All posts tagged Prayer

What Makes Heaven, Heavenly?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a ‘Heaven’ for them – that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, un-shakable kind of happiness God intends for you (p. 81).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Am I prepared to enjoy Heaven? When I take away the presumed “yes,” then this question is quite startling. I might be the kind of person for whom Heaven would be miserable or, at best, boring. Heaven might be an acquired taste that only those who have been transformed by God can enjoy.

Considering this question for a moment has made me realize how self-centeredly I have thought about Heaven. Honestly, I have always thought of it as my Heaven more than God’s Heaven. I thought of it as an eternal playground built for my preferences and specifications. I thought of it as a place where “my will be done” was the guiding force.

Unless that changes, my Heaven might actually be Hell (C.S. Lewis fully develops this theme in his book The Great Divorce). Unless my way of thinking were renewed ,then my dreams come true would be so inherently contradictory, consuming, exhausting, disappointing, or otherwise damaging that if I had to live with them for eternity it would be torturous.

This reveals another dimension of my depravity: I am unable to enduringly desire and enjoy God’s goodness apart from His grace. This should humble me greatly, but not necessarily in the sense of shame (which is not really humility at all). It should humble me when I disgruntedly try to tell God He has not been good.

Discontentment is predicated on the assumption that I know (or get to define) what is truly good. If C.S. Lewis is right about Heaven, then discontentment is not only wrong but foolish. I am much more like my 4 year old who wants to only eat marshmallows for every meal than I cared to admit. I think I know what happiness (Heaven) is and am offended by anyone (even God) who would tell me differently.

If I truly believed this, I would pray differently. I would ask more questions and seek more guidance while making fewer petitions. Not that petitions are bad, but my petition-to-question ratio displays a confidence that I know what I am asking for and how it should be defined.

I pray, “Lord, help me lead a healthy family” assuming I know what “good” is and what “lead” means. It might do me more good (in terms of refining my character, not altering God’s willingness to answer) to pray, “Lord, show me more of what a good family is and how you would have a husband to lead one.” With that prayer, I am allowing God to define Heaven and lead me into it rather than verbally drawing the dots and asking God to connect them.

This view of Heaven excites me more than my previous perspective. This understanding reveals how Heaven can truly be “better than I imagined” because my imagination is not yet prepared to ask for Heaven. But as God continues to refine me I will see more clearly through a dim glass and those things that I want will be in line with the eternally satisfying place God has prepared for His children.

Four Ways to Read the Bible

Many vibrant devotional lives have died in seminary. People are often surprised to learn this. Students come to seminary because of their love for God and His Word. But when the Bible becomes a textbook, it can lose its vitality. As with everything else, when you dissect it, it dies.

I remember being a seminary student who was enthralled with hermeneutics (the fancy word, along with exegesis, for principles of interpreting the Bible). As much as I enjoyed the subject and gleaned from it, the classes and books taught me to come to the Bible with dozens of questions that had little to do with God or me. I was excited about the original author, the author’s intent, the original audience, the original language, syntax, lexicon (not the little green people at the end of rainbows), and other ways to find the meaning of the text.

I still value hermeneutics, but that is not the focus of this post. This post is meant to cultivate questions for Bible study that focus primarily upon God and me (or you). The outline of the post comes from a recent video post by David Powlison on the prayer life of Martin Luther. In the video Powlison discusses four ways Luther responded to Scripture in his prayer life.

Dr. David Powlison – Martin Luther’s Prayers from CCEF on Vimeo.

Bible as Text Book

When we come to the Bible as a text book we are seeking to learn what and how to think. We want to know what is right, good, wise, and worthwhile. We come to it as innocent children eager to learn from trusted parents.

We recognize the world as a complicated and large place. We know that we are not capable of mastering it on our own. So we ask questions to fill our mind with the relevant facts and needed perspective to respond to the challenges we will face.

Bible as Hymn Book

When we come to the Bible as a hymn book we are seeking to find the majesty of God. We come to the Bible like children asking questions of their parents’ “glory days.” We want to be awed, inspired, and made to feel safe because of what we learn.

We recognize that we will never be satisfied with our own achievements. As creatures made to worship, we crave a thrill that we cannot produce. We were made with imaginations that require the presence, mission, and power of God to swim in.

Bible as Confession Book

When we come to the Bible as a confessional book we find everything we want to be (or would want to be if our perspective was right) and are not. Yet we do not find shame. We come as children who have failed and are seeking the comfort of a loving parent.

