Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about

Camp Bellevue worker in Ecuador praying as the day starts.

Camp Bellevue (Tabacundo, Ecuador) worker prays as the day starts.

these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.

– Scott

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“The Lord’s Prayer”

Prayer.  People still ask for prayer.  Even people with no identified faith ask for “positive thoughts” – I think they mean prayer.

Prayer. “Say a little prayer for me, will you?” He asked.  I am sorry, but I cannot do that.  There is no such thing as “a little prayer.”  Prayer is not a miracle. Prayer is not mystical. Prayer is not a shaman’s tool.  Prayer is not superstition.  Prayer calls upon the Creator of the universe, the Judge of mankind, God to act.

The disciples witnessed John the Baptist praying and teaching his followers to pray.  The disciples saw Jesus, their Master and Rabbi, in prayer often. They knew the importance of prayer in the coming Kingdom. They asked, “Lord, Teach us to pray . . .” (Luke 11:1).

Jesus gives them a prayer model. What Christendom calls The Lord’s Prayer. (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:9-13). Take a moment to enjoy the voice of Marvin Gaye as he sings The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father Who Art in Heaven. God is your Father when you are His child (Galatians 3:26-27). The story of the prodigal demonstrates God as a father who longs to forgive and to have a loving relationship. He longs for us to want a relationship with Him so He can bless us.

The Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done. The Kingdom Jesus teaches the disciples to pray for is the kingdom Jesus established on earth.  The kingdom that He rules today – His church. There is a sense in which the Kingdom is already here, but as long as there are souls not doing God’s will there is room for the Kingdom to grow and to come to the lives of those lost individuals.

Give us this Day Our Daily Bread.  God displays concern for our concerns.  There is nothing in our life too trivial or common that we should not mention to God.  We are to pray for our necessities (bread not stake) each day.

Forgive us our Debts as We Forgive our Debtors. Just as we need daily food, we need daily forgiveness.  God longs to forgive.  He gave His son for the forgiveness of our sin. But notice that our forgiveness from God depends upon our willingness to forgive those who commit offenses against us. How can we demand God forgive our great debt against Him when we hold grudges over trivial things of this life (Matthew 18:21-35)?

One more thought from the model prayer.  Jesus focuses on three areas of need.  These are needs important enough to talk with our Creator about:

  1. Physical Needs
  2. Relationship Needs
  3. Spiritual Needs

Take time to  – no!  MAKE time to pray.

– Scott

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Making a Habit of Worship

Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when the said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”

image via backgrounds.crossmap.com

image via backgrounds.crossmap.com

Worship.  Jesus said, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24). I am not sure that we can emphasize worship too much.  We owe God something that can only worship can begin to repay. (You might ask the students to explain why we owe God.) Worship is more than the right time. Worship is more that the right place. Worship is more than the right form. Worship is more that the right acts. All of these are important and we need to know how God wants us to worship Him, but that is not all there is to worship. If we are not careful we can be in attendance (come to church) and never worship!

Read Romans 12:1 in the KJV, NKJV, and ESV. Now read how the New Living Translation phrases that verse, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice-the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” The translators’ understanding causes me to pause and reflect. By the way they phrased that verse they are suggesting that if my daily life is not pleasing to God, then my worship will not be either. Consider what God told His people through the prophet, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:6-8).  What is interesting about this passage is that under the Law of Moses, God prescribed worship to include animal sacrifices, pouring of oil, and the tribe of Levi was God’s substitute for the firstborn from every tribe and family. It is what God commanded, but God wanted more than following the specifics of worship. He wanted them to live right, to treat others right, and to walk with Him.  He wanted them to live sacrificially for Him, since He had graciously chosen them as His people. We cannot substitute one to four hours a week for daily righteous living. 

Worship Audience? Worship is not a spectator sport. The only member of the audience is God, He is the only spectator. Worship assemblies are not valuable based on the performance of others – prayer leaders, song leaders, preacher, etc. Worship is an activity for ALL those who assemble in the name of Christ. I do not wait for worship to provide a moving experience for me. My physical, emotional, and spiritual participation moves me. In Amos 5:12-15, 21-23, we see again that God speaks His displeasure at their attempts to worship Him, even according to the feasts He established. His displeasure was that they were focusing on the “motions” or acts of worship and not on the One worthy of honor. When we treat worship as if we are spectators, we are like God’s people in Amos’ day and are simply going through the motions without the heart of worship. Remember, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” (Psalm 22:22).  Remember, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”(Hebrews 13:15).  Remember God is the focus of our worship.

