Category Archives: Prayer

Spiritual Disciplines – Prayer

Matthew 6:6,7  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Simply defined, prayer is talking to God.  Even as Christ followers, our lives can sometimes get so busy that we simply don’t take the time to talk to our Lord.  This is a great mistake.  In order to grow spiritually, we must be conversing…mostly listening…to God.

In our fast food culture, things come quickly and we can’t stand the thought of actually waiting.  We have access to so much “on-demand” that it’s hard to just be still and listen to what the Lord has to say.  But we must if we are going to learn His will.  Prayer, coupled with Bible study, is one of the most important disciplines in the daily life of a Christ follower.  Without reading God’s Word and communicating with Him, how are we to know who He is and what He requires of us?

Some may say that they just don’t know how to pray.  Jesus gave us a great example in Matthew 6:9-13.  We call it The Lord’s Prayer, but really this is a format, a template, of how we are to pray.  This is not simply a prayer to be memorized and uttered.  No, this is a blueprint for how our prayers should be.  Does that mean that God does not hear us if we pray outside this format?  No, God knows all that we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8).  He is not so strict on this format that we would never hear from Him if we prayed differently, but we should attempt to keep the principles of this prayer in place.  Thanksgiving, praise, petition, repentance, seeking guidance.  It’s not a magic formula, but a guideline.

The Lord is not interested in repetition and memorization.  He wants our hearts to turn towards Him.  He desires our attention and our praise.  We make a great decision when we choose to include prayer as part of our day.

A Question of Why

Why? Isn’t that always the question? Often times it’s the one short little three letter word that defines for us our trials and adversity, our struggles and our pain. We ask it as we try to make some sort of semblance of sense out of everything we can’t figure out enough to actually make sense. We do it to the point where it’s not just a question anymore, but the answer as well.

How often have we found ourselves challenged, asking ‘Why’? “Why me?” “Why now?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “If God is so good and He loves us, they why would He let this happen?” At times, it’s the easiest and quickest word to roll off of our tongues in our hour of need, knowing we just don’t know and that what we need to know isn’t going to come simply or readily to us even for as much as we want it to.

But then life is difficult, it’s hard and it’s wrought with challenges. Just when we think we’ve gotten our head wrapped around it enough to actually do something, it throws a curve ball that knocks us off our game. Sometimes it’s small, and we’re able to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” as we move on from it. Other times it’s big and it’s encompassing and, for as much as we want it to, we can’t quite seem to do it, we can’t quite figure it out enough to do it. It leaves us with this hurt feeling as we wonder if it’s ever going to be the same. In those moments, “Why” is about the only thing that’s uncomplicated about the complicated to us.

The thing is it’s not always about the “Why”. After all, for as unclear as it may all be, for as convoluted as it perhaps seems to be, the “Why” is actually transparent, it’s not that complex at all. We live in a sinful world; one that, since the fall of man, has been marked with trials and temptations. (Genesis 3:1-19) As Peter reminds us, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Is there a greater “Why” than this?

Even the most righteous, the most faithful, living in this mortal realm, need fear the old adversary, and they need to do so more than the unrighteous. After all, the greater question of “Why” is why would the Devil go after a soul he already has when the nature of man is to abide in fear and doubt? He knows this, and he doesn’t go after the weak alone, but the strong, hunting them, seeking to make them his own.

No, the question isn’t “Why?” regardless of how easy it comes. “Why” is often times the means by which uncertainty attacks that which we need to be the most certain of. “Why” is the easiest way to make the simple become complex, so complex that we can’t begin to understand it. “Why”, for as hard as it may be to let go of, is how comfort and peace is robbed from us as it sends us looking everywhere but where we need to for the answers.

It’s not “Why” that’s the most important thing, but rather “What” and “How”. “What am I supposed to learn?” “How is this going to make me a better person?” “What can I do differently?” “How can I use this to grow in faith and better understand God’s plan for me?” Regardless of the pain and the hardships we may face, these are the questions we not only have to ask but the ones that need to draw us closer and nearer to our Heavenly Father.

