In the School of Prayer Day 31 – Pray Without Ceasing

imageBe joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Th 5:16–18)

And with this, our schooling is over. The Teacher has led us from infancy to adulthood in our practice of prayer and now sends us, diploma in heart, out into the world to minister in His name. We recognize that prayer is more than just petitioning for our needs and wants, it is our connection to the source of life that guides our move each day. Our communion with our Lord directs our prayer (and therefore our life) into alignment with His will. We the saints submit our plans to His.

Prayer for us is more than a quickly mumbled thanks at supper time nor is it a minute or two on Sunday morning. It is practiced with every breath. We train ourselves to be in constant communion, knowing His immediate presence and being in conversation with that presence from moment to moment as we make our way through the day. We are His servants and rely upon His guidance to interact with those who surround us. We seek the way, convey personal needs, and intercede. We pray without ceasing.

Grace and peace to you.

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Psalm 71 – Be My Rock of Refuge

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Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

(Psalm 70:17-18)

This prayer issues from a psalmist who finds himself on the back side of his journey and who is looking over his shoulder at those who are just taking their first footsteps on the path of the God follower. The elder knows that his enemies will mistakenly see him as vulnerable and weak because of his advanced age but he is also aware that they do not see God’s hand on his life. The psalmist pleas for Yahweh’s continued shield over him to serve as both protection and a revelation of the divine presence that surrounds him.

Balancing the petition for rebuff of the enemy is the psalmist’s continued praise and attribution of glory to the Lord. The praise emanates from deeper than the surface; despite the struggles that God has allowed in his life, the psalmists insists that God is fully and wholly good.

Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God,

you who have done great things.

Who, O God, is like you?

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again;

from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. (vv 19-20)

Oh, that we would continue to praise God despite our circumstance! Though we might might be long in years or just placing our foot onto the path, to know, really know, that despite the roadblocks, snares, and setbacks that God is with us and to praise him is our greatest calling. We cannot be fooled by our eyes or other senses, God is good and worthy of our praise in every moment. Will my lips close for the final time with this prayer on them?

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I who you have redeemed.

My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long,

for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion. (vv 23-24)

Grace and Peace to you.

image by Luke Scowen

Disciplined Steps to Worship

image One who apprehends worship as a spiritual discipline is going to stand forever separated from the mass of believers who treat worship as a singular event that occurs once per week. She is going to be intentional about the assimilation, preparation for, and spirit of worship. When worship is an event, minimal preparation is necessary; you need only appear at the appointed time and ‘worship’ when the music begins. It becomes a check list item.

For those who correctly see worship as contributing to their spiritual formation, there are number of exercises and attitudes that can be integrated into your practices in order to build up the strength necessary to properly worship the God of the universe. Is anything less rigorous true worship?

A disciplined worshipper will practice the presence of God as a regular part of their lives. Paul wrote of developing the proper spirit needed to worship: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; (1 Thess 5:16-19) A mindset fixed in this way will heighten the expectancy of a meeting with God in worship, an encounter that change you.

A disciplined worshipper will seek out different worship experiences. She will worship alone and worship in community. He will find private moments to worship in solitude and will express the magnificence of God in public.

A disciplined worshipper will be intentional about preparing for the community worship experience. He will be physically prepared (rested, nourished, hydrated) and spiritually prepared (prayed through the services, confessed his sin privately).

A disciplined worshipper cultivates an attitude of Holy Dependency so that in the midst of the act of worship, she is completely dependent on God for anything at all. Any hint of manipulation is found to be abhorrent. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only god, who makes things grow. (1 Cor 3:7)

A disciplined worshipper is not distracted by events around him. Instead, he allows God to speak to him through the crying baby, the stifling heat, or the dancer in the aisle. Bless them, pray for them, see if there is a message embedded in what has grabbed your attention. Be in community.

A disciplined worshippers offers sacrificial praise and devotion even when he doesn’t feel like it.

A disciplined worshipper recognizes that true worship ends in obedience. To stand before God is to change.

Grace and peace to you.

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Day 29 in the School of Prayer : What You Will

image I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him. (1 John 5:13-15)

But, you say, how can we know the will of God?

