Archives For Prayer

Ill pray for you 225x300 Stop Saying, Ill pray for you.

“I’ll pray for you.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

It’s often a Christian cop-out. I’m guilty of letting it roll off of my tongue.

Christian, be honest for a second. When you say, “I’ll pray for you”, do you really? Or are you just saying, in a nice Christian-ese way, “That situation sounds bad / concerning / difficult and I sympathize with you”?

Are you a “prayer warrior”? Do you actually tuck away each prayer request and go to God with it? Or do you just tell people you’ll pray for them, and forget about it 5 seconds later? (I’ve done both.)

If you say it and don’t mean it, you risk becoming a non-praying hypocrite.

If you’re a super-conscientious pray-er, if you really write down a prayer request, and then lift it up to God, then by all means tell people, “I’ll pray for you.” But if “I’ll pray for you” is just a hollow pat on the head to the people who come to you with honest requests, it’s time to change up your approach to handling prayer requests.

I know people who are true prayer warriors. God has given them the gift of intercession. They are not only called, like every Christian, to the ministry of prayer, but they are specially gifted with the ability (and time) to intercede, to go to God, on the behalf of others.

But what if you’re not one of those people?

Maybe it’s time to stop saying, “I’ll pray for you.”

What’s the alternative? This is what I recommend:

1)  Pray immediately.

When someone asks me to pray for them, whether it’s on the phone, on Facebook, or right after church, I most often pray immediately. Sometimes they’re stunned. They weren’t ready for that. “Please pray for me” meant later. Not now.

But look. If it’s important enough to ask, it’s important enough to take to God immediately.

My advice for the honest Christian? Pray immediately. You’ll be surprised at how powerfully God uses immediate prayer. And you’ll like not feeling guilty a week later when you realize you forgot to pray.

2)  Pray close.

How do I keep from being overwhelmed with the level of need in this world? Heck, if I just consider all the needs in my world, I get overwhelmed. And instead of praying for what matters most, I can be immobilized, and not pray at all.

Pray close. Start at the center. Then move outward.

  • Pray for your walk with Jesus. Always.
  • Married? Pray for your spouse. A lot.
  • Kids? Pray for them like crazy! (If you don’t, who will?)
  • Then your other family.
  • Your small group.
  • Your teammates at work.
  • Your church and pastor.

If your day “blows up” and your prayer time is interrupted, at least you’ve prayed for God to grow and strengthen you and for your immediate family. If you don’t start there, you’ve got no business praying for someone else.

3)  Pray big.

You may not be a “prayer warrior” yet. But you can train to become one.

As you “flex your prayer muscles”, God will train you how to lift up others. Someday you’ll be the kind of Christian who teaches others how to pray. But that will only be true if you start at the start.

Don’t just say, “I’ll pray for you.”

Pray immediately. Pray close. Pray big.

 

For more on prayer:  “How NOT to Pray

photo 4 300x225 How NOT to Pray Part 9: Never Shut Up. (Shut up. Really.)

Photo Courtesy Christa Wickman (Age 12)

It’s hard for me to shut up.

I’m not kidding.

If you know me personally, you know I like to talk. I’m a verbal processor. Some people like to take ideas, stew on them, and let them seep. Not me. I like to “puke” them all out onto the table. Then I can see all the moving parts of an idea, a problem or a concept, and I can move all the pieces around and make them fit.

But even I have had to learn when to stop talking and listen. If I hadn’t, I would have ruined my best relationships long ago.

There’s no better way to stifle communication than to constantly talk.

If you want a healthy, growing relationship, you’ve got to learn how to shut up.

When I asked Kelcy to marry me, we had been dating almost four years. We knew each other pretty well, but we had a small problem that, over time, would have become a big problem.

As we went through pre-marital counseling, I brought up this nagging concern. Kelcy, who I loved and thought the world of, rarely expressed her own ideas or thoughts to me in a deep and meaningful way. Knowing what books said about the importance of communication in marriage, I began to complain about this to the man who was counseling us.

I didn’t like what I discovered.

I went into the session assuming that Kelcy’s lack of expression was her problem, that she was somehow unwilling to share with me what was really going on in her head and her heart. Come to find, out, it was my problem.

I am outrageously extroverted. I thrive in a crowd. I love to talk. I love to be heard. God simply made me to be around a whole bunch of people often, and to communicate constantly. My tendency is to spit out a mind-numbing number of words before I actually kick my brain into gear.

My wife, as it turns out, could not be more different. Although she loves people, she does so in a way that’s completely distinct from me. She takes her time. She gets to know people thoroughly. She slows down and really listens. She is gentle and patient. When she finally speaks, her words are thoughtfully and intentionally formed. What a novel idea.

So what was our major malfunction in our interpersonal communication?

I was out-talking her at a rate of 10 to 1. I would rattle off one idea, then the next and the next after that. Without a pause I would launch into the next mode of conversation, not allowing her time to express herself.

Our wise counselor realized he was going to have to rattle me pretty hard if he was going to get through to me. He said, “Joe, I have a suggestion for you. When you get to the end of a thought, stop talking.” I was floored. Having jarred me just enough for all the air to leave the room, He continued, “You’re going to be uncomfortable with the silence, but Kelcy needs time to process what you’ve just said. Allow her time to respond.” This seemed like a completely unreasonable request. He followed that up with, “After you stop talking, I want you to be quiet until Kelcy responds.” I had never tried this before. “Joe, you’re going to think there’s something wrong. There is nothing wrong. She is just thinking before she speaks.” Can you do that?

He even went as far as to make me count on my hands until Kelcy responded to the last question I had asked her. The following weeks were painful. Each time Kelcy and I had a conversation I practiced what I had been taught. At times I felt like I would burst. What could possibly be taking her so long? Why isn’t she saying anything yet?

