Living Close to God by Gene Edwards
Never forget that even those among us who are spiritually dense have a wonderful chance of knowing Christ in the depths.
Author Gene Edwards saves this pithy promise until the very end of the brief guide, though it would have served well in the introductory pages. In an everyman’s spiritual disciplines guide, Edwards attempts to remove the layers of challenge and mysticism that often accompany the Christian’s attempt to deepen the bond between Savior and self. On many levels Living Close to God succeeds in this objective, but on others the authors suggested practices don’t seem to bear fruit.
Edwards strives first to change the nature of a core spiritual practice, prayer. Laying a foundation that paints the average prayer as a one-way list of petitions, the author transforms the 23rd psalm from a memory exercise to a personal communiqué to God. He suggests that by personalizing the words we transform our prayer from impersonal to personal and feeling the presence of Christ in the words and, by extension, in real conversation with us. Nothing complicated, nothing too mystical. The simplicity of Edwards ideas is immediately applicable and can be beneficial for Christians who have tried other, more complex methods of deepening their faith.
Each of the tools that the author includes has but a single objective, a greater awareness of the presence of God. Much like Brother Lawrence, Edwards is rooted in reality of a workaday life. He strives to find “hooks” throughout the day which serve as reminders of God’s intimate immediacy and ways in which the spiritually aware Christian can partake of that communion. These tools are packed into a short book that can be read quickly. The organization could stand some improvement as the chapters that are only a few pages in length seem more like random thoughts that the author wanted to include rather than parts of a cohesive whole.
I am grateful to Waterbrook Press who provided this book for review.
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
The 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.
image lawrence OP
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. 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.
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.
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.
Philosopher Douglas Groothuis offers these thoughts on prayer.
Hungry For God by Margaret Feinberg
I’m convinced that people today know a lot more about how to become a Christian than about how to be one. Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” This verse isn’t just an invitation to become a believer, but to live as one.
You will read to end of Hungry for God before encountering this nugget but the meandering journey is worthwhile. Author Margaret Feinberg intertwines the scriptures, prayerful insight and keen observations of life in a delightful guide to a variety of ways to hear the voice of God and discern how the words apply to your life. The book serves as a fine introduction to a variety of spiritual disciplines, especially for those intimidated by higher-order approach of a Foster or Willard.
To call the book uneven is a compliment. As each reader peruses the paragraphs, some will pass by unnoticed while others will imprint the words on your mind to be savored and reconsidered later in the day. One such passage describes her experiences attending a church in which she felt herself going through the motions but remaining dry at the conclusion. Margaret tells of a subtle transition that occurred as she became more intentional about preparing for worship, reading the scriptures and studying, opening her heart and becoming more than simply present at the service.
Modern Christianity often portrays the conversion experience as a conclusion rather than a new birth. We devote resources and energy to bring people to the cross but then leave them to discover that it is the beginning of a new life rather than a triumphalist moment. Feinberg’s fine book can serve as an excellent book for discussion among believers trying to learn the basics of living out the life of a Christian. It is accessible to everyone and offers multiple entry points for later consideration. An enjoyable read that can be picked up for a few minutes and then put down for the rest of the day without missing a beat.
I’m grateful to Zondervan who provided this book for review.
“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
Prayer 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.
“…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
The celebration of the various seasons of the historical church calendar has largely fallen from favor in the Evangelical community, though it remains a fixture in many liturgical churches. Christmas and Easter are certainly recognized but the preceding weeks of Advent and Lent have fallen from the consciousness of churchgoers and worship leaders. When was the last time your church celebrated Pentecost? The loss of the calendar for our worship ultimately serves to weaken our worship as secular concerns direct our schedule.
The idea behind the calendar of church life comes from God in creation. In six days he marked each new aspect of creation and then rested on the seventh, showing us the pattern for different times of life each having their own purposes. In the Old Testament we find that the Jewish year revolved around three feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).
“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.- Exodus 23:14
Christians soon added Easter and the Christmas celebration to the calendar, along with the seasons of piety (Lent and Advent) that preceded them. More milestones were added during the passing of the year creating what are known as ‘seasons’ within the liturgy. Each season serves as the spiritual foundation of our remembrance of the major events in God’s story. In recognizing the period of the calendar in which we live and share life together we gain a greater sense of our place alongside all of the saints who have preceded us in history. We develop a spiritual awareness of all of the things we hold in common.
Birth of the Savior ~ Christmas
Rebirth and Second Coming of the Savior ~ Advent
Death of the Savior ~ Lent & Holy Week
Resurrection of the Savior ~ Easter
Coming of the Holy Spirit ~ Pentecost
When we recognize the uniquely spiritual nature of our calendar, we serve to draw distinctions between ourselves and the time keeping of the world. It reminds us that God remains in charge of time and that everything occurs according to His schedule. Our recognition of the seasons of worship that we pass through helps us to see and recognize the false idols of the world that attempt to infiltrate our lives for their own selfish purpose. No longer will we be susceptible to the Christmas decorations that begin to appear at the mall before All Saints Day in an attempt to purge our wallets of treasure. We will trust in God to bring the seasons as He deems appropriate.
Since the Reformation, there have been repeated movements to rid the Protestant church of anything that appears to Roman in its structure, and the liturgy and calendar have been victims of these purges. Worship leaders and pastors especially should consider carefully what has risen to replace them in leading of God’s people. We have no reason to fear the calendar and every reason to restore it to its proper place within God’s Church.
Grace and peace to you.