The Importance of Prayer

            I would say prayer is the single most important part of every believer’s life, as prayer plays a key role in driving the rest of the spiritual disciplines. How we pray is a direct result of how we believe, and is driven by, and drives how we respond to our beliefs.

            I like the way Arturo Azurdia III explained the link between prayer and living out our faith: “I don’t think about prayer and how I should pray, and the way that prayer should intersect with my life apart from certain theological convictions that drive me to those practical things.  We get in trouble today when we think that methodology is divorced from theology.  Everything that we do by way of methodology needs to be a reflection of our theological convictions.”  Theology is meant not to merely be an intellectual understanding but to lead us to action based on the truths found in God’s revelation. As a believer our prayer life should be the foundation from which we carry out God’s mission, in submission to God, seeking wisdom from God, repenting daily of our shortcomings, and making petitions for those we lead. Prayer plays a key role in the daily life of all Christians as we live out our faith daily.

            In the daily role of a believer it seems to me that prayer is a key way we work with the Spirit and drives our spiritual disciplines as we seek to have the Spirit sanctify us. In prayer though we must first understand the role it plays, how God works, and what His will is for our lives. This is described well by DA Carson- “At the heart of all our praying must be a biblical vision. That vision embraces who God is, what He has done, who we are, where we are going, what we must value and cherish. That vision drives us toward increasing conformity with Jesus, toward lives lived in the light of eternity, toward hearty echoing of the churches ongoing cry, “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” That vision must shape our prayers, so that the things that most concern us in prayer are those that concern the heart of God. Then we will persevere in our praying, until we reach the goal God himself has set for us.”

            In reading through 1 John 4:20-5:5 a principle I discovered was true love for the Father is an obedient love, a submissive love, therefore we must love God on His terms not on our own. I believe this is part of what Carson was talking about in our understanding a biblical vision for our lives. In our daily prayer we must take on a posture of submission as we approach God in prayer seeking His will for our lives and how He would have us continue in our walk. We need to submit to His will as we take our petitions to Him and understand that His answers will be according to His plans rather than granting our desires. Our relationship with God through prayer changes us more than it changes our surroundings. Jerry Sittser spoke in to this well in the following quote; “Ultimately God’s greatest answer to prayer is far different than what we can imagine. It is not what God does for us that demonstrates His greatest answer to prayer it is what God does in us. God wants to change us to His liking not change the world to our liking.”

            I also believe every believer must have a clear theological understanding of how God uses prayer in light of providence. Personally I have a meticulous view of providence while also believing there is compatibility between how God works and our personal choices and actions. It may be tempting to rest to deeply in God’s sovereignty and neglect prayer thinking our prayers are ineffectual or unimportant but throughout the redemptive story in scripture we find that prayer is an important part of the daily life of God’s people. At times it can be hard to understand how prayer and sovereignty intersect but I found the words of Arturo Azurdia III profound when speaking to this using the example of the disciples in Acts 1. “After Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit and ascended to Heaven, the disciples devoted themselves constantly to prayer for the 10 days after Jesus left till the Spirit came.  Why pray if you’ve already been given the promise that the Holy Spirit is going to come?  Because they understood that though God has His sovereign plan and sovereign purpose somehow in the mystery of Gods sovereignty I have responsibility.  Prayer is the means by which our sovereign God most commonly affects His purposes.”  

            So meticulous providence and prayer intersect because though God has ordained all things, predestined those who would be His children, and is personally holding all things together and working through all circumstances He has also commanded us to pray and ordained to use our prayers in His plans. Because our God is personal, and created us for relationship with Him and each other He plans and desires to interact with us every step of the way. This interaction is a key way that He does His sanctifying work in our hearts, conforming us to His image.  Just as prayer is a key component of our relationship with God it also plays a role in our relationships with others.  

            Prayer is one of the most intimate disciplines in which we relate to God, and plays a role in how we relate to others. We interact with others through prayer by praying together as well as praying for one another. In both 1 John 5:14-17 as well as Matthew 18:15-20 we find instructions and importance placed in prayer for the reconciling of a fellow Christian back to God and the fellowship of believers. We are instructed to pray for one another as we stumble in sin, with the desire to see each other sanctified. We also see this in Galatians 6:1-2. We bear one another’s burdens with a desire to see the burden lifted and the individual grow in character, and in the context of the text one must first be keeping in step with the Spirit which seems to me happens through prayer and other spiritual disciplines.