But then it happened.

Once I committed to shutting up, Kelcy started opening up. This precious girl, soon to be my wife, began expressing a level of thought that I had never heard before. I discovered that she was more interesting, more complex and more thoughtful than I had ever anticipated.

Now after 16 years of marriage I am still learning to shut up. Left to my own devices, I can still shut down our communication by flooding our house with words. I can still overwhelm her by spewing out all my ideas before she has a chance to process and respond. But more and more I am learning, as a husband, father, friend and pastor, to shut up and listen.

Every time I do I learn valuable things about the most important people in my life.

Shutting up is important in my conversations with God.

God is not like my wife. He is not needing me to stop talking so that he can process my thoughts. He knows what’s in and on my heart and mind long before I come to Him in prayer. But the same truth applies, that if I do not eventually cease talking, I will not hear from God.

We are tempted to approach prayer with a bullet list of needs, rattling off requests to my Father in heaven one after another. We can. Our Lord affords us that privilege. But should we? Should we enter into His presence only to lay out my list of needs, and then leave the conversation without pausing to listen?

I wonder how long we’d keep talking to a friend who only made demands of us, never listening to a thing we had to say.

God is not going to reject us for bad prayer hygiene. But if we approach him with incessant speaking, we’re going to miss out on the richness of what He has to say.

Consider God revealing Himself to the prophet Elijah. This man had powerfully represented God in the face of tremendous adversity. He had seen The Lord answer miraculously time and time again. But when Elijah came to a turning point in his life and ministry, God chose to reveal Himself to his faithful servant in an altogether different way.

By standing up for God, Elijah had made some very powerful enemies. Now he was being hunted, and was running for his life. He needed to know that God was nearby. He needed to know that God was attentive to his plight. So The Lord told Elijah to head up a mountain, where He would reveal Himself to him.

How would God make Himself plain?

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

A gentle whisper.

Sounds kind of anticlimactic, doesn’t it? Considering the severity of Elijah’s problems, the fact that he was being pursued by armed men, I imagine he might have preferred that God showed up with lightning bolts, splitting the earth and terrifying all around Him.

God doesn’t move the way we want Him to.

This is what we know about Him:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:8-9)

Once again, God is God and I am not. He doesn’t always act the way I think He should act. He doesn’t move according to my demands. And He certainly doesn’t speak just because He’s been spoken to.

God will speak.

  • He will speak in the storm when the wind and waves are crashing.
  • He will speak when you’re crying out, wailing too loudly to hear yourself think.
  • He will speak in the boredom and blah of a Tuesday afternoon.
  • But sometimes His voice can only be discerned when we quiet ourselves long enough to hear His still, small voice.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”

(Psalm 46:10)

Of all the lessons I’ve learned, and am in the process of learning, this may be the most difficult.

When I stopped talking non-stop, my relationship with my wife began to blossom.

Why? Shutting my mouth spoke volumes about how I valued her. It communicated importance in a way that my continued blathering never would. And of course shutting up gave me the opportunity to listen at a whole new level.

How could your walk with God be enriched by silence?

  • How much of your prayer time is focused on you talking?
  • Whose words carry more weight in prayer, yours or God’s?
  • Do you truly believe you can “hear” God in prayer?
  • Are you willing to pray, pause, and wait for God to speak?

If you’re anything like me, this exercise sounds terrifying.

  • What if God doesn’t speak?
  • What if I can’t hear Him?
  • What if I’ve been “doing it wrong” all this time?

Relax. This is your loving Father in Heaven. He’s not looking to wrap you on the knuckles. He’s been waiting for a long time for you to come before Him with all your burdens and simply be before Him. Talk is great. But silence is best.

When the prophet Jeremiah was in the midst of carrying out God’s will in the midst of trying times, the Lord came and said to Him,

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

(Jeremiah 33:3)

How would you like for God to tell you “great and unsearchable things”? He will. You just have to get quiet enough, for long enough, to listen.

No matter what your circumstances, no matter how far off you think God is, He is right there. Maybe He’s just waiting for you to pause, slow down, shut up and listen.

So go ahead. Pour your heart out to God. Then get quiet. Listen. You may find yourself speaking less, and Him speaking more, as you learn to be still and know that He is God.

 

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A Risky Prayer

October 28, 2013 — 2 Comments
1293101 76400110 300x200 A Risky Prayer

A Risky Prayer

Asking God to look inside you and change you isn’t exactly safe.

It’s a risky prayer.

But it has to be done if you’re going to live in an authentic, no-holds-barred relationship with Him.

I routinely need to come before God and ask Him to unravel my wadded-up brain. I need Him to look into my heart and point out the crooked, broken and stained parts.

Why?

Because they’re there.

Life moves at such a pace that I accumulate junk day to day. I need God to run me through His detox program so that I don’t accrue a cruddy build-up inside me. I am such a flawed person that, even under the best conditions, I am in constant need of God’s hand to direct and reshape me.

  • So I go to His Word.
  • I find there a risky prayer.
  • I dive in, trusting He will catch me.

I dare you to pray this. Then respond to what God reveals:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23, 24 NIV)

The door is open. All I have to do is walk through it.

  • My relationship with God, through Christ, opens the door for me to approach God like this.
  • My faith, my experience of walking with Him, has taught me that I can trust Him to lead me.

When I hold up my life against the Word of God and prayer, I soon see incongruence. This is not an easy or painless process. It involves me moving and changing in response to what God inevitably reveals. That’s why this is a risky prayer.

The best part though, is how God redirects me. He doesn’t point out what is wrong, He leads me to what is right and good. He loves me so much that He doesn’t leave me in the state that He found me.

