Tag Archives: prayer

Buying God

A few days before Christmas, “[Pope] Francis issued a blistering indictment of the Vatican bureaucracy Monday, accusing the cardinals, bishops and priests who serve him of using their Vatican careers to grab power and wealth, of living “hypocritical” double lives and forgetting that they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.  “Vatican watchers said they had never heard such a powerful, violent speech from a pope…” (excerpts from Associated Press – 12/22/14)

The top leaders of the Roman Catholic church must have been pretty shocked.  What they expected to hear were some mild, innocuous, typical Christmas greetings.  But WHAM!  Stay tuned for how this plays out; it’s going to be very interesting.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem, receiving enthusiastic cheers and cries from a gathering crowd, most of whom expected Him to go into the city and begin setting up a kingdom in opposition to the Romans.  Those nasty, pagan, oppressive Romans were about to get their just desserts; Israel would become free at last.  But not so fast…   When Jesus entered the city, He turned against His own people, the leaders and bureaucrats in the Temple, not the Romans.

” Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”” (Matthew 21:12-13)

The buying and selling at the Temple had gradually been put in place as a matter of convenience for traveling pilgrims.  Instead of bringing their livestock for the sacrifice, they could purchase an appropriate animal.  If they did not have the right currency for the Temple offering, they could exchange what they had when they got there.  All of this sounds reasonable, as does the need for those providing the service to make a profit.  So what was Jesus so worked up over?

There were a lot of problems represented there, including a form of racism.  But, the main problem was that the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer (“for all nations,” according to this quote from Isaiah).  Not commerce.  Even so-called “religious” commerce transforms the mysterious and powerful process of communicating with God into a business transaction.  It is true that the “robbers” were charging exorbitant rates.  But the main problem was exchanging what was supposed to be a humble, personal interaction with God for an impersonal ritual involving money.

It’s as though the Temple leaders were encouraging the people to relate to God by saying, “Here, God, here’s a couple of bucks; go buy yourself something nice.”  Instead of reaching out to Him in heartfelt prayer.  Do we make the same mistake today?  To often, I think.  No doubt that’s part of what had the Pope so upset, too.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
AP quote:
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/12/22/world/europe/ap-eu-rel-vatican-reform.html?_r=0

Enough

The next time you are running low on food and 5000 men show up for dinner with their wives and kids, you might want to review how Jesus showed His disciples to handle it (You can read it in Matthew 14:13-21).  But most of us won’t ever be in that situation; is there anything in this episode for us?  Anything that we can apply to life as we experience it, one ordinary day after another?

When preachers deal with this passage, their points typically go something like:

–   “When Jesus gives you something impossible to do, He will make it possible.”

–   “Don’t worry about what you don’t have; bring what you do have to Jesus and give it to Him”

Those are great principles and make compelling sermons, but how do they apply to us in our every day circumstances?    Another way to ask that question is, “Can you think of any example in your own life where these principles were applied?”    We all know stories of great missionaries who lived like this, but what about the rest of us “Joe the Plumber” kind of people?

The lessons that Jesus demonstrated that night, feeding 5000 families, were not simply for the disciples.  All those people in the crowd were fed, too.  Jesus was showing them something, too.  But what?

As you ponder those questions, consider this:  Jesus taught us, every day, as we pray, to ask God, for bread – daily bread.  Enough for the day.  In that prayer, Jesus was building on God’s training protocol for the Israelites, as they faced starvation in the desert.  Each day, He provided just enough manna for their needs that day.  No more, no less, except the day before the Sabbath.  On that day He provided a double portion, so they could rest on the following day.  “Give us today, our daily bread.”

As you face today, there is no way for you to know what the day holds, or how much “daily bread” you will need.  But God does.  Just before Jesus told us to pray, “give us today our daily bread,” He said:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8, NIV)

Maybe your daily bread today will include food for 5000.  Maybe it will be strength and courage to make it through the day.  He knows.

Quote: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

How to Pray Like Jesus

When you screw up while leaving a recorded phone message, you usually can’t erase it,  I know a guy who ended a message with “…in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”.   He was so used to saying that at the end of a prayer that he just did it without thinking.

Sometimes our prayers get said without thinking, too.  You can probably recite the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about it.  For many, saying the “Our Father” is a ritual, like the Pledge of Allegiance, done by rote so we can all sit down and get on to the next thing.  The irony of that is that Jesus taught that prayer as a way to help us avoid meaningless, empty prayer.  He warned us, “Don’t think you get brownie points from God by special words and a religious tone of voice.”

But, that raises the question: When you dare to speak with the Creator of the universe, what should you say?  How should you pray?

Jesus answered those questions with a profound but simple outline for prayer.  He said, not, pray this, but “pray like this:”

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
( Matthew 6:9-13 – ESV)

Begin your prayer, He said, by acknowledging the majesty and awesome holiness of the One you are addressing.  At the same time, remember His love for us, His children.  “Our Father, Who exists in Heaven, may Who You are, fill me and everyone else with a sense of reverence, wonder and humility.” Use words that have that effect on your heart.

Secondly, as you pray, intentionally align your heart with God’s purpose and plan.  Pray for the eventual establishment of His Kingdom on earth, the day in which everyone naturally and gracefully lives in harmony with the will of God, their King.  Tell God how you yearn for Heaven’s conditions to be lived out here on earth.

After these important attitude adjustments in prayer, Jesus taught us to pray for our needs.  We don’t say, “God, gimme this…”  but rather, we are to pray with gratitude, knowing God already knows our needs.  We pray for our daily needs – bread for the day.  There is a childlike trust and surrender reflected in such a prayer. 

