Archive for Prayer

Jun
09

The Serenity Prayer

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Many of you are familiar with the short version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. Recently I became familiar with the complete version, which I have found to be helpful. I hope that it will encourage you as it has me.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

Taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;

Trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to you will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy in the next.

Amen.

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Oct
14

Applying 1 John:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

The first half of the fifth chapter of 1 John summarizes the theological arguments of the book. Here, John explains that genuine faith is composed of three elements: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; love for one’s Christian brothers and sisters; and obedience to God’s commands. If one or two of those elements are missing, one’s faith is incomplete.

The result of genuine faith is “life in the son” (1 John 5:11-12). As children of God we can be confident that we have life in the son (1 John 5:13). The theological argument is complete. Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? How is it applied and fleshed out in everyday life?

John provides three final points of application as he concludes chapter 5. Each corresponds with a key element of faith, the first of which is believing prayer.

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:14-15, NLT).

John’s emphasis in these verses is that those who possess genuine faith can have confidence in approaching God in prayer. Our confidence is not based on our goodness, but on the goodness of God. The temptation we face is to take verses like these and turn them into a formula that guarantees we will get what we want from God. But notice how God’s response is conditioned. We must ask in accordance to his will. If we ask according to his will, he hears us. The word “hear” means that God will listen favorably. If God hears a request that is in accordance to his will, he will grant it.

John R.W. Stott wrote these words about this text: “Prayer is not so much getting God to agree with us as it is subordinating our will to his. It is the process of prayer where we seek God will, embrace it and align ourselves to it.”

Sometimes I hear people say that prayer changes things. I think a better way to think of prayer is that prayer changes the pray-er.

So how does God answer prayer? I’m thankful for Bill Hybels’ answer. According to Hybels, If the request is wrong, God says, “no.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “slow.” If my spiritual condition is wrong, God says, “grow.” But when the request is right, the timing is right, and my spiritual condition is right, God says, “go!” The request is granted.

Tomorrow I’ll take up the second application, loving carefrontation. (That’s not a typo!)

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heart.tree

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken awayg unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NLT)

One cannot help but notice struggle Jesus experienced coming to terms with the cross. Just as the crushing press would be lowered three times on the olives, Jesus prayed three times. His prayer is simple yet sustained, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

The cup Jesus mentions is a reference to his crucifixion. If he drinks the cup he dies. If he does not drink the cup, we die. Can Jesus accept the Father’s will? His will is for the cup to pass. But the Father’s will is for him to drink the cup. I believe that the thing that enabled Jesus to accept the cup and drink it was his trust in the Father. Reason and rationale became secondary to his trust in God. In the words of my friend Tom Clegg, “You do not have a relationship unless your will can be crossed.” Clearly Jesus relationship with the Father is strong and his trust in the Father carries him through, in spite of what he knows.

We can identify with Jesus’ struggle. Adversity strikes and the challenges become difficult, often without notice. God does not ask us to “approve of” those things. But he may require that we accept those things. Our ability to accept adversity and grow through it is directly tied to our level of trust in God. Jesus was able to trust the Father in prayer because trust and prayer had been a habitual part of his entire earthly life. What if Jesus had never breathed a prayer until that dark night in Gethsemene? We cannot develop trust if the only time we pray is on the eve of crisis. Trust is cultivated through the daily disciplines of prayer, study, worship and reflection.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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heart.tree

The warm light and brilliant colors of the Garden of Eden and the Garden of En Gedi give way to the darkness of the third biblical garden in my series, the Garden of Gethsemene. Gethsemene is an important garden because we immediately associate it with agony and suffering. It is not physical bodily suffering. That would come later in the chronology. Nonetheless, the suffering of Gethsemene is emotional, mental, and deeply spiritual.

I think Gethsemene is important because Jesus never appears more real and approachable than he is in that setting. Any doubts of his humanity are quickly erased as we try to understand what he experienced. If nothing else, we can at least appreciate his struggle, for in many ways his struggle is our struggle. The suffering of Gethsemene preceeds the suffering of Golgatha. I think it is, in a sense, the death before the death.

