Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘how should I pray’

Prayer is a B_ _ch

BEACH CHAIRSThe strangest thing: no one has ever asked me, “Pastor, could you please teach me how to pray?”  That’s crazy because I’m frequently asked to teach people how to study the Bible, how to share their faith, how to fast, how to prepare a sermon, even how to find their spiritual gifts.  Despite the fact that 95% of church folks confess, “I know my prayer life is not what it should be,” no one has ever asked me to show them how to make it right.

That’s why I think prayer is anti-American.

The same Americans who boldly fight for the right to pray at football games and commencement ceremonies aren’t even up to a minor skirmish when it comes to a quiet conversation with God in private.  And it’s not because most church people are actually lost, or because they don’t love God.  It’s just that prayer seems like a waste of time for many Americans.  It’s a fact: we value our time and we’d rather spend our limited hours doing something– actually doing it ourselves.  Invite us to a Bible Study.  Organize us for a mission trip. Rehearse us for a worship spectacular complete with music and fireworks!  But don’t ask us to just sit down and do nothing. That’s un-American, isn’t it?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about working while it’s still daylight?  Indeed.

It also says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  For all my frantic, over scheduled, hyper-drive fellow saints, I want to offer up a fresh, new paradigm for prayer. For my fellow worshipers in the USA who cannot imagine anything meaningful happening in a prayer closet, except maybe coming out of it, would a new image help?

Devotional prayer is much like a trip to the beach.  You have to take off your shoes and slow down.  You walk more slowly and finally you just stop.  You need to hear the roar of the sea, and fall into the rhythm of the waves.  The noises of people slowly fade into the background as the cry of the gulls begins to do something inside your heart.  The things you do on a beach are not much different from regular life- sitting and lying around, running or throwing a frisbee, walking or standing around in the surf.  The presence of something vast and a purpose that is profound make everything seem different on the seashore.

God moves slowly.  Granted, he was able to release the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt so quickly that there was no time for the bread to rise.  But more commonly, the God of Eternity tends to work in seasons, generations and even centuries.  Not so much in seconds!  No one can outrun God, but when he pauses to talk, you could run past Him! So prayer requires that highly motivated, overcaffeinated people do something almost impossible: slow down and come to a halt.  Be still and listen.  Devote yourself to stillness even if nothing happens for a bit.  In an invisible Kingdom, important things can well be happening when it seems like nothing’s going on.

Most of us are familiar with the episode in 1 Kings 19 in which God speaks in a small, still voice to one very discouraged Elijah.  You may recall that God first sends a mighty wind that blasts the rocks on the mountainside apart.  Then he sends an earthquake that rocks the whole region.  Next he dispatches a raging fire that scorches everything in sight.  Only after all the chaos is finished do Elijah’s ears detect the gentle whisper of Eternity: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  We can read the entire account in less than five minutes.  It probably lasted for hours! The legendary man of God stood there waiting for hours, enduring all manner of terrifying phenomena, before he was finally rewarded with the gentle sigh of a loving Go. Sometimes you can do nothing but wait.

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31.)

Devotional time alone with the Father is not much like 21st Century America, but it is so very much like 1st Century Jesus. In only three or four years, he managed to accomplish everything required of him to redeem the world and launch the Church, and he did it in spite of all the days and nights he spent alone in prayer.  Dare I say because of all the days and nights he spent alone in prayer?

The first step forward into the presence of the Almighty God is counter-intuitive to us in America: stop.  Let your life slow down. Let your heart slow down. Be intentional and find a quiet place: force everything to stop for fifteen minutes even if nothing supernatural happens.  Somewhere in the Kingdom of Light, something supernatural will occur.

Lift up the Cross!





Prayers that Get Results

RESURRECTED JESUS MODERN DISCIPLESIf prayer is really so amazing and so important, the Bible ought to give us some clear guidance on how do it, right? What kinds of prayers is God most likely to favor?  Are there magical words that we should always use?  Is there a particular time of day when traffic is light and God is more likely to hear us?  Why doesn’t God write a blog, “Five Ways to Get All Your Prayers Answered?”  A list would be nice, wouldn’t it?

As you have probably noticed, there aren’t very many “How To” Lists in the Bible. God prefers to use stories and images to convey truth across many different generations.  In fact, when you stop looking for lists and start looking at stories, there’s a lot of guidance regarding effective prayer.  For example:

  1. God favors prayers that align us with him.  In Luke 18:14, two men pray, but the less religious fellow is answered.  He is a tax collector, so convicted of his own sin that he falls on the floor saying over and over again, “Lord, have mercy on me, The Sinner.”  God wants to show mercy to everyone, and he highly esteems humility.
  2. The Lord looks with favor on the prayers of people who are convinced he can do anything.  The message of James 1:6 is that people who call upon God should be absolutely convinced he is capable. You don’t have to wonder how much confidence you place in God’s abilities: just evaluate your own prayer life. If I don’t pray very often, I clearly don’t have much confidence in God’s power: he is just a last resort.
  3. Our heavenly father answers prayers that never give up. Remember the story of the widow in Luke 18: 2 – 8? She seeks justice from a corrupt judge who couldn’t care less, but she finally gets her wish when she goes back again and again.  Christ explains that if persistence can even influence a corrupt and uncaring judge, how much more will it influence a loving heavenly father?  A lot of answers apparently get left on the table by people who walk away too soon.
  4. Prayers that advance God’s purposes always carry more weight.  Whenever Jesus directs us to pray in his name, (John 16:26) that phrase means the same thing to Christ that it denotes in our world today.  When you do something in the name of another person, you are doing it under that person’s authority in order to fulfill that other person’s desires. You are literally taking care of his business the way he would like it done.  When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are confessing our desire to do his work his way, and are asking for his help in fulfilling the desires of His Heart.
  5. God favors prayers offered from a heart of faith. James 5:15 confirms that.  But Hebrews 11:6 makes it clear that New Testament faith is less about optimism and more about being convinced that God rewards those who seek him. God answers our prayers when he is the object of our affections; when the things we request are all incidental to our desire for his presence.