Will you pray a risky prayer today?

Get honest with God, and say:
  1. Father in Heaven, search my heart and mind.
  2. God, you know everything about me. Help me be honest with you.
  3. Point out the parts of my life that are offensive to you and toxic to me.
  4. Lead me in your way. Help me make whatever changes I need to to follow Your ways.

If you pray a risky prayer, and then respond to God, it will be hard for you to not grow.

 How NOT to Pray Part 8: Never Be Alone. (Solitude)

Solitude

If solitude is oxygen to the soul, I am in danger of suffocating on a daily basis. If I don’t fill my “tank” with air daily, I will run out of breath before I can surface again. I must make time to pray.

I am virtually never alone. My life, like so many, is full to overflowing.

I live with 5 women. My 4 daughters and one amazing wife ensure that my life is packed with activity. There is never a dull moment in our home.

I’m also a pastor. I’m in the people business. I get the joy of connecting people to Jesus, walking alongside them to help them grow in Him. As a result, I get to interact with hundreds of people weekly. Thankfully, I thrive in a crowd. I love it. I was made for it. However, constantly connecting with others eventually drains me. I am not infinite, and neither is my energy.

In the past I reaped the results of a harried life. I watched my patience and strength wear thin over time as I rushed from day to day without recharging my batteries. Confusion overtook me all too often when I did not sit before the great Counselor and seek His wisdom. It was watching a train wreck in slow motion. I knew I was running off the rails, but I couldn’t stop it. I had not yet decided that I needed daily time to stop and be with God.

Now I aggressively and consistently carve out and protect one-on-one time with God. It is an essential spiritual survival skill.

Jesus modeled the importance of time spent alone with God. He pulled away from the crowd and drew near to His heavenly Father on a regular basis. If the Son of God found it necessary to get away from the grind and seek strength from His Father, shouldn’t we do the same?

Here are three ways Jesus sought solitude and prayer:

Routine Recharge

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” (Luke 6:12)

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…” (Matt 14:23)

Jesus was constantly surrounded by people. He was in demand. Having taught, fed and healed thousands, people flocked to him day and night. They crowded around him and pressed in on him. You may know the feeling. While you’re not walking around healing and feeding thousands, I am sure that the demands of your day can get overwhelming. Between family, friends and work obligations, we often have more demands made on us than we can deliver.

That’s why Jesus’ model of seeking prayer in solitude is so important for us. Even the Son of God knew that He needed to get away and refuel regularly. Again and again we see Jesus pulling away from the crowd. He wasn’t seeking “alone time”. He was seeking time together with His Father. He didn’t pull away in order to shun people. He spent time alone to give uninterrupted time to the God who shaped and filled Him. The power that made Jesus’ time with others significant was born out the time He spent alone with His Father.

Take note. Jesus didn’t “get it all done” before he turned and left to pray alone. There came a time when Jesus said, in effect, “I’m sorry. I know you’re hungry. I know you need to be healed. But I have to go. I have to leave here and disappear for a while. For my own spiritual health and sanity, I have to soak in some time with my Father in Heaven.”

These are the three times I regularly carve out to get some solitude:

1) Before everyone else is awake

This is “prime time” for solitude and prayer. It’s the best time for me to charge my batteries because I am fresh and focused. Coffee in hand, I open up God’s Word and allow it to read me. That moves me into prayer. Spending time with my Heavenly Father signals that He is my top priority. I allow Him to speak into my day first, before it gets cluttered with confusion.

2) Exercise

Time running or walking can be great prayer time. When I’m not gasping for air or feeling like I’m going to die from a heart attack, I pray while I walk and run. The physical activity clears my head. Maybe I’m a bit ADD, but I often find it’s easier to keep that prayer connection open while moving my feet, rather than while on my knees.

3) Before Bed

Nothing untangles a weary mind like praying yourself to sleep. God is attentive to our every need, and at the end of the day we are often carrying the burdens we accumulated the past 16 hours. There is no need to allow those burdens to crush us while we sleep. We don’t have to wake up with the same weariness we wound up with at the end of the day.

Praying at bedtime provides a clearing house for the troubles of your day. Simply take all the things that are weighing heavily on your mind and place them before the Lord. Worship Him with a Psalm. Lift up His name. As you do, your problems will be put into perspective. As your view of His capabilities rises, your obvious inadequacies will matter less. All Him to supply all you need for a good night’s sleep.

In seeking solitude on a daily basis, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of your Savior.

The power that made Jesus’ time with others significant was born out the time He spent alone with His Father.

Question:  Is your time with others fueled by time with your Father?

In Transition

(Matthew 4:1-11) – The Temptation of Jesus

At a pivotal time in his life, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Just after Jesus was baptized by John, The Lord led him into a time of testing before his public ministry began. Over 40 days in the wilderness he was tempted, tested, and prepared for ministry. He fasted and relied solely on God for strength.

Sometimes God leads us through a transitional time. We’re progressing from one stage of life to the next. He’s calling us up to the next level. He’s got more in store for us. Those times call for an especially close connection with Him.

If you’re in transition, if God is moving you into a new stage of life, then I recommend you carve out some extra time with Him. Pull out all the stops. Do whatever you have to do in order to pause, pray and listen to His voice. Sync up with Him during this important direction-setting time He is leading you through. Take an afternoon off of work and go to a quite place. Go to where no one can find you. Shut off your phone. Get settled. Open your heart and your mind to Him. Allow Him the uninterrupted, uninvaded space necessary to speak deeply to your soul.

I promise that if you do this you will not regret it. The trajectory of your next steps can be firmly set by seeking solitude in prayer.

Question: Are you in transition? Are you spending extra time alone with God? Carve out the time and protect it.