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Making a Habit of Purity

photoGalatians 5:19-26

Often when we talk about purity we are talking discussing sexuality. Being pure with your sexuality is important, but it is not the only aspect of purity.  Purity, in the eyes of God, is to not allow the stain of any sin be in your life. (cf. James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled is this: . . . to keep oneself unstained from the world.”) How can we become pure?  How can we remove the stains of sin? How can we remain pure?  These are some of the questions we will try to answer in this lesson.

Read what Paul tells his readers in Galatians 5:19-26. Did you notice the following: A) Those that practice the works or the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God. B) There are no laws against the Fruit of the Spirit. And C) Those who belong to Christ are to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. Paul is telling us how to develop a habit of purity – we crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.

We must put the desires (lusts) that lead to the works of the flesh. This begins when we obey the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 teaches that the Gospel Paul taught the Corinthians, the Gospel that saved them, is the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Christ.  Read Romans 6:1-12 and see how the Roman Christians crucified (put to death) their sinful past. A) They DIED to sin and self. B) They were BURIED with Christ in baptism. And C) They ROSE from that grave a new creation. When we obey the Gospel we are demonstrating that we are no longer going to walk according to our fleshly desires, but as we put those to death, we are starting fresh. We are walking according to the Spirit. We are walking with God and Christ. We are walking in the light (cf. 1 John 1:7-9).

As a child of God, you are no longer slaves of sin, but bond servants (slaves) of righteousness – that is servants of God (cf. Romans 6:17-18).  Take time to consider the words of Paul in these passages: “and you are Christ’s . . .” (1 Corinthians 3:23), “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Reflecting on these passages helps one remember that his life on earth is not about himself.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:26). The implication is that we must daily deny ourselves and daily take up our cross. Taking up a cross is not simply bearing a burden of having a mean older sibling. Bearing our cross is executing (crucifying) ourselves, our desires and passions, every day. Paul tells the Colossian Christians to, “Put to death  . . . what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:6). Our life as God’s children is about doing His will.

Years ago I heard a preacher tell this story:

“When I was young, I thought the Bible was a list of all the things you are not supposed to do. Christians don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they do not use marijuana, and they don’t dance. Don’t . . .  don’t . . . don’t . . .  don’t . . . DON’T! Then I began reading the Bible myself and learned there are a bunch of things that God wants us to do.  It was then I realized, if I do the do’s I don’t have time to do the don’ts!”

How? How do we do all this? Look at Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” To remain pure, we crucify the flesh, we consider ourselves dead to the world and the world dead to us and we pursue the things of God.

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Making a Habit of Prayer

100_1488Read: Luke 11:1-4

In Luke’s account of “The Lord’s Prayer,” he relates a time when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. The disciples knew about prayer. Prayer was a part of the culture of Judaism. They knew about prayer because the disciples of John the Baptist prayed. They also knew John had the reputation of being a prophet of God and was a man of prayer. They saw Jesus as a person close to God and thought that Jesus’ regular habit of prayer must be a key to His relationship with God.  They wanted a closer relationship with God and the blessings of that relationship, so they wanted to learn how to pray. Prayer is the fundamental way man relates to (communicates with) God.

Prayer, is a major part of our relationship with God. When we fail to pray, we leave ourselves open to failure in our walk with God. When we fail to pray we do harm to our Christian lives. Failing to pray results from weak faith. Praying demonstrates that I am relying on God to help me through my day. Praying indicates that I believe God cares about me and is active in the world today. Not praying shows a lack of faith and trust in God. No wonder Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. He gave them a prayer to put into practice – a model prayer. We can learn to pray by practicing prayer.

Jesus’ model prayer has some basic elements that we need to identify: A) Praise for God; B) Prayer for the Kingdom; C) Prayer for our daily physical needs; and D) Prayer for spiritual strength and forgiveness. Take a moment to look at these basic elements.

