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.  

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. 

How Will You Respond To Jesus?

Although most nativity scenes show the wise men visiting Jesus alongside the shepherds the night He was born, in reality the Magi showed up much later. 

They came first to Israel’s capital city—Jerusalem—and went to the man who currently bore the title King of the Jews—Herod—with an odd question, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? We’ve come to worship Him.”

The call to come to worship the Christ has always stirred different responses in people’s hearts. But I have noticed that the responses today aren’t any different than they were over 2000 years ago at Christ’s first Advent. 

Notice these four responses in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. King Herodwhen King Herod heard this he was disturbed.

The word disturbed means an inward commotion, someone robbed of any calmness; someone who has become restless and agitated. 

King Herod wasn’t all that different from a lot of people today who have their personal lives organized according to their own plans. They have everything figured out. They are masters of their own fate. They know how everything is supposed to work. They are god of their own world. 

But inside it’s a different story. They may not acknowledge it to anyone else, but they are uneasy. King Herod was political, not religious. He knew how to play the games with the right Jewish leaders and Roman politicians to get and keep his throne. So when he hears, “Where is He who is born KING OF THE JEWS?” you can understand why he instantly becomes so agitated! He feels like his well-ordered world and best-laid plans are about to crash in on him! 

  1. All JerusalemKing Herod…was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 

The people of Jerusalem had a love-hate relationship with King Herod. If you were on his side, he could be quite generous with his gifts and favorable with his influence. But if you were against him, he could be incredibly cruel (just take a look at verse 16!). 

So when Herod got upset, you can imagine why the citizens of Jerusalem were as well. They all longed for the Messiah—the Christ—to come and set them free, but in the meantime they were trying to keep their options open. They wanted the Messiah, if they could have Him, but they didn’t want to abandon Herod yet, just in case the Messiah couldn’t follow through.  

  1. Religious leadersHerod…called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law. 

Of all the people looking for the Christ, you would think the chief priests and teachers of the law would be the most excited! When Herod asked them for the birthplace of the Messiah, they immediately knew the answer, but after they delivered this information to King Herod they aren’t mentioned again in this narrative. Bethlehem was only 6 miles away, but they didn’t do a single thing! The Messiah being born in such a lowly manner didn’t fit the image they had concocted in their minds. Later on, Jesus would challenge them on this (see John 5:38-40). 

  1. MagiMagi from the east came to Jerusalem. 

Whereas the Jewish religious leaders were only 6 miles away, the Magi that came from the east might have been anywhere from 400-800 miles away. They left the comforts of their home to travel perhaps as long as 4 months. But, Oh! the journey was so worth the effort! They got to see the Christ with their very own eyes! We read that they were overjoyed, and that they bowed down and worshiped Him and opened their treasures. 

What’s your idea about Jesus? 

  • King Herod wanted a Savior that would enable him to continue to run his own life, but he didn’t want a King that would call the shots. 
  • The people of Jerusalem wanted access to God’s power, but they didn’t want to give their full allegiance to Jesus. 
  • The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit their mold, but they didn’t want to have to change anything about their own lives. 
  • Only the Magi accepted Jesus as both Savior and King, willingly laying everything at His feet. 

What about you? What’s your idea about Jesus? He isn’t just a Baby in a manger; He’s also King and Judge and Ruler and Lord. When you hear the call to come worship Him, what will your response be? 

What Does “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” Mean Today?

A “mondegreen” is a misunderstood word or phrase usually because it’s in a song lyric that is misunderstood. In Christmas carols, many mondegreens come from the fact that the Old English lyrics are sometimes up to 200 years old and simply aren’t the way Americans talk today. One of my favorite mondegreens comes from I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day where people say “the bell freeze up all Christians dumb” instead of “the belfries of all Christendom”! 

If this happens to 200-year-old songs written in English, can you imagine what happens to a song that is 1700 years old and was originally written in Latin?! I’m talking about the chorus from Angels We Have Heard On High which simply says, “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” 

That Latin phrase means Glory to God in the highest! The idea is that our praise of God is both excellent and increasing in its level of adoration. The Latin phrase is shorthand for a doxology that is traced back to 300 AD.

The angels aren’t the subject of this carol, but the focal point is to Whom their song is being raised—“Come to Bethlehem and see Him Whose birth the angels sing; come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

The idea of gloria in excelsis is to keep making our praise bigger and more magnificent. We are to MAGNIFY what God has done for us through the advent of Jesus.  

In Hebrew, the word gadal is usually translated as “magnify” or “glorify” in English, and it means something that is growing and becoming more powerful. David uses gadal as he not only praises God from deep within his soul but encourages others to join in his song (Psalm 34:1-3). 

In Greek, the word megalynō is also translated “magnify,” and means to make something great, make it obvious, declare it to be great, celebrate it. Mary’s song called The Magnificat begins with this word (Luke 1:46).