            Just as prayer is one of the most intimate ways we relate to God it is also an intimate way to relate to each other as we approach God. By praying together in community we lay ourselves out transparent to others as we seek Gods will for our lives, petition God for help in our character, as well as show our heart for others. When praying corporately we reveal more of ourselves to others, and we have an opportunity for the Spirit to work through each other, prompting and cueing each other to pray deeper and with increasing specificity.

            Within the most intimate human relationships we also see that prayer plays a vital role and has an importance that was made clear by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:5. Paul had been admonishing married couples to do their duty in being intimate with their spouses to maintain a healthy relationship, and to keep the temptation of Satan at bay. However the one stipulation he gave for not being intimate with ones spouse for a time was in order to devote more time to prayer.  
 “Do not deprive one another sexually—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” 1 Corinthians 7:5 HCSB The one way in which a husband and wife are most intimate and bonded together as one was seen as second to the most intimate form of spiritual discipline, and even then only for a time, for just as we must continue to be intimate with God in order to maintain a healthy relationship with Him, we must also continue to be intimate with our spouses in order to abide in that relationship.
            As far as intimacy with God in prayer I appreciated the words of Rob Wiggins he said “It’s a natural flaw of our humanity that we strive to be autonomous from God and autonomous from one another.  Prayer is the opposite of my independence, it is the declaration day after day that I rely upon God for everything in my life.” In prayer we cry out to our Father I need you Lord, please do not let your presence depart from me, just as Moses had petitioned God after the Israelite’s had worshiped the golden calf.

            It seems to me prayer is part of the very foundation of spiritual leadership in leading the church or ministries. Jesus was devoted to spending time with the Lord daily and was even more fervent and passionate in prayer in times of crisis. The apostles were devoted in prayer while waiting for the Holy Spirit to arrive and throughout their ministry on a normal basis as well as when special occasions arose, such as persecution from the Sanhedrin. Prayer was also one of the key roles of the Apostles as they stated in Acts 6 they needed helpers to be appointed to serve the widows and needs of the church so they could be focused on prayer and teaching. In terms of discipleship the spiritual leaders in ministries need to also teach those they are disciplining to pray, and lead those they serve in prayer, while praying for them and their time of instruction to be fruitful.

            Here are twelve principles for prayer that I have derived from reading D.A. Carson’s book “Praying with Paul.”

            – Be intentional about prayer, about taking time to do it, how to stay focused, accountability, and methods.  

            – Root your prayers biblically while keeping them fresh and current.  

            – What you are thankful for in prayer reveals what you deem important, what your heart desires. Also our petitions should align with Gods will.  Paul often didn’t focus on their material needs or pray for persecution to stop he prayed for God to be glorified and believers to mature and fulfill their purposes. 

            – The love of God evidences itself in us by our love for others, which should be present in our prayer life. 

            – Paul’s passion for people drives his prayers for people.  Our passion should lead us to pray for people to come to faith and grow in faith, and that we may be used to be part of that work.  

            – Not only should our prayers not be solely focused on ourselves but also they should not be limited to those whom we know personally.  We should pray specifically for Gods work among people we don’t know, and thank God for their being a sibling in faith.  

            – Nothing is more important than prayer, even the intimate obligations of husband and wife are second to our intimacy with God.  

            – If Gods greatest revelation of truth is the gospel then for us to understand Gods love we need to be devoted students of His revealed truth (scripture), for the purpose of heart transformation.  Our prayers should reflect the desire to grow in this way as well as thankfulness for growth in this way, for us, and others.   

            – God’s sovereignty and humanities responsibility are compatible.  We pray because God has ordained this as His intended intimate, powerful interaction with humanity in carrying out His plans.  

            – All prayer including thanksgiving is an opportunity to humbly submit to Gods sovereignty.  Recognize what only God can accomplish and thank Him for doing so, and ask Him to continue to work in this way, while desiring these results for everyone.  

            – Pray for the continued work of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish change and empowerment in the life of believers, with the knowledge He can and does.  

            – As fellow believers in Christ, who have experienced Christ’s love, we should be compelled to be united in prayer for one another and our ministries.
 
I hope reading my reflections on prayer will inspire and embolden your prayer time. 


Five principles to help believers minister more effectively

  This summer while studying through the prophets and gospels I found the following five principles helpful for believers in ministry.
 
