The Courage To Pray

door knocker

Why should we think that the infinitely transcendent God would bother to hear the prayers of insignificant creatures like us?  What gives a peon like me the courage to ask Almighty God to do great things for me?  God’s promises.

For you, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you.  And now, O Lord, you are God, and you have promised this good thing to your servant (1 CH 17.25-26).

God’s promises gave David the courage to pray for them.  Knowing a biblical promise gives us boldness to ask that God fulfill that promise.  The more promises we have, the more confidently we’ll pray.

God has promised to counsel me with his eye upon me (PS 32.8), so I boldly ask him to.  Because he’s pledged to give wisdom to those who ask, I ask for wisdom all the time.  Because God has promised to supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus I ask regularly.

God has promised that his Spirit and word will never depart from believers or their descendants (IS 59.21), that the children of the righteous will be mighty in the land (PS 112.2),  taught of the Lord and have great peace  (IS 54.13).  Since God has promised, I’m going to ask for the max – that every one of my children, grandchildren and descendants from now till Jesus’ return will be saved, mighty in the Spirit, and taught of the Lord.

The Bible says believers will walk in good works (EPH 2.10) and bear much fruit (JN 15.16), so I ask Jesus to make me fruitful for him.  Knowing Jesus’ promise to be near to the brokenhearted and to deliver the righteous out of all their afflictions (PS 34.18-19), gives me courage to pray for suffering friends and family members.

Jesus does not wish any to perish but all to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 PE 3.9), and says that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us (1 JN 5.14).  So I’m going to pray for him to save people, because that’s a prayer that is according to his will.

When Jesus tells me ask, seek and knock because everyone who asks receives, all who seek find, to him who knocks it shall be opened (Mt. 7.7-8),  it fires me up to keep rapping on the door.

Which promises give you the courage to pray?

photo by alsuvi

Praying Backwards

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Sometimes I get prayer totally backwards.

Prayer is supposed to be about communing with God, expressing my dependence on Him, and asking Him to meet my needs. It’s supposed to have a distinctly God-ward focus.

But there are many times when I don’t feel what I’m praying. I’m praying for boldness to share the gospel, but don’t feel bold when I pray. I pray that God would heal, but I don’t feel like He’s going to be doing any healing. I pray that God would save, but don’t have a feeling of confidence in God’s saving power.

So I turn in on myself. I try to manufacture feelings of boldness or faith, and I get discouraged when my prayers feel limp and lifeless. My focus becomes inward instead of God-ward, which is totally backwards. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, writing as a senior demon to a junior demon, comments:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy [God] Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…Teach them [humans] to estimate the value of each prayer by producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at that moment.

The success of my prayers is not based on the power of my prayers. Rather, it’s based on Jesus Christ, who sanctifies my weak, often feeling-less prayers. When my prayers feel weak, the solution is not to try to muster up feelings of spirituality, but to turn my gaze away from myself and on to my Savior.

The more time I spend gazing at myself, the weaker my prayers will be. It’s much more effective to spend my time meditating upon Christ, who perfects my prayers.

Can you relate to the temptation to examine your feelings when you’re praying?

The Greater The Sinner, The Greater The Glory

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“I saw Mr. Newton near the closing scene.  He was hardly able to talk; and all I find I had noted down upon my leaving him was this: ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.'”–from “The Roots of Endurance”, by John Piper, p. 347

Christ is an infinitely great Savior.  All the sins of all peoples of all time, if massed together, would be but a speck compared to the ocean of Christ’s blood.  Combine all the unbelief, doubts and fears of the whole human race and they would form a tiny anthill next to Christ’s faithfulness that reaches to the heavens.  Mountains of guilt and regret are like chaff that Jesus can blow away as far as the east is from the west by just a puff.

Heaven will be populated with great sinners, to display the awesome power of Jesus to save.  To save a young child is a marvelous miracle, but to save someone hardened in their sins after rejecting Christ for decades is even more amazing.  And to save millions of wicked, cursing, God-hating, lying, unbelieving, arrogant, dead people is more amazing still.  The greater the sinner, the greater the glory Jesus gains.  Heaven will be filled with great sinners like Newton the slave trader, Augustine the slave to lust, Paul the Church persecutor, David the adulterer and murderer, and me and you.

