Prayer 101 ~ AC/ Thanksgiving /S

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Prayer does not require an outline or a structure of any sort to be effective. On the other hand, considering an ordered approach to many prayers has the beneficial effect of framing the relationship and dialog with an appropriate perspective. Adoration and confession that precede the remainder of ones prayer reminds us that we are the created and not the creator. We approach the throne recognizing God as the Almighty and our fallen nature. We partake of the promise of righteousness-restoration (1 John 1:9) as we confess sin and receive forgiveness. Building upon this foundation we turn our thoughts to giving thanks.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

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We will often whisper a thanks to God when we avoid disaster or receive a windfall, but so many of the blessings that rain down upon us go unnoted. Giving thanks as a part of our prayer life furthers the foundation lain by adoration and confession by drawing our minds upward and outward. We are forced to recognize answers to prayer, large and small, as well as those which have been lifted but not yet resolved. An attitude of thanksgiving also carries over to the burdens we are called to bear. As our attitude shifts, burdens that we once prayed to be removed are now realized as blessings. In giving thanks for trouble, discipline and infirmities our perspective is enlarged, seeing these things as the testimony that they are. An enlarged perspective sees the larger expanding picture of how God is working in the world. We may see how our struggles play a role in the bigger mission and turn from complaint to gratefulness.

 

Grace and peace to your spirit…

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Prayer 101 ~ A/Confession/TS

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Countless prayers will be lifted heavenward this hour that stream from the hearts and consciousness of God’s people. The Father does not demand liturgical precision in our petitions, but He does expect them to arise from a right heart and a proper attitude. The ACTS organizational device prompts us to humble the heart, profess our thankfulness and verbalize our manifest sins. As Christ taught His disciples [then and now], approaching the altar is not to be done casually.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:8-9

imageThe C in ACTS stands for confession. In many churches we are taught to bundle our sin into a nameless group, offering them with a repentant heart. While not technically wrong, this approach is a tool that enables us to avoid the raw details of our broken hearts. One of the things that the sacrificial system of the Old Testament raised was the specifics of one’s sin. It was necessary that the sacrifice offered match the sin, and so it was required that one enumerate in detail their failings.

Confession brings humility which brings the proper heart before the altar. Know that our sins are forgiven, better yet, forgotten (Psalm 103:12), frees us from the bondage in which we continually entangle ourselves. The burden on your conscience is lifted and the realization that you are being honest with God enables a new boldness in your prayers. To know that He continues to listen and respond to our repentance encourages us to return to our knees.

Grace and peace to you.

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Prayer 101 ~ Adoration/CTS

The ACTS prayer structure is a useful organizing device, bringing you to the throne of God through a series of attitudes that prompt reflection on your spiritual condition.prayer101 Each letter in the acronym reminds you of the sequence of steps that guide the content of your prayer so you are properly addressing the Father. Why a structure? Our most common failure in prayer is come to the throne unprepared spiritually. We do not recognize God for who He nor do we pay proper attention to our own condition of sinfulness. Prayer must be brought properly (Proverbs 1:28-29) in order to be heard. We must recognizes God’s priorities of right relationship before asking that he address ours.

The A in ACTS stands for adoration. This is the attitude of giving recognition to God for who He is. We approach the throne of prayer in repose, face down before the God of all, treading on Holy Ground and suddenly aware of our less-than-holy condition before the One of Perfect Holiness. This Holiness gave Him the sole right to redeem us from our sinful condition, conferring righteousness upon us and giving us an entrance to His presence. The only proper way to enter this presence is with an awful adoration for who God is and what He has done.

A good way to begin praying in this fashion is to pray God’s word back to Him. Any number of scriptures praise the Father and beginning your prayer by lovingly reciting one of them puts your heart in the proper place. Try one of these:

  • Psalm 8
  • Psalm 19
  • The Magnificat – Luke 1:46-55
  • Ephesians 1:3-14

Experience in the Scriptures will train your mind and heart to praise God in your own words. Reflect on His attributes and His character. Praise His love that saved you. Adore His omnipresence, knowing that He is with you now on your knees as well later in car, stuck in traffic.