Our prayers for forgiveness from God are soaked in the awareness that such forgiveness can only be received by those with forgiving hearts.  Read that again and ponder the truth of it. 

Jesus taught us to pray for protection from Satan and from the many ways we are tempted by him.  Because our battle with sin is spiritual in nature, we need more than willpower; we need spiritual armament.

And that’s it.  That’s the outline for prayer.  All that other business about “For Thine is the… ” is the kind of religious ritualistic verbiage Jesus was teaching us to avoid.

Next time you pause to talk with God, try Jesus’ outline, putting each idea into the words that flow from your own heart. 

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.  🙂

Keep it Real

Did you ever hear someone else praying and think, “That guy is a phony?”  Jesus did.  And he warned us against phony praying.  He said:

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  ( Mat 6:5-8. –   ESV)

The essence of prayer hypocrisy is paying more attention to people than you do to God. God knows your heart, knows what you need, and loves you. He invites us to pray as a natural part of our relationship. Nothing we can say will impress Him or manipulate Him. He wants us to keep it real.   

The temptation to impress others causes some to love to pray out loud. The flip side of that same temptation causes some to hate praying publicly, fearing that others will not be impressed. Jesus says we can avoid all that by praying privately – honestly talking things over with Our Father.

That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to pray with others out loud, but when we do, the same principles apply:  Remember Who you are speaking to, pray what is truly in your heart, and keep it real between you and God.

You know what happens when a dad comes home from serving overseas and pays a surprise visit to his daughter in school?  When she see him and runs to him, the last thing on her mind is how she looks and sounds to everybody else.  Pray like that…

Ruth’s Truth

A cruel, degenerative disease twisted the old woman’s back into a question mark and she shuffled through her final years looking toward the ground.  But she saw the drug-fueled goings on next door, heard the loud rock and roll, the late night parties. Ruth (not her real name) went out of her way to be a good neighbor and developed a real friendship that blasted through presumed age and culture gaps.  I know this because I was the guy next door.

Several years went by before my wife and I each encountered the truth about Jesus, gave Him our trust, and came to life by His Spirit.  Ruth noticed.  She may have been forced to physically look down, but she knew how to look up.  One day, in a quiet and gentle way, she let on that she had been praying for us, all those years, every day.

I’m guessing Ruth knew this part of John’s first letter:

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.  (1 John 5:16a)

When Ruth looked across the alley and saw me, she saw her brother.  She knew we were stumbling around in the dark, trying to find a way to make darkness more tolerable.  She prayed, and God turned on the lights.  He gave us life.

When you see someone stumbling around in sin, recognize him as your brother.  Don’t judge, pray.  Be like Ruth.

It’s Not Fine Print

It looked like a little country church picnic. I saw them on the far side of a park and kept my distance.  But then I heard them singing,..  Tight, exquisite, a cappella harmony, carried along by infectious, syncopated hand percussion…   “Jesus on the mainline, tell Him what you want.  Call Him up and tell Him what you want…”   I snuck over to listen, transfixed.  I’ve looked hard but never found a recording of that song that even comes close to what I heard that day.

But the lyrics might pose a question:  Is that really true?  Is “Jesus on the mainline?”  Can you just “call Him up” and “tell Him what you want?”  More to the point, will He give you what you want?

Possibly.  Check this out:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)

Aha!  You found the fine print.  “…if we ask anything according to His will…”   Maybe that sounds like a clause, buried in the text of your insurance, that says the company really won’t pay on most of your claims.  But  John is encouraging people who have begun a relationship of love with God through faith in Jesus.  He’s talking to people who are “approaching” God, getting close.

Who is your hero?  is there someone you really look up to?  Let’s suppose you got to meet him and, because you hit it off, you got to be close personal friends.  Can you imagine asking him to give you something that would hurt him or insult him?  Of course not.  It wouldn’t fit with your relationship.

John says, in our close and loving relationship with God, as we commune with Him and are transformed by His Spirit in us, we can be confident when we ask Him for anything that fits into His will.  It’s as good as done.

What’s the point of asking, you may wonder?  If it’s God’s will, what difference will it make for me to ask?  I’m not sure I know all the answers to that, but I do know one: asking and receiving deepens our relationship with God on a daily basis.

Next time you have drawn close to God in prayer, next time you are enjoying His company, let Him show you what to ask.  Go ahead and ask.  Then watch, with anticipation  – no, expectation.  And when He provides whatever it is you need, make sure to turn back to Him with a hug and a high five! Like so many other things in life, the more you practice this, the better it gets.   And every time is hair-raising, amazing.

You might just find yourself singing that song…  “Jesus on the mainline… ”  

Dangerous Faith

Speaking of people who lived by strong faith, the author of Hebrews says:

Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—  (Heb 11:36b-37)

Of course, that was back in the old Bible days, right?  What challenges do we face today that test our faith?  Well, last week, 20 churches were burned to the ground.  Homes were ransacked and torched.  People were beaten and a few were killed.  Why?  They were Christians living in Egypt.  In some areas of Egypt, Christians are living as prisoners in their homes, afraid to go outside, even to get food.  Most of us cannot imagine what these people are dealing with, much less really know how we would respond if we were in their shoes.  They are facing a stark challenge to their faith.  What they choose to do, in response to these attacks, will show what they believe.   The world urges us to fight back, to get even, take revenge.  Jesus taught: 

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…  (Matthew 5:44)

Sadly, the situation in Egypt is hardly unique.  Levels of Christian persecution are higher than they ever have been.   This faith business is dangerous business.   Would you join me in praying for these brothers and sisters, asking God to strengthen their faith?