I started watching Downton Abby with Jen recently. This is funnier.
Sometimes prayer can feel like a waste of time. Surely I’m not the only one who feels like this. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. I’ve got books that I need to read,sermons to prepare, kids to play with, diapers to change, and television to watch (Downton Abbey is a long series). When I’m praying it feels like I’m not doing anything. Like I’m just sitting around. Like nothing is happening. I need to get moving on my day and start getting things done.
But then I read quotes like the this one by Martin Luther:
Martin Luther, when once asked what his plans, for the following day were, answered: “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
If anyone was busy, it was Martin Luther. That guy was leading a spiritual revolution! He was preaching, writing, pastoring, translating the Bible into German, being a dad, and being a husband. He was incredibly, overwhelmingly busy. His calendar was always full. And yet, in spite of his incredible workload, he found it absolutely necessary to pray. He had to meet with God before he met with the cares of the day. He would not dive into his day without first being refreshed by the Lord. He knew that he couldn’t serve the Lord well without first asking God for help.
Jesus was an even greater example of the necessity of prayer. Jesus was given the task of being our savior! He was constantly swamped with people and with ministry opportunities. He was constantly being pressed on every side by needy people. And yet he always carved out time to meet with his Father. He would pray through the night. He would set aside ministry opportunities so that he could spend more time seeking God’s face.
Prayer can be tough for me. I’m not a prayer warrior, or Jedi intercessor, or anything like that. I get easily distracted, and now that I have three little girls, my time is even more stretched. I have a lot of different things that need to be done. But I know that I need to pray. I need to meet with God, be strengthened by God, receive wisdom from God, cast my cares on God, and cling to God. If I’m going to serve my family well, I need to pray. If I’m going to serve my church well, I need to pray. If I’m going to serve my wife well, I need to pray.
The Bible seems to indicate that fruitful service to God flows out of consistent dependence on God. I want to be fruitful. I need to be dependent.
Some TV evangelists solicit money like they’re selling Slice-O-Dice-O-Matics or Incredible Dirt-Be-Gone-Ice-Cream-Maker-Diaper-Changers.
“Send your faith seed of $19.95 today and we’ll send you The Amazing Prayer Cloth! Yes, the Amazing Prayer Cloth, embroidered with “footprints in the sand,” is a handy 6” by 6” and fits perfectly inside your Bible. The Amazing Prayer Cloth not only will heal you, but is great for cleaning filthy conscience guilt buildup, as well as charcoal grills and computer screens. Call now, and we’ll send you a second Amazing Prayer Cloth absolutely FREE (just pay shipping and handling of $499)! But wait, there’s more…”
Because of all the manipulation on Christian TV, I’m hesitant at times to encourage people to give to God. But God unashamedly tells us to be generous and to expect him to bless us lavishly. We shouldn’t let the manipulators make us stingy.
God wants us to be generous like he is, the one who gave his only Son for us. Like Christ, who emptied himself to make us rich. Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks of you.”
Obviously, we need to use discernment, but we should reflect our heavenly Father’s generosity. Here are three reasons:
Generosity honors God.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)
Generosity brings thanks to God.
You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)
Generosity focuses our hope on God.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share…(1 Tim 6.17-18).
Generosity helps us set our hope on God, not money or things, which are here today and gone tomorrow. When we give generously we say, “Lord, I give my money away, because I believe you are generous and lavish and will richly provide anything that is good for me.”
God doesn’t owe us, but promises to bless us when we give. If we sow we’ll reap. And God gives us a measure of determination in how much we reap. Sow generously, reap generously. Not that we always reap exactly what we sow. Give a dollar, you might not get ten back. But Jesus will give you joy. And that’s better than money any day. And it’s way better than The Amazing Prayer Cloth.
It is possible to live the Christian life always straining for something more and always dissatisfied and guilty because you haven’t attained it.
It could be your own perception of your love for God, or gratitude for the gospel. Other people seem so much more deeply affected by God than you are – they even tear up when they talk about something they learned in their devotions. So you pray for more love and gratitude, but all the while a subterranean river of doubt gnaws at your soul. What’s wrong with me?