The word Gethsemene means “oil press.” In biblical times, olives were raised for their oil, and wherever you found an olive grove you could be sure to find an olive press nearby. The olives would be harvested and placed in a basket atop a flat surface. Then, a massive stone would be lowered onto the olives crushing them so that their precious oil could be extracted. This process would be repeated three times. The first rendering would produce the best oil. The final press would produce the poorest oil that would be used for fuel for lamps. This is important to our understanding of the text that I’ll get into tomorrow.

In the mean time, I pray that this week would be more than just another week. I pray that during each day of holy week you’ll experience Christ in a new, fresh way.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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Aug
02

You Need an Intercessor:: 4

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One concluding thought for this week’s series of posts. Never forget that Jesus is praying for you. That’s been his task since the ascension following the resurrection. His intercession is the basis for our intercession. Today I leave you with these two verses that remind you of that very important fact:

“For Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, praying for us” (Romans 8:34, NLT).

“Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever t intercede with God on their behalf” (Hebrews 7:25, NLT).

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Aug
01

You Need an Intercessor:: 3

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What should you look for in an intercessor? What characteristics should he or she possess?

1. An intercessor should be someone who loves you.
Your intercessor will love you and desire more for you than is in their power to give. From more than duty or obligation, intercessors will offer prayer as a gift of love.

2. An intercessor should be someone who actually prays.
Pray-ers pray. They “stand in the gap,” building spiritual bridges between where you are and the throne of God. They are not counselors, advisors, guides, encouragers, or mentors. They are certainly not gossips! They are people who pray.

3. An intercessor will pray for spiritual needs in addition to the physical needs.
I love the writings of the Apostle Paul. I must confess that I’m always a bit ashamed when I read the prayers he offered on behalf of his readers. Paul’s readership faced horrible life circumstances, and I’m sure those concerns were top of mind to him. But the prayers that have been recorded and preserved for 2,000 years are the ones that address spiritual needs. Intercessors are sympathetic to the tangible battles in the valley. But they see the physical struggles from a spiritual dimension, and that will be the thing that gives shape and focus to their prayers.

There are probably other things you will want to consider as you seek an intercessor. But these three things will easily help you identify the person that will sit on the the hill top high above your valley.

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Jul
31

You Need an Intercessor:: 2

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While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle. After the victory, the LORD instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-nissi (which means “the LORD is my banner”). (Exodus 17:8-15, NLT)

How will an intercessor benefit your life?

1. When you are facing battles in life, an intercessor will remind you that God is in control.
As Moses sat on top of the hill, he held the staff of God in his hands. That staff was a symbol of God’s presence and intervention. Even though Joshua and the army had fight the battle in the valley, they could glance up and see that God was present and in control. An intercessor will remind you that no matter what you face, God is on his throne.

2. An intercessor will remind you that God is aware. He is not an absentee landlord. Moses not only held the staff of God, he was positioned on the hill top, giving him a clear vantage point to observe all of the battle. My brother in law is a defensive coordinator at a small university in the south. During the game, he prefers the box to the sideline because sitting in the box allows him to see the entire field of play. God sees your entire life and is fully aware of what you are facing.

3. An intercessor will inspire you to press on in faith. Moses hands grew weak during the battle. So Aaron and Hur stood beside him and steadied his hands and kept them lifted. They refused to let Moses quit, which in turn encouraged the warriors to press on and not give up. Good intercessors know that battles are seldom won with one blow. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and energy to work through whatever it is we are facing the valley. Intercessors encourage us to never give up and to never quit.

4. An intercessor will remind you that the battle belongs to the Lord. At the conclusion of the battle, God got the credit for the victory. And he still gets the credit for the victories we experience today.

Having an intercessor is an important relationship to have in life. They provide these four benefits, and more! Tomorrow I’ll post three characteristics of an intercessor that will help you identify one if you don’t have one.

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Jul
30

You Need an Intercessor

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Who prays for you? Let me rephrase the question. Who do you have in your life that specifically and intentionally makes it their business to pray for you? Do you have a person like that in your life? The church word for such a person is intercessor. An intercessor is one who pleads your case to another. In the spiritual realm, an intercessor is the person who goes to God in prayer on your behalf, building spiritual bridges between your life and the throne of God.