It is at this juncture that many who take to their knees find themselves at a loss. They desire to ask of the Father but are disheartened because they cannot find within themselves to say that they know the will of God. This confusion derives from the difference between the hidden and revealed will of God. Yes, the Father has a plan and outcomes that are hidden to us but prayer is not driven by this. God does not play guess a number games with His beloved.

If you know the revealed will of God as it is unfolded in the Scriptures, you know the parameters of prayer. He has revealed what is good and has expressed His will that we stay within the good. This revelation however is not apprehended simply by turning the pages of the Bible. In order to understand the full expression of good, the path of revelation must be lighted by the Holy Spirit. Words on a page become embedded truth under His guidance.

We are commanded to pray and to petition within His will. Unanswered prayer should not sway us from our task, it should drive us back to revelation to gain a firmer grasp on the purposes of God. Return to your knees with greater vigor and a deeper devotion and know that an answer will come.

Grace and peace to you.

image by Dia

Deepening Your Spiritual Intelligence Quotient

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Spiritual immaturity is one of those problems within the modern Christian church that is known, discussed, and programmed with little fruit to show for all of the myriad efforts. Cultural forces have allowed the intentional pursuit of discipleship to fall from favor in the Church, only to be replaced by a more casual approach, maturity by osmosis. Spiritual muscles have gone soft with a commensurate lack of influence in the world.

Alan Nelson’s contribution to the library of spiritual development is his newest book, Spiritual Intelligence. Borrowing loosely from Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, SI is measured by the ability to translate the Christ-likeness that we hear about in sermons, talk about in small groups, and even occasionally encounter when opening our bibles into transformative application in our day to day lives. Just as many social problems are attributable to a low EI, lack of spiritual maturity reflects deficit SI.

Nelson doesn’t offer a quick three-step solution to this problem. True spiritual maturity with meaningful depth is not gained by watching a DVD series with your cell group followed by some obligatory conversation and snacks. It requires an intentional workout, one that takes time, effort, and dedication with none of the social status that comes with being seen at 24 Hour Fitness. The path to growth that he advocates mirrors the rigorous investment that Jesus made in His original disciples. The ‘travel team’ is the modern equivalent of Jesus’ band of brothers ( now brothers and sisters ), and intentional assembly that are in covenant agreement with one another to travel the challenging terrain of discipleship together. They will love you and hold you accountable as you will them for consistent gains in spiritual fruit, humility, and the demonstration of a lifestyle that is consistent with the faith your profess.

One of the fine attributes of this book that will also turn off many readers is that Nelson states that there is no single path or experience that will culminate in maturity. He rightly recognizes that, like the original disciples, we are all vastly different people who will each follow a slightly different road to growth. The book offers a wide variety of mapping strategies, suggestions for the inclusion of a Pathfinder, and strategies for avoiding the inevitable plateaus and days of back tracking. Unlike a 40 day schedule that excites the church for a month and a week, SI emphasizes that the methods of Jesus apply to the whole of our lives, from “pampers to depends.”

When you turn the first few pages you will be tempted to put it aside as I did. You have encountered everything you will read in SI in little bits here and there and the temptation will be to dismiss this as derivative of everything that came before it. Pick it up though and read it again. There is a rigorous demand that supports the ideas, a program of growth that will drain all that you can offer just as the Disciples were drained by their three year internship with Jesus. He took his band on a road trip of epic proportions experiencing joy, disappointment, frustration and love along the way. When it was time for them to display their SI, the individual disciples made an imprint on the world that is still being felt today. Isn’t that what you want to do with your life?

I’m grateful to Baker Books who supplied this copy for review.

Day 28 in the School of Prayer : I Want but I Will

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“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Mark 14:36

As in any course of study, the lessons come to finer and more distinct points as the class turns to its final days. The Lord has taught the discipline of prayer to us in this fashion, starting with a very broad brush but now switching to a fine point tool dipped in blood red to emphasize the finest points of petition. In this Gethsemane moment, the (we) disciples are schooled through an especially intimate communication between Son and Father as Jesus implores ‘ not my will but yours!’