The promise of God is the promise that where we are so He is as well. He will never fail us or forsake us. (Joshua 1:5) His covenant with us is the covenant that stands by His blessed assurances to us in the faithfulness of His love and mercy. (Deuteronomy 4:31) So strong is He in that love and care He has for us, in the covenant He has made with us, He would give His only Son to die for us (John 3:16) even when we seemed like we were lost to sin, death and the Devil. How much more then does the wonders of His Word mean when He tells to us that, if we come to Him, in faith and hope, He will give us the knowledge that we so seek? (James 1:5-6)

Even when we stumble, even when we fall, even when the world seems unfair, unnecessarily so, our blessed Savior is there for us, to take the yoke of our burdens from us. (Matthew 11:28-30) Again, the “Why” is simple, it’s a matter then of “What are we meant to do with the freedom He has given us?” and “How can we use His good gifts to be the people He has intended for us to be?” We can only do that, we can only answer that by letting go of “Why”, understanding that it has already been answered for us, and we are not in control of it, all we can control is what we do with the blessed gifts and the wonderful promises God has given to us.

It’s only then that we can find the peace, the hope, and the comfort we so long for.

Temptations

There is no greater challenge for the disciple than the internal conflicts that they can face, nor is there a greater stumbling block than the ones that we put up for ourselves. For as strong as the Devil may be, for as much as he comes to us “like a roaring lion” seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8), the truth is he needn’t do much considering his are but temptations but ours is the rebellious nature willing to take temptations and beyond to whatever next levels there may be.

But then, as the old saying goes, as our blessed Savior Himself reminds us, “The spirit is willing but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41b)

Consider some of the greatest warnings of the Bible. They are not warnings against the Devil. After all, the old Adversary, he did his part in Eden to corrupt the nature of mankind. (Genesis 3) Even there he never quite tells Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit of God. All he does is plant the idea in their head to question. Everything else is up to them as Eve partook and Adam watched to see the results.

If there is one thing the story of man’s fall to sin and temptation proves, it’s that even those who know of the presence of God, who have seen it first hand, have stood in His light and heard His voice calling to them, need nothing more than a gentle push and the worst of their nature comes out. Sometimes that push comes in the form of a want or a desire, sometimes it comes with a snide or hurtful comment, other times it comes from the best of intentions just gone terribly wrong.

The question for the disciple is, if it is such an easy snare about their feet, if it is such a simple trap to fall into, how do they guard themselves from it in their everyday life? How do we make the flesh stronger to match the nature of a spirit given to the love of Christ and the blessings of our Heavenly Father? How do we avoid the temptations that are there?

Quite simply put, we can’t. This side of Heaven, the imperfect side of Heaven given to the more base nature of the flesh, temptations are always going to be there. For as much as we may try to steer clear of them, as soon as we turn from one, another one is always going to be there staring us in the face. The true nature of Christian living, the true nature of faithful devotion to God isn’t the avoiding of temptation, it is not falling into temptation. It is meeting it head on with a heart and a will given over to God with the truest understanding that through Him who makes us more than conquerors (Romans 8:36), we have the power to overcome if we choose to use it.

This does not mean, as they may say, go out and look for trouble so you can exercise a Christian will and strength to demonstrate a power that you may have over temptation. The more we put ourselves in the line of fire, the more prone we are to be hit when we least expect it. What it does mean though is that just because we face temptations and inner conflicts does not mean we are any less the disciples that we should be, or any less on the road that God intended for us.

Faith is about understanding that even through the temptations of the flesh and the weaknesses of our nature God has a divine and holy plan for us, a wondrous design for our lives. Yes, it is true that there will be time when we don’t live up to it and other times when we do better. Yet we cannot live in those weaker times of our lives, and we cannot believe that just because temptations are present we are weaker than we should be, as it is a way of letting self-doubt in, and with it doubt about the nature of our salvation.

Pray and be vigilant. Look to the challenges that are there for what they truly are, a way of proving that you are led not of yourself but through the power of the Spirit to be a better and stronger person. Do not put yourself in a situation where you will be tested but do not shrink from the tests when they are unavoidable. This will tell you not only more about your own character but the character of your faith, showing you where you have been made strong and where you still need to pray for strength, knowing that if you come to God with a pure heart, desiring to do better and to be more, He will give you what you need.

