Archives For Prayer

We want God to do the spectacular through us and around us. Of course we do. I can remember times when I’ve read Acts and then prayed that God would shake our little prayer meeting room, just as he shook the room the disciples were praying in.

We read about the miraculous things that God is capable of, that he’s unleashed on the world before: fire from heaven, healing, literal resurrection, stopping the sun, parting the seas, etc. etc. etc. God has done such amazing things! It’s natural to read about these things and then long for God to do these same things in our lives today.

God is still capable of these things. Why not now? Why not in our lives?

Charlton Heston Parting the Seas

It’s not wrong for us to long for God to do the miraculous. But we do miss something important when we expect God to work in spectacular ways. Here’s why.

Everything God does is miraculous. Everything he does is filled with love, is saturated in power, runs counter to our natural way of thinking, undermines the evil that stains this world, brings life out of death, shapes us in ways we could never expect or even hope for. This is as true of the fire he sent from heaven to ignite Elijah’s altar as it is of the wife who somehow finds the strength to respond patiently to a difficult husband. It’s all miraculous. It’s all grace.

Missiologist Paul Pierson says it well:

“If we constantly want God to do something spectacular, we have to ask why. While we remain open to the spectacular and the extraordinary work of God, we must not forget that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc. We are called to embody those in our lives and in the life of the Church. In these days, love, joy, and peace may be the greatest miracles of all!” (The Dynamics of Christian Mission, 235).

When we are expecting the spectacular, we are setting the terms in our interaction with God. “God, I want you to act, and I want you to act like this…”

I do think it’s amazing that God once parted the sea for Moses. But that wasn’t common, even in Bible times. And when we consider that the biblical storyline covers thousands of years, the huge miraculous events recorded in the Bible are not as “common” as we might assume as we read it.

Again, this is not to say that God doesn’t act miraculously now. It’s simply a corrective to our assumptions, our expectations. We ought to be crying out to God when we’re in need. But we also ought to allow God to respond as he chooses.

Your situation may seem huge and impossible, and you may be inclined to believe that the only way God could solve your problem is by doing something spectacular and showy. But perhaps God has a better way. What if God answered your prayer by “subtly” changing your heart, rather than “spectacularly” changing your circumstances? Both are equally miraculous—surely it takes as much divine power to change a human heart as to calm a raging sea.

A couple of days ago I wrote about God’s presence—all around us at every moment, but somehow eluding our attention. Yesterday I had a discussion with one of my students about the things we do in “secret” that we would never do if we were cognizant of God’s presence in that moment, and I feel compelled to add on to my previous post.

Theologically, we know we’re never actually alone. As David asks God rhetorically in Psalm 139: “Where can I flee from your presence?” We know this, but we don’t believe it. Or we struggle to hold it in mind at every moment. So my student and I discussed the things Christians would never do if they could only remember God’s inescapable presence in moments of temptation.

PrayerThe problem, however, is that we fail to take God’s presence seriously in such moments. You wouldn’t do it if another human being were standing there. You certainly wouldn’t do it if God incarnate were standing there. But God is there. So why are you doing it?

The problem of not being aware of God’s presence in such moments is actually much bigger than that. We have trouble caring about God’s presence in moments of temptation because we have trouble caring about God’s presence in general. You’re not going to turn on the switch of “Oh wait, be careful what you do because God is here” in your battle with temptation. That switch will stay off as long as your master switch of “Everything I’m doing right now is done in the active presence of God” is off. And for most of us, it’s just off all the time, unless we apathetically turn it back on during a church service or prayer time. But we’re always diligent about turning the switch off again when those times are over, if not before.

What we desperately need to cultivate for many reasons is a constant awareness of the presence of God. This is not a theological study, it’s a matter of getting a biblical truth to sink down into our bones and permeate the furthest recesses of our minds. This requires training, and in this regard, I think we can find some help from Brother Lawrence’s spiritual classic, Practicing the Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was a French monk who lived in the seventeenth century. As he would do his daily, monotonous activities, such as washing dishes, he would simply train himself to be aware of God’s presence. He describes the result of these years of training like this: “I am come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to it.” This statement reveals that continued awareness of God’s presence is hard won, but it also holds out hope that this could one day become natural for us.

Kitchen SinkBrother Lawrence said, “Our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.” In other words, awareness of God’s presence is not the result of doing only “spiritual activities;” it’s about doing the things we do already, but doing them with God by our side.

It was said of Brother Lawrence that “he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion and retirement.” Leaving his daily business to go spend devotional time with God amounted to being with God in abstraction rather than being with God in the tangible stuff of daily life. If you don’t see God in another human being, you’ll have trouble seeing God in a formalized prayer. If you don’t see God in the stunning beauty and intricacy of his creation, you’ll have trouble seeing him in your devotional routine.

