Let me offer you a biblical perspective on prayer -- It is universal. It is as old as humanity and common to every culture. The gods, the names, and the styles might vary, but in ever generation in every culture, there are people who pray.
When God created us, He made us unique among all that He had created. We alone are created in His image. We alone have the potential for a very intimate relationship with Him. That type of relationship is probably best displayed in the Old Testament in God's relationship with Adam before his fall into sin and in the New Testament in the Father's relationship with the Lord Jesus. They walked together, spoke face to face and interacted in ways that no other human being has experienced since. But when sin entered the world, the special relationship was altered and communication with God took on a new dimension. Genesis 4:26 indicates that during the lifetime of Adam's grandson, Enosh, people began to ". . . call upon the Name of the Lord."
Since that time, prayer has become a solace, a balm for broken and bleeding humanity. Culture after culture has practiced the discipline of prayer, seeking to invoke the hope and help of their gods. They call out to what they don't know or really understand because prayer has always been rooted in the nature of the Creator. Non-Christians and Christians pray because of God's nature. He is all-powerful, so we seek His help in situations that are out of our control. We go to Him because He is consistent and constant. He never changes. So we feel that we can trust Him. God is love. So we can count on His acceptance. His nature literally draws us to Him. And His desire is that we approach Him with our needs (Matthew 7:7-8).
IF I have confused you, let me try to clarify. The bottom line is that the basis of prayer is the nature of God and His desire to care for us.
Now there is no way that we can cover every angle on prayer in a lifetime and a half much less in 700 words. So allow me to touch on just a couple of ideas regarding prayer.
Maxie Dunham, who once edited the devotional guide called The Upper Room makes this statement about prayer:
"In an ongoing prayer relationship with God, the demands of holiness and righteousness are always present." Why? Doesn't God accept us as we are? Well, yes He does! BUT!! God Himself is holy and righteous. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Leviticus 11:44 & I Peter 1:15-16) stress the importance of God's people being holy. But we cannot become holy and righteous on our own (Isaiah 64:6). we are made righteous by our surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We can never be good enough to approach God on our own. When you see the prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel appearing before God, they fall on their faces and fear for the lives. Peter the apostle, after the miraculous catch of fish, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, "Get away from me for I am a sinful man." John the apostle, in Revelation 1:17, upon seeing the risen & exalted Lord, fell on the ground as though he were dead. Our ONLY access to God the Father is through His Son, the Lord Jesus.
Now that puts us in a position of paradox. A wonderful but difficult position. It is wonderful because we CAN come to God without pretense, just as we are. Difficult because we must then wrestle with God regarding what sins might have infected our lives and what HE wants us to be and do.
Prayer is and must be, first and foremost, submission. In wrestling, two adversaries go at each other until one is pinned or held in a way that causes him to submit. Every time we go to God, we must first deal with whatever sin has wormed its way into our lives. As we confess and repent, the blood of the Lord Jesus makes us acceptable to the Creator. Then comes the expressions of praise and gratitude which can scarcely express how great our God is. But then comes what some call supplication -- requests, asking, talking TO God. That's generally when the wrestling match begins because God oft times wants us to listen more than we speak. Think about it. Even in conversations with a spouse or a child, listening is an act of submission. I will be quiet so that I can hear and comprehend what you are saying. Do you get where I'm going with this??
God loves to hear us call out to Him. It doesn't take much to get His attention. But once we're there in His presence, we need to submit, get into His word, listen for His still small voice and obey what He tells us.
Did you notice that phone at the top is not red? It's not some kind of "hotline to heaven." That's because prayer is not something to be used as a last resort or only in times of emergency. God wants to hear from you . . . often, like daily. He wants your time. Not a rushed 140 character prayer before you rush out the door to face the world. He wants your time, attention, and your submission. Because as He told the people of Israel through Jeremiah: "Call on Me and I will answer you and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know know." (Jer. 33:3 NIV) Have you spent time with God today??
