Thursday, October 24, 2013

All the Time

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. Psalm 34.1
I have always found the instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5.17, "Pray without ceasing," to be a great challenge. After all, who can pray all the time? I have reconciled myself to this point by advocating a consistent and persistent attitude of prayer. Even if I am not actively focused on praying, I should be in position- emotionally and spiritually, at least- to be praying. I shouldn't need to "prepare my heart for prayer." I should always be prepared to pray. 

That leads me to Psalm 34.1. How can I always be praising God?

  • First of all, my heart should be filled with blessing for God. Do not ever let yourself get in the position of being mad at God or blaming him for evil in your life or the world. God loves you. Bless him.
  • Be careful with your language. Remember that even when you think it doesn't matter, or no one is listening, God can still hear the words that come out of your mouth.
  • Focus your life on positive, beautiful and godly things (Philippians 4.8). It is easier to fill your mouth with praise when you fill your mind with God.
  • Be a positive influence in the lives of others. There are many people who are longing for something good in their lives. You can help someone else experience the love and grace of Christ by blessing God.
Prayer:  Jesus, I love you and honor you. You are great and full of glory. May my life and my attitude and my words all be a blessing to you. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Lord's Prayer VII

Deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Matthew 6.13
Let me offer a few thoughts to focus our prayer time today.
  • Satan is an adversary who wants to disrupt our lives in every way. He is perfectly happy to possess, distract or obstruct believers and their prayers. We must be constantly vigilant against him.
  • It may seem old-fashioned to believe in Satan, but there are too many things in the world that are evil. These events need an explanation and the devil fits the bill. Besides, why would we want to take a chance?
  • Although it seems that Satan rules the world, Jesus teaches us that we can be delivered from his influence. Don't be defeated or discouraged by the evil you encounter. God is the winner!
  • God is in charge of everything. We have a powerful ally in the battle against the world.
  • The Lord is not only the ruler of all with more power than we can imagine, he is filled with glory! How wonderful to know that mediocrity is not the plan for followers of God. We are blessed.
Prayer: Lord God, it is with relief and joy that we are reminded that you are in charge and you are interested in our well-being. Thank you for caring for us. For offering victory over our greatest enemy and blessing us with your presence we thank you.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Lord's Prayer VI

And do not lead us into temptation... Matthew 6.13
The world is quite literally filled with temptation. We are bombarded in advertising, television, movies, music, everywhere. We are tempted to sin in every conceivable way. We are encouraged to indulge our physical, sexual, emotional and relationship desires. Temptations come at us and cause us to not think about consequences. We look at how other people live, at how fun that temptation looks, and it becomes easy to rationalize or justify almost any behavior.

Temptation is inevitable. There can be no question about that. There is no way that normal humans can avoid all temptations. But Jesus, in his prayer does provide some help. Temptations will come, but we must avoid dwelling on them. We must not be 'led into' temptation. Our approach to things that Satan puts before us must be a three step process.
  1. When we are tempted, we must recognize and name the temptation as soon as possible. By identifying the temptation we lessen the significance of its power over us.
  2. After recognizing the temptation, we must take every measure possible to eliminate it and get past it. Temptation would love to come into your brain and rest there for awhile. As soon as you see it, get rid of it.
  3. Pray that you will be given victory over temptation and that it will not return. Never, never, never entertain the temptation, but rebuke it and pray that you can avoid it in the future. 
God has great things in store for you, but they will never come to pass as long as you focus on the temptations in your life.

Remember, being tempted is not a sin. However, when we focus on the temptations in our lives, we open the door to sin.
Prayer: There are many things that want my attention and my love, O God. Help me to discern the things that are from you and are good for me. Give me power and victory over the temptations in my life.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Lord's Prayer V

And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. Matthew 6.12
Humans are notorious for their ability to blame others. Everything is always someone else's fault. We want everything bad that ever happens to us to be the responsibility of anyone other than ourselves. "The devil made me do it." "My parents were divorced." "My co-worker didn't do his job." You probably could add to this list.

But, in his model prayer, Jesus doesn't let us off so easily. He understands that each of us people is capable of sin and very likely to do so.  We should not be pointing the finger at someone else, but owning up to our own culpability in many situations. We need to be forgiven our own sins. 

There are a couple of more things for us to realize, however. First of all, depending on which gospel you are reading and which translation of the Bible you are using, this verse is translated as debts, trespasses and sins. Each of us has to deal with our sins. We might call our sins by other names to try and make ourselves feel better and look better to others. We will convince ourselves that we have made mistakes, gotten off the path or simply need to make a course correction. But its all sin. And we are all guilty (Romans 3.23).