Every time you’re overcome by a sense of your sinfulness, remember that as great a sinner you are, Jesus is an infinitely greater Savior.  And every time you’re tempted to quit praying for someone’s salvation, remember that no one is too wicked for Jesus to rescue.  So keep praying to the Great Savior for the salvation of your family and friends.  The greater the sinner, the greater the glory.

photo by hour of the wolf

Enjoying Where God Has You Now

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If traveling to the future were an option, I’d be all over it.

The future has such promise, and I’ve spent many hours pondering what’s to come. When I was single the future held the promise of marriage. Now that I’m married the future holds the promise of buying a house.

I longed for the day when I could purchase an iPhone. Thirteen seconds after I bought my phone it became obsolete, and I could look forward to getting a newer, faster phone someday.

When I was in high school I couldn’t wait to get to college. By week two of college I couldn’t wait to graduate.

Unfortunately, in my eager anticipation of the future I’ve often missed the grace that God has for me in the present.

In each season of life, God has blessings and grace for us that are unique to that season of life, and God wants us to enjoy those blessings. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, writing as a senior demon to a junior demon, says:

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the present.

When we perpetually long for the future, we miss the gifts that God has given us right now. We sacrifice the joy we could have now, in our current season of life, on the altar of the future.

God has a unique joy to give to singles that married couples won’t experience. He has special grace to bestow upon college students that the workforce doesn’t get. And He has special grace for renters that homeowners don’t have.

So what about you? Are you enjoying where God has you right now?

What To Do When You Receive Bad News

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When we receive bad news, we can be tempted to fear.  We receive a frightening medical report or a notice our job will be ending, and we can feel the icy fingers of fear wrapping around our heart.

In 2 Chronicles, messengers give Jehoshaphat the heart-sinking news of a great army marching against Judah.  Though he’s terrified, he does the right thing – he seeks the Lord:

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah (3).

His prayer is instructive.  First, he acknowledges God’s sovereignty and power:

“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.” (6)

Then Jehoshaphat recalls God’s past faithfulness and mighty acts:

Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? (7)

He expresses faith that God hears prayer and is willing to save:

And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying,  ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ (8, 9)

He cries out for deliverance and confesses Judah’s weakness and total dependence on God:

“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (12)

God graciously responds with news that we need to hear when our backs are against the wall:

And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah… And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s’ (14-15).

Do not be afraid or dismayed by the circumstances no matter how bleak they look, for the battle is not yours but the Lord’s.

Let us pray like Jehoshaphat when we look at fearful circumstances: Affirm God’s sovereign power, recall his past faithfulness and mercies, especially the cross, express our faith in his promises to hear and act, and cry out to him in our weakness.  And then let us remember, no matter what we face, the battle is not ours but the Lord’s.

photo by splorp

Does Productivity Hurt the Gospel?

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Sometimes I wonder if our culture of efficiency is hurting me spiritually.

I love to be productive. I like to read blogs that have posts titled “6 Ways to Get Everything Done” or “The Ultimate Productivity Guide”. And don’t get me started on the book “Getting Things Done”. Just thinking about GTD makes my lips get numb with excitement.

Lately though I’ve been wondering if my passion for productivity also tempts me toward legalism. To be honest, I usually feel like I should be doing something. I have this vague notion that I must always be productive and I have a difficult time simply resting. Sometimes I feel vaguely guilty when I relax.

And I know that some of this is good. I want to work hard in the service of the Lord. But the gospel is first and foremost about something that’s has already been done for me. I don’t work for the gospel, I rest in it. God delights in me because of what He has done, not what I will do.

It’s okay, and even good for me to do nothing at times. To rest. To watch a movie. To sit on the porch and sip coffee. To even (dare I say it?) play video games. Rest is a wonderful gift from God, and a wonderful reminder of the rest that I have in the gospel. I can rest without guilt because Christ worked for my salvation.