We recognize that light reveals dirt that was hidden in the shadows of our lives. But the inspiration and motivation developed in worship causes us to find value in the hard work of cleaning (okay, the children metaphor might be breaking down here). We ask questions that reveal our desire to get our character from where we are to what we see in our Father.

Bible as Prayer Book

When we come to the Bible as a prayer book we are seeking help in the journey from what we saw in the Bible as confession book to the Bible as hymn book. We come with the innocent faith of children who believe if we have seen in His Word, God can get us there.

We talk like children with their Father, when they know their request pleases the Father. As we ask God to make us more like what we’ve read and adored, we are like the child asking his/her parent to teach them the parent’s favorite hobby.

To summarize this post, as you read the Bible, never forget how God says we get into His kingdom and (my inference) come to understand His Word, “Truly I say to you whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it (Mark 10:15).” Let your Bible reading echo the heart of a child peppering his/her parent with questions of admiration.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.

Prayer: Powerful Weakness

What does it say about you when you have to ask for help? Take it a step further, what does it say about you when you are always having to ask for help? Those are easy questions. It means you’re weak. It also says that you are in good company.

Consider the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I believe the epitome of this powerful weakness is prayer. We are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17); to constantly cry out for help. That expression of weakness (prayer) taps us into the greatest, most constant, and most benevolent source of strength – God Himself.

I have heard many people say that they feel like this kind of praying is whining. But then I remind them that, by that definition, most of the Bible is either whining or the response to whining (see my post “Biblical Whining”).

But that whole defense is given because we believe asking for help is weak and we should not be weak. Have you ever noticed that the most precious things are weak? Fine china dishes. Roses. Babies. We handle them with care and feel honored to have them. But for some reason we do not want to be put in the place to be like them.

We become like my 3 year old who is so committed to being big and strong that life becomes hard for him. I am there longing to help, waiting to be asked, but his refrain is, “I can do it myself. I know just what I’m doing.” His definition of “strong” causes his effectiveness to be much weaker and slower than it has to be.

Paul understood what it meant to be strong as a child of God; it meant relying upon our Father for those things we were never meant to do without Him. That is where the illustration of my son breaks down. He is meant to grow up and be independent and even take care of me in my old age.

We were never meant to be independent of God. Even if the Fall had never happened, God created us a finite beings meant to draw delight and purpose from interaction with His infinite being. We never can outgrow God.

The call of the Christian life is to embrace weakness to find strength. This is seen and experienced most practically in prayer.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.

Reflections on the First Wednesday of Our Month of Prayer

It started with conviction when I heard JD say, “Prayerlessness is the inevitable result of pride or a lack of faith, usually both. You fail to pray, instinctively, because you are too proud to realize you need God or too unbelieving to grasp God’s willingness to help,” in staff meeting. I could no longer chalk up inconsistent prayer to a lack of discipline.

Choosing to follow the church-wide prayer guide, I read Luke 1:8-17 and found myself identifying with Zechariah more than I expected. Zechariah was in his routine of serving God (v. 8-9) while surrounded by people who were praying (v. 10). His occupation and religious duty caused him to miss the worship for the service.

Working in ministry can sometimes make prayer seem redundant, after all, “I already know what God wants me to do today – it’s in my job description and on my calendar.” It can become a mindset of, “Why talk to God when I already know the assignment. When I get stuck, I’ll check back in for clarification and direction.” I have a tendency to view myself as God’s servant more than God’s son (adopted child, little “s”).

But it’s more than that. I also grow comfortable (a nicer word for “pride” per JD’s quote above). I treat God like a mentor more than my Savior. The more I learn about what God wants me to do, the more independent I feel like I can be.

With much of this kind of thinking I quickly reach the point that, like Zechariah, I am surprised and questioning of God’s “interference” in “my” assignment (v. 18-20). Honestly, Zechariah had much better reason than I do. He was struggling with decades of unanswered prayer about the desire for a child (v. 7). I just tend to make second things first.

It struck me how the description of John the Baptist is a part of ministry to which I rarely pay attention. John was to “prepare the way” for Jesus. So much of the impact of teaching and counseling is what happens before the conversation begins. John proclaimed the sinfulness of humanity so that the grace of Jesus would be the answer to the question people were asking. Without the right question, Jesus’ message would have been thought-provoking not life-changing.

This made my subtle pride less subtle. The tasks God gives to us are not side jobs over which we take dominion but cooperation with His moving in the life of people. It is humbling to remember that what I can’t control is so much bigger than what I can. When I grow comfortable with “my assignment” it is because I have shrunk the scope of God’s activity to my life. I merely want to check off that “I did it right, so nobody can get on to me.”