Thursday, September 29, 2016
What a world we live in now! The racial division has grown deeper and wider, a 14 year old kills his father and launches into a playground school shooting while yelling "I hate my life." Politically, it is no longer democrat vs. republican or even conservative vs. liberal. It has become the political "elites" vs. the commons, or as one politician suggested - a 'basket full of deplorables.' Everyone gets labeled with some dehumanizing word while things wax worse and worse throughout our nation. There was a time when the United States of America was a shining symbol of freedom, strength, and integrity. Now, we're in a condition that the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk understood well.
Habakkuk is an Old Testament book that is unfamiliar even to most professing Christians. But it is a beautiful prayer journal offering us an inside look at Habakkuk's intimate conversations with the God of the universe. Habakkuk's ministry probably began late in the reign of King Josiah, who died in 609b.c. Josiah had led a revival in Judah by destroying the idols and high places in the land and reviving the law of God and the worship of Yahweh. Unfortunately, his son, Jehoiakim, was NOT of the same character as his father.
It was during Jehoiakim's reign that Habakkuk began to cry out to God for help and understanding. Jehoiakim's reign was marked by oppression, injustice, violence, and disdain for God's law. It was much like our climate today and Habakkuk grew impatient waiting for God to act (1:1-3) But God responds NOT with time-specific answers, but with a call live by faith (1:5; 2:3; 3:17-19). I would say that the theme of Habakkuk's prayer journal is found in Habakkuk 2:4b -- The righteous will live by faith. It is a biblical principle repeated by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. THIS is important because living by faith in the God of the universe must be more than just a mantra. Speaking of faith is mere sanctimony if that faith isn't demonstrated in life. Simply put, either you trust the Creator of the universe or you don't.
Now Habbakuk had engaged in this intimate conversation with God because of his distress over the conditions of his nation. The spiritual condition, the political, cultural, moral and legal conditions made the nation of Judah ripe for judgment. And Habbakuk interceded for himself and his nation. He followed some basic steps that are good steps for all of us who find ourselves facing overwhelming stress, issues, problems and needs. Martin Lloyd-Jones delineated those steps in his wonderful book Spiritual Depression. Here is my adaptation of those steps.
When you find yourself face to face with problems and issues you cannot resolve and don't really understand, here's a plan of action:
1) Retreat to Plan. Get away from the distractions caused by the problem and get into the presence of God. Get into His word, hear His voice, embrace His counsel. When you want to hear from God and you have the intent to obey, God will speak. But it is more likely to occur in a place where you are still and focused on Him.
2) Remember this Principle. It's not the size of the problem or issue, it's the size of your God that counts. This is the matter of faith. Either we trust Him or we don't there is no "middle ground." Pray in faith, submit to God's purpose and leave the results to Him. I love to apply Jeremiah 29:11 here. I know it was written to Israel in anticipation of their exile. BUT, it's in our scriptures for more than historical purposes. The principle is the same. God has a plan and it is perfect. Submit because He is always good.
3) Resort to the Principle. Once again, this is more than talk. It's living in obedience. Don't just remember the principle and talk about the principle. If you serve a big God, put it into practice. Everything you know about God, His word, and His promises --- just load it up and believe. If God says do something, do it! If God says go somewhere, Go! If God says wait, be still and know that He is in control.
4) Rest in the Payoff. It's called J-O-Y. When you live with the constant conviction that God is ultimately in control, there is peace, contentment, and joy even in the midst of chaos.
When Pontius Pilate to Jesus, "Why don't you talk to me? Don't you know that I have the power to release you or crucify you." Then Jesus said, "You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above." John 18:10 Even as He faced the cross, Jesus was content to trust His welfare, His life into the hands of the Father.
In all that happens around us and to us, we must remember that God the Father is building HIS kingdom. Not yours nor mine. Not even the good old USA. HIS kingdom.