The Bible compares God to a father, not a vending machine.  Vending machines have only one purpose: dispensing things customers want.  Fathers care more about growing their families strong and protecting them; far less about giving kids everything they ask for at Christmas and birthdays.

One of the last prayers Jesus Christ prayed on earth was not answered.  He asked for God to take away the cup of death and spare him the agony of the cross.  Then he added, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours.”  He didn’t escape the cross, but he did get something far better: the will of God and the pleasure of His Father. That’s always best whether it was on my wish list or not. It satisfies.  It transforms.

Next time: what should we think about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  What can we learn?  How should we pray?  That question has come up several times this weekend, so I’ll offer you a scriptural principle that applies here the next time we’re together.

Lift up the Cross!

Misquoting Jesus, Part 2


In the 15th Century, some church leaders objected violently when men like Copernicus suggested that the Earth might actually revolve around the sun.  Certain theologians became indignant.  They cited Psalm 104:5 – “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”  You and I can appreciate God’s assurance that he has tilted the planet at a perfect angle and has located us an ideal spot in the universe for human life. No power on earth can knock us from that ideal position.  That doesn’t mean the planet must remain perfectly still.

When you and I quote the Word of God, light suddenly shines into darkened chambers of the mind.  But when we misquote God, we are confusing at best, and may actually do more harm than good.

We’ve all read Christ’s instructions in texts like John 14:10 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The result is that Evangelical believers often wind down our prayers with benedictions like this: “I ask it in Jesus name.  Amen.”  But let’s be frank: Christ was not literally telling us to invoke his name whenever we pray.  Rather, to do something in someone’s name means that I act in accordance with his purposes and his priorities.  For example, if I sign a document in your name, it means I am acting under your authority. I am representing your interests.

According to the New Testament, it is the work of Christ and his righteousness that wins our prayers an audience in Heaven.  Specifically, it’s about his death on the cross, his resurrection from the grave, his authority in Heaven, and his Spirit in my life.  When I pray under those circumstances and call upon the Father for things that are in line with the principles of Christ, I am praying in the name of Jesus.  Whether or not I literally cite his name at the end is not a factor: I am praying under his authority.  Significantly, when the Apostles asked the Lord to teach them how to pray, he specifically did not direct them to always mention his name at the end.  (See Matthew 6: 5 – 15.)

On one hand, this means that I cannot ask for selfish, materialistic blessings and expect to obligate the All-knowing Almighty just because I referred to his Son at the end of the prayer.  A prayer is a conversation: not an incantation or a magical spell.  And on the other hand, I can boldly go forth and pray in the midst of some secular organization even if they ask me not to use the name of Jesus.  I can pray that the people in the meeting would be able to hear God’s voice and respond to his purposes.  I can pray that the people in the meeting could be drawn away from sin and toward the holiness that our Heavenly Father desires.  I can pray for spiritual revival in the land and a personal awareness in every life of how far we are from God.  And even if I don’t mention Jesus of Nazareth by name, I am still praying in his name.

More in a few days. Lift up the Cross!


Beyond Understanding

 “…And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:19 ESV

I woke up in the desert this week.  Just ten days before, I had been pouring myself out in ministry to pastors and leaders in Africa.  Suddenly the trip was over and I found myself back home, pedaling as fast as I could to catch up with administrative details and finance questions and county regulations.  Without warning,  I began to experience a condition we used to describe in Alabama like this: “I didn’t know if I was going or coming!”  It lasted for days; kind of like walking around in a dust storm.  Nothing was clear. People asked if I was okay.  I smiled but I wasn’t.

This morning, I was desperate to be with God.  I retreated to my prayer place and “shut the door.”  I surrounded myself with the Word of God in various forms and a copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  I pulled up a blanket and wrapped myself in the Word of God.  Within just a few minutes, I could almost feel the heart of God beating close by me.

Oswald Chambers cited Peter’s message from God, “Be ye holy as I your God am holy.”  Chambers writes, “Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted with them.”

Paul admonishes the Ephesians 5, “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

The ways of God are mysterious. Like the wind, he chooses to work without always revealing his comings or his goings.  I told God about my pitiful feelings and he told me about his magnificent plans.  After days of parched, spiritual wilderness, I began to sense the water of life stirring in me again.  The Holy Spirit gently pointed out sins and oversights in my life that were blinding me to the heart of God.  In little more than an hour of time with the Father, I experienced a status change all the way across the gauge from “E” to “F.”  It was hard not to pray.  It was hard to stop and go back to ordinary life.  But I had my marching orders and a full head of steam.  How does God do that?

You can’t describe the love of God.  You can’t even express it very well.  But history and experience show us time and again, you can be changed by it.  If you’re in some kind of funk today, block out some time and sit down with the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.  If you’re desperate, cry out to Him!

And lift up the Cross!


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