I cannot make God great because He is already THE GREATEST! 
I cannot make God powerful because He is already OMNIPOTENT!
But I can make His greatness and His power more obvious by celebrating Him!

 

Just like a magnifying glass doesn’t make an object bigger, it just helps us see it better. So, too, our praise and adoration don’t make God bigger, it just helps others see Him better.  

So I have a question to ask you—which I’ve already been asking myself—

How will you give gloria in excelsis Deo this Christmas season and beyond?

Is There Room In Your Heart For Jesus?

I think all of you can finish this poem: ’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. 

Haddon Sunbldblom’s painting for Coca-Cola

This poem was written in 1837 by Clement Moore. Most people assume the title of the poem is the first line of the poem, but Moore’s original title is actually “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” And we all know what St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) looks like, right? Actually, this well-known painting of Santa Claus is the creation of Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1930, but it’s not too far off from the original St. Nicholas. 

Nicholas of Myra

Nicholas of Myra was a Christian bishop who lived in the 3rd century AD. It was discovered by some of his peers that he would anonymously throw bags of money through the open windows of the poor people in his town. Some of the coins landed in these poor families’ shoes and socks as they were drying by the fireplace. The myth grew that without your stockings hung by the fireplace you wouldn’t receive any gifts. After Nicholas died in 342 AD he was declared a saint, so his popular practice of blessing the poor spread and took on a life of its own. 

I’m struck by a contrast from the line in Moore’s poem that “the stockings were all hung by the chimney with care.” This tells us how well people prepare for the “arrival” of St. Nicholas each Christmas, but let’s contrast that with how ill-prepared—if they even know they need to prepare!—people are for the absolutely certain fact of the arrival of King Jesus! 

Just as the vast majority of Israelites weren’t prepared for the Messiah’s first Advent in Bethlehem in the 1st century, how many people are still unprepared for His second Advent which could occur at any moment? 

Think about the contrasts between the legend of St. Nicholas (i.e. Santa Claus) and the certainty of Jesus Christ:

  1. St. Nicholas was a poor monk who has now become richer than imaginable. Jesus is the King of kings who left all His riches and kingly rights to become poor. 
  2. St. Nicholas was a servant who has now been elevated to royalty status. Jesus is Absolute Royalty who became a servant. 
  3. St. Nicholas lives in a castle at the North Pole; there wasn’t even a room for Jesus at His birth, or even later in His adult life. 
  4. St. Nicholas is a fable that people venerate; Jesus is the Truth that people mock. 
  5. St. Nicholas left a legend with nothing of lasting value; Jesus is Absolute Reality and He is coming again (see Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 2:7; Matthew 8:20; Acts 2:22-23).

There was no room in any inn, although Joseph knocked and knocked. Jesus is still knocking today, except today it’s on the door of your heart (Revelation 3:20). Will you let Him in? Or will you continue to allow your heart and mind to be dominated by myths and legends? 

Advent is a time for reflection. I don’t think we could ask a more heart-searching question than this—

Am I more prepared for St. Nicholas than I am for King Jesus?

Why Should Christians Sing?

Some things are fascinating by what isn’t said. For instance, in the Christmas carol It Came Upon A Midnight Clear there is something conspicuously missing. 

One thing that isn’t missing is singing. Every one of the stanzas ends with a phrase about the angels singing. But can you spot what IS missing? I didn’t see it at first until I read this quote from respected music professor Dr. C. Michael Hawn: “This may be the only commonly sung Christmas carol in our hymnals that does not mention the birth of Christ! 

This carol just sort of assumes that we know why the angels are singing. But do we know? 

The Bible tells us that the angels were singing at Creation and that they are still singing in Heaven for all of eternity (Job 38:4-7; Revelation 5:9-13; 7:9-12; 15:2-4). Then we have this glimpse of the angels singing when Jesus was incarnated as a human baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). Where did they get their song and their inspiration to sing it?

Their song comes from the Choir Leader who is the King of kings. Jesus is singing in Heaven, before the throne of His Father, about the salvation that He brought to mankind through His incarnation, sinless life, death on Calvary, and resurrection from the grave (see Hebrews 2:9-12). 

The song that Jesus sings tells the story of how He came to earth just like us—made a little lower than the angels—so that He might taste sin and death and conquer them for us. Now as our victorious Savior, He is not ashamed to call those who put their faith in Him His brothers and sisters.

Now perhaps you see why angels are also singing all the time! 

Even today there is a lot of singing around the Christmas season, but there is something missing in most of the songs: a focus on what Christmas really means. The world’s songs are about trees, and gifts, and Santa, and falling in love, but it’s a song that is out of tune with the angelic song. 

As Christians, we have a choice we can look around at this out-of-tune singing and lament what’s happening in our world, we can join in these meaningless songs, or we can look up at our Savior and sing the song He is singing. 

Christian, will you join with the angelic choir to let the world hear the unmistakable love song that Jesus is still singing today? 

Join me on Sunday as we continue our look at the fascinating messages in the old familiar Christmas carols. 

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