It could be your sense of worth or value to your church. You want to be used by God, so you look for opportunities to minister, to lead in discussion or prayer – and yet you never feel God’s pleasure in your actions, only a restless sense of dissatisfaction coupled with a fear of those more gifted than you and a constant analysis of your own performance. Am I doing well enough?
It could be your overall sanctification. You know you need to grow in humility when you’re corrected, or patience with your kids, or selflessness towards your wife. But instead of faith for the change process you simply feel overwhelmed with a spiritual to-do list. There is no joy in your relationship with God or spontaneous worship arising from your soul. If you dared to articulate your subconscious prayer to God, it would be something like this: Just give me a little longer and I’ll get this fixed.
All of these struggles have a common theme, a non-biblical but very descriptive word: insecurity. Security, according to one dictionary, is “the assurance that something of value will not be taken away.” Insecurity, by contrast, is a perpetual fear that you are about to lose something valuable or experience something negative. If we translate insecurity into biblical language, it is a false refuge or false savior in place of God. My performance is my refuge, not the sovereign, almighty Lord, and so I must perpetually prop up the crumbling walls of my performance castle. It’s a vicious cycle.
So what’s the solution? How do we get off the treadmill of insecurity? Two things: repent of the idolatry, and believe the promises of God. Let’s analyze the second one.
Insecurity always takes the promises and benefits of the gospel – joy in God, peace, forgiveness of sins – and makes them like apples high in the boughs of the tree which only the ladder of performance can reach. Yes, the gospel is good news – and if I could just make myself climb one step higher up this ladder I’d be able to enjoy it! But we never feel like we’re high enough on the ladder, so we’re perpetually insecure, never able to believe and enjoy the promises of God and the blessings of the gospel.
The glory of the gospel is that God brings the blessings to us, exactly where we’re at.
At some point our hearts must take refuge in this: though I will always be in process, God wants me to believe and enjoy the blessings of the gospel now. The happiness of the man whose sins aren’t counted against him (Romans 4:8) is meant for me right now, for this morning’s sin that I confessed but still feel guilty about.
Insecurity is a deadly way to live your life. It saps the energy, joy, and life out of your soul. Sometimes it feels godly when you’re insecure about spiritual things, but it’s not. It’s a sin. Believing the promises of God cuts the heart out of insecurity by placing our feet on a solid foundation – not our performance, but Christ’s – and an unshakeable refuge – the Lord Himself.
Are you perpetually insecure? Then repent and believe the gospel afresh!
“They will work spiritual revolutions through their mighty praying.” –E.M. Bounds
Three weeks ago, we encouraged everyone to join us in praying to God for a revolution in the world, our country and our localities. The first week our focus was to pray for God’s kingdom rule to come to the world; the second week our focus was the persecuted church. Last week we focused on praying for the United States and our own localities. This week we want to pray for our church.
Paul regularly interceded for churches. In almost every one of his letters he shares how he thanks and prays for each of the churches. For example in Ephesians 1 Paul prays:
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might. (Ephesians 1:16-19)
Paul prayed the Ephesians would know Christ more, have a deeper hope of seeing Jesus, realize that the saints are God’s inheritance and be assured of God’s infinite power toward his them.
Let’s pray for our local churches this week. Here are some suggested prayers:
Lord Jesus, thank you for the grace you’ve poured out upon our church. All glory goes to you for every good thing in our church, for you have accomplished it all.
Thank you for giving us love for you and for one another. Thank you for the grace of serving you’ve given our church. Thank you for all your care, protection and provision over the years. Thank you for leading us and guiding us into sound doctrine and giving us an understanding of the Gospel.
Please let us grow in the knowledge of you. Please open the eyes or hearts to see the height, width, breadth, and depth of your love for us, your incomparable power toward us, and the hope of our calling. Cause us to abound in thankfulness and love.
Please pour out your Holy Spirit on us, and give us gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. Let us all say every Sunday, “Surely the Lord is among us.”
Please cause us to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel and bear much fruit for you. Please help us to worship you wholeheartedly with our lives and our mouths. Please let us bring you glory, Jesus. Please use us to share the gospel with thousands and please bring thousands into the kingdom through us.