Praise for God. “Father, hallowed be your name.” At the time Jesus taught this prayer, the idea of gods, or God for that matter, as a father-figure was not common. The predominate gods of the Roman culture at that time were those of Roman Mythology.  They did not imagine these gods as benevolent and loving fathers, but more like spoiled children who treated humanity like toys. Even the Jews of Jesus’ day would likely see God only as a national Father and not as a personal Father. Compare Luke 11:11-13 to Matthew 7:10-11 and you will see Jesus teaching that God is a personal Father. Prayer realizes that God is not an impersonal deity but He is the Loving Father to His children. When we have a father-child relationship with God our prayers are a natural part of that relationship and our requests for blessing come from understanding the love that such a relationship fosters.

Pray for the Kingdom. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He was also teaching about the coming Kingdom. They were to pray that the Kingdom would come. We learn from the apostle Paul that through Christ God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14). We need to know that the Kingdom of God exists in the present as Christ’s Church. How then do we pray for the Kingdom today? First, we can pray that others enter the Kingdom. Second, we can pray that the Kingdom (church) stays pure. We can also pray that we live as children of the King in our daily lives as we pray for our daily needs.

Pray for your daily needs. “Give us each day our daily bread.” We rely on God for our physical blessings. Yes, we bake bread or buy bread in the store, but ultimately our daily bread comes from God.  God blesses us with the talents we have that provide the bread. God blesses us by the continuation of seed and harvest so that we have grain, vegetables, as well as meat from the animals that also feed on grain. Notice that Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray for daily bread and not daily steak. Praying for our daily needs not only reminds us of our dependency upon God, but also teaches us that nothing is so common or simple that it is beneath God’s concern. When God demonstrates concern over something as simple as our daily bread, why would I think He does not care about more major areas of my life?

Pray for spiritual strength and forgiveness. The Facebook poster said, “Lead me not into temptation, I can find the way all by myself.”  That is not what Jesus meant.  Jesus is teaching us to pray for strength to face the temptations that come our way daily.  Both our daily bread and our daily temptations are both concerns for our heavenly Father. God wants to help us live for Him.  Paul tells the Corinthians,

“No temptation is has overtaken you that is not common to man. ‘God is faithful, and he will not allow you to be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

God will work with us for our success, but only if we ask.  Prayer taps into God’s power to help us live life consistent with what He knows is best for us here and best to prepare us for eternity.

Pray for Forgiveness. Jesus makes it simple. We forgive because we need forgiveness.  I need forgiveness from the people around me when I injure them. I need forgiveness from God for the times I neglect to follow His will. I need to learn the Grace that God offers me and in turn be gracious enough to those around me that I too am forgiving.

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Intercessory Prayer a.k.a Praying for One Another

ponderingThe thrill and privilege of prayer is not always getting precisely what you want, but seeing God active in your world. I never cease to be humbled when God works in my life through answered prayer (even when He says, “no” or “not yet”). Maybe the greatest thrill is seeing God work in the lives of others.

Scripture teaches that as Christians we have only one Mediator – Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), but we have more who can and do intercede for us at the throne of God. Paul says the Spirit intercedes (Romans 8:26) and the Hebrew writer speaks of Christ interceding (Hebrews 7:25).  These intercessions are special and powerful, but there are others.  There is more.  We can intercede for each other.  Consider the following verses:

  • And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” (Acts 8:24)
  • So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (Acts 12:5)
  • Brothers, pray for us. (1 Thessalonians 5:25)
  • First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

What a privilege to speak to God on the behalf of others! What an honor to have others praying for me!

When I pray an intercessory prayer for others, I am admitting their needs, my weakness, and God’s power. When I pray for you, I am asking God to partner with you in your life or specific situation.

May I ask you to pray for me? Pray for me as a minister, writer, and servant of God.  Pray my words reach the hearts of people. Pray for me as a husband and father.  Pray for me as God’s child.

Let me pray for you.

– Scott

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For the Graduates

High School Graduation season is here. Some have already walked across the stage and received their High School Diploma.

Tonight our son, Andrew, will take that walk – one I took on a different stage 30 years ago. He has plans laid out for college and graduate school,  but tonight he takes a big step along with thousands of others 17-19 year olds across the United States.

As he and others enter the post-high school phase of life, I offer advice that has stood the test of time.

  • To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. Proverbs 1:2-10
  • The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13.

I want to give all of the graduates a blessing. A blessing to take with them wherever they go and however far life takes them. You can pass this along to the graduates you know:

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you;

the Lord lift up His countenance toward you and give you peace.

(Numbers 6:24-26)

– Scott

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