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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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

Lectio Divina–An Obedient Spirit

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If you have ever tried to make an extremely sharp change in direction on your bicycle while traveling a trail at high speed only to find yourself face down in the mud, you know that this type of change is not only dangerous, but it is also extraordinarily difficult to pull off. In contrast to the sharp twist of the handlebars that resulted in the endo, a gradual shift of a couple of degrees can take you swooping through the ride of your life. So it is with obedience.

Lectio divina as a spiritual exercise transitions our encounter with the scriptures through four steps, starting with a reading that listens for the voice of the Spirit to rouse us. He calls us to linger in the scriptures, perhaps on a phrase or even a single word. We reflect on this text, allowing the Spirit to wring His message for us from the words. Our prayer centers upon this message, not to simply receive it, but for the wisdom regarding its proper application. Our final step is to obey this call.

The final step in the spiritual discipline of lectio divina is contemplatio. The disciple contemplates the application of the Spirit’s message to our lives. In other words, we obey what we have been directed by our Lord. Without this step, all of the rest is for naught.

The contemplation that we engage in is twofold. Initially, we are seeking to understand the meaning of the message for our choices today and tomorrow. Caution is required not to reduce the obedience to a series of check-list items—treat people better, check!—but instead to see it as an incremental step toward a more Christ-like image. The message that we encounter in this spiritual discipline is often subtle, but it is designed to works its way deep into our souls. As our souls are transformed, our outward expression to the world is transformed as well.

The second order of contemplation is this outward expression. Christ’s sanctification is not purely for our own good but for good of all. As we become more Christ-like as a body, our influence as salt and light has much more of an effect. We become less two-faced and present the singular image of Christ to the world.

We must not underestimate the effect of even the smallest shift in obedience when played out over the scope of a lifetime. The slightest move in obedience to our Lord is not to be dismissed. What seems minor today can become radical when viewed over the span of our lives.

Grace and peace to you.

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Lectio Divina–A Praying Spirit

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Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabonni!” (John 20:16)

Lectio divina as a spiritual exercise transitions our encounter with the scriptures through four steps, beginning with a reading that listens for the voice of the Rabbi to call out to each of us individually. It is His call to slow down and reflect on what we read, moving the content from head to heart. Meditating on the word that the Spirit has brought to our attention piques our desire to apply it in our lives, and for this, we require prayer.

The third step of this discipline is oratio. We pray at the sound of the voice of our Lord, turning almost involuntarily toward the One who is whispering in our ear. Just as we strain to hear every word uttered by our human lover, we lean into the voice of the ultimate Lover. At the sound of His voice we are moved to look Him in the face, to look deeply in His eyes and know that what He is telling us is true and right.

Through prayer we engage the text in which we are centered. As we pray in response to the voice of the Lord, the written word of God recorded for all of the people of the world has transformed into a personal word to me alone. This sounds dangerous if it is understood as the interpretation of theological truths on an individual basis. It is not. Remember, we are not interpreting the scriptures in this exercise, we are listening to hear God speak through the words. These are safe waters in which to tread.

Our prayer, intertwined with the intercession of the Spirit, leads us to grasp the reality of what the Lord says to us. We are overwhelmed by gratitude, confession or lament or any of the innumerable attitudes that guide our interactions with God and man. The lectio divina prayer is unconcerned with other things at this moment. It is only in response to the voice we have heard and where that voice wants to lead us.

Grace and peace to you.

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Discovering “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller

imageA Praying Life arrived in my mailbox unbidden, but divinely well timed. In a box of books sent from NavPress in satisfaction of an old subscription to their discipleship journal that had ceased publication, Miller’s book was on the bottom of the stack and unremarkable in its cover art. The gifts were distributed among friends and family, but I placed this book on the shelf to be read at some undetermined date. It wasn’t to be a long wait however, as something moved me to insert this into my reading rotation immediately. I’m very glad I did.

Paul Miller’s A Praying Life is simply a prayer guide for the majority of the modern church, most of whom do not have a regular time of communion with God. It is not a program, a method or a theological dissertation. Instead, Miller’s approach is to aimed square at the heart of the Christ follower who has shied away from prayer because he believes that it is too hard or time consuming. He speaks from the heart of a harried, burdened Christian who also stumbles and teaches the reader that prayer is not simply an appointment to be kept. It is a way of life that can become as natural as breathing.

