Tag Archives: prayer

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?

Held by Faith

When Jesus said to Peter,

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

He was warning Peter about the trial to come.  But more than that, He was encouraging him, informing Peter that He would keep him safe.   Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail!

So, here’s the question: When we suffer, when we are discouraged and confused, who is responsible for making sure our faith doesn’t fail?   After all, faith is our lifeline, our means of connecting to God.  Who protects it?  Whose job is it to keep our faith strong?  Our natural inclination is to believe that we must work harder to keep our faith strong.  We have to tell ourselves to believe.  But is that true?

In Peter’s situation, Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail.   Maybe you think that Peter was more important to Jesus than you are.  Is that true?  (Hint:  What did Jesus teach about “the least of these, my brothers”? – Matthew 25:40ff)  Do you think that Jesus, the One Who promised,

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40)

… would somehow fail to pray for your faith?

And how did you get your faith?  Did you work it up?  Did you “squinch” up your face and ball your fists and hold your breath?  Or was your faith given to you by God?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

By the way, when God gives out gifts, batteries – rechargables – are included.

The toddler is going with his grandfather, down to the soda shop to get a cone of mint-chip.  As they get ready to cross Main, Grampa holds out his hand and says, “Hold onto my hand and don’t let go.”   Hand in hand, off they go, picking their way through a break in traffic.  Whose job is it to make sure the child is still holding on?

In my Father's Hand

Faithguard

Just before Jesus went to be tortured to death, He said something strange to Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. (Luke 22:31)

Regardless of exactly what Satan had in mind to do, it doesn’t sound like fun.  In most church circles, our response would be to pray and ask Jesus not to let that happen.  Most of our prayer requests are for God to remove some kind of suffering, right?  But not Jesus, at least not in this circumstance.  He said:

“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. ” (Luke 22:32a )

Apparently, Jesus was going to grant Satan’s request.  The disciples (the word “you” in v. 31 is plural) were going to experience a time of “sifting.”  In Jesus’ perfect understanding, this time of suffering would produce something good, either for the disciples or for His Kingdom in general.  So Jesus did not take the suffering away.  What He prayed for, instead, was that Peter’s faith may not fail!    Jesus prayed for the continued sufficiency of Peter’s faith, so that he would remain connected to God by it as he went through this period of undefined suffering  –  through, and then by faith, out the other side.  Jesus continues:

And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32b)

When the coastguard sends a ship out on a rescue, their desire is not to keep the ship in the harbor, where it will be safe from the storm, but that their radar and radio systems would remain intact as long as they need them during the rescue mission.   There are lots of flaws with that analogy, but you get the idea:  Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from suffering, He doesn’t remove us from all temptation and trial.  In fact, Jesus promised us that in this world we will suffer.  But, no doubt, He prays for His followers, as He did for Peter, that our faith may not give out.  He guards it.

When Jesus taught us to pray, the last part of the prayer was that God would lead us from temptation and deliver us from the Evil One.  As we are tempted, He leads us.  As we are attacked, He delivers, or rescues us. We are empowered by our faith as we go through suffering.  We are led on the right path through the suffering  and are delivered out on the other side of the suffering because our faith keeps us connected securely to God.

Think about how those observations fit into all we have been saying about faith (See: “Loud and Clear”  and  “Basic Faith”).  Then ask this question:  Whose job is it to make sure your faith doesn’t fail?

Stay tuned…

Just Do It!

Did you ever get a spiritual “nudge” to pray with someone? If so, you probably also think of a bunch of reasons to mind your own business. Should you risk the possible embarrassment or rejection? Chris Daniels is the leader of one of the best rock and swing bands I’ve ever heard. When he was in the hospital, in a fight for his life, a woman he didn’t know stopped in his room. She said to him, “You look terrible! Would it be okay if I prayed for you?” To hear him tell it, that simple request and the prayer that followed changed his whole outlook on life. But don’t take my word for it; listen to this great song by him about the prayer with Sister Delores…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhQcZNy2z_c

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (Jas 5:16b).

Tears and Prayers

The question posed at the end of the last post (see “The “Why?” Question”) asked, “in what sense are we “dead?””  The bombing in Boston has put a sad and urgent punctuation mark on that question.  Obviously something is “broken” with us humans, something dead that should be alive.  But, rather than continue with that line of thought today, it’s time for quiet reflection, for tears and prayers… 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28

God bless you.