Jul 31

Prayer should not be hard and it definitely should not be boring

The problem

We know we should pray. We know about many great praying Christians from the past or from our own experience.  But we just sit there and wonder if we are doing anything. It is hard and, if we were totally honest, it is boring.

Maybe, it doesn’t need to be this way.

A solution from the Bible

Let’s look at an example of an exciting prayer from the Bible. (Daniel 9

Daniel was an exile in Babylon. He was taken hostage with other upper class Jewish adolescents and trained to work in the Babylonian bureaucracy. He rose to the top of the government. He lived a life of influence. God used him to advise powerful Gentile kings. (Daniel 1-4)

He was called out of retirement through the memory of the queen mother and predicted the fall of Babylon to the Persians. He then served Persian kings. (Daniel 5-6)

He was in his 80s when he realized from his study of the writings of the prophet Jeremiah that the captivity of the Jews was about to end. God had predicted that a man named Cyrus would free the Jews. He had predicted that the Babylonians would be judged. He had predicted that the captivity would last seventy years. All of these signs had occurred and it was time for the Jews to be restored to the Promised Land. (Daniel 9; Jeremiah 25:1-14; Isaiah 44:28; 45:1)

He began by confessing his sin because he did not want personal uncleanness to separate him from God. He then asked God to act according to his promises. He did not ask God to act because people deserve his grace and his mercy. He asked God to act because he is the type of God who acts graciously and mercifully toward undeserving people. (Daniel 9)

Daniel’s prayer was guided by reading and reflection on God’s written word.

A solution to try today

Usually our prayers are lists of requests that we repeat because they are the same concerns and desires we had yesterday and the day before. The list may change and some of the requests are granted but basically it is a list. We are told to boldly make our requests to God but is there something that can be combined with the list to bring greater life to our prayers.

Praying the Bible

Donald S. Whitney’s new book, Praying the Bible, accurately shows us why prayer can be a problem and leads us to a solution. He shows how to link our prayer life to Scripture.

Many will be aware of his previous books. His Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is well known and his Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is also very helpful.

Boredom and sameness in prayer

We pray about the same issues but as we focus on different passages of Scripture each day our perceptions change and we pray differently about the same things.

The psalms are a good place to start. They are inspired prayers that cover the range of human experience and emotion. Whitney has a guide to cover the psalms in a monthly pattern.

Paul’s letters contain prayers that can serve a models and focus our prayers. As we pray with Scripture we will see new life and strength as we seek God’s will in our lives and those we care about.

How often do you find prayer boring or repetitious?

How closely do you link your prayer time and your reading and meditation on the Bible?

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Jul 29

Jesus called for choices- he pushed people to make a decision about him. (So that you may believe. John 20:30-31)

Jesus always pushed for a deeper commitment.

Jesus pushed behind the front issues to the heart.

He pushed Nicodemus the great teacher to places where he was unfamiliar. We don’t know how the night visit ended but later Nicodemus defended Jesus against an unfair trial by the leaders and dangerously took the body of an executed insurrectionist after his death when all seemed lost. (John 3:1-21; 7:50-52; 19:38-42)

The Samaritan woman wanted to make non-judgmental theological small talk. She was uncovered and confronted by a meddling Messiah. She ran to tell the villagers about Jesus and tentatively wondered if he was the One who was coming. (John 4:4-30)

The crowd who heard the Bread of Life speech was forced to a decision that seemed an impossible choice. After the speech many in the crowd not longer followed Jesus. (John 6:25-66)

In response to their desertion Jesus turned to his twelve, his closest companions, and asked if they were leaving as well. They responded that there was no other place to go. Jesus was the truth. His words brought life. (John 6:67-69)

Jesus told the man he healed at the pool to stop sinning or something worse would happen to him. (John 5:1-19)

Jesus lead the blind man that he healed to make a specific, reassuring decision of faith after he was thrown out of the synagogue by the religious leaders. (John 9:1-41)

When Peter was restored after his denial he was told to feed Jesus’ followers and that he would face martyrdom for his faith. (John 21:15-19)

We are faced with continual choices on our spiritual pilgrimages. Jesus pushes us to grow as we face challenges to our commitment. Our choices transform us to be more like Jesus until we meet him face to face.

What have been life-transforming choices that you have made in the past?

