Thoughts on prayer and praying

What is prayer? Well, a simple answer is that prayer is the language of faith. Jesus words in Matthew 7:7-8 seem to suggest this. Here Jesus said:

7“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

With that in mind my hope is these lines will encourage us all to greater faithfulness in prayer.

The Gospels clearly portray Jesus faithfulness in prayer. He both modeled prayer (Luke 11:1) and taught a model for prayer (Matthew 6:9-15). Knowing the human tendencies of hypocrisy and feelings of self-sufficiency, he warned about proper attitudes in prayer (Matthew 6:5-8).

With respect to the practice of prayer, a little acrostic has helped me a lot through the years. I dont have any idea who originated this. Thinking a praying in these categories has proved beneficial, when comes bringing balance and focus to my prayers. Many of you will recognize this as the ACTS of prayer:

A doration: Psalm 112; 117; Matthew 6:9; and 11:25ff.
C onfession: Matthew 6:12; Luke 18:13; and 1 John 1:5ff.
T hanksgiving: 1 Thessalonians 5:18; and Philippians 4:6.
S upplication: Intercessory- 1 Timothy 2:1ff; and Personal- Philippians 4:6-7.

Probably the most import thing for me to keep in mind is the fact that faithfulness in prayer is a very personal matter. Keeping my heart in tune with God remains the most important factor. It remains true that the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16, NLT). It is far more important to be a person of prayer than it is to be familiar with and follow a formulaic list of correct prayer-practices. A person of prayer is one who approaches God

In fear (with respect)- Psalm 145:17-20; and Psalm 115:12-13.
In faith- James 5:6 and 5:15.
In humility- James 4:6 (Proverbs 3:34); and 2 Chronicles 7:14.
With ones whole heart- Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 21:21; and James 1:5-7.
With selflessness- Luke 18:9-14 and James 4:3.
With forgiving spirit- Matthew 6:14-15; and Ephesians 4:32.
With confidence- Hebrews 2:18; 4:16-17; and 10:19, 35.
With persistence- Luke 18:1-7; and 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
With sincerity and simplicity- Matthew 6:5-8 and Mark 12:38-40.
In accord with Gods will- Matthew 26:42 and 1 John 5:14.
With a heart for obedience to Gods will- 1 John 3:22.

Someone has said that the power of prayer is in praying. I believe I understand and agree with the sentiment behind this statement. Only those who pray earnestly ever experience the awesome efficacy of prayer. However, the true power of prayer is wrapped up in the reality that God hears and answers our prayers. That really is incredible, isnt it? The Creator of the Cosmos, the Sustainer of all that exists, hears and answers our prayers. This is the ultimate encouragement to faithfulness in prayer. We can have complete confidence in this reality. To help us keep this in perspective we must remember the following:

Sometimes God chooses to delay His answer, Luke 18:1-7.
Sometimes God lavishes us more abundantly than we ask, 1 Kings 18:24, 36-38; and 1 Kings 3:10ff.
Sometimes God grants us a different, a better response the we seek, 1 Kings 19:1-9; and 2 Cor. 12:7-9.
Sometimes, since God loves us and has our best interest in mind, God simply says No to our requests, 2 Samuel 12:15-20.
Sometimes God responds immediately in the affirmative to our prayers, Numbers 14:30; 1 Kings 17:20-21; and Acts 12:5ff.

Hopefully, this little article will encourage you to greater faithfulness in prayers. Remember, seven days without prayers makes one weak! Believe and you will receive. Doubt and do without.

Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know

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

4-7 He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth weve learned: that theres one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.

Guard Your Heart

We are living in challenging times! You have probably heard someone say something like that hundreds of times. The truth is: We are living in challenging times. But, do you think we are the only generation to face challenges?

No. People of every generation have suffered hardship, questioned their faith and yielded to temptation. They have also overcome great adversity through the power of prayer and faiths persistence. Many who have come before us have risen to the challenges. Theyve seen opportunity and seized the day.

The way we handle lifes challenges is, more-often-than-not, a matter of the heart. In fact, Solomons wise counsel states, Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life, (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). The heart is at the heart of all that matters in life!

With this is mind, I wonder:

In what ways do we let down our guard when it comes to our hearts?

If we are effectively guarding our hearts, how will this be evident in our lives?

Morning Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, as another new day gets underway we pour out our hearts in praise to you. Your glorious majesty defies description. Your awesome power transcends our ability to comprehend. Thoughts of your majestic sweetness warm our hearts and calm our souls. You are holy, holy, holy. To you alone belongs all glory and honor. To you, our Father and our God, we lift up our hearts in adoration and praise.