Please save every child, young and old, of every family in the church. Give every parent grace and wisdom. Bless the Children’s Ministry – every teacher and helper and child. Thank you for everyone who serves in this way.
Please bless the single adults, and college students in our church. Use them for your glory.
Please pour out healing on everyone in our church who is sick. Please provide our daily bread – provide jobs for all who need them.
Please deliver us from sin and temptation. Please keep us pure, holy and humble. Please cause our love and affection for one another to abound and overflow.
Please help, guide, anoint and protect our pastors and raise up many more laborers for the harvest, and leaders in our church. Please give us many more servants and children’s ministry teachers and workers.
Let’s pray for God to do great things for his own glory. He’s lavish and generous and does far more than week can think, ask or imagine.
People are quick to spot hypocrisy.
Nothing has done more harm to the faith than those who claim to be Christians but don’t live it. Peter tells us that we should do good and live exemplary lives as servants of God before a watching world:
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)
Charles Spurgeon puts it this way – our religion should travel with us.
“A Christian cannot live by a double standard but lives to say, ‘If I pray, I will also act. If I go to the house of God and profess to love God, I love him everywhere. I take my religion into the shop, behind the counter, and into the office.’ If it does not travel with us, God knows it is not religion at all.”
We never know who is watching us. What do our lives say about the God we believe in? Are we cheerful? Are we servants? Are we generous? Are we holy? Or do we grumble? Do we join in office gossip? Do we join in impure conversations? Would our classmates or neighbors see anything different about us? Are our neighbors glad we are their neighbors?
So for God’s glory, let’s take our faith with us to work and school, to the coffee shop and the grocery store. Our religion should travel with us.
If you read last week’s post on receiving criticism, I’m sure it changed your life and you are now the most humble person you know, desirous of the correction and input of others.
You freely admit, “I’m not smarter than a fifth-grader and I’m a worse sinner.” You now view everyone who critiques you as a valuable friend. “Thank you for smiting me in love,” you gush when corrected.
Well, we’ll keep trying. Like I said last week, I don’t love being corrected. But Jesus can help us grow. Here are a few more suggestions.
- Don’t be quick to defend yourself. “Hey I thwacked Junior on the head with my iPad because he had a bad attitude!” Don’t make excuses: “Well, I didn’t actually lie. It was theater. You know, drama. I just exaggerated a little bit for effect.” Sometimes it’s fine to offer reasons for our actions, but defensiveness usually comes from pride.
- Don’t write someone off because they fail to deliver criticism perfectly. “Hey! You corrected me harshly! Your stinking attitude invalidates all you said.” Even if they sin, make your primary focus your failure, not theirs. You can talk about their sin some other time.
- Ask clarifying questions. Don’t require them to produce video footage, finger prints, and DNA evidence before you accept what they say, but if they have some examples that could help you see more clearly, welcome them.
- Watch your facial expression and body language. I know, your face feels like it’s going to crack into a thousand pieces. Don’t sit there with your arms crossed and an “I dare you to say something negative” scowl on your face. Try not to start breathing heavily when someone is correcting you, like a snorting bull. Remember, you’re trying to make it easy for them.
- If you see what they’re saying, acknowledge it. James says, “Confess your sins to one another.” Say, “You’re right, honey. I should not have thwacked Junior on the head with my iPad. I was angry and that was sin. Junior, would you please forgive Daddy for his anger and for thwacking you on the head? I won’t thwack you any more. And anyway, my iPad’s broken now.”
- If you can’t see what someone is saying, don’t immediately write it off. You could say, “I’m having a hard time seeing what you’re saying right now, but I certainly could be wrong. I know I have blind spots.” Another thing you can do is ask others if they have observed the same thing. Good chance if one person has seen a weakness or fault of yours, others have too (thanks Julian Freeman for this addition!).
- Ask them to please point it out again if you do it again. Because most likely you will.
Bottom line – we all need correction, input, reproof, adjustment, suggestions and help. A wise man or woman grows wiser by receiving these from others. OK, now go out there and get criticized!
