually.

Today’s post is from the blog of Christine Sine, who along with her husband Tom founded Mustard Seed Associates.  But it’s actually a guest post on their blog by Roy Goble and it kicks off a series they are beginning on prayer. So… I’m strongly suggesting you read this at Christine’s blog Godspace, and consider staying with the rest of the series.

Many years ago, when I was far younger than today, I was interviewing a person for an important leadership position at a ministry. He was about my age and I asked him to describe his prayer life. He answered, “My life is a prayer.”

That’s all he said. I sat there waiting for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

Curious, I asked the typical follow-up questions. How do you do that? What does it look like? Are there exercises to follow? How can you attain such intimacy with God at such a young age? I wanted an answer that helped me understand how it was even possible. But he basically shrugged and said, “It just is. I can’t really explain it.”

Frankly, the answer made me nervous about this candidate. A conversation with wiser friends calmed me as they explained how different faith traditions view prayer in different ways. Eventually we hired him and he worked for many years with the organization.

But I still think about his response. Or more accurately, I think about living a life in such a way that it is pure prayer. How is it that every thought, action, and breath reflects such a spiritual richness?

A simple poem by Fr. Gilbert Shaw sets up the question:

Prayer
is the turning of our whole mind,
our whole being,
towards God.

I want that, of course.  It sounds wonderful. But how do you get it? The idea of a life that is prayer sounds great but seems impossible. A part of the mosaic within my brain understands that there is no definitive methodology, but my linear side is completely frustrated by that.

This is very Western of me, I’m told.  And I agree that it is. But that doesn’t answer my question.  Besides, the Western faith tradition has a long history of mystics and poets who found great joy in struggling with the incomprehensible idea of living a life of prayer.  Brother Lawrence and his pots and pans comes to mind. Learning from those who walked down this path before me has been helpful … to a point.

Shaw also writes:

The purpose of living is not to learn to make prayer,
but to become prayer; to live in and for God
according to the divine call, wholly surrendered to
the Spirit’s activity in the soul for the glory of God.

That’s somewhat more helpful because it equates the idea with something we become. It’s an action. But what action? I keep coming back to the desire for something tangible. It all seems like hard mental work to figure this stuff out, and I would rather just not think about it.

But then that’s the point where I stop and smile. I have learned that we need to be thinking about it. God likes it when we wrestle with such things.

Over time I have come to understand that this struggle to understand is exactly what God wants. My life is prayer only when it is a life of longing for God. The mental sweat that comes from striving to grow spiritually is part of connecting with God’s heart. And God considers it pure joy to meet us in that place.

Or said another way, what we find to be work may well be what God finds to be praise.

~Roy Goble (c/o Christine Sine)

April 27, 2012

Praying, ‘Lord, Teach Me to Pray’

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

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

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

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

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

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Tim Challies

July 7, 2011

Go to God First

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:25 pm
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Paul Merrill is a regular guest writer at 300 Words a Day

My wife has hit some challenging stuff lately. And as a result, I have too.

When your little kid wanders off and you find him twenty minutes later, you get really mad at him. “Ben, I’ve told you a ton of times to never to wander off like that!” But what you really mean is, “Ben, I love you so much and am so glad that you are not lost!” The heat of emotions gets us every time. Recently, we have tended to get angry at those who have done things to harm themselves and us, needlessly.

So one thing we’ve been pondering – and seeking to apply – is that it’s great to first go to God with our anger and frustration. After then we can go to others.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

That is from an old hymn, written in 1855: What a Friend we have in Jesus.

Yes, we don’t talk like that anymore, but just as you would read Shakespeare, look beyond the language to see the depth of truth and meaning there.

This is such a simple truth, but it’s something that I have to keep remembering, re-learning and applying again – over and over. Maybe a way to expand our thinking on this is to think of new ways that we can do this today. Share your idea in the comments to help all of us move forward in this. Or share a story of how you did this, to encourage the rest of us. Thank you!

