Praying The Word

The more consistently we pray on the ordinary days, the more prepared we will be to pray on the extraordinary days. But some people say, “I don’t know how to pray” or “I don’t know what to ask for.” That ignorance hinders a lot of people—even someone like Peter who not only spent huge amounts of time with Jesus but was with Him when He was in one of His most glorious states (Luke 9:28-33). As Jesus is transfigured before his very eyes, both Mark and Luke say this about the statement Peter blurted out: He did not know what he was saying. 

While Peter was still speaking from his ignorance, God the Father gave him (and us) some invaluable advice: This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him. 

So when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus didn’t reprimand them for asking. In fact, He told us how much He wants us to pray and how much His Father wants to answer our prayers (Luke 11:1-13; 12:32).  

There is a consistent theme about the “name” of God that permeates all that Jesus teaches about prayer. We see Him instructing us to address our prayer to our “Heavenly Father” and to pray “in My name” (Luke 11:2; John 14:13-14; 15:7; 16:23-24). This doesn’t mean that simply saying, “Dear Heavenly Father” at the beginning of a prayer or “in the name of Jesus, amen” at the end of a prayer makes our prayer magical. 

It’s about praying in the character of Jesus, directing our prayer to the only One who can help us, all with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

To help us do this, we have an invaluable prayer resource preserved for us in the pages of the Bible. The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit—the same Holy Spirit that lives in a Christian and helps the Christian pray according to God’s will. The same Spirit who inspired the Word can illuminate the Word to us, so we need to get into the Word and let the Holy Spirit get the Word into us! 

No matter what you’re going through, you can apply God’s Word to your situation. Look through the prayers of the Psalms, read the prayers of other great saints throughout the Scriptures, check out the prayers the apostles prayed in the New Testament, and even read the prayers of Jesus Himself. Then make those prayers your prayers!

If you let the Holy Spirit show you how the Bible applies to your situation, you will NEVER again be at a loss of how to pray to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus!

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn how to to be ready to pray by making our plan to pray. 

Run To Wait

My wife is a fan of the TV show (and movie) Downton Abbey, which means I have come to appreciate it as well. I think Mr. Carson, the head butler, gives us some great insight into a Christian’s prayer relationship with God. 

Mr. Carson has a lot to oversee with the house, the staff, and the needs of the family members and their guests. Everything needs to be tidy and ready at all times for both important guests and the Grantham family. That means Mr. Carson has to have a schedule and routine for everything. 

He doesn’t get up in the morning and sit around waiting for someone to tell him what to do—he gets up and gets to work. He’s a busy man with a lot of responsibilities. But can you imagine if Lord or Lady Grantham came to him with a request and he responded, “Not now, I’m too busy with my To Do list”? No way! He’s their servant, so he quickly responds, “Yes, my lord.” 

Christians can so busy and hurried with our own “To Do list” that we miss out on what’s really important. As Rick Warren then noted, “Hurry is the death of prayer!” 

The dictionary defines hurry as acting in haste, usually in a state of urgency, or feeling rushed. Notice the word “urgency” in the definition. Far too often we confuse urgent things and important things. It’s not that what we’re busy with are bad things, but perhaps we are busy with things that are keeping us blind to the important things. 

Long before Mr. Carson, there was another notable servant named Abraham (Genesis 18:1-8). God showed up and Abraham wanted to be in His presence. So notice that Abraham had to run to wait to God’s presence—the narrative uses words like hurried, “quick” and ran.  

Abraham was quick to get into God’s presence SO THAT he could linger in God’s presencehe stood near Them under a tree: that’s the posture of a servant-in-waiting. 

In the NIV translation, the text says Abraham hurried, but almost every other translation says he ran to meet Them—this is an important distinction. Hurry speaks to things that are urgent, but run speaks to things that are important. 

Stephen Covey has a great diagram that helps us identify four important quadrants in our life:

As you place items from your life on this grid, our Prayer Coach—the Holy Spirit—can help us identify the time-wasters. The key is to find time to wait in prayer. The best place to make time for Quadrant II prayer comes from Quadrant IV. As you eliminate those time-wasters, you will be able to spend health-enhancing time in prayer, worship, planning, and self-care in Quadrant II. This will also better equip you to handle the Quadrant I crises as they appear.

Ultimately, like Mr. Carson, we need to be both proactive with our schedule and responsive to the requests of our Lord. A good daily posture for all of us is “If the Lord wills” (James 4:13-17). But we have to not be so distracted with unimportant things that we can hear what God is speaking to our hearts.

Please join me next week as we continue to uncover things that could derail our regular prayer times, and then strategize a plan for dealing with them.  

Cultivation Of Christian Character (book review)

I’ve always enjoyed reading J. Oswald Sanders. Let me rephrase that: I enjoy the new insights on God’s Word that Sanders’ books have given me, but the confrontation of the Holy Spirit that comes while reading these books can be quite painful at times. Cultivation Of Christian Character is no exception! 

In his opening words, Sanders explains the purpose of “this little volume” (as he calls it)—

“The genuine disciple of Christ earnestly desires a closer walk with God and a greater conformity to Christ. If these are absent, there is reason to doubt the genuineness of the discipleship. But many true lovers of the Lord are beset with a sense of inadequacy and failure in living the Christian life as it ought to be lived. They are very conscious with Paul that they have not already attained, neither are already perfect, but they yearn to know Christ better and to serve Him more worthily.” 

