Prayer 101

January 18

Prayer of a righteous man

Like many churches, the church I attend is currently in a season of prayer and fasting. It is a time where we, as a corporate Body, are seeking the heart of God as He directs us, as individuals. These can be very meaningful times – times of heightened sensitivity and insight into what “the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

Given this season, I thought it appropriate to offer some insights into prayer – using the Lord’s Prayer as a model…

Lord's Prayer

Most Christians are quite familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. In many traditions (including the one in which I grew up, as a child) the Lord’s Prayer was regularly recited in our times of corporate worship. Even when I was young, I wondered why we would do such a thing. Not that it wasn’t meaningful (everyone seemed to be quite reverent when reciting those words) – it just seemed strange (especially for a church that believed in, and practiced, extemporaneous prayer).

As I grew older, my inquisitive nature wanted to know more. Did Jesus really want us to recite such prayers, by rote, in our church get-togethers? What did the words really mean? What did they entail? Why were they so important that we felt we had to say them out loud in our church services?

Everything came back to the essential nature of prayer. Praying in ways that centered our hearts on the Heart of God, and what He was seeking from us. Praying prayers that mattered. That were powerful. That God was actually listening to hear.

Think about that. Could it be that many of our prayers are just words that never really capture the attention of heaven?

Jesus thought so. That’s why He instructed His disciples to pray in a certain way (as opposed to “babbling like pagans, (who) think they will be heard because of their many words.” [see Matthew 6:7]).

Babbling-like-pagans

And just how important is prayer? It is so important that the disciples clearly recognized it as one of the secrets to Jesus’ effective ministry. In exploring the gospels, it is the only thing that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them (see Luke 11). Not exorcising demons. Not walking on water. Not curing leprosy. Not making the blind to see. Not raising the dead… Just prayer.

In fact, everything we need to know about the importance of prayer is discovered in the fact that Jesus prayed… often! The eternal Son of God made it a point to regularly seek His Father in times of prayer (often all night). IF Jesus felt that prayer was that essential… so should we.

Jesus-praying-in-garden

But it seems to me that if we are going to pray, we should pray effective prayers. Ineffective prayers are not worth our time and effort. We may get some benefit from that manner of prayers, but they are not accomplishing heaven’s purposes. And the goal of prayer is to see heaven act in some way, here on earth, that can only be explained by the power of God intervening in the affairs of our lives.

So, in the next few days, let’s see (and apply) what Jesus taught us about prayer…

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To Be King

January 17

“When Jesus saw that they were ready to force Him to be their king, He slipped away into the hills by Himself.” (John 6:15)

This struck me as a little bit strange.

Not that the crowds of people wanted to make Jesus their king. After all, they had just witnessed 5000 people being fed from five barley loaves and two measly fish. Jesus’ “free lunch” program was pretty amazing.

feeding 5000.jpg

But it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that His “healthcare benefit” was crazy good. Sickness? See ya. Disease? Buh-bye. Death? Not with Jesus around!

In fact, Jesus was the perfect king. Sensitive in heart. Wise in word. Powerful in deed. A man, not just full of talk, but a real man of action… AND a man truly FOR the people – Who did good things for everyone around Him.

Who wouldn’t want THAT kind of king, ruling over their lives?

No, the strange part was the fact that Jesus wanted no part of that deal. The very Person Who came to be the King of our hearts was uninterested in being the king over the people. Didn’t He want to be the King of our lives? What better way to lead us into the fullness of what God has for us than to be our earthly ruler? It seems like He had the perfect opportunity to bring the Kingdom of God to this earth by becoming our earthly king – why wouldn’t He want to take that earthly throne? Jesus wants to be our King… but He doesn’t want to be our king? What gives?

Jesus as King

What may seem like a huge contradiction in God’s plan… is no contradiction at all.

Jesus’ primary purpose was (first!) to be the means of eternal redemption for all the people. He could not be an earthly king and still be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Sure, Jesus could have accepted the role of the earthly ruler – and the world would have been a better place for it… but the world would still have been lost. Unredeemed. Outside of God’s will and purposes. Dead to God and alive to sin.