Many in the Christian community keep themselves from prayer because they see the challenges as insurmountable. The literature on prayer is wide and deep, and depending on the books that you select, it is easy to become discouraged and turn away from the practice. Picking up Bounds, you look at your life and wonder how you would find hours per day to pray. Hybels sets out a formula (ACTS) that is perfect for some but constraining for others who attempt to steer the thoughts of their heart into the framework instead of pouring them out to God. Foster gives us 21 types of prayers, all biblical and wonderful but a challenge for the Christian to remember and apply on a daily basis. Each of the authors has enriched my life, but I find it difficult to recommend them to the majority of Christians I come in contact with.

Miller takes a different approach to the privilege of prayer. He begins our discipleship in the art of prayer by turning us back to our childhood and encouraging us to speak to our heavenly Father in the same, open, unguarded fashion we once spoke to our earthly fathers. We didn’t worry about form and just told him what was on our minds. Why would God be any different? Beginning in this way we learn to crave the time with Him, worrying less about content and simply develop a comfort in the moments spent together. Without this foundation, Christians find it difficult to develop a more mature approach to prayer.

Prayer is hard, as is life as a child of God. Our Father says no, He has periods of silence that stretch for months on end and He can call us to obedience in ways that we wrestle against in resentment. It is easy for us to remember the chapters of the Bible in which prayer is immediately answered in a positive way, yet we are quick to forget the dark night in Gethsemane where the Lord cried out for His Father to take the cup from in but received a no in response. By intertwining experiences from his own life, Miller helps us to get over this hurdle that stops many Christians in their attempts to build a life of prayer. He shows that answers may not come, they may be no or that the answer may be several years separated from the supplication. The foundation that he built in the initial pages supports the broken heart of those disappointments and long winters of wait.

Whether you posses shelves of books on prayer or are seeking a new start, A Praying Life is an outstanding book to include in your library. You will read it once and be immediately moved to read it again at a slower pace, seeing and considering the parallels between your own life and that of Mr. Miller’s. This is prayer guide that should become a part of many church discipleship programs.

Psalm 55 As for Me, I Trust in You

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Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city.

Day and night they prowl about on its walls; malice and abuse are within it.

Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets. (vv 9-11)

David again pleads to the Lord for deliverance from an enemy that seeks to destroy him. So persistent is this foe that even the king would entertain desires to flee from the situation rather than facing it head on. This strikes the reader on the oblique; here is King David, a man deeply vested in the will of God and secure in His protection and yet he toys with the idea of running away.

I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest –I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and the storm.” (vv 6-8)

What attacker could generate such a willingness to retreat in the mighty king? It is the intimacy of his attacker that sets this foe apart. David envisions a city in chaos, a place in which no peace can be found. A similar sentiment was voice by the prophets Jeremiah (Jer 9:2-9) and Micah (Mic 7:1-6) of being surrounded by sin (cf. Micah – the people are able to sin with both hands) without relief. Worse yet, the enemy in view is one who is close to David, a friend once perhaps. This closeness makes the attack personal and therefore the cuts are deeper.

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.

But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once  enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. (vv 12-14)

We know these struggles well. Our environment is threatening at every turn. Our friends turn against us when we least expect it. We ponder why; why has God placed us in these situations? Perhaps it is to strengthen our trust. We are allowed to momentarily fantasize about running away from the problems, to avoid them altogether but, only for a moment. Those who trust in Him, trust in Him all the time and in all things, good and bad. Ultimately, our travails play a role in our Father’s ultimate glory. For this, we are grateful participants.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (v 22)

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Lent 2009 – 32 Steps to the Cross

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“For, said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,

“’May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’

and,

“’May another take his place of leadership.’ (Acts 1:20)

Peter is continuing the conversation he has been having with the remaining disciples after they had confronted the betrayal by Judas (33 Steps). In Acts we see a Peter who is maturing as the Spirit has confronted his worst tendencies and worked His transformation. The Apostle now turns his attention to filling the emptiness among the Eleven and fulfilling their mission. His use of scripture is a turning point for Peter; he has put aside his raw emotion in decision making and is applying the Word to the situation at hand.

