Category Archives: Prayer

Out-Of-The-Box Praying

I started reading through the book of Acts again.  I wanted to get a glimpse again of dynamic faith in action.  It seems the disciples, apostles, deacons and all the believers had such a simple faith that God would just show up in mighty ways – and He DID!  But even with all the miracles they saw, sometimes they just could not see beyond what was “reasonable” to them.  Their prayers were limited by their expectations of what God could do.  Here is a great example from chapter 12.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.  Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands…  When he realized this [that the angel had freed him from prison], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:1-7,12-16)

So Peter is in prison waiting to be executed and the church is praying fervently for his release.  Then God answers their prayers – but not in the way they expected.  You see, I don’t think any one of those Christians was asking that God would send an angel to open the prison doors.  That wasn’t really reasonable.  Much more likely is that they were praying that God would “move on Herod’s heart to release Peter.” Now that would be a much more likely and expected way for God to answer their prayers.  So out-of-box was the angel scenario that when Peter did show up at the prayer meeting they dismissed the news as simply “Peter’s angel.”  These folks could more easily believe in an apparition than in an angelic visitation!  Sure they prayed and they prayed earnestly, but it seems they were praying within their experience of what God could or would do.

So I started thinking, are my prayers limited by my expectations of what God would do?  When I pray, am I also telling God HOW to answer my prayers?  Sure, He’s all powerful, but He also needs to be practical and sensible, doesn’t He?  I am very much afraid that my prayer life is “In-The-Box” praying.  I want to change that.  I want to start praying that God would do wonderful, unexpected, outside-the-box things.  I want think big and prayer bigger and see Him do bigger still.  If nothing is impossible with God, then I want to pray for the impossible.  How about you?  Will you join me in Out-Of-The-Box praying and then we’ll be able tell our own versions of the angel scenario story?

A Husband’s Prayer Life

We men would like to think that our prayers are heard by God and that He will answer them. We would like to think that our prayers are effective and unhindered. But would it surprise you to learn that Scripture specifically tells men – husbands in particular – that the effectiveness of our prayer life is directly tied to the way in which we treat our wives? It’s true. Read this:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)

So if God made this important enough to include in the Scriptures, we should probably take some time to understand it. Let me go through it phrase by phrase.

“Live with your wives in an understanding way”

It is not enough to co-habitat the same space. It is not enough to simply take up space in our houses. We need to be physically and emotionally present. Not smothering or underfoot, but available and engaged. Our wives need to know that we are in this life together with her, and in an “understanding way”. “Understanding” means we take the time to know what makes our wives tick. We take the time and make the effort to know the core of who this woman is. What is she passionate about? What is her biggest fear? What is her favorite movie or restaurant? All the big and little things that make her…”her.” And while it may sound daunting, it isn’t. It simply takes the time to be engaged in her life. I will guarantee the effort is worth it and what you learn may surprise you.

“Showing honor to the woman”

Here is where things really get serious, so let me bring in a parallel passage from Ephesians.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)

 Here is the greatest challenge to us husbands – Love as Christ loved! How did He love? By sacrificing Himself for her. By doing whatever He had to in order to ensure that she (The Church) might become what she was intendant to become. That is what Paul is calling husbands to do, seek for and work for the splendor of your wife.

Paul continues,

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself (Eph 5:28-33)

 So it goes even deeper. The word “wife” in this passage is actually “the feminine.” It harkens back to the Garden when Adam called Eve “wo-man.” Adam was actually honoring Eve as part of himself. When we honor our wives as a part of us, we are honoring God’s creative purpose in creating woman from us and then giving her back to us to complete us.

“as the weaker vessel”

I don’t think this means our wives are dumber, inferior, less important or subordinate. To me it means that we must look to see how we can protect her physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not condescending but a way in which we show her respect, honor. It doesn’t mean she IS weaker, only that we must honor her as weaker.

“since they are heirs with you of the grace of life”

We honor our wives because God honored her with salvation, with His blood. She has the same access to the Father in prayer and righteousness. She has the same calling to proclaim Christ and His saving work. She has the same in-filling of the Holy Spirit to operate in Kingdom power. As a joint-heir of salvation, I value and seek out my wife’s contribution to our joint life in Christ. If she is worthy of so great a sacrifice as Christ’s death, then surely I can honor her and sacrifice a little of my life for her also. This is what Christ did for the Church.

“so that your prayers may not be hindered “

Understand that God is making the effectiveness of our prayer life – and our relationship with Him – contingent on how we treat our wives! That is how important God thinks this is! Why? It doesn’t seem hardly fair! Here is why I think God has linked the two.  Our wives are mirrors of our soul. They have a way of revealing who we are – if we are wise enough to look and listen. If we are arrogant, selfish, prideful, angry men, it will come out in the way we treat our wives. Our hearts are laid bare. How can that kind of man hope to offer pure and righteous prayers to our God? – NOT going to happen.