~Paul Merrill

July 4, 2011

The Lord’s Prayer as Dialog

With Canada Day in the U.S. on Friday and Independence Day in the U.S. today, Christianity 201 and Thinking out Loud have been mirroring each other yesterday and today…

o o o o o o o

 

This was sent to me last week as an e-mail forward.

It is in two parts, the prayer (in blue type)
and GOD (in red type) in response.

*********

Our Father Who Art In Heaven.

Yes?

Don’t interrupt me. I’m praying.

But — you called ME!

Called you?
No, I didn’t call you.
I’m praying.
Our Father who art in Heaven.

There — you did it again!

Did what?

Called ME.
You said,
“Our Father who art in Heaven”
Well, here I am..
What’s on your mind?

But I didn’t mean anything by it.
I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day.
I always say the Lord’s Prayer.
It makes me feel good,
kind of like fulfilling a duty.
Well, all right.

Go on.

Okay, Hallowed be thy name ..

Hold it right there.
What do you mean by that?

By what?

By “Hallowed be thy name”?

It means, it means . . good grief,
I don’t know what it means.
How in the world should I know?
It’s just a part of the prayer.
By the way, what does it mean?

It means honored, holy, wonderful.

Hey, that makes sense..
I never thought about what ‘hallowed’ meant before.

Thanks…

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.

Do you really mean that?

Sure, why not?

What are you doing about it?

Doing? Why, nothing, I guess.
I just think it would be kind of neat if you got
control,of everything down here like you have up
there..We’re kinda in a mess down here you know.

Yes, I know;
but, have I got control of you?

Well, I go to church.

That isn’t what I asked you.
What about your bad temper?
You’ve really got a problem there, you know.
And then there’s the way you spend your money — all on yourself.
And what about the kind of books you read ?


Now hold on just a minute!
Stop picking on me!
I’m just as good as some of the rest

of those people at church!

Excuse ME..
I thought you were praying
for my will to be done.
If that is to happen,
it will have to start with the ones
who are praying for it.
Like you — for example ….

Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups.
Now that you mention it,
I could probably name some others.

So could I.

I haven’t thought about it very much until now,
but I really would like to cut out some of those things.
I would like to, you know, be really free.

Good.
Now we’re getting somewhere.

We’ll work together — You and ME.
I’m proud of You.

Look, Lord, if you don’t mind,
I need to finish up here.
This is taking a lot longer than it usually does.
Give us this day, our daily bread.

You need to cut out the bread..
You’re overweight as it is.

Hey, wait a minute! What is this?
Here I was doing my religious duty,
and all of a sudden you break in
and remind me of all my hang-ups.

Praying is a dangerous thing…
You just might get what you ask for.
Remember, you called ME — and here I am.
It’s too late to stop now.
Keep praying. ( pause … . )
Well, go on.

I’m scared to.

Scared? Of what?
I know what you’ll say.

Try ME.

Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.

What about Ann?

See? I knew it!
I knew you would bring her up!
Why, Lord, she’s told lies about me, spread stories.
She never paid back the money she owes me.
I’ve sworn to get even with her!

But — your prayer —
What about your prayer?

I didn’t — mean it…


Well, at least you’re honest.
But, it’s quite a load carrying around all that
bitterness and resentment isn’t it?

Yes, but I’ll feel better as soon as I get even with her.
Boy, have I got some plans for her.
She’ll wish she had never been born.

No, you won’t feel any better.
You’ll feel worse.
Revenge isn’t sweet.
You know how unhappy you are —
Well, I can change that.

You can? How?

Forgive Ann.
Then, I’ll forgive you;
And the hate and the sin,
will be Ann’s problem — not yours.
You will have settled the problem
as far as you are concerned.

Oh, you know, you’re right.
You always are.
And more than I want revenge,
I want to be right with You . . (sigh).
All right, all right . …
I forgive her.

There now!
Wonderful!
How do you feel?

Hmmmm. Well, not bad.
Not bad at all!
In fact, I feel pretty great!
You know, I don’t think I’ll go to bed uptight tonight.
I haven’t been getting much rest, you know.