King Jesus could have changed the political climate… but would have done nothing to change the hearts of men. Changed hearts can only come because an innocent, suffering servant went to a cruel cross and took the sins of the whole world with Him. His death became the only means to life. But without His death, our dead spirits could never come alive.

Jesus could have become our earthly king. He would have won the battle, but lost the war. All His benefits would have never entered human hearts. They would have all remained in Jesus alone – outside of us. Beyond us… always.

Jesus had (infinitely) better things in Mind. His Kingdom would not be “of this world.” (John 18:36) He came to bring a Kingdom of an entirely different kind.

Jesus came to be King, alright. But King over redeemed hearts and souls. He came to be King over those who would receive what He paid so dearly with His Own life. He came to make a way into a Kingdom that endures forever… that whoever would receive Him would enter. He came to be the eternal King over hearts that would join Him for all eternity – all because He first came to redeem those who would desire His rule over their lives.

Redeemer King

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Believe in the One

January 16

“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” (Jesus – John 6:29)

Today’s verse is the answer to a question – a very important question. It really is the central question – the question that we must all answer with our lives. It is the question that gnaws at our spirits… about life and living and purpose and meaning.

The question? “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus teaching

The question was asked by “a large crowd” that followed Jesus around wherever He went. On this particular occasion, the large crowd had just witnessed Jesus take the five loaves and two fish… and turn it into an all-you-can-eat feast (see John 6:1-13). When the crowd realized the magnitude of the miracle they had just seen, they wanted to “take (Jesus) by force and make Him (their) king.” (6:14-15)

The Bible tells us that Jesus “withdrew” from the crowds – and eventually walked across the Sea of Galilee (on the water!) to travel to the other side. The next day the crowd made it their mission to find Jesus (no small feat!) – and eventually made their way across the water and found Him, somewhere near Capernaum.

Jesus addressed the crowd with words that recognized the amount of effort the crowd had used to find Him while admonishing them to abandon their “free lunch” mentality. Jesus told them: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (John 6:27)

It was out of Jesus’ words that their question arose. A question about effort, and pleasing God, and finding the fullness that God desires to give. “Point taken, Jesus. What must we do to do the work God requires?”

This whole episode emphasizes our problem in a nutshell. Human beings will expend massive amounts of energy trying to make life meaningful, trying to make something of themselves, or trying to do enough good things to please God. The central component is effort. Hard work. Do enough. Do more. Expend yourself. Give it all you’ve got – then find a way to do more.

It is a never-ending, uphill, relentless battle. And when you think you have done well, you realize there is still more to do… you are forever plagued with the thought that you have never done enough. Even worse… you can never do enough.

Man-Rolling-Rock-Uphill

We want God to make it simple. “God, give us the answer to this issue of struggle in our lives. We just want to know what You want us to do, so we can know that we have done (and done enough of) what You want us to do. Tell us, please?”

God’s simple answer is more simple than we could have ever imagined. His answer is… Jesus. He came to DO what was required of us. Jesus came to DO what was necessary – what was enough. Jesus came to DO the work that God requires.

Our part is simpler still. Jesus spoke of a gift He was willing to give us. The gift of completed work. Of enough done. Of work that allows us to live – and of a life that goes on and on… forever.

What is this one thing that we need to do? “Believe in the One He has sent.”

What God requires of us is not work. Or good work. Or religious work.

He has only one requirement for us… Simply:

Believe

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Tribute to MLK

This is a tribute piece that I posted last year — to honor a great American whose belief in God shaped his desire for a better America.

TheHeartseeker's Blog

January 16

martin_luther_king_jrToday, is the day we commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. His contributions toward race relations in this country are nearly immeasurable. What most people may not know is that he was a devout believer in Jesus, and an ordained Baptist minister. God’s calling upon his life was to provide leadership to an important movement for our country. His guiding principles were taken directly from Scripture – as echoed so prominently in his words.

In honor of this day, I thought it would be appropriate to bring you some of the things he had to say (I was surprised at how many of his sayings have made their way into modern TV programs and movies!) As we read and reflect upon these words we should ponder God’s wisdom, as declared through Dr. King’s voice…

  1. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot…

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Psalm One:1-3

January 14

ps-1-1_3.jpg

The Book of Psalms begins with God’s objective for every human soul… blessedness. This is God’s desire for every one of us – to be blessed, to live blessed… all the days of our lives.