Character is important to God in his people and especially in the teachers of his word.  Malachi 2:5
  God had blessed them with life and peace, which were blessings from God.  The word fear here means reverence.  The priests feared God, that is they revered him as great and followed his commands out of that sense of awe and respect.  Here they treat him with disdain.  If they feared God they would be following his commands.  Their faith would play out in their walk, in how they did his work.

Greatness comes from knowing God.  Matt 11:11

  John was the greatest of all time because he was blessed with the ability to most specifically point out who the Messiah is. Previous to him others had received anointing, and covenant promises, even prophecies of the coming Messiah, but John physically pointed him out and said there He is. Because of our grace of place in redemptive history we can point Jesus out even clearer than John as he died before Jesus died and rose again fulfilling scripture and fully revealing himself as our Lord and Savior. God’s revelation gives us greatness, greatness is in knowing God.

The Gospel is a holistic ministry.  John 5:1-14

  Jesus formed a relationship and met his physical needs before addressing the man’s sin life. After interacting with him and meeting his physical needs Jesus told him to sin no more. We have to lead with love, having compassion on people’s needs and brokenness.

Jesus knows his sheep by name.  John 10:19-21

  Jesus sets the example here for ministering. In order to shepherd the people we serve in ministry well we need to know them so we can know their needs, also so we can encourage and engage them. If we truly know our people we will know their strengths and talents and how they fit into the body of believers.

We are commanded and empowered.   John 5:8-9

  “Jesus commands come with his enabling, He doesn’t command the impossible with out enabling us to do it.”-Carl Laney “Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” John 5:8-9 Jesus also commanded us to take the Gospel to our city, country and the world making disciples, and he empowers us to do the work of his ministry, just as he empowers us to defeat sin in our lives that he has commanded to stop.



Five principles to promote spiritual transformation

This summer I have been studying through the prophets and the Gospels and have derived these five principles to promote spiritual transformation from these texts.

Deeper revelation of God leads to deeper understanding of our sin. Isaiah 6:1-6

As Isaiah was called and God revealed his glory his response was to worship and acknowledge his unworthiness, and being unclean.

Our God is able and sovereign Daniel. 3:16-18

When faced with death for not conforming to the world Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stayed faithful to God and were certain God was powerful to save them but their faith was not dependent on their safety, they would worship him no matter the outcome.

True love and forgiveness depend on the forgiver not the forgiven. Hosea 3:1-3

Just as Hosea was the acting force in reconciliation with his wife, God takes action in reconciling us to Him. His elective love brings about reconciliation.

Mans intentional sin can be used for God’s eventual good. Jonah 1:11-16

Even when we sin, God is sovereign and can use our mess to do his will. The situation Jonah caused by sinning resulted in the pagan fishermen coming to know God. Here we also see repentance resulting in salvation, while there still being consequences for sin. God sent the storm as a loving father correcting his child, which brought about repentance, then God saved him from drowning Jonah still had to suffer three days in the belly of a fish.

Our Identity and God’s love for us precede our works.  Matt 3:17
God affirms him as His Son and he is well pleased with Him.  God’s love and being pleased with Jesus precedes His work.  This is normative for God’s character but here even Jesus is affirmed not because of His works, but His identity as God’s Son, then works proceed after God’s affirmation.


Make Disciples

This teaching on discipleship is based on a conversation I had with a retired campus pastor named Max Barnett. Max spent 37 years making disciples on the campus of Oklahoma University. He is now a consultant for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry in Colorado, and on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas.

The model suggested by Max is based on what Jesus did with his twelve disciples. Jesus did not merely teach these men, as teaching is imparting information he trained them. Training is teaching how to do something with what your learning. Discipleship looks a lot more like apprenticeship. Jesus did life with these guys, they ate together traveled together, prayed together, and did ministry together. Jesus spent three years training these guys then empowered them to go out and do the same.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gave the great commission: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” NASB

In this command Jesus told them to make disciples all over the world. He told them to baptize them and to teach them to observe all that he had commanded them. A key thing in this command is that the last thing he had commanded them to do was go in to the world making disciples. Jesus commanded them to start a movement. Notice he didn’t say go teach the Gospel, or go plant churches. Something Max had said here stuck with me: “You can plant churches without making disciples, but if you make disciples you will plant churches.” He told them to do more than just preach the Gospel or create situations where people can go to hear good preaching, he told them to be intentional about duplicating themselves exponentially. The mission was to make disciples that make disciples, that make disciples. Like Max said to me: “ Your not through disciplining a new Christian until they are making disciples.