So men consider it God’s grace and goodness to us to give us a woman who can thus make us better men, wiser men and more godly men as we learn to love as Christ loved and make our prayer life a powerhouse in Kingdom effectiveness.

The Lord’s Prayer – Expanded Edition

We all know it by heart. We can recite the words without even thinking about what we are saying. I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent when He gave us that template for prayer we now call The Lord’s Prayer. So I would like to offer you an expanded version that I hope will help you think about what He was teaching us.

Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples1. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven2. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ3. [And] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him4.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people5.  [Saying], for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life6.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you7.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven8.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come9.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ 10.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And he said to his disciples, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing… And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them11. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus12.

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses13.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses14.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift15. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive16.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it17.  Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted18. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you19. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil20.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen

There’s nothing else to say! Blessings.

References:   1John 15:8,  2Matthew 5:16,  3Romans 15:5-6,  4John 5:23, 5Matthew 4:23, 6John 6:40, 7Matthew 12:28, 8Matthew 16:19,  9Matthew 24:14, 10Matthew 25:34, 11Luke 12:22-23,30, 12Philippians 4:19, 13Matthew 6:14-15, 14Mark 11:25, 15Matthew 6:23-24, 16Colossians 3:12-13, 171Corinthians 10:13, 18Hebrews 2:18, 19James 4:7, 20Ephesians 6:11

Mustard Seed Faith

I am not a great man of faith nor am I a man of great faith. I am simply a man of mustard-seed faith. And that apparently, according to Jesus, is enough. Read what He says to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew.

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20)

This is a truly remarkable statement! Jesus is saying that all those seemingly insurmountable situations in our lives – the health problems, difficult relationships, emotional turmoil, spiritual unrest – can be easily removed by the exercise of just a little bit of faith. It seems too good to be true doesn’t it? It can’t be that easy. It seems to me that we Christians have this belief that we have to somehow ratchet up our “faith” when we really, really, really want God to answer a prayer or intervene in our life. We think we need to show Him just how much we believe in Him before He acts on our behalf. I don’t think that’s true. In this passage, Jesus is telling us that it is not how “big” our faith is; instead we need to understand the authority that has been granted to us.

Again, in this passage He is talking to the disciples – to us. “YOU will say…”, “nothing will be impossible for YOU.” He isn’t saying “pray real hard.” He says to us, “Take action. Speak authoritatively.”

And yet there is still the mustard seed faith that we must have. What does that look like? For me, this is where the depth of our relationship with Christ comes in. Faith isn’t just a vague notion of wanting something to be true, but faith is focused on Him and our understanding, appreciation and experience of Him. Faith rests on a Person. That is why mustard seed- sized faith is enough, because He is so big.

As we grow deeper and closer in our relationship to Him, we get to know what He wants. We start to see how He acts. We start thinking like he thinks. We start seeing our lives and circumstances as He does. Then we can act as He would and speak to the “mountain” just as He would. Nothing will be impossible for us, because nothing is impossible for Him!

I think for too long the Church has been spiritually impoverished because we haven’t taken Jesus’ words here seriously. We’ve made faith a function of our effort, instead of a focus on His Work. So my encouragement to you is simply…STOP. Stop obsessing whether you have enough faith to face your obstacles. Stop focusing on yourself and whether you are worthy enough, holy enough, righteous enough to garner God’s attention. Instead focus your mustard seed faith on Him and speak to the mountains. They will move! They must move! And He will receive the praise.

Critical Mass Prayer

In physics, critical mass refers to the minimum amount of material needed to start and maintain a nuclear reaction. In general, it also refers to the minimum amount of “something” – people, money, petitions – to gain momentum and achieve a desired effect. In other words, if I gather enough “somethings” then I can accomplish what I need.

This is perfectly illustrated in the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears A Who. Horton the elephant, with his big ears can hear the tiny Whos that live on a speck of dust, but no one else hears them and they think Horton is crazy. In order to make themselves be heard, the Whos start making as much noise and shouting as possible, but they are not heard until the tiniest baby Who lets out a small “Yap.” That Yap when added to all the other noise is just enough – critical mass – to break into Horton’s world and be heard. Horton was right! The Who world does exist!

It seems to me that Christians sometimes treat prayer in the same way. I need to generate a critical mass of people praying before God hears and responds to my prayer request. It is not enough for me to pray individually, but I need a bunch of people. It’s as if we don’t think God will take us seriously until we meet this elusive critical mass of prayer.

But clearly, this not Biblically correct. The Bible is full of stories of individual men and women who prayed by themselves and God answered them. We are even encouraged to “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” (Matthew 6:6). So why do we think that we need to marshal more and more prayer support to get the answers we want or need? Why do we ask others to pray for us? Why do we send our prayer requests in to a prayer chain or intercessor group?