There you have it in a nutshell: If you yearn to be more Christlike, and yet at the same time struggle with how far you still have to go to see the fruits of Christlikeness in your life, this is the book for you. 

The chapters are short enough to read in just a few minutes. But the thought processes and the heart-searching that these short chapters will stimulate will undoubtedly take a long time to assimilate into your daily life. At least, this is the case for me. 

None of J. Oswald Sanders’ books are long books, but all of his books live long inside of me. Dive into Cultivation of Christian Character with an attitude of ready submission to the Holy Spirit, and then watch the amazing fruitfulness and Christlikeness that will begin to blossom from your life. 

I am a Moody Publishers book reviewer. 

Our Prayer Coach

I love football! 

The plays that the quarterback calls in the huddle are very creative. It may sound something like this: “soultrain alert 13 trap on 1.” Then after the team breaks the huddle with the play that they just know will be successful, the quarterback may look over the other team’s defense and callout something like, “check” or “sally” or “Omaha.” This is called an “audible” and it’s communicating to the team how they are now going to modify the play that they just called. The quarterback calls this audible because it appears to him that the defense may know what sort of play they were planning to run. 

The teams that can adjust better on-the-fly—or call audibles—usually win the game. 

None of this happens without lots of practice! Practice builds good habits. Practice helps teams learn from their mistakes and develop even better habits. All of this practicing also requires a good coach overseeing the process, and individual team members who are willing to submit to the coach’s direction and correction. 

Have you noticed that there are some Christians who “audible” well? Unexpected things pop up that seem to throw many people off their game plan, but these Christians seem to adapt so easily. Why is that? It’s definitely not because they are wired that way, or have a higher spiritual IQ, or they can think faster. It’s because they’ve practiced good habits, they’ve learned from past experiences which have developed better “audibling” habits, all under the guidance of a perfect Coach. 

Jesus told us about the amazing prayers that we would be able to pray, and how the Holy Spirit can be our perfect Coach in this process (John 14:12-17, 26; 16:13-15). 

There are some incredible things that happen when we pray consistently, when we pray boldly, and when we pray in the character of Jesus. 

John Piper asks, “Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer?” He answers his own question like this: “Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” 

Successful football teams don’t simply show up on game day and compete successfully. They plan to be successful. They practice and study the coach’s game plan so that they can be ready to audible when necessary. So too for Christians—we can’t just show up for spiritual battle and expect to be successful. We must also practice, and study the game plan laid out in the Bible, and listen to the Holy Spirit as He coaches us. That’s the only way we can successfully handle all that life and even the devil throws at us. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be sharing some hindrances that I see that can derail our practice of prayer. In the meantime, I want to challenge you—as I’ve challenged myself personally—to think on three questions:

  1. Do I really want to pray effectively? 
  2. Am I willing to put in the energy necessary to pray this way?
  3. Am I willing to let the Holy Spirit coach and discipline me in my prayer practice? 

If you can, please join me at Calvary Assembly of God on Sunday as we continue our series called Prayer Plan. 

Year-End Review (2019 edition)

Ten years ago God called me to pastor at Calvary Assembly of God, and we have so thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cedar Springs! One of the really cool things I get to do is teach an amazing group of people every Sunday. Here’s a recap of the series and messages from 2019.

Boldly Praying—As a general rule, God would like us to pray much more boldly than we typically do. Jesus told us that we could pray mountain-moving prayers, but C.S. Lewis rightly observed, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” 

Christ’s Passionate Journey—In action movies, the crucial moment usually is filmed in slow motion. The Gospels do the same as Jesus approaches the Cross. For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. 

We Are: Pentecostal—Pentecost for over 1000 years was a celebration in Jerusalem that brought in Jews from all over the world. But on the Day of Pentecost that came just ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, the meaning of Pentecost was forever changed! 

Is That In The Bible?—Sometimes things that sound “biblical” aren’t actually in the Bible at all, and sometimes they are there but are misquoted. 

Selah—When you see this word in the Bible it can mean either a pause from the noise to reflect on something, a preparation for an exciting accent, or a reflective time of consideration. We are working our way through the Selahs in the Psalms.

Major Lessons From Minor Prophets—The five major prophets consist of 182 chapters, whereas the 12 minor prophets only have 67 chapters. The volume of these prophets writing may be minor, but their content carries major messages of meteoric power!  

Fading Gratitude—Looking back at the history of God’s people in the Bible, there is a distinct up-and-down cycle. I believe their slipping away from God can be directly linked to their forgetfulness. If there is a peril in our forgetfulness, there is also a power in our thankfulness!

The Carols Of Christmas—How many “old familiar carols” have you heard Christmas after Christmas until the words have almost lost their meaning? If we’re not careful, any song repeated too often can lose the richness of its original intent. 

We will be returning to a couple of these series in 2020, and we’ll be launching some brand new ones as well. In either case, if you don’t have a home church in the northern Kent County area, I would love to have you join us! 

Poetry Saturday—Angel Hymn

Glory to You who have shown us the light.
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.
We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, we give thanks to You for Your great glory.
Lord, King, heavenly God, Father, Almighty; Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit.
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, You who take away the sins of the world. —Angel Hymn / Doxology (~300 AD)

Glory to God in the highest
and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
Almighty God and Father,
we worship You, we give You thanks,
we praise You for Your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
You take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
For You alone are the Holy One,
You alone are the Lord,
You alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen. —updated in the Book of Common Prayer (~1975)

Book Reviews From 2019

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