I’m still pondering this one. Any thoughts?

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+photo by Saad.Akhtar

Every Which Way But Loose

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For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”  (IS 41.13)

It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who holds your right hand, if you’re a believer.

He tells us three times as if to pound it into our heads: “I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand”…”It is I who say to you…I am the one who helps…”  It is the Creator of all who tells us not to fear, the Lord, the Sovereign One, who helps us.  Jesus doesn’t assign an angel to hold our hand. No man holds our hand.  No doctor, no boss, no experts hold our hand but Christ himself does.

“You lay your hand upon me,” says the Psalmist (Ps 139).  We didn’t lay our hands on Jesus.  He grabbed us and snatched us from destruction when we were running as hard as we could for hell.

If Christ holds our hand then it doesn’t matter what happens around us.  The economy might collapse but we won’t fall for the one who upholds the universe holds us.  Our lives may crumble about our feet but Jesus will keep his grip.  Even if the whole cosmos disintegrated around us Christ would still hold our hand.

The Lord holds our hand – we don’t hold his.  He will never lose his grip on us, even if we lose our grip on him, fall asleep, stumble, or try to pull away.  Jesus said no one can snatch us out of his hand.  Satan and all hell can’t pry us loose.  The world can’t steal us from him.  Old age and weakness may destroy our minds, but won’t loosen his mighty fingers.  Storms may batter and ravage us, but won’t break his grip, and he’ll still be holding our hand when we wade into the river to cross to the Celestial City.

Christ may turn us every which way, but he’ll never turn us loose.  Can you hear him saying to you today, “Fear not”?

photo by Tojosan

Omniscience in 140 Characters

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Can you capture the incredible omniscience of God in 140 characters or less? It’s like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon! But give it a shot. It will force you to be concise and precise in your doctrine. It’s called Twitter Doctrine.

So here’s how it works:

  • Today’s doctrine is THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD.
  • If you use Twitter, post a Tweet that explains this glorious doctrine. Put the tag #systheol on the Tweet so others can find it.
  • If you don’t use Twitter, leave a comment explaining God’s omniscience in 140 characters or less.
  • Spread the word by hitting the ReTweet button at the bottom of this post.

Let’s do it.

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Politicians vs. THE Politician

nuclear

Depending on your politics, you fall into one of three categories:

  • You believe that Barack Obama is singlehandedly destroying this country.
  • You believe that Barack Obama is rescuing this country.
  • You like hamburgers. And you’re not sure about Barack.

If you fall into one of the first two categories, you’re probably aware that people are seriously fired up right now. Hordes of protesters recently descended onto Washington DC to protest Obama’s health care plan. Parents were fired up when Mr. President decided to address school children on the first day of school. I actually heard someone use the word ‘impeachment’ recently.

I’m not to going play political analyst in this post. I’ll leave that up to smarter, more godly men like Al Mohler. I simply want to remind us of one truth:

When thinking about politics, we must first remember The Great Politician.

Politics tend to bring out two responses in us. The first is panic. Barack Obama is bringing this country to the brink of ruin! Our children and grandchildren are going to face an apocalypse!

The second response is anger. I can’t believe what is happening in Congress. They’re killing us! This country is becoming a socialist nation!

Both of these responses forget one magnificent truth: God is The Great Politician who rules and reigns.

Proverbs 21:1 says:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

Barack Obama makes his plans and authors legislation that is thousands of pages long. But ultimately, Barack Obama doesn’t lift a finger without God ordaining it. God is using Obama exactly as he pleases. God is the one directing Obama’s heart, and Obama’s plans are nothing more than a tiny sub-clause in God’s sovereign plan.

God is used to working with people in high places. He hardened Pharaohs’ heart, and He raised up King David. He humbled Nebuchadnezzar, and He exalted Solomon. Kings and Presidents are like tiny streams of water in the hands of God, and He does with them as He pleases.

The next time you’re tempted to panic or anger, remember The Great Politician. He knows what He’s doing.

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+photo by Steve Punter