From these points of conviction my prayers centered on:

  • Asking God to reverse the way I shrink life and ministry to make it manageable.
  • Praying for the events prior to the prayer meeting that God would prepare His people.
  • Praying that God would use the events before each ministry task a Summit pastor engages in.
  • Reflecting on and thanking God for the number of “coincidences” that made ministry more effective in recent weeks.
  • Praying that God would “prepare the way” for the Gospel in places that are hostile to Christianity.

I hope these reflections serve as an encouragement for you to pray and to share with others how God uses prayer to change you and change the world around you.

God’s Words for Our Parental Discouragement: Psalm 107

Case Study: Martha was an empty nest single mom who had done the best she knew how and that time/energy had allowed. She looks back now with lots of regret as all four of her children are far from God and not looking to return. When they were in her home she stressed the importance of church, she often referenced Bible passages when she disciplined them, and always she prayed for each of them daily.

Todd is the wandering soul. He doesn’t know what he believes or what he wants. Occasionally he gets excited about some new hobby, job, relationship, or faith, but it never lasts long.

Amy is the child who is mired in depression. She is the one who spoke most about missing a father figure. Divorced and with a child of her own, Amy struggles to muster the energy to get to her minimum wage job. Child support (when it comes) and occasional assistance from Martha helps her “just get by.”

Doug is the child who got into drugs. Meth is his drug of choice. He stays high, doesn’t eat, and when Martha does see him it breaks her heart. Doug is rail thin with sunken eyes that reveal a soul as empty as Doug’s life really is.

Steve is the “successful child.” Steve saw his older siblings throw their life away and vowed not to repeat their mistakes. Steve went to college, got his degree, moved to the nearest major city, got a good job, and worked his way into several promotions in his brief time there. However, his obsession with work is already putting a strain on his marriage and Martha can see how much his kids miss their father. Steve occasionally tells Martha about a few of their marital arguments, but he can’t understand why his wife is upset when he’s “doing everything right.”

Martha thought she would get to rest when the kids all moved out. But babysitting, paying off debt, and the burden she carries for her children hardly let her rest. She knows she should pray for her kids, but a cynicism is growing within her because she has prayed for years and it hasn’t done any good. In her pain, she calls out to God, “Lord, give me the words to pray.”

Pre-Questions: This case study is meant to challenge you to think biblically about the real struggles of life. These questions will not be answered completely in the sections below. But they do represent the kind of struggles that are being wrestled with in Psalm 107. Use the question to both stir application and to give you new insight into the psalm.

  • If Martha was in your small group or Sunday School class, what would be effective ways you could ministry to her?
  • How would you respond when Martha expressed guilt and/or anger about the “train up a child” verse (Prov. 22:6)?
  • How would you help Martha discern the line between enabling her children and loving her children (or her grandchildren)?
  • How could you assist Martha as she struggles to not just give up hope?

Read Psalm 107 in your preferred Bible translation. The “rewrite” of Psalm 107 below is an attempt to capture the words that God would give Martha to pray (Romans 8:26-27). This would be something Martha would need to pray many times as she was burdened for her four children..

A re-write of Psalm 107

Martha Prays for Her Family: 1. Lord, You are good. I may struggle to see it, but if Your love was not trustworthy and unending I would be hopeless.

2. You have brought me through so many things as I raised my four children on my own. When we needed food, new tires for the car, or clothes for school some how You always provided. It is so easy to forget those times of faithfulness in the midst of the current hardships.

3. Right now we are scattered and need to be brought back to You and each other… again. We have gone to wandering, depression, drugs, and the American Dream. It feels like we have been scattered to the ends of the earth.

 

Martha Prays for Todd: 4. Todd wandered into wandering. He’s not connected, addicted, or committed to anything. There is nothing that guides his decision making and allows him to get anywhere.

5. He is starving to find something that gives meaning to life and gives direction to his choices. His heart has given up, checked out.

6. May Todd call to You in his troubles and be delivered from the mess he is making of his life.

7. Bring Todd back to the narrow way that leads to life, meaning, and satisfaction. Let him know what it means to live in a community of faith that cares for one another.

8. Bring Todd to the place where he can thank You for Your steadfast love, continual presence, and ample grace. Give him a testimony of Your redemption that he can share with his friends and bring many to You.