In the end this is how we show ourselves to be the most faithful of His disciples, of Christ’s followers, as we meet the self-conflicts and challenges with the power of His might through the love that He has for us.

The High Priestly Prayer

John 17:1-26  

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.t 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,t that they also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me.26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Before the world was created, Jesus was.  Before time began, Jesus was.  And then, the Eternal One who holds all things in balance did something extraordinary – He stepped into time and took on human flesh.  He gave up all the glory of heaven so that we could know God.  He gave up many of His rights as God, but one thing He did not give up – His love for us.

While on this earth, Jesus loved His own just as He loved them in heaven.  In His last hours, He prayed a beautiful prayer, first for His close followers and then for you and me.  He knew He was betrayed, He knew He would die, and He knew that you and I would sin against Him.  But He prayed a high priestly prayer for our joy in Him, our unity in Him, our sanctification in Him.

Then Jesus gave us an idea of what salvation is all about.  He died that we might be where He is, that we may see His glory and therefore glorify the Father.  This was the plan before time began.  He’s always loved us, before we even existed.  And though we have sinned against Him, He chose to die in our place, taking our sins onto Himself, so that we can experience eternal life with Him.  Oh what love He has for us.

May This Cup

Knowing His inevitable end, the pain, the suffering, and the pain that would come in the form of His sacrifice;  stricken, smitten and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4), Christ waited patiently for the appointed hour in which the prophesies would be fulfilled.

The truth is, it had to be hard for Him, and we are given a brief look into the mindset of the Blessed Savior as He prayed to His Heavenly Father, pleading “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) He knew it wasn’t. After all,  His entire purpose would be fulfilled in the stations of the cross. Had God found a way for “this cup” to be taken from Him then there would have been no reason for Him to have been made man, no real point to His ministry. Anything and everything He was could have easily be fulfilled through the Prophets who came and went before Him.

Yet perfect God and perfect man, there was a nature to Christ that was much like our nature. How could there not when, to be our substitute, He had to be as we are?

Still, as disciples of Christ, given to His teachings, do we have those moments when we pray for whatever it is that we are facing to be lifted from us, to be taken from us? And when we do, how often do we put that last statement in, “Not as I will, but as you will”? When God does not take “this cup” from us, do we then associate it with Him not hearing us or being carefully absent from us? Or do we see it as something different altogether?

You see, though no suffering, no pain comes from God, from our loving Heavenly Father, it does not exclude the possibility and the fact that, in a sinful world so far from the nature that God has intended for us, suffering does exist. In promising to hear our prayers (Psalm 34:15) God does not promise to end every trial that we face. What He promises is that it will never be more than we can take or that we can handle. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Through His blessings He gives us the strength to endure (Philippians 4:13) as He makes us more than conquerors. (Romans 8:37)

The truth is, God is never absent from our lives, whatever it may be that we are forced to face, whatever struggles we may find that we have to endure. Yes, we can pray that they are removed from us, that the burden of them, the pain that they may bring, is something that we no longer have to shoulder. But God does not guarantee to remove it from us because it is perhaps something that we are meant to go through in order to get where we are going, to become the person that God intended for us to be.

This is, at times, hard for us to understand but the struggles that we have to face are not won by being removed from us. They are won through perseverance and hope in the knowledge that everything serves a purpose according to God’s love for His children and the strength we are given through the power of the Spirit. (Romans 5:3-5)

Consider for a moment whatever struggles you may face, whatever challenges that are there in front of you, consider how you pray and have faith in God during these times. Now consider the struggles of Christ and the prayer He offered to His Heavenly Father, the trust He had that even during the greatest of trials and the most enduring of tribulations there was a divine purpose in it all. Yes, pray according to hope, but more importantly pray according to God’s will and God’s plan for your life, understanding that it is greater than anything you could have known or thought, even when the times are tough and the struggles are before you.