In Crisis

(Matt 26:36-44) Jesus at Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Three times Jesus asked his 3 closest friends to pray with him. Three times they let him down.

Jesus didn’t let the failures of his friends prevent Him from seeking His Father while He was in crisis. Life presents emergencies from time to time. It’s during these moments that we throw ourselves before God. Desperation demands that we cry out to Him.

The beauty of Jesus’ cry is that it was not a whine. He didn’t demand His own way, but surrendered to His Father’s will, knowing fully what was ahead of him. Suffering doesn’t have to paralyze us. If it drives us to our knees in prayer, it can produce spiritual results that are unattainable through any other means.

Do not fear crisis. Allow it to propel you into the presence of your Heavenly Father. He knows all things. He cares about you. Stop and stare into His face with a submissive heart. He will not ignore you.

Are you ever alone?

Do you move from day to day without pausing to refuel and refresh with God?

I know what it’s like to be busy all the time. I’m not familiar with this “loneliness” thing. My life is so full it’s ridiculous. And that, my friends, is why I simply must make time to get alone with God. If I don’t, I will never operate on a full tank of gas. I will spend my life running on fumes. That’s no way to live.

Make the time. Keep it. Pray like Jesus. Live like Jesus.

 

How NOT to Pray” will be my first eBook.

 How NOT to Pray Part 7:  Never Stop Moving (Pause)

Pause. Pray.

Look, I am the king of busy.

  • I have 4 children.
  • They attend 3 different schools. (Next Fall it will be 4.)
  • They are involved in numerous extracurricular teams/ activities/ obligations.
  • My job is never officially “done”. There is always more to do.
  • My wife works part-time. And coaches. And runs a micro farm. And volunteers…

I’m just scratching the surface here. I could go on, but I won’t. It’s too exhausting.

It’s not just me. Nearly everyone I know feels overwhelmed, at least at times. Today, busy-ness seems obligatory. There’s something about running at a breakneck pace that feels noble, even necessary. We have a preoccupation with activity, equating it with usefulness.

In our culture you get “points” for being busy. It’s like a badge of honor. We equate constant motion with demand. We assume that being spread thin somehow means that we are important.

Those assumptions don’t hold up. Deep down we know it. Over-scheduled lives produce stressed-out people who, over time, become incapable of enjoying life as it was meant to be.

What’s worse, this frenzy of activity crowds out our ability to connect deeply with God in prayer. The constant noise, the whirring of the machinery of our life, drowns out the voice of the One who call us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

Are we the first generation fighting the perpetual motion phenomenon?

We are not.

People wrestled with hyperactivity long before smart phones, curriculum nights and travel soccer leagues.

Two sisters, Mary & Martha, found themselves in proximity to Jesus one day. He came to their home. They had two very different responses to Jesus’ presence.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Stop and imagine for a moment that Jesus was knocking on your door. He wants to come into your home and have a visit. What would you do? Would you swing the door wide, welcoming him in? Or would you frantically run around picking up your dirty laundry off the floor, yelling, “Just a minute! Hold on Jesus! I’ll let you in soon!”

After opening the door, would you try hard to entertain and impress him? Would you make sure you had your Bible strategically placed out in the open? While He is being seated, would you make small talk with him, trying to slide in all the impressive things you’ve learned and done at church? Or would you just sit at his feet, ready to bask in the presence of the Savior who has made you whole?

Jesus knows the messes we’re living in, and He still wants us to sit down with Him. He knocks at the door. Will you stop what you’re doing and let Him in?

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

Martha opened her home to Jesus; Mary opened her heart to Him. Which one do you think got rewarded? Of course it was Mary, the one who sat at His feet, motionless, ready to soak in every word.

And what was Jesus’ reply to the jealous sister?

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

(Luke 10:38-42)

Instead of hurrying about her tasks, Mary chose the better option. Her sister didn’t like it. She didn’t care. Nothing was going to stop her from spending time in the presence of Jesus.

The choice is still the same today:

  • Dive into distraction in Jesus’ presence, preventing true closeness with Him.

Or…

  • We could simply stop.

I know, the thought bothers me too. I get so accustomed to the ways of this world that constant activity feels necessary to me. Ceasing work, even to spend time in the Lord’s presence, feels like laziness. It’s not. In fact, it’s the most productive thing we could do.

150 years a wise old preacher said,

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.” A.J. Gordon

Could it be that our infatuation with activity is preventing us from experiencing the fullness of life offered by Jesus Christ? How do we break out of the frame of mind that tells us that inactivity is worthless, when the reality is that pausing to pray opens up the boundless reserves of Heaven?

What We Need To Hear:

We are confronted daily with the limitations of our finite lives. The war within us threatens to tear us apart as we heap more and more expectations upon ourselves. Jesus, on the other hand, promises to relieve our

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus’ call to slow down challenges our self-centric, frenzied activity, to slow down and simply rest in His presence. The act of pausing causes me to lay down the pride and arrogance of my so-called self-sufficiency. The act of slowing down causes me to say: “God is God and I am not.”

I pray throughout the day. I pray when I am about to make a phone call. I pray as I am in meetings. This practice of constant prayer keeps me in touch with my Father throughout the day. However, these quick prayers will never substitute for uninterrupted, substantial time in His presence.

It is there, often early in the morning or late at night, that my heart has a chance to calm down. There is value in slowing down, even ceasing movement, in order to focus on the Lord.

Famous pastor and scholar, F.B. Meyer, put it this way:

“Prayer means not always talking to Him, but waiting before Him till the dust settles and the stream runs clear.”

How can I experience “the peace of God that transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7) if I never stop moving long enough to silence myself? How can my mind be consumed with the mysteries of the Almighty if I never make a break from the tyranny of the tasks of the day?