Brother Lawrence’s prescription is this: “Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who came to visit you; why, then, must God be neglected?” This is where theology meets reality, where knowledge becomes embedded in practice. God is all around us, we must learn to see him. He is not hiding; the problem is our blindness.

Perhaps our goal should be arriving at this reality: “Sufferings will be sweet and pleasant to us while we are with Him; and the greatest pleasures will be without Him, a cruel punishment to us.” It doesn’t matter what God calls us to: in his presence there is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). And it doesn’t matter how strong the pull of sin, any activity that cannot be done by God’s side is inherently repellent.

May we practice God’s presence in every moment, including those that would seek to pull us away from him.

Your pastor prays for you. His God-given duty, after all, is to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb. 13:17). But unless you’re a rare individual, you don’t pray for your pastor as much as you should. I want to convince you that your pastor desperately needs you to pray for him consistently.

A major factor in your pastor’s need for prayer is the simple reality that he is a human being. He is tempted, as we all are. He sins, as we all do. He is targeted by spiritual warfare. Because he is a human being seeking to live a godly life, he needs prayer and support.

But there are other reasons for his need for prayer related to his unique role as a pastor. I want to explore three of those below:

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SPEAK FOR GOD.

All of us desperately need to know what God thinks about all of the issues we face in life. We need to hear from God—regularly, insightfully, passionately.

So put yourself in your pastor’s shoes here. Week after week, you gather with other believers to hear a word from God. And your pastor is the one who will deliver God’s word to you. His job is to stand before you on a regular basis and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Much of the Spirit’s conviction in your life will come from words your pastor speaks. Many of your beliefs about the nature of God or how God wants you to behave in a given situation will originate in your pastor’s sermon prep.

Your pastor speaks to you on God’s behalf. He feels the weight of that burden. Make sure you’re praying for him. Pray that God will speak to him. Pray that he will listen. Pray that God will empower him as he takes on the formidable role of a modern day prophet.

Francis Chan Preaching

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.

Perhaps this sounds overdramatic. But when something goes wrong in your life, who are you turning to for help? When you’re struggling with sin, when you can’t navigate a dysfunctional relationship, when you’ve experienced loss, when you’re depressed, when you need some guidance—who is it that you turn to in these situations? If you’re like most Christians, you’ll turn to your pastor to help you solve your problems.

That’s as it should be, to a certain extent. Your pastor does indeed keep watch over your soul; he is there to help you grow. But once again, consider it from your pastor’s perspective. What if you were the last line of defense (and often also the first) with every major issue anyone in your congregation could possibly encounter? That’s an enormous burden to bear. And an impossible schedule to maintain. (Even if your church has multiple pastors, that means your church has more people to care for.) Be sure to pray for your pastor in this regard. Ask God to give him wisdom, patience, and endurance.

 

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO THINK & ACT LIKE YOU IN EVERYTHING.

You’re not offended by everything your pastor says, but let’s be honest: there are a good handful of topics over which you would be horrified to hear your pastor disagree with you. What if your pastor preached a sermon that gave a differing view on the end times, or on speaking in tongues, or on the proper use of alcohol, or on the way Christians should relate to politics, culture, homeschooling, workplace evangelism, infant or adult baptism, or whatever? The list of issues upon which Christians disagree is almost literally endless.

You might not be upset about every theological point your pastor makes, but someone is likely to be. Consider it from your pastor’s perspective: It’s impossible to preach on the end times, hell, the role of obedience in the life of the Christian, or spiritual gifts without offending someone. You can imagine the weight that this places on his shoulders every week.

Pastors face constant criticism. Their lives are lived in a fishbowl, with everyone analyzing what the pastor and his family do (and don’t do). Not only that, but he also has to present his (well-studied) views on controversial topics to a large roomful of people every week. Can you imagine the pressure? So don’t forget to pray for him. Be gracious to him when he “gets it wrong” theologically, and don’t forget to pray that God would give him grace, patience, and encouragement as he has big and small conversations week after week with people who are angry about something he said.

__________

You may love your pastor deeply. Or you might have a real problem with him (for good or bad reasons). But either way, be sure that you are praying for him. He has devoted his life to speaking for God and ministering to your soul. That’s an impossible job. Keep praying that God will encourage, shape, and empower your pastor. And please heed these words from Hebrews:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (13:17)

Cultivation

Mark Beuving —  January 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sometimes when I go through my weekly ritual of mowing my lawn, I wonder, “How many times have I walked over this exact spot?” I step on virtually every square inch of my lawn every single week. I push the mower over every blade of grass, cutting them to the exact same length. During the week, those blades grow taller and begin to look a bit unruly. And then I walk back and forth across the lawn and cut them to a uniform height. Week after week after week.