9. Only You, Lord, can satisfy his search for meaning. His soul is hungry call him back to Yourself, the Bread of Life and Living Water.

Martha Prays for Amy: 10. Amy is in darkness and the shadow of depression is always covering her. She is a prisoner in her own sorrow, grief, self-pity, and shame. They weigh her down like shackles.

11. She listens to her pain and it drowns out any truth that comes to her ears. She refuses to hear instruction from Your Word because she believes it’s too hard, cliché, would work for someone better than her, or it just hurts too much to hope any more. If I mention the Bible, she just gets off the phone.

12. Bring her to the bottom of her pain and self-pity so she will look up to You. Remove from her life her friends who don’t want her to “do better” because then she would leave them behind. Those friends are not friends. Cause Amy to see how alone she is.

13. May Amy call to You in her troubles and be delivered from the mess she is making of his life.

14. Bring Amy out of the darkness and shadows. Break the emotional shackles that bind her.

15. When You do, let her see that it is (and only could be) You who freed her with your steadfast love, continual presence and ample grace. Give her a testimony of Your redemption that she can share with her friends and bring many to You.

16. For you are The Great Despair Buster. Y

ou are Hope! Life! and Peace! You are the Light that penetrates the darkness.

Martha Prays for Doug: 17. Doug is a fool because of his addiction and meth is his cruel master that causes his many pains.

18. He looks awful. He won’t eat. He’d rather be high, starve himself to death, and meet the destiny that awaits him.

19. May Doug call to You in his troubles and be delivered from the mess he is making of his life.

20. Send someone to Doug to speak truth to him that will penetrate his denial and lack of care. Wake him from his addiction and deliver Doug from the inevitable destruction it will bring.

21. When You do, let Doug see that Your steadfast love is stronger than the bonds of addiction; that Your continual presence is more comforting than the escape drugs provide; that Your ample grace is able to penetrate and remove the sting of guilt he fears when he gets sober. Give him a testimony of Your redemption that he can share with his friends and bring many to You.

22. When Doug returns to You let him be as generous with life for Your glory as he was frivolous with his life for the temporary pleasure of drugs. Let him put the contrasts into words that he can share and point many to Your superior joy!

Martha Prays for Steve: 23. Steve has left for a better life. He is doing good business in the city. Steve is prospering in his job and getting the promotions he deserves.

24. Steve heeded the call of Your Word to work hard. He is reaping the benefits of following Your principles; by them You are raising him up.

25. Your Word is true and works whether those who are following it have genuinely surrendered their life to You or not.

26. But without You at the center of his life Steve cannot handle the success he has achieved. The more he has, does, and is, the more he gets in over his head. I can see when he realizes it; fear grips him. He is scared to death to be “a failure” like the rest of us.

27. He frantically pours himself back into his job, because he knows how to succeed there. But when his wife isn’t happy, the kids don’t appreciate him, and he has no peace, he doesn’t know what else to do.

28. May Steve call to You in his troubles and be delivered from the mess he is making of his life.

29. Let Steve see that You are the Peace that can calm the storm of his fear of failure. Let him come to grips that the Gospel calms the waves of a performance-driven, bottom-line existence.

30. Teach Steve to be content with a simpler life of worshipping You and loving his family. Bring him to that life You made him to live and for which he longs but cannot put into words.

31. When you do, let Steve see that “success” is merely resting in your steadfast love, continual presence, and ample grace. Out of that life-altering redefinition of success give him a testimony of Your redemption that he can share with his friends and bring many to You.

32. Since You have raised him up to a position of influence, let him use that influence to call Your people back to “success” as You define it. They will listen to him because they admire him. May many people see that what You have to offer is better than what the world has to offer because of the change you bring in Steve’s life.

Martha Prays through New Wisdom: 33. Lord, You turn success into failure (Steve); comfort into pain (Doug); suffering into misery (Amy); and meaning into folly (Todd).

34. All this you do because we seek to live independent from You. Nothing we want is what we think it will be without You.

35. Lord, it is also true that You turn failure into success with Your grace; pain into comfort and misery into bearable suffering with Your presence; and folly into meaning with Your balance of truth and love.

36. You are inviting Todd, Doug, Amy, and Steve to come dwell with You when they will repent and acknowledge it is You they have been looking for all their lives.

37. When they surrender to You, I know they will begin to live differently. As they surrender to You more and more they will sow wisdom and reap blessings by the truth of Your Word and the grace of Your care.