I am not suggesting that we cease activity so much as I am saying that we settle into serenity. Yes, we must pause to rest in His presence. We must cease striving in order to soak in His supply.

Slowing down signals to the Lord, and to our hearts, that prayer is important. He deserves our full, undivided attention. While in His presence we are convinced, all over again, that, “God is God and I am not.”

Or not.

The choice is yours.

Pause. Pray. Stay there “till the dust settles and the stream runs clear.”

 

“How NOT to Pray” is a book I’m writing. Release Date: 4/30/13.

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 How NOT to Pray Part 6:  Make It All About You (Humility)

Humble Yourself

Here’s a ridiculous idea:  A mere man tells an infinite God what to do.

That doesn’t mean I don’t do it. I’m just saying that when I do I make a fool of myself.

Picture this:

A man (me) who can hardly find his keys in the morning prays to the God who sees all. This frail and fragile man, who often gets drowsy while praying, lifts his words to the God who never sleeps. Instead of approaching the Creator of the universe humbly, I rattle off a list of petty, self-centered “prayer requests” (complaints) that have little to do with God’s personality and purposes. Instead, I focus almost entirely on my own laundry list of gripes and groans. The only goal of my prayer is to remind God of His “duty” to increase the level of comfort in my life.

God hears a whole lot of asking, even some whining, and doesn’t get a word in edge-wise.

What a small way to live. What a weak way to pray.

Are we missing the true potential of prayer?

The infinite Lord of all, whose creation we cannot measure, whose depth we cannot fathom, has made Himself available to us through prayer. This God we serve has opened up free and unencumbered communication with Him. Prayer offers us a chance to get off the ground, to enter into the very throne room of Almighty God. (Hebrews 4:16, Ephesians 3:12)

What’s more, He cares about every detail of our lives.

  • He has known us since before we were brought into being. (Psalm 139:1-16)
  • He knows our current state, right down to the number of hairs on our heads. (Luke 12:7)
  • He even knows the number of our days. (Job 14:5)

Because of His great concern for us, we are instructed to, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

However, when we make our prayers all about ourselves, lifting only our wants and needs to Him, we run the risk of treating God like some cosmic slot machine. Put in a prayer, hope for a big cash prize.

  • He opens up a conversation. We prefer immediate answers.
  • He promises to walk with us. We beg for Him to teleport us to our destination.
  • He invites us into relationship. We insist on measurable results.

Instead of making the most of communication with God, we often keep our prayers so rooted in our immediate needs that we nail our feet to the floor. Instead of getting caught up in the presence of the One who has the power to change our circumstances, we fix our gaze on the problems in front of us. This self-centered approach to prayer robs us of the opportunity to be transformed in the process of prayer.

The Missing Ingredient: Humility

1 Peter 5:7 displays God’s compassion, calling us to “Give all your worries and cares to God…”. But let’s back up and look at the previous verse. As always, when interpreting Scripture we must consider the context in which it’s found.

1 Peter 5:6 says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”

“…humble yourselves…”

Humble:

  • to lower in condition, importance, or dignity; abase.
  • to destroy the independence, power, or will of.
  • to make meek: to humble one’s heart.

Ouch. None of those sound fun.

Confession: I don’t want me to be lowered. No matter what anyone else thinks, my problems and concerns are pretty dang important to me. I know this attitude doesn’t get me very far, but it’s hard to shake. It’s the way we operate from infancy. It’s the way we’re taught to operate in this world. Lift ourselves up, and we can get ahead.

Yourselves:

Better you humble yourself than God do it for you. Believe me. I’ve tried both.

Jesus Humbled Himself.

Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to make a holy exchange: to jettison their pride and take on Christ’s humility.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

(Philippians 2:5-8)

Jesus didn’t have to humble Himself. He chose to. We are direct beneficiaries of His choice. This is my Savior. This is the God who came to me. This is the God who has experienced pain first-hand. This is the One I approach in prayer.

God the Father sent the Son, who gave Himself up and sent the Holy Spirit. Now, through faith in Christ, I have been reconciled to the Father and have the Spirit living in me. Wow.

I am confronted with the fact that God has moved Heaven and earth to open up conversation with me. If Jesus’ decision to lower Himself, again and again, resulted in my restored relationship with God, then why should I object to the idea of humbling myself?

I must ask some hard questions:

  • Who am I to walk into His presence with a chip on my shoulder?
  • Do I spend more time in prayer gazing on Him or on my present condition?
  • Has my pride been limiting my experience of prayer by making the conversation one-sided?
  • What would it be like to approach God from a posture of humility?

What if we refocused our prayers?

If we focus on ourselves during prayer, our problems will always look bigger than they are. However, if we learn how to bask in the glow of our Father in Heaven, He will reframe our understanding of Himself. The result will be that He is glorified in our hearts and minds. We will then rest securely in the fact that He alone is capable of meeting our every need.

If we are willing to exchange our fascination with our current concerns for a renewed focus on Him and His capabilities, we will find our views of God taking proper form. Unless that happens, our perspective will never take shape.

As we daily make this exchange, our faith will grow along with our perspective. We will no longer be the center of our universe. Our problems will no longer stand as an idol, receiving our true worship. The God who deserves our focus will be raised up as we lower ourselves.

The end result, in God’s outrageous economy, is that we are lifted up. We are made whole. We are repaired. We lack nothing, because He is answering our deepest need from the depths of who He is.

  • Will you humble yourself?
  • Will you make God central in your prayers?

After you have done this, then feel free to offer up your concerns to Him. He is listening, and He looks forward to the conversation. Now you’ve got the proper perspective. Now you understand who He is, and who you are. Now your heart is positioned to hear from Him.