So in these perilous and uncertain days, we don't have to understand things. We need simply to trust God. And the best thing we can do is get into the presence of God early and often. And pray the prayer Habakkuk prayed as you pray for yourself, your family, your community, your church, and our nation;
Lord, I have heard the report about You. Lord, I stand in awe of your deeds. Revive Your work in these years; make it known in these years. In Your wrath, remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
|It's about discernment!|
But you know, we can develop the same problem spiritually. Our spiritual ears can get dull and the background noises of our lives begin to drown out what God desires to teach us through His word and our experiences. Even within the Church, many professing Christians have a surprising unfamiliarity with scripture. Oh, we might have our favorite verses, but even those are more about "what they mean to me" rather than how the Spirit has used them to transform me into what God wants me to be. The PRIMARY means by which God communicates with us has become more like an IV bag to hydrate us when circumstances or sin begin to dry up our spirits. We use it when we need it instead of drinking from it deeply every day.
What's happened?? Have we become so busy with politics and sports, televisions and smart phones, social networking and outdoor life that we don't have time for God's word?? There is nothing wrong with any of those things UNTIL they begin to crowd out our desire to be transformed by the power of God's word. When that happens, our spiritual ears become dull and the "noise" from all those other things affects our ability to discern what God is doing around us and saying to us.
Jared Wilson wrote in the Threadway Bible study Abide,
". . . the messages of the environments we're most in and the routines we most practice shape our attitudes and behaviors." Did you get that?? Where and how you spend your time will shape the way you think and act.
Now think about this!! The Bible, God's word, was not given to help us. It was given to transform us. If we truly want to change the world, then we must begin by allowing God's word to change us. The more time we spend there, the more it will shape the way we think and act. But in order to do that, it just might require that we turn off some of the background noise that has drowned out the voice of God.
What could you give up or what could you change in order to spend some quality time reading the Bible each day? Try it for 30 days!! Don't read it in order to "learn" something. Just pray and ask God to use your reading of His word to transform your life. He will not disappoint you!
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Really? Did Jesus actually say that? Well, yes He did. We find those words in Matthew 18:19; 21:22, Mark 11:24, and John 14:13-14; 16:23. And they are powerful words indeed. The requests that we offer in prayer are verbal acknowledgements of our dependence on God. We recognize that God can do what we cannot. So we pray and we ask. Such prayer, lifted to the throne of God in sincerity and from a pure heart, will often radically change people and circumstances.
But let's not get the mistaken idea that our great God is some sort of cosmic game show host who awards a jackpot to those who put in just the right words and phrases. The God of the universe cannot be manipulated. Yet, we often try to do that very thing by taking a verse or two out of context and using them in an effort to fulfill our selfish desires. To that end, the Holy Spirit inspired James to write these words: "You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can't get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don't have what you want because you don't ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong --- you only want what will give you pleasure." James 4:2-3 (NLT)
Did you notice the highlighted portion above?? Even though Jesus has told us to ask whatever we will and it will be done, God the Father has the final word. And if our motive for asking is selfish -- in any way outside of the Father's will -- He does not respond.
Now it IS possible for every follower of Jesus to be a powerful prayer warrior. But that power has a price. To become a powerful prayer warrior requires that we give prayer a place of high priority in life AND that we always subject our requests to the will of the Father. John Wesley prayed every day from 4am until 6am. Martin Luther is known to have spent 2-3 hours in prayer. David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700s, could often be found kneeling in the snow praying for God to open the hearts of native Americans. He died of TB at age 29. Tradition tells us that David Livingston, missionary to Africa, died while on his knees in prayer in his hut. Adoniram Judson, missionary to Burma, prayed daily at 9am, noon, pm, 6pm, and 9pm.
To these men, prayer was the fertile soil in which their life work was rooted. Their commitments to prayer and their obedience to the Father gave them power for their varied callings, circumstances, and cultures. They knew that prayer was not just an emergency tool to be used in times of crisis. It is the lifeline of the believer, his/her connection to the Father.
Yes, Jesus said "Whatever you ask in My Name, believe that you have received it and it is yours." But that's not a blank prayer check! It's an invitation to a deeper relationship. In John 15:7, Jesus said, "If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, (then) ask whatever you will and it will be done for you." Do you see the conditions for the promise there? We must abide in Christ and His words must abide in us. Simply put, Jesus said, "If you do your part, ask whatever you desire and the Father will do His part."