What choices are on your spiritual agenda right now?

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Jul 27

I have revised two posts on my blog

Two ways to achieve unity among Christians . . . only one works

The hard obedience of Mary and Joseph. What can we learn?

 

Jul 21

Why did John write his Gospel and what are 11 things that we can learn from him about the Christian faith? (So that you may believe. John 20:30-31)

John- The last apostle

John was most probably the last of the Twelve to die. He wrote his gospel about 50 years after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. He wrote about 20 years after Peter and Paul were martyred. He had walked with Jesus when he was young but now he was an old man. The next generation of leaders who were with him wanted to hear his story.

A rumor

Also, a rumor had started among the Christians. Some thought that John would not die. He would remain alive until Jesus returned. He knew that the rumor was unfounded. Jesus did not say that. He wanted this to be clear should he die before Jesus returned. (John 21:22-23)

John’s Gospel

John’s Gospel was written after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He was able to build on their gospels. He does not record the parables of Jesus. His account of events in Jesus’s life are longer and more detailed. He shows us how Jesus was very skillful in engaging people. He moved from physical realities like birth, water, bread, blindness, and sheep to spiritual realities.

Also, the only miracle recorded by all four Gospels is the Feeding of the 5000. John’s account gives us the reason why this event was so pivotal in Jesus’s ministry. After the feeding and his Bread of Life speech calling the crowd to a deeper commitment, they leave. They will not follow him to a complete commitment to his Messiahship.

The Structure of the Gospel

John’s Gospel clearly divides into two parts. Chapters 1 through 11 contain an introduction and an overview of Jesus’s ministry. Chapters 12 through 21 focus on the last week of Christ’s life and selective post-resurrection appearances.

John’s purpose

John is very clear about his purpose. He writes so that people would believe in Jesus and have eternal life based on their faith. He also makes it clear that he is selective. There were many more miracles. There were many more things that Jesus said. He writes to bring people to faith. (John 20:30-31; 21:24-25)

What can we learn from John?

  1. Jesus called for a choice- he pushed people to make a decision about him
  1. Belief divides- some believe, some don’t
  1. The focus is on Jesus… not on other people God uses in our pilgrimages
  1. Miracles and experiences don’t guarantee faith
  1. The Gospel is for everyone
  1. People who truly find Jesus bring other people to him
  1. People on a journey of faith have doubts and failure
  1. There are different pilgrimages of faith
  1. People of faith are a remnant, not the majority
  2. People of faith are united with Jesus in his mission
  3. In the end there are lives of faith and lives of unbelief

There will be a post devoted to each of these principles. I may interrupt the series to cover other topics that come up in my reading and study.

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Jul 20

I have just revised two posts on my blog

How is being a Christian better than being an Olympic Champion?

Three pictures of the Christian life and what they teach us

Jul 16

Sometimes we make life more complicated than it needs to be

Life doesn’t need to be as complicated as most of us make it.

We own too much and our stuff has become a burden. How did couples ever live with one car?

We need every little thing we own and can’t find some things when we really need them.

We do too much and we need and like all that we do to do but in the end we’re often bored.

We’re busy and bored so we just add another package to the cable plan and it just takes us longer to flip through our options that still seem to be more of the same.

Early Christian monks reminded their world and ours that “Busyness is moral sloth.” We can’t face our real issues so we just fill up our schedules.

Of course, minimalism for minimalism’s sake doesn’t solve anything. We need to focus on the things that matter, things that will last into eternity. Our possessions are tools or clutter. Our time commitments are service or busyness. We need to step back and courageously focus our lives.

This excellent article from Christianity Today challenged me on this issues.

I hope it challenges you as well. If we need to, let’s get rid of one thing and one time commitment this week.

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Jul 13

I have revised two posts on my blog

Four things God has given us and four reasons why he gave them

Four ways that Christians can change the world

Jul 09

I have revised two posts on my blog

What are the seven characteristics of mature Christians?

Passing the baton is essential to Christianity

Jul 06

What do I want to be doing when Jesus returns?

What do we want to be doing when Jesus returns?

Like most Protestants I believe that the doctrine of purgatory is a theological Edsel… bad when introduced and worse since.

However, the doctrine of purgatory does address one point of Christian belief that should affect us every day.