I will never finish mowing my lawn. It will always grow and always require cutting. My neighbor, on the other hand, just installed artificial turf in his backyard. Week after week, year after year, my neighbor’s turf will continue to look almost like grass. It will never need to be cut. It will just be there. And I will be next door, walking across my yard.

Abigail Backyard Bubbles

Life calls for cultivation. Dead turf needs no cultivating (though I’ve heard it needs to be washed, which doesn’t sound fun). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled off dead flower petals to allow new ones to grow. Or how many times I’ve trimmed the bougainvillea plants lining my backyard. I feel like I’m constantly checking sprinklers, trimming, and doing a variety of activities to help my plants thrive.

Life is needy. Sure, life churns and thrives around the world even with no human cultivation. But there is a difference between an overgrown jungle and a well-tended garden. And if you take away some of the elements that life requires—water, for example—then life subsides. Life is needy. Gardens need tending. Plants must be cultivated.

As I mow my lawn, I sometimes consider what other areas in my life require this level of cultivation. I compare the number of times I’ve stepped on each blade of grass to the number of times I’ve read a given phrase in my Bible. I’ll never finish reading my Bible. It’s not enough to have read the whole thing. My knowledge of the Bible will never be complete; I’ll never hear its comforts and admonitions enough; my imagination will never be sufficiently stimulated by the prophetic and poetic imagery in its pages. And so I sit regularly in the same chair, holding the same book, re-reading lines that have long been familiar. This is an act of cultivation.

Or how many times have I spoken the same words to God? “Lord, help my daughters grow to love you. Give them hearts of compassion. Please provide for our family.” I have made these requests so many times. And I repeat other phrases to God endlessly: “Thank you for today. Thank you for my wife. For our girls. For constantly providing. For loving us.” It doesn’t matter how many times I say these things. They will need to be said again. I will never finish praying. I will always be cultivating.

How many times have I performed the simple gestures that show my wife I love her? I have taken out the trash so many times. I’ll never be done with that. I have spoken the words “I love you” so many times over so many years. I have tried to set aside my plans for her benefit many times (though not nearly enough). How many times have I performed simple, repetitive actions for my daughters? Saying “I love you.” Helping them get dressed. Getting them snacks. Buckling them into cars. Brushing their teeth. Disciplining them. Over and over and over I do these things. I will never be done with some of these activities (though I hope to teach my girls to brush their own teeth someday). I repeat these simple actions and words because they are a means of cultivation.

I suppose a well-tended garden could be glamorous, in a certain sense. But cultivation is never glamorous. It’s always boring. Always repetitive. Yet there is no garden without cultivation. So it is in our daily lives. The most important things we will do are boring, repetitive tasks. And yet they matter immensely. Each simple gesture is an act of cultivation, an act of faith toward what we know a plant or relationship could become if well cared for.

So as you begin this new year, what in your life needs cultivating? You can’t simply decide to be a good father, or a good spouse, or a good friend, or a good reader, or whatever. It requires patient cultivation. What will you cultivate? What are you cultivating now? What are you neglecting? And how can you, in faith, better cultivate those things that really matter this year?

Don’t Pray Like a Pig

Joey Dodson —  November 4, 2014 — Leave a comment

PigI was reading The Epistle of Barnabas[1] (a letter by one of the early Church Fathers) this week and came across this curious argument. According to Barnabas, Israel misunderstood the food laws given at Mt. Sinai. Moses wasn’t referring to actual food. He was speaking “spiritually.” God’s intention wasn’t to forbid people from eating pork. “Bacon tastes good! Pork chops taste good!” Rather, with this law, Moses meant believers should not associate with piggish people—those who only acknowledge the Lord when they are in need. Such folk are like swine that squeal until they are fed, students who oink for extra credit the week of finals (okay, that last bit is my addition). Barnabas goes on to interpret all the food laws in this manner.

Although I think Moses did actually endorse a literal prohibition from pork, I do appreciate Barnabas’ admonition for us not to be “little piggies” who only talk to God when we are in need. Prayer should be an ongoing conversation more than a 911 call. In short, even if you eat bacon: do not pray like a pig.

 


 

[1] The Epistle of Barnabas is an early Christian document written in the Second Century. Scholars debate whether the author was a Jewish-Christian or a Gentile one. It reminds me a lot of Hebrews. You can read the letter here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-lightfoot.html

 

 

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