I don’t think the purpose of corporate prayer is about convincing God that we are really, really serious, or because we are too insignificant individually to be heard. I think the point of corporate prayer is to spread the fame of the Lord as far and as wide as possible. Let me explain. The more people are praying, the more people will see (or hear about) the answered prayer and the more praise God will get. His fame as a good and faithful Father will spread – as it should. Sure, WE benefit from an answer to prayer, but He receives the glory and worship He deserves. Look at how Psalm 145 puts it:

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 145:1-7)

People will be talking to each other and to other generations about the works to God and He will be greatly praised.

So go ahead and enter your secret prayer room to pray to your Father in secret but when you are done get on the phone, text, social media and enlist an army of prayer supporters so that you can all speak of His wondrous works and awesome deeds. And generate a critical mass of praise!

What’s Your Name?

It has always been fascinating to me how we humans name everything around us! We name our children (then give them nicknames too), our pets, our cars, our houses, our streets, our buildings, our parks… We also name animals, rocks, trees, grasses, food, on and on. We name everything we lay our eyes on or build with our hands. And it’s no wonder, right after God told Adam to subdue the earth, He gave him the task of naming animals. I think our need to give everything in our lives names springs from our God-given mandate to subdue and have “dominion” over creation. In other words, naming things is our way of exercising control and owning the things named. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we were created to be. But we took it too far.

When Moses first encounters God at the burning bush, he hears God tell him that he will deliver his people from slavery, but Moses’ first question is, “What is your name? Who should I tell the people who sent me?” You see growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, Moses knew gods with god-names like Osiris, Thoth, Horus or Ra. The gods had names that the Egyptians had given them and by naming their gods, humans were able to exercise some control over them. By naming our gods, we could define who they were, what they were like and what their limitations were. We made our gods to our standards and so could have dominion over them. But God’s answer to Moses in that encounter was not to give Moses a name, but simply to declare His existence. When God said, “I AM WHO I AM,” He wasn’t naming Himself, he was stating His presence. And throughout Scripture, He always reveals Himself in terms of His presence in our lives or relationship to us, never as just a name. (We kid ourselves if we think that Jehovah is His real name).

I think He has done this for a very simple and specific reason. He bypasses our naming convention because He will not let Himself be controlled or defined by us. He will never be under our dominion, so there is a never a “name” WE can give Him. We will always have to rely on His self-revelation to us. Even Jesus, when he appeared in the flesh, was not named by His human parents, but by the revelation of God the Father. He was given a name that revealed His purpose in His presence on Earth – to save His people.

What all this means is that we will never be able to put Him in our box of what a “proper” god should do and be. He will always be separate, sovereign and self-sufficient. We will only begin to understand Him as we understand His relationship to us. He can never be too familiar or casual because we will never truly know His name. We will only know that is still “I AM.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Being Ananias

I want to be more like Ananias! OK, let me clarify. There is the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira told in Acts chapter 5. They both lied to the apostles (and the Holy Spirit) and dropped dead. I don’t want to be THAT guy! There is another man named Ananias. His story is found in Acts chapter 9. This is right after Paul has his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. We pick up his story there.

 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.                (Acts 9: 10-19)

The funniest part of this story is when Ananias is telling Jesus all about Paul and telling Him all the bad stuff Paul was doing. As if the Lord didn’t know. You could almost see the wheels turning in Ananias’ head thinking, “are we talking about the same guy Paul? Nah, it couldn’t be.” But the Lord responds with, “Yep, he’s my guy.” But that isn’t why I want to be like Ananias.

So here is what impressed me about Ananias and why I would want to be more like him. First of all, it is clear to me that Ananias had a deep and genuine relationship with Christ. He could recognize His voice when He spoke to him and, it seems, it wasn’t unusual for Ananias to hear from the Lord often. It was normal. I want that to be normal in my life as well. God had a plan for Paul, but He needed a faithful disciple to cooperate with Him in the working out of that plan. And He chose Ananias because He knew he was listening. I want to be in a position to hear Christ’s word to me. I want to be the kind of disciple that the Lord can trust with His plans, just like Ananias was.

But even more impressive is the way Ananias responded. After his initial, “Are you sure, Lord?” he got up and went, even when it didn’t make human sense. He simply responded completely and immediately to Christ. It is so easy to overthink what we think God is saying. We throw up road blocks and questions and reasons why we should wait or why “it will never work” or “what if I get it wrong,” ad infinitum, until we find ourselves doing nothing at all. Ananias took a risk. But that he took the risk based on what he understood Christ was telling him. He obeyed, he acted, he stepped out. I want to be more like Ananias, willing to risk in order to obey Christ. Ok, so maybe sometimes I’ll get it wrong, but I’d rather be wrong in trying to follow Christ, that sit in paralyzed fear and never risk anything. I want to be more like Ananias and get up and go even when His plan doesn’t quite make sense to me.

The thing about this story is that, too often, we focus on what is happening to Paul. But here is a normal, run-of-the-mill disciple whose obedience to Christ launched great ministry. We may not always be in the spotlight. We may not have the great crowds or name recognition. We may not be Paul, but we can be Ananias – Christians who are always listening and responding to the voice of Christ in our lives. I can do that and so can you.