Our initial prayer will always be self-serving. We know little of God’s will as beginning pray-ers and the scope of our world is limited to our own selfish wants. As our prayer bond grows through maturity and diligent practice, the Lord leads us to understand that all ultimately leads to His will. Our prayers are still honest expressions of our desire but we learn to fashion them in the context of the Father’s will. We say, Lord please for this or that but follow with, if it is your will. We find our place.

Grace and peace to you.

image Daniel Y. Go

Day 27 in the School of Prayer : Circles

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“Father, I want those you have give me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24

The structure of the Lord’s high priestly prayer is familiar to most who have encountered it in the fourth Gospel. In chapter 17, Jesus prays first for Himself, then His disciples, and finally for the church at large that will follow in the ages. His glorification is for the glory of the Father, he prays that the work of the disciples in the years that follow will be for the glory of God, and, in the outermost circle, Jesus prays that the Church of His gathered believers will be a monument to the greatest glory of the Father.

The concentric circles all come to meet on the same objective. Our lesson today is to also not become scattered. The glory of the Father is the ultimate objective of all of our intercession. As He has taught us to pray without ceasing, Jesus gives us a target. We are tempted to be broad and all inclusive in our petitions, trying to cover the entire spectrum of human need. The Lord teaches us instead to call down the blessings of heaven upon each of the circles of our lives. Trust in this blessing to address these needs. Focus on the glory of God.

Strength Training for Worship

imageWhat were you thinking about on the way to church last Sunday? Was it the songs you were going to sing? The topic of the sermon for that day? Were you even thinking about the service or were you busy listening to the radio, talking to the family or embroiled in an argument that started back at home? Don’t feel bad, you’re no different from the majority of modern day churchgoers. Going to worship on Sunday morning is a habit that practice as Christians but for most, we have lost the anticipation factor of the event. If God actually condescended to descend into the midst of our casual worship, most present would run in horror to the exits.

Worship is a part of our lives but it is not a priority in our lives.

“If the Lord is to be Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The first commandment of Jesus is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30) “ Foster. If worship becomes a priority, that is, our first love, we will be in a state of anticipation believing with all of our strength that God will make His presence known, felt, and real when we worship alone or with our community. Appearing before the altar unprepared will no more cross our mind than we would take the starting line of a marathon after sitting in our offices all winter.

To prepare ourselves for worship is to worship individually. We need to know the Shekinah in the our hearts. Start now. Stop reading and open your heart to God’s presence. Praise Him for this moment and the next breath and seek His presence. Don’t give up until it is real. God does not want half-hearted seekers. He wants His people to desire to know Him above all else. Make this a habit so that you know when the Lord is present. Build up the ability to wait for the Glory to descend on your waiting heart, whatever it takes.

If each member of the community worships on their own, the expectancy of God’s presence on the corporate gathering will grow in our hearts. We will seek to be with others who are prepared to know the Glory together, to have it multiplied by all of the hearts open and ready to receive it. The Glory will be manifest in the Church and Jesus can use it to draw others to himself. People will come from far and wide to see what the fuss is about.

Going to church is not the same going to worship. We can continue to go for social purposes, to hear a nice talk, and to go through the motions of watching as someone else sings some songs. Or we can move worship into a priority position in our lives and commit ourselves to a program of intentional worship, always wanting to know a greater and greater presence of His unmatchable Glory.

Grace and peace to you.

image Stephen Burch

The Spiritual Discipline of Worship

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:23

You and I were made to worship… Chris Tomlin, Made to Worship

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The act of worship centers all of the other spiritual disciplines. Worship is the connection of spirit to Spirit, ours to Him. Many Christians will not immediately identify worship in the family of spiritual disciplines because it lacks an ascetic dimension but this narrow thinking constrains our growth. True worship that brings us into the presence of the God of the universe, to know His immediate glory and holiness and to fear it to our core is anything but a trifling pursuit. To enter the Shekinah demands everything we have to give spiritually and physically; it is not something to be engaged casually. All of the spiritual disciplines have as their objective the strengthening of spiritual muscles that give us the endurance, strength, and character necessary to approach the throne and offer our worship.

