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A New Way to Pray for Someone

I just took a walk on the boardwalk behind the church this afternoon, and as I was praying for my kids, I had an idea, “What if I took The Lord’s Prayer and used it to pray for them?” Okay, so it’s probably not a “new” way to pray, but I don’t personally remember using the format of the Lord’s prayer exactly this way before.

Of course, in the end, The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the whole Christian community, as the requests are always for “us” and “our”, but there are certain principles within it that can teach us what is important to pray specifically for individuals that we love. So, here’s how it might go, praying for an imaginary Christian friend named Bob:

Our Father: Pray that Bob would know God’s love, that is, the love of his heavenly Father. “I pray that Bob would know deeply how much you love him. I pray that he would know the height, and width and length and depth of the love of Christ, that he would know the love that surpasses knowledge and be filled up with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3).”

Who art in heaven: Pray that he would grow in his understanding of God’s sovereignty and power. (Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalm 115:3 ESV) “Oh, Father, that Bob would know your limitless power in light of what he is going through today, and that as a result of knowing your power, he would seek You for help and answers.”

Hallowed be Thy Name: Pray that his life would bring glory to the name of God. “Lord, may Bob’s life honor You. Use him to bring glory to your name. May he always treat Your name as holy and honored.”

Thy Kingdom come: Pray that he would be used in the furthering of the Kingdom of God. “Father, I know that Bob is trying to reach his neighborhood for Christ. Go before him. Use him to speak words of life. Give him boldness in speech today.”

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven: Pray that Bob would know God’s will for his life, and walk in God’s ways. “Lord, give him wisdom about the decision he needs to make, and help him to live his life today in complete obedience to you.”

Give us this day our daily bread: Pray for whatever spiritual, emotional, relational, or material needs he has. “Father, he’s been unemployed for two months now. Please provide a job for him that fits his gifts and provides for all his material needs.”

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us: Pray for Bob to have a sensitive heart regarding sin in his life, and to always remember the glorious gospel and the price that was paid for him. Pray that he would keep “short accounts” with God. And pray that he would be a person of grace, freely forgiving anyone who wrongs him.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Pray that God would keep him from sin, and protect him from Satan. “Lord, you know that Bob is struggling with ________. Help him to walk in holiness. And I don’t know what plans Satan is making against him, but thwart the enemy, Lord!”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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A Great Secret of Prayer…

Here is John Calvin from his Institutes of the Christian Religion expressing a great truth about prayer:

“If we would pray fruitfully, we ought therefore to grasp with both hands this assurance of obtaining what we ask, which the Lord enjoins with his own voice, and all the saints teach by their example. For only that prayer is acceptable to God which is born, if I may so express it, out of such presumption of faith, and is grounded in unshaken assurance of hope. He could have been content with the simple mention of faith, yet he not only added confidence but also fortified it with freedom or boldness, that by this mark he might distinguish from us the unbelievers, who indeed indiscriminately mingle with us in our prayers to God, but by chance. The whole church prays in this way in the psalm: “Let thy mercy be upon us, even as we have hoped in thee” (Psalm. 33:22, Comm.). Elsewhere the prophet lays down the same condition: “In the day when I call, this I know, that God is with me” (Psalm. 56:9 Comm.). Likewise: “In the morning I will make ready for thee, and watch.” (Psalm. 5:3 Comm.). From these words we conclude that prayers are vainly cast upon the air unless hope be added, from which we quietly watch for God as from a watchtower.”

What is He saying? Don’t pray unless you “add hope” that God will answer! Grasp with both hands the truth that God answers prayer, and never let go of that truth. Prayers should always be sent to heaven with an “assurance of obtaining”. Look in particular at the verses Calvin quotes. He is saying that our heavenly Father wants us to be confident in praying; He wants to know that His mercy will be upon us (answers will come) according to how we have hoped in Him.

So pray an “acceptable” prayer today…the kind of prayer which believes a prayer-answering God is hearing you.

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Ten Books I’m Reading (or Recently Read)

libraryWe’re redoing our church library and the pastoral staff was asked to compile a list of books we’re reading to make a nice section of recommendations for the church. Here’s what I came up with…

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I read this for a Sunday school class back in my college days and recently started it over. It’s a classic for a reason, as Packer, an Anglican, provides a glorious overview of the Christian faith. The back cover is full of recommendations from a who’s who of 20th century Christianity. If you’ve never been exposed to this gem, don’t wait any longer.

Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath

I “read” (listened to) this on our recent 6,100 mile road trip. Rath, the bestselling author of Strengthfinders 2.0, packs his book full of research based facts to motivate you to eat better, exercise more, and sleep well. It’s amazing how your quality of life improves as you put all three together. Each of the 30 chapters has a tip based on research regarding each of the three areas to help you be the best you can be.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This Pulitzer-prize-winning book tells the tale of a father and son traveling south together in a post-apocalyptic world. So far, it is a lesson in loving a child, and McCarthy’s writing deserves the praise it receives.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Diane and I listened to this testimonial whenever Annie was otherwise engaged on our big trip. It’s one of those books that manages to be informative and delightful all at once. Qureshi was raised in the west but in a devout Muslim family. The book takes a nice tone as he honors his parents and his childhood faith, giving us all reason to pause and wonder whether we are taking Christianity as seriously as his parents took Islam. If you want to understand what it means to leave the life of a Muslim to embrace Christ, start here.

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Do you see a pattern? Yes, I’m thinking about health (which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing anything about it!) This book tells the story of how Americans have gained on average (I forget the statistic exactly) 25 lbs. over the last few decades. How? Two words: processed foods. If you are looking for motivation to put down the Cheetos and turn away from the lunchables, pop-tarts, and cold cuts, pick this one up.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Another “listen” on the road trip, but this one we played for all of us. And we loved it! It’s a novel for everyone, telling four different stories of four children and the various injustices they encounter and seek to overcome in life…and the music that helps them through. The author ties the stories together beautifully at the end. I had a serious lump in my throat. Read this one (or listen to it – a lovely musical score goes along with the audio version) with the whole family.

What is an Evangelical? by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Along with Seeking Allah…, I read this book in light of the recent controversy at Wheaton College (where Josh and Elisabeth attend). It was at this august Evangelical institution that a Political Science Professor said in December 2015 that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. They don’t…but that question has never received more attention than it did in the last few months. This is a short read, and Lloyd-Jones defines an evangelical in three chapters, recognizing that true Christianity exists outside of evangelicalism, but wisely pointing out that if you reject evangelicalism, you may be going to heaven, but you probably won’t take anyone with you. After all, the “Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In Lloyd-Jones’ words, apart from an evangelical faith, Christianity loses its “converting influence.” I doubt he would consider the (now former) Wheaton professor to fill the bill.

Generous Justice by Timothy Keller

Redeemer church in Manhattan, pastored by Keller, is known not only as a church that proclaims the gospel, but as a fellowship that is “for the city”, caring for the “least of these”. Keller lays out the strong biblical case to be a people who live for the poor and needy and spread “shalom” wherever we go.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The sport of crew (a.k.a. rowing) takes center stage in this engrossing true tale of 9 college kids going for gold against Hitler’s best in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I’m a sucker for a World War 2 story, and though this isn’t quite that, it’s close, and I delighted in the story. I’m not the only one. Though it was only published in 2013, it is one of the all time top twenty best-selling non-fiction books at Amazon.

Prayer by Timothy Keller

Those who know me well are not surprised to find two Keller books on this list. He’s a modern day C.S. Lewis, and if my layman predictions are right, he will still be read 100 years from now. If you want to give your prayer life a shot in the arm, apparently Timothy Keller practices what he preaches, and he is an faithful guide. His spirit throughout is humble and yet informative.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Surest Road to Victory

About 30 years ago, I was in college, visiting a friend’s dorm room at the University of Illinois. For whatever reason that day, I picked up a devotional book he had – which one I don’t know – and it included this little story of Joash and Elisha at the end of the prophet’s life, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned.  In fact, I either wrote down what I learned in this book, or I memorized it on the spot. It now serves as one of the little motivational quotes I sometimes put at the top of prayer lists, but before I get to the quote, here is the Bible story it was based on, from 2 Kings 13…

Elisha the great prophet of God was about to die. Joash was King of Israel at the time, and even though Joash has not fully followed God, even he realizes that if Elisha “sleeps with his fathers”, all hope is lost, because he’s the only one who seems to have a direct connection with the God of Israel.

So Joash comes to see Elisha on his deathbed, and this is what happens:

Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 2 Kings 13:14 (ESV)

So it’s almost a comedic scene, for Elisha is the one who is dying, but King Joash comes before him crying about his weak army. But it just so happens that Joash has come to the right guy.  Elisha makes a plan…

And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 2 Kings 13:15 – 17a (ESV)

Do you follow what has happened? Elisha has instructed the king to take up his bow and some arrows.  Something symbolic is about to take place.  Then the king draws back the bow, and then Elisha apparently gets behind him, almost like a master archer teaching a novice how to shoot, but only for a moment because then it seems he takes away his hands and he tells the king to open the window. He tells him to shoot…and the king shoots. It seems that Elisha is symbolically transferring God’s power to the king in an upcoming battle against Syria. And Elisha provides some running commentary…

And Elisha says, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 2 Kings 13:17b (ESV)

But you see that’s just one battle against their dreaded enemy.  The king needs to fire some more symbolic arrows to defeat the enemy completely.