 

“How NOT to Pray” is a book I’m writing. Release Date: 5/1/13.

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 How NOT to Pray Part 5: Dont Expect God to Answer (Expectation)

Pray and Expect God to Answer

Hello? Anybody there?

Imagine calling a friend on the phone. You dial. It rings. They pick up. But this time there’s no “Hello” on the other end. No greeting. Your friend just expects you to start talking. So you do. You ask questions. No answer. You make observations. No answer. You’re expected to carry the entire conversation, including the “good-bye”. Ridiculous, right?

It’s just as ridiculous to not expect God to answer us when we pray. It is perfectly reasonable to expect someone to answer the phone when we call. It is just as reasonable to expect God to speak to us when we talk to Him. In fact, the reality is that He is the one initiating the conversation in the first place. So He is the caller. You’re answering. And He will answer back.

If you don’t expect God to answer when you pray, then what’s the point of prayer?

If prayer is conversation with your Father in Heaven, then you’re way off the mark when you pray without expecting an answer. In fact, when we pray without expectation we run the risk of offending God.

Let me ask you these questions:

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, take some time to read and consider the Scriptures. Click through them and get a better idea of the kind of relationship God wants to have with you.

God gave us the gift of prayer as a two-way communication. Jesus paid with his life the ransom required to purify us and allow us to approach our Heavenly Father. Then the Holy Spirit was sent to inhabit each and every one of His followers. God moved heaven and earth to reestablish our lines of communication. Now we have the privilege of unmitigated communication with the Creator of the Universe.

If you answered “yes” to those questions, but you’re still praying without expecting an answer, there’s something else going on. You may be experiencing a disconnect due to these factors:

   1)  Your prayers are too focused on you.

If hearing yourself talk is the most operative component of your prayers, you need to stop altogether and refocus. It’s time for you to re-approach prayer with a new aim.

If we’re not careful, 100% of our prayers can be asking for something. I’m the Dad of four children, and I am often overwhelmed with the amount of need my children present. If my children only ever spoke to me when they were hungry, or needed a new shirt, we would have a pretty narrow relationship.

Thankfully, our Father in heaven isn’t easily exhausted like I am. But I still think He longs for so much more in our relationship than being our genie in a bottle. If your prayers revolve around your needs, and never venture into deeper discovery of who He is, then you’re just scratching the surface of relationship.

A great way to refocus your prayer is by using Scripture as a guide. Find a Psalm that resonates with your current state and pray through it, word for word. Think through what the psalmist must have been expecting when they lifted this prayer up to God in song. Laying a Scriptural template over your own prayers trains you to take on godly focus.

  2)  You’re thinking too little of yourself.

Humility is essential to prayer. However, false humility is as dangerous as pride. If you unnecessarily pound yourself into the ground, believing you’re not good enough for God to answer you, then you’re listening to someone else’s voice, not God’s.

God spoke of your value when He put in place His plan to redeem you and fill you with His own Spirit. He cherishes His relationship with you. Once you were alienated from Him, but through Christ you have been adopted into His family as a son or daughter of the Most High God.

What kind of Father doesn’t talk to His child? Your Father in heaven is not an absentee Dad. He promises again and again that if you draw near to Him, then He will draw near to you.

Bottom line: If you believe God doesn’t want to talk to you, you’re not taking Him at His word.

   3) You’re looking for your answer, not His.

Are you absolutely submitted to God’s will, rather than your own? Or are you secretly hoping you can bend God to your will?

Entering prayer with pre-set expectations is dangerous. That sounds contradictory to what I’ve been saying. It’s not.

We can expect to hear from God. But we must not pre-determine what we are going to hear. We cannot expect God in heaven, who is eternally existent, all powerful and all-knowing to clap his hands and say, “Great idea!” every time we run a thought by Him. If He jumped on the bandwagon of every prayer we prayed, we’d find ourselves moving in some dangerous directions.

Many of us feel like God has let us down because He didn’t answer our prayers for things that are obviously good. Our friend was not healed. Our job was not spared. We didn’t get the money needed when we needed it. How could those things ever be in God’s will? I don’t know. We’ve all experienced suffering and injustice. We all have unanswered questions. However, that does not mean that God is silent, or that He is unaware of our need. Someday will understand. Until then He is more interested in whether or not we will accept His current answer.

Bowing to the will of our Father in heaven is a primary function of prayer. Surrender yourself to hearing and acting on His will, and I guarantee you will begin to hear His voice. You may even find the fabric of your prayers transforming as you do.

  4) You’re expecting God to answer on your timetable.

God has three answers to prayer: “Yes”, “No” and “Wait”. I admittedly struggle with the third one the most. Who likes waiting? Not me. Sometimes I would rather hear a firm “No” about something I really desire than settle for a “Wait”, which seems much less satisfying at the moment.

The reality is that God knows exactly what I need and when I need it. He doesn’t give me everything I ask for, when I ask for it, any more than I give my kids cookies for breakfast. No matter how heartfelt their pleas, I know that’s not what’s best for them. Cookies have a place. That’s why they’re in the cupboard, but I’ll help my kids on the when and the how much.

God does not answer every prayer when and how we’d like Him to. However, He is faithful to answer each and every time.

  • Are you confidently approaching God in prayer?

14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)

  • Are you expecting Him to hear you?
  • Are you ready for Him to reply?

Bit by bit I’m writing this “How NOT to Pray” series with the intent of crafting it into my first eBook.

Take a look at the first 4 parts here:

  1. How NOT to Pray Part 1:  Don’t. (Do.)

  2. How NOT to Pray Part 2:  Start Later. (Start Now.)

  3. How NOT to Pray Part 3:  Leave it to Chance (Intentionality)

  4. How NOT to Pray Part 4:  Don’t Schedule Prayer (Rhythm)

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 How NOT to Pray Part 4: Dont Schedule Prayer. (Rhythm)

What’s your prayer rhythm?