Secondly, our personal forgiveness seems to be tied to our willingness to forgive others. Humans have a tremendous capacity to hold a grudge. Here is a word of advice: Get over it! The only way that you can live a fulfilling, fruitful and peaceful life is to forgive those who have wronged you. 

Forgive, and be forgiven.

Prayer: I am sorry, God, for all the things that I have done that are not pleasing to you. Forgive me. Allow me to know your grace and peace. May I be willing and able to forgive others, according to your word and your love.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lord's Prayer III

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6.10
Here is a pet peeve of mine: When we recite the Lord's Prayer aloud in worship, we create a misconception. We say the prayer like this is two different ideas. We typically get into a rhythm. There is a certain cadence with which we say the prayer. We say:

Your will be done...
On earth as it is in heaven.

Unfortunately, that would lead us to believe that  we should pray for God's will, and that we should pray that earth should be like heaven. Those are both good and noble objectives for prayer, but what Jesus is asking us to do is much more simple- and much more difficult.

It is simple because we are to pray that since God's will is always done in heaven, it should be done on earth as well. This is a perfect corollary to the previous part of the prayer. When God's Kingdom is manifest fully it will be inevitable that his will will be done. 

It is difficult because of the tremendous burden that this puts on us followers of Jesus. We must always be looking for God's will. This means that we should be praying over each decision that we make, even the most simple and mundane. To be a follower of Christ, to pray in the way that he has taught us, means that we pray for God's will in every situation.

What would Jesus do?
Prayer: Jesus, we do not always understand your will, but we long for it. We do not always appreciate your will, but we want it. Help us to know what your desires are for us and give us the courage to live according to your plan. Amen.  

Lord's Prayer IV

Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6.11
In their wilderness journeys the Israelites collected manna each day. They could only collect enough manna for today. They were prohibited from stockpiling it. In fact, if they collected more than they needed for one day, the surplus manna would get rotten and be infested with maggots. Jesus' instruction on prayer recalls that time and that dependence on God.

There are two things that we should especially note here.

1. God will take care of us for today. We are not promised anything more. Each day we are to go to God with our needs. If we take this seriously we need to be in prayer each day. You and I may get frustrated by not knowing God's long-range plan for our lives. We might get discouraged or feel as though we are getting nowhere when we have to ask for help over and over. But remember, he does provide enough. Always. 

2. You and I are required to recognize our dependence on God. The natural state of humanity is to exercise independence and make our own decisions. We want  to be on our own all the time. But here Jesus encourages us to remember that we are children of the Father. Like the children of any parent, we need to always be mindful that we need God for everything. He is not just a source of encouragement and comfort when we are in need. Everything we have, all that we know, comes from him. We need God and his work in our lives and world for everything.

This is not a nice prayer for food. It is not grace before a meal. This is nothing less than a declaration that we make affirming our faith and relationship to God.
Prayer: Lord, be with us today. Don't let us be discouraged about the future. Help us get through this circumstance. Give us an answer for today's problem. Then remind us that we always need you. Help us to depend on you for every part of our lives.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Lord's Prayer II

Your kingdom come. Matthew 6.10

One of the things that we can be sure of in this life is that this is not how God intended for things to be. We live in a sinful, fallen, corrupt world. Satan has caused people (all people) to sin. Our sin, and the sin of all humanity, has caused turmoil, strife, disaster and more all around the world.

Sometimes we can see God at work in our sinful world. There is a new baby, a miraculous healing, a glorious sunset. We hear testimonies of a life turned around, redeemed from addiction, crime and wasteful living. We know that there is more to this life than the unfortunate condition that we find ourselves in. 

God has a kingdom that is not a part of our status quo. His kingdom is one in which he rules and controls everything. And all of that is for the good, the blessing and benefit of his people. That is the kingdom that followers of Christ long for. Our hearts cry out for God to reign in our lives and in our world. We seek the protection that he can offer.
Our prayer needs to be that God's kingdom would be the reality that we live in every day. 

