Tag 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?

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Dealing with Despair

Humans are generally terrible at dealing with difficulties, adversity, sorrow, trials or illness. We tend to whine, mope and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way. But God understands and He has placed in Scripture a fail-safe way for us to transcend difficult circumstances, rise above the adversity and refocus on what is truly important. He doesn’t ask us to grit our teeth and go on. He doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up. He doesn’t even ask us to put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. In Psalm 13: 1-6, He gives us a template for dealing with difficult times.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Like David, we are an impatient people! We could endure almost anything if we knew how long it would last, but not knowing the future leads us into despair and our entire perspective on life goes dark.

We accuse God of forgetting us. He doesn’t, of course, but it feels to us like he does. We accuse God of turning His back to us. “He has abandoned me (and we add the melodramatic) – FOREVER!” “Where are You?” we cry. So we “take counsel” in our souls. In other words, we get inside our own heads, park there and go around and round and round which only leads to more depression and anxiety. We are convinced that we have been left on our own and we start to try to figure out our own solutions.

But David knows better, even though he feels alone and abandoned he reaches out to the God he knows is there and the turnaround begins.  David starts to realize that He needs God’s wisdom and perspective. He understands that “taking counsel with himself”, staying inside his own head, will never get him out of his doldrums. He understands that without God’s insight, without God showing up, he will likely just give up either emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Here is where David shows us how to win the victory over despair. “But” is a powerful word. It is a declaration that we will not be held captive by our situation; a declaration that we are choosing a different reality, that we will not be defined by our circumstances. David makes the declaration that he will ground his life, not on his own feelings or self-counsel, but on the foundational, unmovable truths of God’s character. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

This is God’s basic character – Love. I can trust that God will always be true to Himself in His dealings with me. I can expect that God will continue to act according to His Love towards me expressed in Christ Jesus. Trust is a choice, a deposit of faith into the treasury of God’s love. The present circumstances do not change who God is nor do they block the eternal flow of His love, mercy, goodness, compassion, patience toward me. I can bank on that.

And while trust is a function of the mind, rejoicing is an act of the heart. Rejoicing isn’t about being happy. It isn’t putting a good face on and going around saying “Praise the Lord.” Rejoicing is grounding our heart, our deep down core, firmly on God’s present and future deliverance. Not only can we be sure and rejoice in our eventual heavenly home, but we can know that God will not abandon us to the present troubles – He rescues us here and now.

When our focus is on God’s eternal Love and his saving work, we can’t help but express that outwardly through our mouths or body. Our whole being rises up and overflows in worship to Him. Some of might even sing out loud. We remember how He has dealt with us. We look at our lives and see His hand guiding our moments. We recognize that what we thought were seemingly insignificant moments or random happenings were actually His acting to bring us closer to Him.

And we are breathless, humbled and joyful.

This Psalm reflects the arc that our life takes as we live our lives through any troubles. We move from complaining and despair, to crying to God in prayer for help, to a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Father; a relationship not based on trusting our own strength or wisdom, not based on our own goodness or righteousness but a relationship wholly grounded on His love and grace. As we move through the difficulties of life, if we will remember to Trust, Rejoice and Sing, we will be able to say with absolute confidence: It is well with my soul.

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

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.

The Evidence in the Cloud

The stories of Elijah the prophet are some of my favorite Old Testament stories. There is one in particular that has had a significant impact on me lately. While I won’t copy the entire section here (it spans several chapters), you can read it in 1 Kings 17-18. Here is the basic story line. God tells Elijah that there will be a drought in Israel and Elijah relays the message to the evil king Ahab. Three years later, God tells Elijah that the drought will soon be over and that he should tell King Ahab. Here is the key passage:

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth…” And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:1, 41-46)

To me the story gets exciting because of what Elijah did after declaring the end of the drought. Elijah didn’t just passively sit back and accept God’s word. No! He actively went looking for God’s fulfillment of His word. You see, even though Elijah already knew what God was doing he still took action – He looked for it. He humbled himself, bowed down, prayed, worshiped and looked for God’s to act. Elijah was both patient and tenacious. As far as Elijah was concerned God said it, it must be true, therefore he will wait in expectation. That is key! It wasn’t wishful thinking or “claiming” the rain. It was simply a matter of taking God at His word.

Elijah knew that God acts at the perfect time and Elijah (or his servant) had to go look for the answer seven times before he got his answer. He didn’t go look once or pray once and then said, “Oh well, maybe I was wrong.’ He continued to look.   In Scripture, the number seven represents perfection or completion. The fact that Elijah had to wait seven times simply shows us that God acts, not on our schedule or timeline but at the RIGHT time.

So after seven times, Elijah’s his servant sees a small cloud on the horizon 10-15 mile away and he reports that to the prophet. That is all the evidence Elijah needs. God is faithful to His promises – the rain is coming – it’s time to RUN! Elijah did need a full blown storm, the evidence in the cloud was enough for him to know that God is trustworthy. His faith was in God’s character, not on what he sees with his eyes. Elijah only sees a cloud but he acts consistently with the evidence he sees of God moving to fulfill His promise. I wonder how many of us would have seen the small cloud and thought (or said) to ourselves, “That’s it, Lord! That’s all I get.” And walk away disappointed. Instead Elijah sees the cloud and rejoices.

Here’s what impressed me in this story. God reveals His heart and will to us. He declares His promises and His intent. We already know what He wants to do and is going to do. It’s all over the Scriptures. Yet we still need to act. We need to be looking and actively waiting, patient and tenacious, knowing that God will indeed fulfill His promises, knowing that He will act at the perfect time and that He is not letting us down when He doesn’t act according to our schedule.

I want to recognize the evidence of His movement; the “cloud the size of a man’s hand.” It may not look like a big thunderstorm. It may not be or start out as the next “great thing.” But whatever it looks like, you can be sure that God is behind it and it will grow to accomplish his will. So let’s be looking for the evidence in the cloud and when we see it rejoice and embrace it fully.