Approaching God in this manner adjusts the priorities of our prayer. What we felt was so important that it needed prayer is suddenly consoled at the memory of His greatness and the ways in which He has handled things for us in the past. A petition that seemed so critical is diminished by the realization that our needs have not aligned with God’s plan. The tone for the rest of our prayer is set.

Grace and peace in the Spirit to you.

Prayer 101 ~ Structure

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Among Christians new and mature, the most consistent question that arises is how do I pray? The answer, of course, is that you just pray. Unsatisfying to a modernist, intellectually based culture but true. What the questioner is saying in the undertones is not how do I pray, but rather, what words do I use, how do I say them, and how do I maximize ROI? Crass perhaps, but we shouldn’t expect those new to praying to have adjusted their perspective upward yet.

To this end I want to begin a series that reiterates one of the most familiar structures used for guiding prayer, A.C.T.S. This prayer template popularized (if not created) by Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels is not meant to be prescriptive. The mature Christian who is comfortable in the presence of God will develop a personal approach to the throne and the ensuing dialog. The new or inexperienced prayer, on the other hand, benefits greatly from a way to organize their steps forward. A.C.T.S is but one of those organizational tools.

The acronym ACTS represents the words Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. When a prayer is mindful of these words, the throne comes into the view of one who is appropriately humble. Before making requests of the King, one recognizes His glory, confesses their shortcomings, gives thanks for who He is and what He has done, and only then places their requests before Him. This the opposite of our human tendencies on our best days, and stands as a contrast to our self-centered persons on the others.

We’ll examine each of these steps in detail but don’t wait to begin your life of prayer. God honors what is brought to Him with right hearts, regardless of form. Pray.

Grace and peace to you.

Deciphering the Plans and the Necessity of Prayer

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Few are the Christians who have not heard that God has a wonderful plan for your life. The verse that is given most often as evidence of this truth is found in Jeremiah, chapter 29. Here, he is writing to the exiled Israelites who, in their colossal failure to live up to their end of the Covenant, have found themselves dispersed among the nations. In verse 11 he writes these well known words,

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Doubt and confusion reign in the life of the believer however when the unending good and prosperity seemingly promised fail to materialize, travail and poverty filling the spaces. This doubt is poison to the soul, hardening it and turning it toward bitterness. The reason for this struggle to link the promise to the reality is that we stop reading at verse 11, ignoring the concomitant call to prayer in the verses that follow.

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 29:12-13)

Prayer, consistent, repentant soul-deep prayer, is a requirement for the Christian seeking to understand how their reality, good or bad, reflects the plan that God has for your life. Without prayer, your soul is not prepared to comprehend how your cancer is to be viewed as a blessing. Without prayer, the spirit does not understand the true purpose of a financial windfall. Without prayer, the Church flails about, toying with the practices of the culture, trying to ‘Christianize’ them from afar without getting dirty in the process. Without prayer, our connection with God is tenuous at best. Without prayer, the voice of the Holy Ghost is lost in noise that fills our lives.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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The Foundation of Prayer

“Audacious prayer, which perseveres unflinchingly and ceases not through fear, is well pleasing unto God,” wrote Luther. “As a shoe maker makes a shoe, or a tailor makes a coat, so ought a Christian to pray. Prayer is the daily business of a Christian.”  Martin Luther

“God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” John Wesley

imagePrayer is central to our identity as Christians. It is a distinctive that speaks volumes about the singular nature of our faith. We have personal communion with the God of the universe. Our prayers are not issued into the void in hope that some anonymous deity will take pity upon or show favor toward us. We speak directly to God and he will speak to us.

No spiritual discipline has meaning without prayer. Training ourselves to pray effectively is a primary step that is to be mastered before the other disciplines are attempted. When we live a Christian life without prayer we deprive ourselves of the strength, power and transformation that any other discipline might bring about.

To pray is to change.

A foundational truth regarding prayer is that it is simultaneously natural and unnatural. We do not naturally come to prayer and we must be intentional about pursuing it. Prayer requires effort and a long period of apprenticeship. Unlike the apprenticeship of a silversmith however, our initial prayer has power and effect. God knows our abilities and His grace extends his patience with our first, faltering words.

We must sit at the feet of the Master and learn to pray just as His first disciples did. One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) These will be our words as well, Lord teach us to pray.

Grace and peace to you.

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Prayer, Walnuts and Rice

“…pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thes. 5:17-18)

How is this possible in our busy days?