38. Everything I want to give them is in You. My fretting for them and enabling of them is as foolish and broken as their sins. Only you can bless them as I try to bless them. Remind me that I cannot care for them better than You currently are.

39. It pains me to pray that they will be broken more so that they can be made whole by You. I know You often work to change our hearts through suffering.

40. Like a proud prince must be reminded he is only human, You have to show them their “wisdom” is empty. They must taste of fear of being completely lost and without hope before they will call to You to find them.

41. But I also know that You, Lord, raise people out of that kind of despair and pain when they quit trying to do it for themselves. You are the Good Shepherd who will go looking for Your one lost sheep (or my four).

42. I see that now, and for now, my fear is less. Thank you for returning to me the joy of Your salvation. I can be quiet in Your presence again.

43. I know I will battle the foolish doubt of You again, but return me to You in prayer for these things again and again. It is only your steadfast love, continual presence, and ample grace that can comfort this mother’s heart.

Passages for Further Study: Judges (for an account of God dealing with His children as they wandered and returned many times); Matthew 23:37-39; 3 John 4

Post Questions: Now that you have read Psalm 107, examined how Martha might rewrite it for his situation, and studied several other passages, consider the following questions:

  • What do you learn from the repeated themes that arise in each sinful situation the “some” (v. 4, 10, 17, 23) find themselves in? What should we pray for everyone caught in sin?
  • What do you learn from the unique aspects that are prayed for each of the sinful situations? How does God present Himself uniquely to each of His children to draw them from their particular sin?
  • For what instances of regret or troubled friends/family do you need to re-write your own version of Psalm 107?

A Year’s Worth of Marital Conversations & Prayer Subjects

We have all said it, and we all sigh when other’s say it. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I want to offer you a year’s plan for meaningful conversation and prayer with your spouse in 2010.

Don’t read “meaningful” to mean deep, serious talk-talks. The goal of this document is to provide a balance of playful, reflective, appreciative, flirty, confessional, planning, and romantic conversations with prayer topics that build on that day’s theme of conversation.

As you follow the guide, feel free to chase rabbits. It is not meant to be a script, but jumper cables. If you think of yourself as one who struggles with conversation, put these pages where you dress in the morning. That way you can review the “subject of the day” and think about it on your commute or during a break. This way meaningful conversation will not “put you on the spot.”

Hopefully these pages will eliminate the pressure of initiation and creativity in communication, so that you and your spouse can spend 2010 knowing and being known by one another in new, exciting, satisfying, and refreshing ways.

 

Using a Personal Journal for Spiritual Growth

Too often the use of a journal has been dismissed as feminine, “something you do when you need counseling,” or too time consuming.  But with a bit of reflection (which is all journaling is) we might come to a different conclusion.  Many of the great figures in church history has kept a journal, and the church has benefited greatly from this window into their daily life (not as a voyeur, but to understand what spiritual greatness looks like in the mundane-ness of daily life).  And while not a theologian, the great Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

If you are interested in starting the exercise of journaling let me offer the following suggestions.  Journal during the time when you do your daily Bible study.  Do not feel compelled to write something every day.  Do not write for an audience; write for your benefit and as it comes naturally for you.

When you begin with your journal consider the following subjects and review them annually in your journal.

  • What are the top 5 values by which I want to operate my life?
  • What do I believe are my spiritual gifts and talents?  What are my characteristic weaknesses?
  • What are the key relationships in my life?  What are my goals for each of these relationships?
  • How would I ideally spend the 168 hours I get each week (7/24 hour days)?

As for the journal entries that you write after these core reflections are in place, consider the following subjects.

  • Self-examination based upon one of your top 5 values.
  • A point of conviction regarding sin or a spiritual practice.
  • Reflection on a day’s event in light of your “life story.”  These are great for sharing later with spouse, children, or grandchildren as a discipling moment or family heirloom.
  • A personal goal for change and steps of implementation.  This is a particularly good subject to record after an insightful Bible study or sermon.
  • A prayer in the form of a letter regarding a key life concern.
  • An answer to prayer.
  • A narrative of a key life event from younger days and the impact you see that it has had upon you.
  • Insight from your daily Bible study.
  • A humorous event.
  • Sermon notes with your reflections.

I encourage you to consider this practice.  Many have found it as an immensely profitable way to (1) maintain a focus on your purpose in life, (2) increase the level of intentionality with which they live; (3) enhance the depth of their relationships, especially marriage and family; (4) measure progress and gain encouragement in their walk with God; and (5) remember God’s faithfulness during times that are difficult.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.