Prayer: Lord, we are unhappy with the way the world is. Fix it, we pray. We ask that your kingdom, your reign and your rule would come into our world today. May our reality be that we are your subjects. Fill us with a longing for your work in us. Amen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

God's Answers

Are you ready for some honesty? Can you handle it if I share with you a real problem that I have? Don't think bad of me, but sometimes I get very frustrated because my prayers seem ineffective. I know that God is out there somewhere, but it seems that he is not listening to me. I am sure that there are times- sometimes it seems like weeks, months or years- when he doesn't answer at all. The Bible teaches me that God is there, that he cares about me, that he listens to my prayers and that he always answers me. But in reality, it doesn't always feel like that.
So, what can I do? How does God speak to me? What can I know for sure about God and his answers to my prayer? I think that there are many ways that God answers us, but his response to our prayers generally fall in only a few categories.
  • Go. There are times when God answers right away. He looks at my life and blesses me. There are times when my desires are consistent with God's will and he gives me an answer to my prayers that is resoundingly affirmative. I can be certain that God is in charge and that he is encouraging me to move forward.
  • Slow. There are other times when I think I know what is best, but it just doesn't work for the Lord. He may support the idea that I am praying for, but the timing is off. Maybe I need to work on my relationship with God, or with others, or even with myself, but his answer to me is “not yet.” This doesn't mean that God is telling me know, or even that he is not answering at all. It means that God is trying to work on patience in my life. There will be an answer, but I have to wait. I can proceed, but I need to be sure that I am operating on God's time.
  • Whoa. Sometimes I get ahead of God. I have a great idea, or at least I think its a great idea, but God is not quite ready for it yet. I need to stop what I am doing, at least for a season. I may get to go again, but not now.
  • No. Brace yourself. This is the answer that we usually don't want to hear. But there are situations in which we need to pay attention to God's denials. But remember this, when he says no, it is always because there is something better that God has in mind for us.
  • I don't know. One point of clarification here: God knows everything. His answer is never “I don't know.” But, often we think the answer is I don't know. Almost always, when we think the answer is I don't know, we can find God speaking one of the other answers to us.

Today, you may be frustrated because you are not hearing from God, or at least you are not hearing what you want from God. Know that he is speaking to you. Remember that there are many answers that he might be giving. As you pray, ask God to help you hear his voice, even if he is saying something you don't want to hear.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Lord's Prayer I

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name. Matthew 6.9 

When we pray, at least as Jesus taught us, we are to begin our prayer with an address and with worship.

Our address is an intimate expression of a relationship. When Jesus taught us to pray to our Father, it wasn't a formal or unfamiliar greeting. The idea of calling God Father was completely foreign to the disciples. God was seen as being far away from humanity. He was not someone that you could know personally. When Jesus suggested that we address God in this way he was offering us the opportunity to have a personal, familial relationship with God. Think of saying 'Our Father' in the same way that you would say "Hi, Dad!"

Perhaps the hardest word in the Lord's Prayer is hallowed. After all, no one uses that word anymore. It has become archaic and subject to misinterpretation and misunderstanding.  Let me offer some suggestions to help with that.

  • Hallowed comes from the same word as Halloween, which is All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saint's Day.
  • Hallow also shares the same root as holy, holiness, whole, wholeness and holistic. Being holy is more than just a spiritual experience for a few Christians. It is the desire of God that all his children be "whole" and "holy."
  • God serves as our example for holiness.

Finally, it is crucial that in our prayers we recognize who God is and offer our praise and worship to him. That is what it means to hallow God's name. I challenge you today to love God and worship him.

Prayer: Lord God, you are great and holy. I offer to you my love and honor. You are great and greatly to be praised. You are high above me and all that I know. I am humbled in your presence. Speak to me, O God, and make me like you, holy and whole. Amen.

Eyes Wide Open

Have you ever tried praying with your eyes open? It can be dangerous. I mean, there are distractions everywhere you look. When I am looking at the world I can get easily sidetracked in my prayers. I notice a person walking outside my window, or a family on a bike ride, or a bird, or the sunlight, or traffic seems a little heavy today, I wonder what's going on uptown. That's where everyone seems to be headed. What am I missing out on? Did I forgot something important at the library? Maybe someone died. I miss my grandma. She was such a great prayer- warrior. Ooops. I'm supposed to be praying.

But there is an upside.
 When I have my eyes open, I can be praying for that family walking. I can be reminded to thank God for the birds, the sunshine and all his blessings to me. I pray for those who I see. You see, if we allow it to happen, watching the world can be a great aid to prayer time. Give it a try. You might like it.

Dear Lord, I don't want to be distracted by the cares of this world, but I want to be sure to  be in tune with your work and your creation. Show me the needs that I can pray for and the things that I can do to bring your kingdom on earth. Amen.