SO, what is our part? Let me offer you six things.
1. We are to be subject to the Father's will. I John 5:14 The more of our selves that we surrender to Jesus, the more our own desires align with God's desires.
2. We realize that Jesus is always our Intercessor. John 14:13 We ask in Jesus' Name because it is only through Jesus that we can approach the Father.
3. We must be instructed in the truth. John 15:7 We should be seizing every opportunity to deepen our knowledge and application of God's word. The Bible becomes our guide for life.
4. We strive to obey! I John 3:22 Our obedience is the outward expression of our faith in and submission to Jesus.
5. We cling to the promises of God! Matthew 22:11 This is another expression of faith. We believe God is faithful and will do what He has promised.
6. We act on conviction! Luke 11:9 Daniel 3 In others words, we put feet to our prayers. In Exodus 14:15, Moses prayed for deliverance and God said: Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the people to move forward. Sometimes, we pray and wait idly for God to act when God might be waiting for us to act in faith.
God is waiting to hear from you. He wants to do things that are even more awesome and beautiful than you've dreamt or imagined. But if you want Him to give weight and power to your prayers, you have to do your part.
Become a powerful prayer warrior for your family, your church, your community, and your nation! If you do your part, God will certainly do His.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
I was moved to do a little throwback Thursday post. God led me to my journal post dated May 16, 2013. Someone needs this today. Maybe you.
4 days until surgery. Nine weeks after diagnosis, I will have a radical prostatectomy. Try saying that 3 times quickly. During the last three weeks, my emotions have simply blended into a fog. But fear has given way to resolve and anxiety has given way to that "peace that is beyond human understanding."
As I approach "C Free Day" (Cancer-Free), let me pass on some things that I have learned over the last 2 months. Things that have renewed my passion, reaffirmed my values and reordered my priorities.
1. This hasn't caught God by surprise. There is no sunrise that He has not already seen. No road that He has not already traveled. No valley that He has not walked. No mountaintop that He has not traversed. HE IS GOD! Take a moment right now. Leave the blog and turn in a Bible to Psalm 139 and read it slowly, deliberately. Whatever you're facing, He's known about it before you ever left your mother's womb. So as you face your giant, navigate your storm, or walk that valley, just remember! He knows, He cares, and He's in charge.
2. God does NOT condemn our fear or anxiety. I wish that I could tell you my great faith cast out my fears when I heard the words, "You have cancer." It didn't. My wife was sick in bed when I received the diagnosis. How would I tell her? How would I tell my kids? Why now? I'm not even 60 yet. There were questions, concerns, uncertainties. AND, there were some regrets and unfulfilled dreams and hopes. I have to confess that there were many moments of fear and anxiety. And God took me a verse that I've loved for years. Psalm 103:14 -- "For He knows how weak we are; He remembers that we are only dust."
God, my Father knows and understands my fear and anxiety and offers Himself as the Answer.
3. God's desire is to use these kinds of things to shape us into the image of Jesus. Sometimes these things are used to correct us. Sometimes He uses them to redirect us. Sometimes He will use them to convert us. He always uses them to teach us. And ultimately, He will use them to prepare us for future service or ministry to others. Romans 8:28 is a well-known verse in Christian circles, often quoted to give us hope in the midst of difficulty. But Romans 8:29 really needs to be linked with that promise. We do know that God works in all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. But He works in those things (good AND bad) to make us more like His Son, our Lord Jesus.
4. God's power is always best demonstrated in our weakness. That's Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Americans are, culturally speaking, prone to be "in charge." We are control freaks and when a situation is out of our control, it causes stress, anxiety, and a host of emotional responses. Paul would have done well in America. But what he learned about weakness is simply this --- when we are weak, that's when God is strongest in our lives. Faith really is all about letting go and letting God. When the situation is out of our control, it's good to have intimate relationship with the One Who is really in charge.