Thank you, dear Father, for extending your grace and favor to us. Thank you for letting us glimpse your glory through the gift of your beloved Son. Thank you for His glorious life that truly lights our world. And, thank you for allowing us to see and know grace and truth as we behold His glory.

Please help us understand the depth of your love for us. Help us embrace the fact that we are loved by you, that we are precious in your sight. Help us understand that because of the great love you have for us, we are privileged to enter into a special relationship with you. Help us always to remember that this relationship is made possible by the sacrifice and suffering of your beloved Son. Help us treasure all that He has done and continues to do to make it possible for us to remain in this relationship with you.

Help us, also, remember your mercy and grace extended to us as we interact with people throughout the day. Help us help others see you more clearly. May our hearts be fully devoted to you and your Word so that each of us will be an authentic reflection of your glory. Help us help others find the sources of joy in their lives. Help us help others come to know you so they can experience true comfort from whatever causes them sorrow and pain.

As we begin another week of hurrying and scurrying about our busy lives, we pause to express our sincere praise of your majesty. We are amazed that the Creator of the Cosmos is mindful of each one of us and thankful that you are attentive to our needs.

We confess to you that we are intensely aware of our frailties and failings as humans. We also acknowledge that we are utterly dependent upon you for all that we have and all that we are able to do in this day.in every day. We ask you to help us deny ourselves, take up our crosses and simply follow Jesus so that we might live in such a way as to bring you honor and glory.

We humbly ask you to guide our steps throughout this week. Help us search for and find ways to serve as instruments of your peace in this tumultuous, sin-savaged world. Help us to be a blessing to others. Please help us choose actions that are just and merciful; and, fill us with your Holy Spirit that we might be empowered to walk humbly with you each step of the way.

Please bless those whose names flow from our hearts to your throne.

Provide for each of these according to their needs.

Accept our thanksgiving for your sustaining grace in our lives. Thank you for being the Giver of every good and perfect gift we have received. Help us to bring you pleasure by enjoying these gifts. Help us, also, to honor you by being good stewards of all you have placed in our care.

Above all, thank you for the indescribable gift of your Son to be our Lord and Savior. Please give us the faith, courage, grace and wisdom we need to follow in Him each and every day.

In the precious and powerful name of Jesus we pray.

Are You Living the Good Life?

Are You Living the Good Life? (#1)

Are you living the good life? Christopher Morley once affirmed that the good life consists of three basic ingredients: learning, earning and yearning. To a certain extent, we can agree with this. But, in my estimation, we must insist that there is more to the good life. It seems that Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevski captures this concept when he declares: Neither man nor nation can exist without a sublime idea.

Even though life revolves around what we sometimes call the daily grind, it involves much more! We are here to serve and glorify God. We do this by yielding our lives to the Lord, letting Him direct our lives. As jet streams provide steering currents for massive weather systems, the will of God should determine the course of our lives.

In Philippians 2:5-8 we are told that the mind of Christ determined the course of His life and sealed His destiny. If you think about it, you see this at every milestone in His life: at age 12, Luke 2:40; at age 30, Luke 4:1-13; and at age 33, John 17:3.

The up’s and down’s of life sometimes distract us. They can even rob us of a clear vision for the future. If, however, we take yielding our lives to the Lord seriously, we will embrace His vision for our lives. His will for our lives will remain the “steering current” which determines the direction of our lives. This seems to be what Jesus had in mind when He stated: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

So, it seems like we should spend a few minutes exploring this topic. This should help us discover Gods sublime idea for our lives.

Where Have All the Visionaries Gone?

How many visionary leaders do you know? Many of us can recall the names of only a handful of visionaries? Some of us even wonder what it means to be a visionary leader.

I once read that a visionary is someone who describes tomorrow’s possibilities as clearly as yesterday’s sunset. Because resistance to change is so common in established institutions, many visionaries have either given up or have moved on to more welcoming environs.

In far too many instances, we have mistakenly adopted a philosophy that resists being part of anything that we cannot control or explain. We cannot conceive of a God who is able to do more than we can conceive. So we presume to limit God’s operation in our lives to that which we can, by mere human insight, comprehend.

Following this line of reasoning, many people conclude that anyone who challenges us to see the sublime is foolishly over zealous and will soon learn better. If I’m correct in these observations, many would hold Christ’s greatest visionary disciple in contempt for following the Holy Spirits leading and writing things like what we read in Ephesians 3:20-21…

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

If we refuse to be stirred by a sublime vision, that which Paul emphasizes in his prayer becomes a casualty. We must not permit the subterfuge of the sublime; instead, we should promote the two types of visionary thinking described in these verses:

(1) Prayerful Thinking If we believe that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ASK, we will be doing the ASKING! It’s interesting to note that the root word in the original language for “ask” is aiteo, which means “to call for, crave, or desire.” This speaks of exercising our faith! Several passages underscore the importance of ASKING

Matthew 7:7-8, “7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.”