Patience, strength and courage through the most difficult of times, the understanding that sacrifices must be made in our lives, even when they are hard to understand — these are the lessons of our blessed Savior during this Easter Season. The question then is, how will your faith guide you when it seems as if it is just too much to endure? Will you pray for God’s will for you or will you demand for your will to be done by God?

Love Thy Enemy

There are a lot of teachings that our blessed Savior espoused that, for the faithful disciple, reflects a hard path, and a tough road to go down. Yet, even as we consider that, there is one that stands out with a sense of difficulty that is perhaps the most challenging: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Contemplating it even now one has to wonder exactly what Christ meant. After all, we live in a world of struggles and adversity, one where so often, it would seem at least, when one challenge fades another arises to strike at us. As warriors for Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18) we are not meant to be doormats, to be the ones who are walked all over. To run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) we have to be strong, and to assert ourselves in a world where the wisdom of God is so often viewed as foolishness.

How then can we properly love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How can that be the ground we stand upon and find that we maintain our integrity?

Perhaps our best understand comes from the story of Saul of Tarsus. (Acts 9:1-19)

The great persecutor of the early church, there were few names that reached as far or struck as much fear as his. Any disciple who wished to preserve their life knew he was a force to be avoided. There were few who could be viewed as a greater enemy than him. Yet, on the road to Damascus, with a hatred in his heard, it would be the same man who would hear the thundering voice of God shake the earth around him, calling out to him.

The point is we never know who God is going to call, nor do we know the miracles that He is going to work. Yet what we do know is that if God truly is love, (1John 4:8) then there is no greater weapon against Him, nor any more powerful tool to be used against His will than our hatred and our fear. It breeds an animosity, a scornful tongue and a self-righteous spirit that does nothing more than hinder His plan and His design.

The disciple is called to love their enemy and to pray for those who persecute not because it is an easy task or a simple one, but because it is the right one. By failing in this teaching we let thoughts and ideas into our hearts and minds that have no rightful place there. We allow ourselves be tempted in a way that prevents our spiritual growth as we trust our own understanding more than that of God’s. After all, to hate is to believe that one is beyond redemption, beyond salvation and thereby of little value or worth. It is to dehumanize God’s creation when the truth is we need to hope on their redemption all the more, with a greater sense of purpose.

Failing to do this does nothing but harden our own hearts and the hearts of those who need love, who need to be guided by it all the more against us and the guidance they may need.

The truth is not all may have the road to Damascus conversion of Saul. Some may stand steadfast in their ways, guided in the belief that where they stand is right. That does not mean that we should hope any less, understanding where hope and love are, that is where faith begins. In doing this we show a greater trust in God and a better understanding of what his plan is.

Do not rejoice in the fall of others, nor hate any. It blinds you to love and charity, to hope and to faith. In doing this we create for ourselves a stumbling block that ensnares us in the challenges it offers. Be strong and courageous, realizing that, through Christ Jesus, there is no greater power that we possess in our lives than the power we have to love. It is then, and only then, that, as a disciple of our blessed Savior, Christ Jesus, we become the imitator of him that we were intended to be.

Is There An Answer

There is nothing harder for the Disciple than the feeling that God, He just isn’t listening. When we put our trust in verses that tell us “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) there are few stumbling blocks like the sense that our prayers are going unanswered. After all, isn’t this the Lord who promised us that He would never fail us or forsake us? (Joshua 1:5) Why then, in our hour of need, do we struggle, wondering to ourselves if we are alone in our plight?

How can we trust the promises, the assurances of our blessed Savior, ones that tell us, when we are weak and heavy laden, to lay our burdens at his feet to find peace, to find comfort through him (Matthew 11:28-29) when it seems as if our Heavenly Father is so far from us?

That though, for as much as the thought runs through our mind, isn’t the question. Rather, the more dominant question we need to ask ourselves is who is God to us, and who are we to Him?

Through Scripture we learn that we are children of a Heavenly Father. (Hosea 1:10) This is a relationship that we have to consider carefully as we come to God, as we ask of Him, seeking His divine grace and His wondrous love in our lives. Are we the humble who wait in patience and reverence for all to be revealed or are we the spoiled children demanding of God, asking for signs and miracles that are not part of His plan, impatient to the point where when it is not as we would like we question His love for us?