Most of us have heard that blessed means happy. But it is so much more than that. It is not only happiness, but contentment, well-being, wholeness, health, and a sense of prosperity. And blessedness is tied to the One Who is the source of all blessing. At the heart of being blessed is a heart that is blessed by the One Whose heart longs to bless us.

Blessedness, according to the Psalmist, is the state of being that only comes to those whose hearts delight in God and His ways. This delight shows up in every aspect of a person’s  life. Every choice is centered in relationship with the Blesser. Every other relationship is centered in how that relationship adds or detracts from the relationship with the One Who blesses.

Blessed is… how we walk. Our daily lifestyle reflects that we value the counsel of God over the counsel of the ways of this world. Especially the “popular” views of the culture.

Blessed is… how we stand. And in that for which we stand! Our associations (those with whom we hang out) reveals what we value and how we think about life and living. We are not consumed with self-centered thinking, or in impressing people around us. We choose to stand with the weak, the poor, the hurting, the needy.

Blessed is… where we sit. Where we find our place of “connection” and “attachment.” Not with people who denigrate God or who ignore Him altogether. But with those who acclaim Him, who worship Him openly, who speak words of comfort, truth, honesty, and life.

Blessed are those who see the ways of God as life-giving, not life-taking. Who see the goodness of God in how He sees things – in what He likes and dislikes. Who see the value of love in God’s commands. And who take the time to reflect on God’s faithfulness to us.

The Psalmist describes this “blessedness” by giving us a picture… a tree firmly planted by an ever-present source of life-giving water. Its roots are secure. It never lacks for health-sustaining water or the nutrients the soil and water provide.

tree by water

Regardless of adverse conditions, the tree prospers. It thrives.

It IS blessed!

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Science Says, Saturday… Facts vs. Faith?

January 13

Before we begin looking at the science, we need to understand a few things…

You hear this a lot… “Evolution is fact. Creation is faith. Faith may be fine, just don’t confuse it with the facts of science!”

But it is not really a battle of facts and faith.

First of all, we cannot look at the scientific facts to prove or disprove evolution. Neither can we look at the facts to prove or disprove divine creation. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just not being honest. The issue of how we came to be, is unprovable scientifically. And if you can’t prove anything by the facts… it really comes down to a matter of faith – in whatever view you hold.

The reason being… in the simplest of terms, science can only prove what can be observed and tested. Since none of us were around to observe what actually happened, all we can do is try to determine how this universe came to be by observing and testing what we can observe and test, today. Scientific discovery is invaluable in our attempts to “piece together” the mystery of our origins.

origin 1

This is so important because the scientific facts are seldom in question. As I will continually emphasize, it is the interpretation of those facts that becomes the issue. No matter which side you accept, your interpretation of what is discovered will always be colored by what you believe to be true.

Last Saturday we used the example of the Grand Canyon.

grand canyon

The creationist looks at the Grand Canyon and declares: “There it is. Certain evidence of a global flood.” On the other hand, the evolutionist looks at the Grand Canyon and declares: “There it is. Certain evidence of millions of years of erosion.” Since neither the creationist nor the evolutionist was there to actually see what happened – determinations about how it happened are deduced by the evidence AND by which view of origins is accepted to be true. The truth is… the evidence of the Grand Canyon doesn’t actually tell us HOW it came to be… it just is – this vast, majestic gorge that causes us to wonder about how it was formed.

This points out the problem whenever we look at scientific evidence. The evidence is often open to interpretation by opposing views. Right or wrong, in these matters, is often dependent on what you have already concluded to be right or wrong. Both sides of the debate will bring out “piles” of evidence supporting their view – but that’s all it is… evidence. And evidence can only lead us toward a conclusion – and if it can be interpreted logically in two different ways, it cannot really prove anything.

 

2 ways to be true

So what’s the point in looking at scientific evidence, if it really can’t prove anything? Just this… we are not really judging the evidence itself, we are seeking to determine which interpretation BEST fits the facts? Which view makes the most logical sense, given all the facts?