James 4:2, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”

(2) Possibility Thinking God is able to do immeasurably more than all we IMAGINE. Wow, imagine that! God is bigger than our ability to conceive Him! In this instance, the word translated as “imagine” derives from the root word noieo, which means to exercise the mind. To hear some people tell it, we’ve got to park our brains to be followers of Christ. That’s just not the case. God wants us to exercise our minds. In fact, His ability to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can think is, in itself, an invitation to let our imaginations run.

What Is Christ’s will for His kingdom people?

God wants us to be able to see the sublime. Whats more? He wants us to be visionaries! Because some of us have known so few visionary leaders, some are left to ask: “How does one act?” To be sure, a visionary is a PATIENT OVERCOMER (a conqueror, one who prevails and gains the victory). This is, in fact, how all who trust in Jesus should see themselves, according to 1 John 5:4b-5, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Visionaries are nicked by thorns but still smell roses. Visionaries get sand in their shoes but still hear the ocean’s surf. Visionaries are soaked by rain but still anticipate rainbows. —Dale, Keeping the Dream Alive, p. 14.

A visionary follower of Jesus is a PASSIONATE PURSUER, a dream chaser. Our lives are to be characterized with the same intensity as Christ’s. It’s more than a positive mental attitude? It’s being positive about doing God-things! I believe it was Oliver Wendell Holmes that once said that men either act on their passionate vision or risk never living at all! Some people look at the way things are and ask, “Why?” Those who are able to see the sublime look at the way things ought to be and ask, “Why not?”

So, what do you think? Who are the visionary people that you have known? What made them visionaries? How can we encourage one another to live into Gods sublime idea for our lives?

Are You Living the Good Life? (#2)

As mentioned in the previous post, God definitely does have a sublime idea for our lives. Visionary people are not only aware of this, but are also willing to surrender to it. If you look at Rachel’s comment on the previous post, you’ll see that she was blessed to have a grandfather who embodied this idea. Against this back drop, it seems reasonable that we should ask:

How do we surrender to God’s steering current for our lives and ministries?

First, we must believe our God is a “Can Do” God. Remember the observation of James:

You have not, because you ask not!

We must exercise our faith! Maybe I’m getting a bit too personal, but I really must ask: Is your personal prayer life getting flabby do to lack of exercise? Our prayers should also consist of more than vague generalities. If we believe God can do anything, we can trust Him to direct our lives into the flow of His will.

Exercising our faith does involve more than prayer, though. See: Philemon 6. Here we are told that we exercise our faith by sharing our faith! Does your activity in sharing your faith reflect a belief that God is able to do immeasurably more than all that you ask? Do you pray, “Lord, give me open doors” and then refuse enter? Do you pray for God to give you wisdom and courage to speak out, only to clam up?

Second, we are free to imagine what God can do, according to His power that is at work within us! Therefore, we must exercise our minds! Many of us have already spent far too much time dwelling on why we can’t do too many things for far too long. If God wants us to do something at this place at this time, He will provide the means! God never calls us to do anything that He will not enable us to do! There are many biblical examples of such thinking:

Noah, Genesis 6-9;
Gideon, Judges 7-8;
Paul, Acts 9:15; 26:17b,18; cf: 2 Corinthians 9:8!

If God places a burden on your heart for a particular ministry or labor of love, don’t fret over the things that might not work out. It’s amazing how many good ideas come to those who dwell on the positive rather than the negative. And there is nothing in the entire world more positive than knowing that God is working in our lives!

Third, we must get on board! That’s another way of saying that we have been blessed with one of the greatest opportunities possible for humans. God allows us to join Him in His work in the world. The Gospel train is leaving the station! We’ve been called to get on board! If you think that God can work in and through your life; I you ask God to work in your life; then expect God to work in and through you life!

Did you notice the acrostic? If you Believe God is able; if you Imagine where and how God is at work; and Get on board with what God is doing, then these three things unite to yield something really B – I – G !

The bottom line: God has a sublime idea for our lives. If we will surrender to Him, He will steer us in the direction that we need to go.

Sometimes, though, we just have a hard time doing this. Perhaps this is because we’re trying to be too rational about things. If, however, the imagination is gone from our lives, it will be very hard to see the sublime. What do you think?

The Lord willing, I’ll share a story in my next post that involves one of my children which will help tie all of this together.