One moment in the future

God is with us each day but our experience is clouded by our fallenness and finiteness.

In one moment in the future we will be alive on earth and in the next moment we will be in the presence of God.

When we think of that moment, if ever, we usually think of the physical sensation of it. We will slip away in dark unconsciousness and then awaken in divine light. We will loose sight, smell, touch, and hearing and then to be enveloped with the new sensations of pure Divine presence. We will die and then live.

We will be changed morally.

However, there is another part of the transformation that should also cause us to marvel and think. We will be changed morally.

The Catholic doctrine of purgatory is more gentle, a purgation over many years. The reality is an instantaneous change from moral impurity to the purity needed to experience God in a new and remarkable way

What will I be doing when my change takes place? What will you be doing?

Some of us may experience spiritual whiplash. Some us may die peacefully in our sleep. Some of us may die in the suddenness of an accident. Some of us may be alive when Christ returns to the earth and calls us from whatever we thought was important at that moment. Some of us may be praying and some may be yelling at our spouse. Some of us may be in the midst of a nurturing moment that will count for eternity and some may be abusing a child. Some may be in church and some in an adulterous relationship. I believe that some Christians will be doing some beautiful things when Christ comes for them. I also believe that some will be in the middle of a dark, grim, hidden, evil secret when He returns.

Wherever we may be, we will come when he calls. For some it will be spiritual whiplash.

Our final act will be our gateway to eternity.

Some imagine that in heaven everyone will be the same with the same knowledge and the same feelings.

I don’t believe that for an instant. We will always be finite creatures who have lived specific lives.

I believe that there will be some Christians in heaven who have never led someone to Christ. They were never with someone when they experience spiritual rebirth.

I believe that there will be Christians in heaven who have never even shared the Gospel with anyone.

They were too busy.

I believe there will be Christians in heaven who have never seriously studied God’s word. They never experienced the closeness with God that comes in solitude or fasting or seriously practice of a spiritual discipline.

They were too busy. The desert fathers wisely observed that busyness is moral sloth. We are too afraid to be alone with God so we schedule a lot of things we can do for Him… as if He needs them.

I may not be asked to die for my faith. There have been martyrs who have gone before me. I want to ask them in the eternal kingdom how they were able to look death in the eye and remain true to God. I’m sure I will hear from them of a great working of the grace of God in their lives.

In heaven we will hear many stories of praise from those who stepped out in faith and saw the power of God. Our choice now is how and when we will step out.

We are becoming the people we will be in eternity.

What will be our confession?

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Jul 04

The 120 in the Upper Room at Pentecost… hard to believe

Hard to believe

Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from God. There were 120 people waiting. That number is hard to believe…for two reasons.

How small it was

Jesus was the sinless God-man. He fed thousands, healed many, and raised people from the dead. He appeared to 500 at one time after he rose from the dead. Even so, there were only 120 and, when he gave the Great Commission, some who saw their risen Lord doubted. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Matthew 28:17)

How quickly it grew

Secondly, from that small number the growth was remarkable. 3000 were added the first day and it quickly grew to 5000. The rest of the book of Acts tells the story of how the Church grew from Jerusalem through Judea, Samaria, and then quickly to the rest of the Mediterranean world. (Acts 1:15; 2:41; 4:4)

Jesus taught about this

Jesus has said that the Kingdom would start out small like a mustard seed and work invisibly like yeast. He also said that there would be unbelief even if someone rose from the dead. He also said that his disciples would do greater works then he did. (Matthew 13:31-33; Luke 16:19-31; John 14:12)

Peter warned people about this

Near the end of his life people told his readers to not count on experiences but to focus and follow the written word of God. He had been at the Transfiguration and heard the voice of God from heaven but the Scriptures were surer. (2 Peter 1:16-21)

It will happen again in the future

In the end times Jesus will return and reign for 1000 years as the Messianic-King. His reign will be perfectly just and fair. He will know all and have unlimited authority. Satan will be bound and unable to tempt those living in this kingdom. However, when he is freed the people will rebel. Even a perfect government does not guarantee faith. (Revelation 20:1-10)

There are no perfect experiences that guarantee faith.

God has chosen to work through Jesus’ followers empowered by his Spirit to change the world by the message of the Gospel and the witness of godly lives.

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