If you were to choose one thing to do on a daily or weekly basis, something that you thought would have the greatest impact on the world not just in your life but over the long haul – what would you do?
I’m not even going to attempt to list what some of the possible answers might be (there are too many of them), nor to rank or evaluate their relative merits. But I do want to suggest one that might seem too mundane to make the list, or at the least wouldn’t be our first response. If you want to change the world, teach children the gospel.
Surprised? I was struck by this thought while reading the book Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen Nichols. In 1529, as Luther was touring Germany and visiting churches that had sprung up in the aftermath of the Reformation, he was dismayed by the poor spiritual condition of many of the young congregations he observed. His solution? Write a catechism to train pastors and a catechism to train children. The latter, called The Small Catechism, was one of two books that Luther considered his most important writings (this from a man whose translated writings fill fifty-five volumes). But Luther was convinced that training the next generation was crucial to insuring that the preaching of the gospel would continue long after his life. “The youth is the church’s nursery and fountainhead,” he wrote. “I admonish you parents, [that if] you do not help, we shall accomplish little with our preaching” (quoted on p.163 and 164 of Nichol’s biography).
So let’s return to our starting question. Do you want to change the world for the better? In particular, as a Christian, do you want to change the church for the better, to give your life to something that will ensure healthy, gospel-preaching churches for years to come? Then train children to know, love, and cherish the gospel. Only God can cause their salvation, but He uses means. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)
Parents, breakfast table devotions or bedtime Scripture stories may not seem like a big deal – but they are the seeds from which men and women planted deep in streams of living water grow. Children’s ministry teachers and workers, an hour on Sunday mornings trying to keep the attention of a dozen 5-year olds, follow a lesson plan, and keep Goldfish crackers from being ground into the carpet might seem like wasted time – but you are pioneering mission work among people who are only just beginning to know the name of Christ.
So let us train our children and teach our classes, for the glory of our God and the gratitude of future generations who will themselves hear gospel from these little ones in our care!
I love this for two reasons. First, these folks are providing spontaneous joy for people. Second, they’re providing the valuable service of rest on the subway. It’s awesome.
“They will work spiritual revolutions through their mighty praying.” –E.M. Bounds
Two weeks ago, we encouraged everyone to join us in praying to God for a revolution in the world, our country and our localities. The first week our focus was to pray for God’s kingdom rule to come to the world; last week our focus was the persecuted church. This week we want to focus on praying for the United States and our own localities.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Paul urges that we intercede for all people in a variety of ways – supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. Why? Because Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Think of how much time so many invest in politics watching the pundits on TV, discussing politics, or working in the political arena. None of this is wrong. But if we spent as much time praying for our leaders as we do criticizing or promoting them, imagine what God would do.
Here are some suggestions for prayer:
O Lord God, Please save multitudes in the United States. Please glorify the name of Jesus by redeeming and transforming millions. Let thanksgiving and praise ascend to your Name in every place. Please open doors for the gospel and let it go forth in great power to every man, woman and child in this nation. Please send laborers into the harvest.
Please pour out your Holy Spirit in a mighty way. Holy Spirit, please convict multitudes in this country of sin, righteousness and judgment (JN 16:8). Cause millions to realize they are sinners, guilty before a Holy God. Convict multitudes that they are not righteous and need the righteousness of Christ. Convict millions of judgment to come and cause them to turn to Jesus for salvation from God’s judgment.
Please save Barack Obama, his wife and children. Please save our Senators, Representatives, and Supreme Court Judges. Save thousands of advisors and staff members in Washington, D.C. Please give our leaders wisdom and cause them to promote righteousness and life. Please cause our government to remain favorable to the Church and the gospel and continue to grant us peace and religious freedom.
Please bring an end to abortion in this nation. Please cause multitudes to turn to you for forgiveness – doctors who have performed abortions, men who have encouraged them, women who have had them. Please change millions and millions of hearts on this issue.
Let’s pray fervently every day this week for our nation. If multitudes prayed for even 5 minutes each, that would be a lot of prayer. God hears the prayers of his people and acts upon them!