Are You Living the Good Life? (#3)

In two previous posts (Are You Living the Good Life? (#1) and Are You Living the Good Life? (#2)), I wrote about living the good life, equating this with intentionally living into Gods sublime idea for our lives. This requires becoming enthralled with and surrendering to Gods will. I believe a child might help us learn to yield to Gods sublime idea for our lives

Many years ago I started telling our children bedtime stories. It was great fun to make up fanciful stories about far away places. Sometimes the characters would do fantabulous things. They might wear absurdly funny clothes. They would sometimes do things that just wouldn’t square with the reality. All four of our children have at one time or another looked over at me with an incredulous grin and said something like: “DAD?! That’s not real!”

My response has always been, “Sure it is in the wonderful world of make-believe.”

They would usually nod acceptingly. We would then pick up the story from where we left off. Sometimes they would not be able to suspend their disbelief and would say, “This is just too silly to believe.”

There were times, however, when we really did get into the story. We would allow our imaginations to carry us away to the far-away-places of my imagination. The wonderful world of make-believe was really real to us. During these times, it would give me the deepest sense of pleasure when one my children would start leading me on return visits to the wonderful land of imagination. It would warm my heart to see the beautiful flower of imagination blooming my own child’s heart.

Some time ago, when my story ended too soon, my youngest child did just that. As I knelt beside her bed smiling, I listened with joy and awe as she began filling in important details pertaining to the beautiful princess I had been telling her about. My heart was bursting with joy. The wonderful world of make believe was certainly real in her eyes.

As I reflect on this, I can’t help but think that it must give our heavenly Father the same kind of pleasure when He sees His children believing and imagining that He can do wonderful things. It must give Him great pleasure when we become so enthralled with His story that we are caught up in it and carry away with it. Isn’t it wonderful to know that God has a sublime idea for our lives? It is even more amazing to think of just how eager He is for each one of us to surrender to His will and experience the full measure of His blessings.

There is a heaven full of possibilities for those who see the sublime—those willing to take God at His Word and let their imaginations run free. God has given those who love and serve Him a free pass into the wonderful world of imagination and said to us all: “If you can think it, I can do it, and more. And, I will do it for you, if you’ll just ask!”

Habits of Highly Effective Churches

In the previous post, which is the first in this series (Habits), I stated that effective churches are characterized by a healthy environment which fosters spiritual formation and are continuously cultivating a missional mentality with respect to the world. Hopefully this gives you a sense of where this discussion is headed.

Who doesnt want to be effective?

Given the fact that effectiveness is the ability to produce a desired or decisive effect or result, we need to be sure that it is Gods desire that we seek to satisfy. Life is too short to waste our time on inappropriate or ineffective activities. A wide variety of people seem to agree. While doing research on this topic I even found a web site offering instruction on the fine art of procrastinating productively. Even though no one sets out to be ineffective, complications do arise and we get off course.

So, what is our greatest challenge?

Some background might prove beneficial. Churches are driven by a variety of factors which can contribute to or limit their effectiveness. Actually, these influencers usually combine forces to one degree or another. One often seems to prevail, but all come into play to one degree or another. Heres the list:

PRECEDENT: Repeating what we’ve always done just like we have always done it.
PERSONALITY: Living into a single individual’s or group’s agenda for how we “do things round here.”
POLITICS: Schmoozing is the primary modus operandi, with cajoling and coercion being common place. The “innies” and the “outies” know exactly who they are, because every activity becomes a battlefield, complete with winners and losers.

In this contextwith these factors at playwe seek to be effective. These things often cause us to lose sight of the objective. Now, not just for the sake of continuing the alliteration, I submit that our great challenge is to keep the main thing the main thing by remembering our God-given purpose. Where Gods purposes prevail, a body of Christians functions in such a way as to continue the incarnational presence of Christ in the world. Churches that are animated by Gods purposes, characteristically embrace the notion that form follows function, regardless of precedents set or personalities involved, with church politics having little or no effect on congregational ministry plans.

How do we foster such an environment?

When we reflect on the early church, paying special attention to the first sermons preached in the Christian era, two ideas seem to dominate:

Jesus, the Christ, is the central theme of every message— Acts 2:36; 5:42; 8:35; 17:3; 17:18 and 28:30-31.
The kingdom of God is among them, being seen in the lives of those in whom the Spirit’s produce is abundant— Acts 2:18; 2:38; 5:32; 6:3; 9:31; 10:47; 11:24; 13:4; 13:52; 20:28 and many more.

Thus, it seems that an effective church focuses on the exaltation of Christ as Lord and Savior, while being transformed into His likeness through the power of the Holy Spirit. It seems that allowing anyone other than Jesus or anything other than the gospel to become the focus of a church’s life is to elevate that person or issue to greater prominence than Christ Himself and veer off into idolatry. Thus, these two big ideas need to hold sway over our attitudes and actions, if we are to be effective churches for Christ.

What do you think?