If you want to stay stunted in your spiritual growth, please insist that prayer can never be planned.

Since prayer is conversation with God, many people reject the thought of planning prayer in a regular rhythm. Applying “intentionality” to prayer seems unnatural for some. Taking it a step further, making on-purpose prayer a scheduled event is a foreign concept to many Christians.

If we applied that attitude toward planned prayer to the rest of your life, we wouldn’t get very far.

If you recoil at the thought of planning prayer time:

  • Have you ever set an appointment with your doctor? Or do you only make ER visits?
  • Do you change your car’s oil at regular intervals, or just when it “feels” like you need to?
  • Ever planned a date? Or did you just randomly meet someone until you married them?
  • Do you eat meals at regular intervals? Or do you just “graze” throughout the day?

We don’t leave our health care, engine maintenance or relationships to chance. We schedule time and attention on a regular basis to keep things running well. Why would we treat our relationship with God any different?

Intentional prayer brings purpose to your primary relationship.

Rhythm in prayer makes connection with God a regular occurrence.

Jesus modeled regular prayer. His life was full of demands. Everywhere he went peoples’ needs pressed in on him. Jesus couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being asked to feed, heal or teach. He kept up with the constant demands of life by pulling away regularly to draw strength from his Heavenly Father.

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

Think about that. Jesus Christ, God in man, broke off communication with people at regular intervals so that he could communicate with God. At some point he stopped working and started praying.

Really? God in human form felt it was necessary, and somehow we think it’s unnatural for us to do the same? Resistance to regular prayer could stem from a persistence in pride. We avoid drawing strength from God because we feel we’re doing well enough on our own. Deep down we know that’s not the case.

Rhythm isn’t about squeezing the spontaneity out of prayer. It’s about prioritizing prime time for communication with a limitless God.

Many people are afraid that if they regularly schedule time to pray, then they’ll run out of things to say. You won’t. Trust me. Getting into the presence of God on a regular basis builds our ability to hear from Him. Once you begin the conversation, you won’t get bored with God. As you discover what He has to say, your hunger for more time with Him will grow.

Planned prayer forms a foundation from which other prayer can grow. Tighten the rhythm of your prayer life, and you’ll find yourself continuing the conversation with Him throughout the day.

So if you’ve never scheduled a regular time to pray, how do you develop a rhythm?

Pick a time. Plan your prayer. Stick to it.

Pick a time.

These are all valid times for regular prayer:

  • First thing in the morning
  • Last thing at night
  • On your drive to work or school
  • On your lunch break
  • While you’re walking or jogging

Warning: This regular time will flex as you grow. The perfect time of day for prayer at this point in your life might be the wrong time in a year.

For example, in my college years I would kneel at my bedside at night before I went to bed. Before my head hit the pillow, I would pray through the events of my day. I was then able to sleep in perfect peace. Now, as the Dad of 4, I barely make it to my pillow before I fall asleep. Life is different. I have to carve out a new time to pray when I’m not so physically exhausted I can’t think straight.

What time works for you?

Pause and schedule your first prayer time. Make a reminder on your calendar. Set an alarm on your phone. Make yourself unavailable to others. Make yourself available to God.

Plan Your Prayer

Locating the “right” plan isn’t the point. But having a good plan will help you focus. Here are a few templates:

  • List all the things that have been bothering you. There’s no better way to feel free than to pray through the things that have been “renting space” in your head.
  • Pray for particular people who need Christ. There are few things as energizing to a believer as praying for others and seeing God answer. This could be addictive.
  • Pray through Scripture. Pick a Psalm. Pray through the words of it, asking God to reveal who He is. Scripture is always a great prompt to prayer.

These and a hundred other plans could work as a guide. Like I said, the point of these examples is not to be a nazi about following them. It’s about coming to prayer with a starting point. Instead of pausing and saying, “Duhh…” then allowing your thoughts to wander, work your plan. You’ll find your prayer life suddenly starts to get more productive.

Stick to it.

Anything worth doing takes time to develop into a regular rhythm.

Exercise and education benefit us over time more than they do in random bursts. But developing a workout routine doesn’t prevent you from playing a pick-up game of basketball. It makes you better prepared for when the time comes. Going to school doesn’t prevent you from ever learning outside of the classroom. It makes your mind ready to deal with new information. In the same way, scheduled prayer will only enhance the rest of your prayer life.

If an appointment with your boss is important enough to keep, so is an appointment with your Heavenly Father. I encourage you to work your plan of choice for a particular month. If God has not met you in tangible ways at the end of those 30 days, I’ll be very surprised.

So what are you waiting for? Pick a time. Plan your prayer. Stick to it.

 How NOT to Pray Part 5: Don’t Expect God to Answer (Expectation)

I’d love to hear how God is using your regular time in prayer.

Please leave a comment below and share your experience.

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 How NOT to Pray 3: Leave it to Chance (Intentionality)

Pray on Purpose

I’ve never gotten anywhere I wanted to go by drifting. That truth is easily applied to some areas of my life. But when I try to apply it to my relationship with God, it hurts my brain.

Today we’re going to have to balance two seemingly contradictory statements.

       1)   Prayer flows freely. It is conversation between friends.

       2)   Prayer requires intentional effort. It is work.

I know. It seems like they’re mutually exclusive. They’re actually complimentary.

If you’re like me, wired to be highly relational, you cringe at the thought of a relationship being “intentional”. Shouldn’t a good relationship just happen naturally? Should conversations have to be purposeful to produce health in a relationship? Something about that seems mechanical, even manufactured.