Several years ago at our Bible study, the leader gave each of us a jar with unshelled walnuts, and rice filled in around them. They were a gift meant to remind us how to do it—how to fit prayer into our overfull days—which she then demonstrated.

Read the rest of this fantastic piece by Marcia Morrissey here

Psalm 109 ~ Do Not Remain Silent

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But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.

For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. Psalm 109:21-22

May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. vv 10

This, the last of the imprecatory prayers in the psalter, leaves the modern reader troubled. As people of grace prohibited from calling down a curse upon our enemies and called to love them, the verse after verse of God-directed prayer for vengeance seems out of place in the Scriptures. We attempt to minimize it by forming a pseudo-dispensation between the God of the Old Testament (Angry, Wrathful) and the gentle, loving God of the New Testament. But, are we right in doing so?

David pens this psalm as King, with responsibility for his nation and her people. Rather than mete out vengeance himself for the enemy he describes, he trusts in God to pronounce justice as He sees fit. He chooses prayer (v4) rather than might, trusting in the sovereign God to handle the accuser (v26).

The presence of evil and the troubles that we must face in this life are understood by Christians of a mature faith. We remain in an unredeemed world, fallen and filled with the consequences of sin. Our hope is not a leap into darkness however; we have been graciously told the ending and the glory that awaits. Until that moment, we pray for and love our enemies, hoping that God might save some.

Grace and peace to you..

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Lord’s Day Morning

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From The Valley of Vision – A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

O Maker and Upholder of all things,

Day and night are thin; they are also mine from thee–

the night to rid me of the cares of the day,

to refresh my weary body,

to renew my natural strength;

the day to summon me to new activities,

to give me opportunity to glorify thee,

to serve my generation,

to acquire knowledge, holiness, eternal life.

But one day above all days is made especially for thy honor and my improvement;

The Sabbath reminds me of thy rest from creation,

of the resurrection of my savior,

of his entering into repose,

Thy house is min,

but I am unworthy to meet thee there,

an am unfit for spiritual service.

When I enter it I come before thee as a sinner,

condemned by conscience and thy Word,

For I am still in the body and in the wilderness,

ignorant, weak, in danger, and in need of thine aid.

But encouraged by thy all-sufficient grace

let me go to thy house with a lively hope of meeting thee,

knowing that there thou wilt come to me and give me peace.

My soul is drawn out to thee in longing desires

for thy presence in the sanctuary, at the table,

where all are entertained on a feast of good things;

Let me before the broken elements, emblems of thy dying love,

cry to thee with broken heart for grace and forgiveness.

I long for that blissful communion of thy people

in thy eternal house in the perfect kingdom;

These are they that follow the Lamb;

May I be of their company!

Amen

Marana Tha!

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At the Sound of the Bells–Praying the Daily Office

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In Constant Prayer – Robert Benson

This entry in Thomas Nelson’s Ancient Practice Series centers on the spiritual discipline of praying the Daily Office, a regularly scheduled set of prayers to be recited by members of the Church. Benson introduces the practice, making it accessible to the great swaths of the Evangelical Church that have moved a good distance from our liturgical heritage. His irenic spirit is evident throughout as he teaches the meaning, practice and application of the Office.

In Constant Prayer stands apart from most other prayer guides currently filling the shelves that focus on attitude, preparation, proper approach and the journaling of answer. Mr. Benson opens the door to a prayer life that encompasses the whole of our day, rather than the prayer by appointment that has become our modern standard. The Daily Office consists of a series of prescribed prayers, praises and scripture readings that are to be lifted to God at specific hours of the day. It is rooted in ancient practice that has struggled to survive in the modern workaday world.

Robert shares the methods and sources of the Office in a most winsome fashion that is appealing to both the contemplatives and the analytics within the Church family. Far from a droll manual of prescriptive steps (since anyone opening the The Book of Common Prayer can figure out the mechanics), he allows us brief glimpses into the benefits that he has accrued as a result of integrating this spiritual discipline into his life. Unlike many prayer works that leave the average Christian feeling as though a life of prayer is unattainable by anyone other than spiritual giants, Benson’s invitation leaves you on the final page unable to wait to become a regular participant in the process.

Thomas Nelson graciously provided this copy for review.