This week’s lesson comes from the Old Testament book of Exodus. The back ground of the story is an epic battle between the transient Israelites and the army of Amalek. Israel was minding their own business en route to the land of promise following their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Amalek saw this unarmed band of Hebrews and determined to pick a fight. What follows in the story is a point of interest. Moses sent Joshua and the army into the valley for battle and then positioned himself on the hilltop to pray. The story links the two activities in such a way that the reader understands that the battle in the valley and the prayer on the hilltop are inseparable actions.

When facing epic battles in the valleys of life you need someone up on the hilltop, so to speak, talking to God on your behalf. I’ve been blessed throughout my life to have had some wonderful people who have been dedicated to praying for me. There are family, friends, and church members in almost every church I’ve served who have devoted themselves to praying for me. Who is taking a seat on top of the hill while you face the battles below? That’s what I want to post about this week. Check back in tomorrow and I’ll dive into the text of Exodus 17:8-16, and share some ways that intercessors can be beneficial.

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Feb
08

Why Discernment is Important:: 3

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This week I’ve been sharing about the importance of corporate prayer in congregational life. Yesterday I made two observations, first, that prayer unifies the church with God’s purposes, and second, that prayer enables congregations to discover God’s direction for their particular church.

Today I offer a third and final observation, that being that corporate prayer energizes the church to accomplish more than it could ever imagine. Adoniram Judson is regarded as one of the founder’s of American foreign missions. Judson grew up as an ambitious young man with aspirations for wealth and success. As a young man, however, he was converted to Christ, a commitment that profoundly changed his life. Rather than seek fame and fortune, Judson’s new mantra became that of pleasing the Lord. In 1809, Judson joined a congregational church and became burdened to become a missionary. He found some friends with a similar sense of calling and frequently met with them for prayer on behalf of the salvation of “the heathen.” In addition to praying for the souls of those who lived on distant shores, the group also requested that God open doors of ministry as missionaries. That spot has been marked as the birthplace of missions in America.

On February 19, 1812, Judson sailed for Burma. When Judson left for Burma his set two simple goals. First, he wanted to provide the people with a translation of the Bible. In addition, he hoped to found a church that would grow to 100 members. Forty years later at the time of his death, Judson not only left the scripture translation; he left 100 congregations that served some 8,000 converts to Christ.

As I previously mentioned, no great movement of God occurs without prayer. We can do more than pray after we’ve prayed, but we can do no more than pray until we have prayed. My prayer for you today is that God will use you as a catalyst in your church to call people to pray for the next great movement of God.

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Feb
07

Why Discernment is Important:: 2

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No great movement of God has ever been undertaken without prayer. Think about the early church. There, the disciples watched as Jesus ascended up into the heavens. As they stared into the sky with their mouths hanging open, an angel appeared and admonished them to remember that Jesus would one day return in like fashion.

What did the disciples do next? They returned to the upper room where they had shared the last supper and began to pray. It’s important that we notice they did not plan nor did they preach. They did not strategize or brainstorm. They didn’t conduct listening sessions or seek feedback using survey monkey. They simply began to pray. (cf. Acts 1:12-14)

What happens when God’s people pray together about the direction of the church?

First, the hearts in the church and heart of the church is unified with the purposes of God. Corporate prayer brings the church into alignment with heart of God. It is in prayer that we are reminded of who God is and what God is really about. When we pray we connect with God and receive access to all of his resources. Years ago I heard a man speak on the subject of prayer. In his sermon he referenced Luke 19:46, where Jesus rebuked the money changers in the Temple by saying, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” He then went on to say, “If the house of God is not a house of prayer, then its somebody else’s house.”

Second, the church discovers God’s direction through prayer. Sometimes we are guilty of planning and strategizing and at the conclusion of all of our preparations we tack a prayer on the end of them, asking God to bless the plans we have already made. Unfortunately, we often treat church with such routine that we don’t even consider our need for God’s divine guidance. Year after year we run the same ministry plays, receiving the same ministry results, all the while wondering why our churches are not thriving. Prayer opens our minds to the possibilities of things God wants to see happen in our communities. But we’ll never be awakened to the new thing God wants to do if we do not pray.

Tomorrow I’ll post the final thought on the importance of discerning God’s plan for the church. In the meantime, let me encourage you to wrestle a bit with Don Miller’s quote above. Is your church God’s house? Or does it belong to someone else?

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