My resistance melts, however, when I think about the other relationships that matter most to me. For instance, my wife deserves my time and attention. If she doesn’t get it, our relationship suffers.

The day-to-day rigor of raising kids and making a living means that we must catch little snippets of conversation when we can. Crunched between making meals and tucking in toddlers have been a thousand little “I love you’s”. That seems natural.

If we didn’t send each other a quick, encouraging text from time to time; if we didn’t call each other on the way home; we’d feel like we live on different planets. Those bits of communication nestled between crying kids and chaotic schedules are what string together most days.

But we can’t survive for long on that level of communication. If we want to grow in any relationship, intentionality must enter the equation. Our relationship is alive, and it doesn’t get adequately nourished by accident. It starts purposeful intent from both parties.

Question: If God displayed the same level of relational intentionality as you do, what would your relationship be like?

If we only pray in crisis, we miss out on the lion’s share of what God has for us. His plans for your relationship with Him run much deeper than you getting to your next appointment on time or avoiding the consequences of a bad decision. They far surpass the urgency of the moment.

God cares about every detail of your life. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He pays attention to you. So what’s wrong with you developing your relationship with Him on purpose?

Growth doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t get physically fit by just waiting for it to happen. No one expects to receive a degree or certification without a lot of focused effort.

So, when it comes to growth in our connection with God, why do we act as though it should just “happen”? That’s like saying to your spouse, “If you want to talk to me, I’m right here. But don’t expect me to walk over there and talk to you.” Not cool.

Relationships worth having are worth investing time in.

So what about you? Are you intentional about seeking God in prayer? Or do you just float from one prayer-inducing event to the next?

If you’d like to deepen the level of conversation between you and God, decide right now that you will take steps to opening up a greater conversation with Him.

Here are 3 exercises to grow your prayer life:

1 – Blast through a growth barrier.

We all have “sticky spots”, areas of spiritual “stuck-ness” that we just can’t seem to shake free of. Wouldn’t it be amazing if God could give you lasting freedom in this area? If that happened, what else would be possible in your life?

Getting a hold of God’s power to change happens through prayer. Locate Scriptures related to this topic and pray through them, asking God to transform you from the inside out. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for you.

2 – Pray for someone’s salvation.

We all know someone who is disconnected from Christ. Wouldn’t it be amazing if God used your prayers to reshape someone’s eternity? Throughout history He has done just that.

Ask God to place someone on your heart. Then begin lifting that person up to God. Pray for the Holy Spirit to draw them into relationship with God. Watch Him do what only He can do.

3 – Worship. (even on a weekday)

Worship isn’t confined to church on Sunday. God makes Himself available to us 24 hours a day. Worship him.

Pick an attribute of God and praise Him for it. If you’re stuck, pick a Psalm or two and read them. Tell Him the many things you appreciate about Him. As you do, your perspective will shift for the better. Your problems will shrink in comparison to the God who reigns over you.

 

Each of these exercises requires more than a passing thought. These are not “drive-by” prayers. They require a significant investment of heart and time. If you choose one and do it, you will undoubtedly develop an appetite for more. This is why adding intentionality to our naturally growing relationship with God is worth the effort.

Miss the start of the series? Here’s “How NOT to Pray Part 1: Don’t. (Do.)” 

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What’s the next step?

In Part 4 of “How NOT to Pray” we’ll talk about developing a Rhythm that will turn this burst of prayer into a sustainable burn.

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iStock 000020143544 ExtraSmall 300x300 How NOT to Pray Part 2: Start later. (Start now.)

How NOT to Pray Part 2: Start later. (Start now.)

If you walked away from Part 1 of “How NOT to Pray” without actually praying, I’d like to personally high-5 you. In the face. (in love)

Okay, maybe I’ve got issues. But please allow me to explain my concern.

This prayer series is intended to be experienced, not just observed. There is no amount of learning that will enhance your connection with God like simply encountering Him in conversation.

Let’s get one thing straight. There is a goal to prayer. It is not an aimless activity. We’re not praying just for the sake of praying, as if closing our eyes and being quiet for a minute will magically solve our problems. It won’t.

We are praying in order to enter into the presence of the Almighty, Holy God has made Himself approachable. It is His wisdom, His correction, His insight, His power that we need to guide us through every step of every day.

Prayer is a personal interaction between hopelessly limited people and a limitless God. It is the intersection of two worlds, our pipeline to the eternal. When Jesus prayed “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) He underscored the influence that heaven bears on earth. He lived out the reality of that prayer daily.

So, why do we wait? Why do we put off prayer?

Many of us live by the procrastinator’s pledge: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

Here’s the problem: Inaction causes anxiety. Prayer is action. It’s spiritual movement that needs to precede other action. Peace comes from taking action when it’s time to. Communication with God helps take the right action that will move us in the direction we need to go.

So let’s live by a new pledge: “I will approach God now because I will need Him later.”

Need help getting started? Here’s 5 Quick Starters

  • “Lord, teach me to pray.” – God’s more interested in this conversation than you are. Ask Him for help. You’ll get it.
  • “Lord, I need __________” – Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
  • “Lord, You are __________” – Start listing God’s great attributes, and your problems will shrink.
  • “Lord, Your Word says __________” – Scripture may be my favorite conversation starter.
  • “Lord, help me to change __________” – Need to stop or start something? He’ll help you.

Pick one and start praying. Not later. Now. (Don’t click away from this post until you have.)

Your Father in Heaven has already begun the conversation. He’s just waiting for you to respond.

What helps you start praying? What motivates you to talk with God? Comment below.

Next Up: How NOT to Pray 3: Leave it to Chance (Intentionality)

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