Of course, I am contending that an honest view of the evidence will lead the true seeker to one certain conclusion – there really is a divine Creator, who wants us to find Him and know Him… and has given us scientific discovery as one of the means of doing just that.

Either way, what we choose to believe is, ultimately, a matter of faith…

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Repent and Believe; Pt. 2

January 13

“The time is fulfilled… and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Jesus – Mark 1:15)

Yesterday we broached the subject of repentance in order to properly believe and receive the Kingdom of God. We learned that repentance is not changed behavior, but changed thinking. Jesus calls each of us to a new way of thinking that is necessary to live in the Kingdom of God.

new-way-of-thinking

So what was wrong with the old way of thinking? Why was Jesus so adamant that the good, religious people of His day needed to repent and believe?

The religious world into which Jesus came was founded upon the idea that our relationship with God was based on our OWN actions. DO good, and God likes you. But if you don’t DO good – you will have to DO something to get you back into right standing with God. For the people of Jesus’ day, doing good was based upon the Law. And getting right (when you failed to do good) was based on DOing the required sacrifice. It was an endless, perpetual cycle.

EndlessCycles

Deeply ingrained in religious thinking is this whole pervasive notion that relationship with God is based on human efforts (either doing good or doing the sacrifice). Jesus comes along and declares: “There’s coming a new way of having a relationship with God… and it will have NOTHING to do with human effort. It will all be based on MY efforts (done for you). But to experience the fullness of this new Kingdom, you will have to give up thinking that everything depends on you and your abilities… or your good behavior. Everything in the new Kingdom will be based on ME and My abilities – and My eternal sacrifice, to make everybody right with Me for all of time.”

We need to be reminded… the same declaration applies today.

Most of our Christian struggles stem from our stubborn thinking that our relationship with God is still based on our efforts and abilities at being “good.” The same Jesus that called the people of His day to repentance… also calls us in the same way.

Because true belief follows true repentance – a changed mindset that truly understands that Jesus did it all for us!

Jesus did it all

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Repent and Believe

January 12

“The time is fulfilled… and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Jesus – Mark 1:15)

Jesus repent

When Jesus came to this earth, He had a pretty standard message: “It’s time… the Kingdom of God is just about to come in full force. Repent. Believe in the good news of that Kingdom!”

We often talk about believing. How believing is essential to our Christian faith.

And it certainly is.

But we don’t often talk about the importance of belief coupled with repentance. If we understand Jesus’ admonition correctly, He is saying we must first repent and then we must believe. He is telling us: we can’t have a true faith until we have repented. Repentance opens the door to true belief.

repent and live

But what did Jesus mean when He called people to repent?

It seems like a strange message to proclaim to people who were already God’s people (the Jews of Jesus’ day). Stranger still… for the most part, the Jewish people were a God-fearing, rule-following, ritual-keeping bunch. The Jews of Jesus’ day took their covenant relationship with God pretty seriously – and most of them were trying their level best to do what was right in God’s eyes.

Why would people who were living pretty decent moral and religious lives need to repent?

The answer strikes at the heart of what we have been talking about in the past week. The Kingdom of God is based upon a new way of living – and that new way of living is based on a new way of thinking. Not the same old ways… just improved. It is whole new ways of doing things – of speaking, of acting, of trusting God. And to live in this new way, the old way of thinking had to go – to be replaced by this new way. Jesus came to tell God’s people that they would have to repent in order to embrace the new Kingdom of God.

You see, most of us have been taught that “to repent” means to change your behavior. Stop doing bad things – and start doing good things. And if you do, God will take notice and invest Himself in your life.

repent

But that is NOT what it means to repent. The word “repent” literally means “to change your mind – to change your mindset… your way of thinking.” Jesus was calling people to a changed way of thinking… before they would ever be able to accept the coming Kingdom.

What IS this new way of thinking??

Tune in tomorrow…

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You, Made New; Pt. 2

January 11

“…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24)

We have been talking about the new you – the transformed person you ARE now that you have given your heart (and your life) to Jesus. When we “put on the new self,” we are putting on what has been “created to be like God!”