God seeks worshippers. He entered the Garden to seek out Adam and Eve. Through Christ and the horror of the crucifixion He draws men and women to Himself (Jn 12:32). Worship is our response to God’s loving advances. Scripture is filled with the stories of those who have fallen to the ground in the presence and reality of the ultimate Love. Human history mirrors this trend. We were made to worship and the trajectory of life is altered permanently when the truth of this characteristic becomes our reality. Worship becomes both the most natural and most challenging of the disciplines.

Our practice of worship must be clear in its objectives and dismissive of peripherals. The first burden to rid ourselves of is the concern for method. There is no single correct form of worship. High, low, liturgical, or free are all valid forms of worship as long as the object of our practice is God alone and our objective is to have His spirit touch our spirit. Anything less is empty and void and is not worship. We are tempted to say that we have worship when we have mouthed a praise chorus or sat through a sermon or greeted those around us or even simply appeared for the scheduled service but worship demands more. It demands commitment, preparation, and engagement.

Worship ends in obedience. Devoting time and effort to seek and enter the presence of God changes us. We are exposed to the same raw glory that caused Isaiah to proclaim his ruin we will know what it is have the burning coals of holiness touched to our hearts. The boundless love of God becomes more and more real in our lives and it affects all that we are and all that we do. Worship, true worship, changes us irreversibly.

 

Grace and peace to you…

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Turning Away from the Discipline of Fasting

image“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen, fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal.” Andrew Murray

Fasting is without a doubt the least popular of the spiritual disciplines. We may gloss over the depth of our prayer or study life but we will rarely flat-out turn away from these disciplines. Not so for fasting; we will not even pretend to fast. Much of this avoidance comes from the misinterpretation of the discipline as an ascetic practice that was often overdone in eras past. Being people of grace, we say, we do not need to continue punishing our bodies to gain forgiveness.

Aside from this general argument, modern Christians who are considering adding fasting to their regular disciplines are confronted with three major enemies: Inconvenience, Comfort, and Unwillingness.

Inconvenience

Fasting requires planning and commitment and it will often interfere with other aspects of our lives. People around us will expect us to join social or business engagements that are challenged by our fast. Since our commitment to fast is to be kept between ourselves and God, we are forced to make excuses. When fasting interferes too much with our schedule, the easy way out is to not practice the discipline.

Unlike prayer which can be practiced in a private hour, fasting by necessity crosses our schedule into both public and private time. Fasting demands commitment and discipline because it is a public activity that is kept largely secret. When we have to make decisions in the midst of a fast, we are confronted with the reality of our value system. Does God get a second order commitment behind our career? Remember that the discipline of fasting will reveal our true priorities.

Comfort

The modern Christian avoids discomfort at all costs. If the sanctuary is too cold, the chairs or pews too hard, or the odor of the shelter too strong, chances are that this is the first thing the pastor will hear about on Sunday morning. Fasting is uncomfortable and doesn’t fit in with the modern interpretation of Christian life. After all, God wants only good things for us, right?

If our greatest excuse for not fasting is that we don’t want to feel hungry, we are not practicing the discipline correctly. As beginners to fasting, we are overwhelmed by the hunger pangs because this is often the only times in our lives when we have been deprived of food. It’s all we can think about. As we progress in the practice of fasting, these thoughts should move to an ability to focus on God and our communion with Him. The pangs subside and are replaced with a strengthening bond of spirituality. Food becomes less important as we grow in the ability to not be slaves to it.

Unwillingness

Are you truly unwilling to engage in a spiritual practice that will draw you closer to your Father? Most Christians would answer no and then revert to one of the previous excuses. We dislike both discomfort and inconvenience both personally and culturally. It’s easy to be a committed Christian on Sunday morning in the midst of a worshipping community, less so at noon on Wednesday when everyone is calling for you to join them at lunch. Saying no brings attention to yourself; it makes your faith public. This is the dividing line.

Falling prey to this simple disobedience is the Enemy’s greatest joy. If we are willing to make excuses for not fasting, he can began to tear at the fabric of our other spiritual practices as well. Why not sleep in a few more minutes instead of getting up to read the Bible? Decide right now that unwillingness is not going to be your first excuse.

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