The lesson for us is plain. Our maturity as Christ followers is measured by those moments in which we put aside our self reliance and rely on the revealed Word and the Spirit’s direction in plotting our direction in life. Make note of the twin requirements: we must know God’s Word and discern the Spirit’s guidance. Growth in these areas only comes from devotion to study and prayer.

Do you need to renew your commitment?

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Psalm 19 ~ The Heavens Declare

Like many places on earth, Denver is geographically blessed to enjoy one of the gifts that God has provided in the sunrise and sunset. To the east, the Great Plains of the United States unroll in mile after mile of broad, flat country. To look to the east in the morning is to see the straight line of the distant horizon and the Sun gradually rising a slice at a time. On cloudy mornings we are treated to a magnificent show as the sky lights up from black to violet to a blazing pink and orange in the briefest of moments. The the immediate west rise the 14,000 foot peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The sun disappears in the evening much quicker behind these imposing monuments but again, if the clouds are present, we are treated to another visual feast as the filtered sunlight plays off the bottoms of the thunderheads. To the beauty of the sunrise, the course of the sun, the careful ordering of the stars and the phases of the moon the psalmist expresses his praise.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (vv 1-2)

There is no divinity in the skies or the celestial objects and yet, they speak. They speak not in themselves but in our souls. Our appreciation for the beauty before us comes from a divine source. Without that presence, the prismatic effects that we look at would be nothing more than atmospheric coincidence and the refraction of light. With the Spirit, we see God and the immense complexity in the interplay between weather, astronomy, the incredible human eye and the emotions of the heart that reacts to the visual message it receives.

The same beauty if found in the Law of the Lord. The Law is often misunderstood as a constraint to freedom. Instead, as we understand God and his provision of the Law, it is actually the definition of true freedom. The Law provides the boundaries which our broken hearts are tempted to test. It is meant to increase our enjoyment of life, not diminish it.

The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (vv 9b-10)

In the glory of the heavens we begin to see our purpose, to glorify God as they do.

An Advent Benediction

May the Lord bless you with an aching heart.

An aching heart that beats with His as He longs to gather all of His children,

as He surveys the discord amongst His family, and the condition of His Church.

 

May the Lord bless you with burning eyes.

Eyes that travel to and fro and view the troubles of the world as opportunities,

eyes that see the people that are often unseen, and eyes that can look forward more than they look backward.

 

May the Lord bless you with a deep, abiding sorrow.

An anguish at the numbers of lost, of the found who have fallen aside, and for the found who continue to deceive themselves.

A sorrow at allowing doubt and mistrust into our souls and within our community.

 

May the Lord richly bless you with a childlike humility to know that the Spirit within you knows no boundaries.

May He simplify your thinking, replacing doubt with trust, and move you to change the world.

To sooth the aching heart, salve the reddened eyes, and turn sorrow to Joy.

 

Amen

Psalm 4 – Answer Me When I Call

How many times have our prayers started with a pleading before the throne?

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. (v1)

A silence in response to our plea can be interpreted as God not hearing our prayers. Our inclination is to look to God and wonder why He ignores us. Shouldn’t we look within first? Is our relationship such that God is inclined to hear from us? Are we living in rebellion and in expectation that God hears us? Before we bank on his righteousness, that is, His promised response to those who love Him, we should be first concerned with the state of our relationship.

David speaks to his enemies in hopes that God hears the travails that he faces. They attack his reputation and disdain his God and still David tries to proclaim the truth to them.

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. (v3)

And he beseeches them to put their trust in the right place, to understand that their anger is misplaced in the king. If they search their hearts, David’s enemies can trust that God is willing to reach out to them.

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. (vv4-5)

David closes with a cry to God to show His glory, to light the world. Seeing this glory would certainly change one’s perspective, how about yours?

Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. (vv 6b-7)

David closes with a smile, knowing that he will rest peacefully. God may be momentarily silent, but He has things well in control.