So whatever you're going through, whatever you're facing, remember! You know the One Who's in charge of it all. Abandon yourself into His hands. I know I will because I realize that His hands are the safest place to be.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
An essay by Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette dated 1771 states: "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood and have transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us . . . without a struggle or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men."
Wow! 396 years ago, a small band of courageous men and women stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock. Months of hardship and much loss of life were among the sacrifices made in order to achieve religious freedom in a new, uncharted land. For 150 years, this "new frontier" flourished, colonized by the British empire and strengthened by the blood, sweat, and tears of noble individuals who believed that freedom was worth the risk, hard work, and sacrifice.
BUT, control by the British crown increased during that first century and slowly began to choke off some of the freedoms that these folks had risked their lives to attain. It has always been true that as the size of government increases, the true freedom of the governed decreases. So, small groups of colonial citizens began to rebel with such tactics as the famed 'Boston Tea Party.' Thus was born the American spirit . . . a prevailing attitude that was absolutely instrumental in winning our freedom. This spirit, perhaps the most formidable weapon employed by this rag-tag army of colonial rebels, became known as the "Spirit of 76."
In the spring of 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Franklin, Madison, Hancock, and Henry. Adams and Jefferson, too. They were all there. The course of action taken that spring literally changed the course of the world. It was there that Patrick Henry said, "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." Thomas Jefferson penned these words: "The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy it but cannot disjoin them."
On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was presented and proclaimed its foundation in this way: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Note that phrase, "endowed by their Creator." With all of their faults, with all of their flaws and character quirks (we all have them), with all the shadows that loomed over their private lives, these men recognized that the true Source of their life and liberty was God. A new nation was born. A nation that would become the greatest civilization in the history of mankind. From the lives of our young men to benevolent needs across the world, no other civilization has ever given so much to defend and help the poor, the weak, the defenseless.
In the last full paragraph of the Declaration, the framers stated, "We therefore . . . appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions . . ." Are you familiar with that word, "rectitude?" Its definitions are "quality or state of being straight; moral integrity; the quality or state of being correct in judgment." Throughout the process, these flawed men sought the wisdom of God. Then, by affixing their signatures to that document, they each pledged their lives, the honor, and their fortunes to birth a new nation. That war for independence cost 5,000 patriot lives.
Freedom has never been free. It always requires sacrifice and perseverance. It is tempered with responsibility and respect. It flows from the hearts of people, NOT the halls of government. And it is NOT to be taken lightly. We are privileged still to live in a great nation, this United States of America. But as citizens of heaven, we have an even greater responsibility, given by Jesus Himself, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14-16) God is waiting for US to stand in the breach and intercede for a nation that He desires to bless. (2 Chronicles 7:13-15)
SO, this Independence Day, amidst the Bar-b-ques and ball games, the late morning brunch and the late night fireworks, consider spending some time in God's presence and renewing yourself regarding these commitment:
PRAY - Become a prayer warrior for our nation. Yes, we have issues and yes, our choices in this critical election year might seem distasteful, but WE are the ones to whom the responsibility is given to intercede for our leaders, our warriors, our children, and our grands. I Timothy 2:1-4
BE CHRIST-LIKE - Whatever happens, whoever is elected, whoever is "in charge," remember that there is no authority in place anywhere that is not allowed there by God. Romans 13:1 So our responsibility is to follow the admonition of Philippians 1:27 -- "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."
BE INVOLVED - Salt that remains in the salt-shaker is of little value. We are called and commissioned to be the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13) We cannot positively affect the world by withdrawing from it. So be an involved, principle-based, values-based participant in our culture. Biblical principles and values communicated with a Christ-like authority in the arena of debate and in the voting booth. Pray, Be Christ-like, and Be Involved. And leave the results to God.
HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!! And remember . . . If anyone asks you if they have a fourth of July in England or France or Canada, the answer is yes. But it's just that --- the fourth of July.
IF you want to read the Declaration of Independence in full, go to www.ushistory.org/declaration