Since the moment of our conception God has known us and has had a plan for our lives. (Jeremiah 1:5) Sometimes it’s a plan that is one that we don’t necessarily understand, one that takes us on a road that is different than anything we had planned. There are moments when it is going to be confusing, where it seems like it is going to be harder than it should be. These are the times when we pray and, yes, it is going to seem as if our Heavenly Father is far distant from us, far removed from our lives. Yet just because we don’t comprehend doesn’t make His presence any less real, any less viable in our lives.

Yes, like Saul of Tarsus, we would all like the ground to shake, the earth to move, and the heavens to open with the voice of God cutting through to show us the way. The truth is though that God often chooses subtler ways to move us, we need only then to watch for the signs and to let ourselves be open to the gentle guidance that comes through His hand.

You see God’s timing, God’s wisdom, His direction, it may not be perfect to us, but it is perfect nonetheless. It takes into account our strengths, our weaknesses, our hopes, and even the battles we know not yet we are going to face in the trials of life. What that means is that sometimes we have to wait on an answer, hearing what we want not to hear, that we don’t need to know right now, or this is not what we need. Every loving father who cares for his children needs to say no now and then, not because he can’t but because he knows it is not right for them. God, our Heavenly Father, is no different.

Trust in faith that abides in the knowledge of the love of God, dear disciple of Christ. It may, at times be hard, in a world wrought with challenges, one day longer is not necessarily what we want to expect in the troubles or the struggles that we face. Yet God never allows us to face anything more than we can handle in the journey we are on. Perhaps, at times, it may feel as if He has and like we have been left. Yet this is our attempt to understand the trials before us, rather than a firm understanding of the true nature of God’s grace and love for us.

Whatever the struggle is, whatever the question may be, God is there to listen, and to answer. Open your heart to it, and you will find the answer you are looking for.

Pray like Jesus

A disciple

Matthew 26:39  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

A genuine disciple of Jesus Christ follows His example and walks as closely to Him as possible.  When praying, the disciple prays as Jesus would.  But how did Jesus pray?  What does our example to follow look like?

We all know the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus taught the apostles how to pray, but when Jesus was alone His prayers looked different from those famous lines.  When He prayed to the Father, His heartfelt desires were lifted up to heaven.  But notice that He doesn’t stop at asking.  Jesus, having been sent by the Father to do His perfect will, knew that the Father’s purpose was more important that His own desires.  Can we pray like Jesus prayed?

In His greatest hour of pain, during betrayal, fear, and impending death, Jesus was able to put aside His own wishes for those of the Father.  Did Jesus really desire for the pain and suffering of the cross to be taken out of the plan?  Was He really praying that the very mission for which He had come to earth would be aborted?  Or was He showing us how to pray in great times of sorrow?  Was He modeling for us what it’s like to give up our own will in submission to the Father’s?  This is what it looks like.  This is our daily calling as disciples – to give up our own will in exchange for the perfect will of God.

Prayer as a means to fellowship

Fellowship

John 16:24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

How do we connect with God?  We hear from Him in the Bible, learn who He is and what His will is, and gain fellowship with Him.  But what about our side of the conversation?  How does God hear from us?

Prayer is our way of speaking to the Lord and a big part of fellowship with Him.  We mainly pray in one of several fashions.  Confession is where we own up to our sins before God and receive the forgiveness He’s given in Christ.  Petition is the time to ask for our needs to be met (“Give us this day our daily bread”), while intercession is asking for the needs of others to be met.  Thanksgiving and praise are vital to fellowship as well.  Giving thanks to God for all He’s done puts our hearts in a humble place where we’re more capable of experiencing Him and praising Him.

Without prayer, fellowship with God falters because we can’t even carry on a human relationship without speaking to the other person, let alone a close relationship with the Creator of all things.  We wants our attention, our time, our devotion.  Talking the time to speak to God serves a key role in our spiritual well-being.