So look what happens next.

And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 2 Kings 13:18 (ESV)

So Elisha says take the arrows and strike the ground with them. Apparently he wants the king to fire the remaining arrows out the window, symbolic of the future victories Israel will have in other battles against this feared enemy. Now we don’t know what’s going on in the king’s mind, but we can guess.  He has already begun to think that he is wasting his time coming to see this dying prophet.  Here the prophet is asking him to shoot arrows at nothing out the east window, when he really thought the man was going to pray a prayer to simply make all the Syrians die, or something along those lines.

So the king takes the arrows with his bow and his mind is now full of doubt and skepticism, perhaps he looks at Elisha funny and then fires off three arrows.  But that’s it.  He’s got his hand full of arrows, but he fires off only three.

Now look at Elisha’s reaction:

Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” 2 Kings 13:19 (ESV)

And then the story concludes: So Elisha died, and they buried him. 2 Kings 13:20 (ESV)

Now thirty years ago, I read this pithy quote about that little vignette, and it always stuck with me…

“Let it be said to his shame that he did not believe enough, so he did not obey enough.  It is what happens in the secret chamber that determines the amount of victory we have in the actual battle of life.”

Joash was told to do something to ensure victory over Syria, and yet…he thought it foolish.  Surely firing arrows into the ground could not lead him to victory over the Lord’s enemies.  But shooting those arrows out the window was the method God determined to use.

Similarly, our Heavenly Father tells us to pray, but too often we are like that foolish King looking at the prophet like he’s an idiot. Prayer is God’s chosen means for us to win battles, lots and lots of battles. We simply need to get on our knees…and start firing off arrows.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Is It Okay to Ask God for Personal, “Selfish” Things?

A friend of mine saw my post on a daily prayer list in 2012 and sent me this note:

“Roger, I tried writing a list of 10 – 50 prayers and I am finding difficulty in doing this.  Specifically, I am finding difficulty in praying for specific things for myself.  Any help with this will be appreciated.”

It’s a great question.  On the one hand, there are people who refuse to ask anything for themselves, and some of these even announce somewhat proudly that this is their stance, and then there are others like my friend, who feel, well, wrong about presenting personal needs and desires to God.

Here are a few thoughts in response:

  1. Delight yourself in the Lord, and then pray for whatever your heart desires. (Psalm 37:4)  The Lord is my chief good.  He is my great desire.  I want to know Him and walk with Him and delight in Him all of my days.  With this in mind, then, I think we should pray boldly for our needs and desires, but ask God to make our desires, His desires.  I prayed for a godly wife for a long time, and then after meeting Diane and marrying her, we had two miscarriages, and I got serious praying for children.  I have certainly prayed for money or material goods along the way in life. I suppose these were selfish requests, but God “…knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  (Psalm 103:14 ESV).  So confess your weakness and ask boldly.
  2. Never ever ask with a demanding spirit.  This seems to be one of the problems with the Israelites’ petition for a King (1 Samuel 8:5 – 7), which displeased God. And though Job was a godly man, he too got a little overzealous in demanding an audience with the Judge of all the earth, so God answered Him out of the whirlwind.  Therefore, whatever you ask the Lord for, ask with faith, that is, knowing God can answer; but also ask with humility, remembering that He is a loving Heavenly Father Who knows whether or not your request will be a blessing to you and His Kingdom.
  3. Pray the Lord’s Prayer.  If you organize your prayer times like Jesus taught us to, you will always ask for Kingdom-minded and God-oriented items first.  The Lord’s Prayer is a guide to asking, and I’ll be writing a post on how to pray The Lord’s Prayer before too long, but suffice it to say that the first three requests are 1) …that people would honor God, 2) …that His Kingdom would be advanced, and 3) …that His will would be done. That said, if you use another form like ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication), no problem – you don’t have to pray in the form that Jesus taught, but it sure works well for me. It is the basic form for prayer I use every day, and I do think it keeps our hearts oriented on what’s important.
  4. Pray in the spirit of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  This dovetails with not having a demanding spirit.  There are some things I pray for in particular, and I frankly wonder if they are God’s will, and when I get to these on my list, I have that sense, whether I say it or not, “Lord, I certainly hold this with an open hand, and I’m not sure I’m in your will here or not, so work it out according to Your infinite wisdom.”
  5. The bottom line is, pray for your needs and desires, just like a child asks His father, and trust Him to answer according to His will.  No one is so mature that they can always know what they are asking is purely unselfish.  My motives are a mixed bag, and I’m sure that’s true for all of us.  So just pray – pray, pray, pray…and glorify your Heavenly Father when He answers!
 