I know that seems so very hard for us to believe. It just seems too good to be true. Where’s the struggle? Where’s the hard work? Where are the years and years of fixing us so that we can finally be what God wants us to be?

The message of the New Covenant is that it is so good it has to be true. God is in it. He has done something so incredibly awesome that none of us could ever earn it… let alone deserve it. So the only way we can receive such an amazing thing is if He simply gave it to us.

too good 2 b true

That’s exactly what He did. Salvation is a free gift from God (Rom. 6:23). It was so costly that He had to give it away for free (none of us could have ever afforded it!).

But why is it so hard for us to truly accept that we ARE new creations in Christ Jesus? Why do we struggle so much to see ourselves as transformed… as truly the righteousness and holiness of God?

It’s largely because we have been trained to think in accord with “the patterns of this world.” (see Romans 12:2)

We usually take that term to mean: all the wicked ways in which this world tries to get us involved. But the “patterns of this world” really means the way this world thinks and gains things. At the heart of it is human effort… lots of human effort. “If it is to be… it is up to me.” “If you want something done right… you have to do it yourself.” This world finds pleasure not only in accomplishment but in the pride of being able to sing along with Sinatra… “I did it my way!”

sinatra

But at the heart of the gospel is this fact… in salvation, there is nothing we can do. Jesus did it all. Human effort only gums up the works. God is not asking us to try harder or do better – He is asking us to simply receive what He is offering to us… freely.

And what He is offering is a whole new kind of life – as a whole new kind of creation. A creation that is “like God” from the very start. A creation that WAS created by the work of Jesus – and fully applies to our lives when we receive it.

As long as we think we are a work in progress, we cannot BE the new creations we were created to be. As long as we think in terms of all the stuff that has to be done to make us into the people God wants us to be, we will always struggle to live in what He has already made us to be.

To live in the kingdom of God… we have to think like someone who lives IN the Kingdom of God. Kingdom dwellers think in accord with the pattern of heaven. That God is in the business of making something complete out of completely nothing.

You-r-complete-in-Christ

In the gospel, we discover that we who have been made in God’s image are wholly remade in His image through the completed work of Christ.

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You, Made New

January 10

“…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:23-24)

put-on-the-new-self

When we set our minds upon what Jesus has done for us (and who we are now, in Him) we can live as transformed people. When we set our thinking, in accord with God’s thoughts about us, we ARE transformed.

The Bible declares that to be “born again” means we are new creations in Christ.

But what is this new creation like? How shall we describe it?

The apostle uses as an amazing description… the new self (the new creation) has been “created to be like God!”

Take a moment to let that thought sink in.

The word for “created” in the original language describes an action completed in the past that may be continually applied in the present. It is a work done for us… for our benefit. But it is not automatic – it is a work that we must apply, by our faith (it is a pattern of the New Covenant with God… everything is by grace [God’s part] through faith [our part; as a gift from God])!

Eph 2 8

The word “created” also has direct ties to the concept of God’s original act of creation – when He created everything out of nothing. God is in the business of making something out of nothing! This especially applies to us. Jesus came to make something out of the nothing of our lives – and that something is always “like God.”

What God creates is always a reflection of Himself.

This is the perfect description of the new creation that we have become.

But the apostle takes it even further still… he describes what being “like God” entails – the new self is: like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Righteousness, most generally, refers to right actions. The kind of actions that God does – always right, always out of love, always with justice in Mind… always.

Holiness, most usually, refers to right “being.” The kind of Person that God is. Always good, always committed to what is true and just… always.

If all this is too difficult for us to grasp, all we need to do is look at the life and ministry of Jesus. He WAS true righteousness and holiness. He was God with us – so we could actually see righteousness and holiness for ourselves. We no longer had to imagine (or try to conceptualize) the righteousness and holiness of God – Jesus came to make them known. He came to make HIM known.

jesus-healing.jpg

Jesus not only came to be our Savior but to show us what the new creation was supposed to look like… it was to BE like God in true righteousness and holiness.

This is not something we gain through years and years of faithful Christian ritual, training, and/or living. This is something we ARE because of what Jesus did for us. Immediately…. upon receiving what His work has done for us.

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