Yeah, I know.
But, you’re not through with your prayer, are you?

Go on.

Oh, all right.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Good! Good! I’ll do that.
Just don’t put yourself in a place
where you can be tempted.

What do you mean by that?

You know what I mean.

Yeah. I know..

Okay.
Go ahead.. Finish your prayer..

For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.
Amen.

Do you know what would bring me glory —
What would really make me happy?

No, but I’d like to know.
I want to please you now..
I’ve really made a mess of things.
I want to truly follow you..
I can see now how great that would be.
So, tell me . . .
How do I make you happy?


You just did.

April 27, 2011

Give Us This Day — In 2011 — Our Daily Bread

Jesus was asked by his disciples for some teaching on prayer.  He told them not to just repeat the same prayers over and over again, and then he gave them a sample script which, sadly, many repeat over and over again.

Someone asked me recently what Jesus actually meant by, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  In a world without refrigeration — though they used salt — it was probably more vital in their day to have an idea where your next meal is coming from.  Especially if you were a people that was constantly on the move. This of course led the Israelites to a superstitious adoption of some of their pagan neighbors’ views that certain gods controlled certain weather and soil conditions in certain geographic territories.

But I answered the question differently.  I think in our day, the equivalent consists of our prayers for health and safety.  Think of how health concerns — those of ourselves and our friends and relatives — preoccupy our prayer lists.  We know where our next meal is coming from.  The freezer is full and the grocery store is stocked full of more food.  Health concerns are often the source of our anxiety and concern.  Travel — by car, rail or airplane — fills us with further worry; the accident reports in the media are simply all too vivid.

Some pastors — including recently, Andy Stanley — are somewhat frustrated by our need to be petitioning God for “traveling mercies.”  Or for “a good night’s sleep.”  But I think there is something in the relationship and communication equation whereby God is quite willing to listen to our request for our ongoing, daily needs to be met.  It also acknowledges that all our basic necessities only happen by God’s grace, by Him who “holds all things together.”

David said he’d never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread, but Jesus taught us to pray for “our daily bread.”  I think our various health and safety concerns are simply the modern extension of this in a world where bread is — for now — plentiful.

December 16, 2010

A Different Kind of Prayer

Prayer is something I really struggle with.

We pray together as a family each night, and I am in touch with God many times throughout the day, though I would hardly characterize it as “without ceasing.”   And I am more than willing to pray with people at my job on a moment’s notice; “praying on a dime,” I call it.

But I’ve been reading a lot lately about prayer and feel that this is one area of my Christian life that while it exists in measurable quantity, it is seriously lacking.

For example, I’ve never been big on prayer meetings.    I’ve been reading lately about the way God intends for us to bring our needs to him corporately; and in fact I’ve been challenged on this subject three different ways in the last 48 hours.   It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed with people outside the family in any significant way, or for any significant length of time.

In the middle of all this I’ve been thinking about something else…

God wants me to pour out my heart to him, but sometimes I feel like I can’t find the words.   Yet there are other places in my life where I am never at a loss for words — at my computer.

So I’ve been thinking about writing e-mails to God.   This is something anybody reading this right now can do, because you’re all online to read this which means 99% of you probably have e-mail.  And you probably write many — perhaps dozens — of e-mails and/or Facebook status updates and/or Tweets every single day.

So why not pour out your heart to God in an e-mail?

(You could address it to yourself if you feel the need to actually hit the “send” button, or save it as a draft when you’re done, or simply read it over a few times and then delete it.   Just don’t type “God” in the “To” field or your auto-complete might just send it to your good friend Godfrey Smith, or your sister’s daughter who you have tagged as “Godchild.”)

Writing an e-mail is the most natural form of communication known to many of us, and usually the words flow without hesitation.  It’s also a great way of organizing your thoughts.

And don’t think for a minute that God isn’t “hearing” that kind of prayer. Or that He can’t. Or that it counts less because you didn’t verbalize it audibly.

Willing to join me in a prayer experiment?