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Posted by on January 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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3 Truths To Encourage You to Pray

I forget that prayer matters. I forget God answers prayer. Though my loving Heavenly Father has been answering my prayers for years, I am too often like those Israelites who in one moment were miraculously delivered through the Red Sea from slavery, but in the next are crying out that God has forgotten them. I forget what He has done, and I forget that He answers my requests.

So, to counteract this, a number of years ago, I began writing little truths to myself at the top of my prayer lists. And I think I’m onto something with this practice in light of what Paul wrote the Philippians: “Whatever is true…think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). I change these little notes every so often, because they get familiar, and I don’t “see” them anymore.

So here are just a few truths/ideas I have put at the top of lists over the years. I’ll post more at another time. But for now, perhaps these will move you to your knees…

  1. “Prayer is fundamental, not supplemental.” This sentence came from hearing the Scottish pastor Eric Alexander speak at the Urbana ’84 Missions conference. It has called me to prayer again and again. Too many times we can fall into thinking of prayer as a nice thing if we manage to find the time, but not really that important. But on the contrary, it is essential…fundamental, the most important part of the day, not a minor “add-on”.
  2. Collect as many jars as possible. This little idea came out of my meditation on 2 Kings 4 years ago. The story goes that a widow came to Elisha in dire financial straits, with only a jar of oil left to her name, about to have her sons taken in slavery to pay her late husband’s creditors. The prophet told her to go to neighbors and collect empty jars. “Do not get a few,” he said. So she and her sons went knocking on doors, not knowing why they were begging jars. When all the vessels were assembled, Elisha told her to begin pouring oil from the one full jar in the house. As she did so, her sons kept bringing her more empties from what had been collected, and when the last jar was filled, the oil stopped flowing. Elisha told her to sell the oil and pay her debts. And I began to think that prayer was like collecting jars. You do not have, because you do not ask, James said. How many things do I not have…because I haven’t asked, in other words, because I haven’t collected jars. I think that when that oil stopped flowing, she must have thought, why didn’t I collect more jars? And I think that when we get to heaven, we might just think, “Why didn’t I ask my heavenly Father for more?”
  3. Roger – this is the main work you have been called to.  It is. There are so many things a pastor does, and for that matter, there are so many things a mom or dad does, but the main work I am called to is prayer. There is no more important thing I do, either as a pastor, or as a father, or husband. I am called to pray.
 
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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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The Smell That God Loves

Yeast free healthy homemade breadPerhaps you’ve heard before that if you want to sell your house, when someone is coming for a showing, you should have fresh bread baking in the oven. If the scent of delightfulness is strong enough, people will pay full price without a counter offer. Well, okay, I doubt that is really true, but I’ll bet that a good smell wafting through the house does make people more favorable to some sort of purchase. Smells have a powerful effect on us. And here’s the wonderful thing: Scripture says that God can smell our prayers. And it’s like homemade bread baking in the oven to Him.

Okay, not homemade bread, but incense; however, since incense isn’t such a common thing in our culture (at least in my neck of the woods), I prefer to think about homemade bread, or maybe a lovely perfume on the wife of my youth. Whatever you want to compare it to, God apparently likes the smell of our prayers…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8 (ESV)

And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Revelation 8:3-4 (ESV)

Golden bowls full of wonderful smells – that is how our Heavenly Father thinks of our prayers. But why does He delight so much when we seek Him? Well, for one, God delights to be trusted in. But an even greater reason may be that He just plain likes being with you.

Pastor R.T. Kendall (successor to D. Martyn Lloyd Jones at Westminster Chapel in London) relates the story he heard from an evangelist named J. John. The evangelist was in the company of a woman named Sister Theresa (not the famous one) noted for giving a prophetic word and so, he asked her for one. She took some time but came back with a long list of very accurate items regarding him and his ministry. But the last thing she said changed his life:

“God likes your company and asks that you give Him two hours of your time every day.”

God likes your company. Indeed, He not only loves you. He also likes you. Now, by the way, I don’t think you need a prophetic word to come to an understanding of this, but apparently, the word from Sister Theresa helped the evangelist…as R.T. Kendall relates:

“J. John took her seriously, and I can tell you—he has told me more than once—he was never to be the same again. I personally think it explains, at least in part, why J. John is one of the greatest evangelists today, not just in Britain but also throughout the world.”

“What does prayer do for God? For one thing, He likes your company. I cannot imagine a greater motivation to pray than that God enjoys having me in His presence. He enjoys my company. He delights in listening to me! He doesn’t get bored with my repeated requests. He doesn’t moralize me if I get it wrong in what I ask for. He doesn’t laugh at me if I put out silly, even impertinent, requests. He never makes me feel stupid. There is no rejection, only total acceptance.”

Amen, and amen. So…start the heavenly oven, will you? Your Heavenly Father waits to delight in the smells you will send His way.

For Monday, December 14th: Revelation 9

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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