To answer my question of how Max took me to I Thessalonians 1:5-10: “5For our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” NASB

There are four main principles in this text we can apply to disciple making. First share the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ministry starts in evangelism and it’s not you that is saving or converting this new believer it is the Holy Spirit doing the work, your job is to preach the gospel in word and deed. Jesus and the disciples evangelized in multiple methods. Sometimes Jesus healed physically, other times he dined with people, fed multitudes, and approached the unapproachable. The methods to evangelizing vary, however often it was relational and holistic. Second set the example. Who they were living among them played a part in proclaiming the Gospel and in training them to do the same. The Disciples set the example for those they were training, just as Jesus set the example for his disciples. Third get other people imitating you. First they were setting the example, as they were imitating our Lord Jesus, then those they were disciplining imitated them, and in doing so they were imitation the Lord as well. Fourth reproduce it. This is where the cycle starts. Go preach the Gospel and set the example so that those you are disciplining while imitate you, then others will imitate them. Then the gospel spreads virally as it did in the New Testament church.

Paul also gives us a warning in Galatians 4:11 that we labor in vain if the gospel stops with those we lead to Christ. The disciple needs to reproduce or the message stops with them. In Galatians 4 Paul was addressing backsliders who had received the Gospel but were sliding back to worldly teaching and forsaking the simple Gospel. He was then imploring them to stop falling back and it is in that context he said He feared he had labored in vain in disciplining them.

The example we have in Christ and the disciples was a relational style of discipleship. Often even the evangelism was done relationally, then training was done while doing life together. He taught as they traveled, and through real life experience. Often he would even pull them aside later and debrief after teaching others. He would tell a parable to a group them explain it to the disciples after, for example the parable of the sewer.

The application I came away from this teaching was a great clarification on what it is to be a disciple of Christ. A disciple is not merely a church attender, but an ambassador of Christ. God gives us a purpose to do not just to be. In the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised to make him a great nation, he would bless him, and make his name great, so that he would be a blessing. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. In Galatians 3:29 we find that in the new covenant since we belong to Christ we are now descendants of Abraham and heirs of this same promise. A promise to be blessed, with the purpose to be a blessing to the world. Abraham’s greatest blessing was that God chose to reveal himself to him, and give him a lineage through whom he would reveal himself to the world, and ultimately through which he would send his Son, Jesus to redeem the world. We are now part of that lineage, and we have a purpose, a mission to join in the ministry of making disciples. For some this means working in full time ministry, but for all this means sharing our faith, being an example, and teaching others to do the same. We are all missionaries, in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, wherever we go we bring the gospel.



A Mothers Heart

 

  This week I’ve been reflecting on motherhood, my mother the mother of my children, and mothers in general.  This reflection has brought such great feelings of joy and thanksgiving. I am so thankful for the wonderful woman God blessed me with as my Mother.  She cared for me, loved me, nursed my many inflictions both physically and emotionally, and guided me through life living as an example of an unselfish parent that served her family to her utmost.  Not only has she loved me well but she loves her grandchildren so well.  She traverses great distances biweekly to take them home with her and love on them while I have to work, not only without complaint but with the greatest joy to have the opportunity to help me and spend time with them.  This woman is such a gift and blessing and I am so grateful my children have the opportunity to experience her presence so often.

I’m also grateful to the woman who bore these children and for the six and a half years I was blessed to raise them along side with her.  She tediously planned each holiday to be intentionally celebrated and special, packed with memories that touched each sense, aromatic, palatable, and full of spiritual instruction.  Though the family looks different now it is so important not to forget the great gifts and joy that were given, especially in the form of four wonderful children who wouldn’t be who they are without the mother they have.

The unexpected blessing I have found over the last year has been the women; some actual mothers, others women with a mothers heart, that have loved on my children and ministered to them in ways they may not realize.  They’ve filled a void of presence by simply being present.  They are teachers, Sunday school teachers, mothers of my children’s classmates, friends of mine, and babysitters.  They have instructed, lovingly corrected, played, cuddled, listened, and most importantly loved in a way the kids needed from someone other than me.  For these women I can only offer my deepest gratitude, you probably do not even realize the blessing you are or the ministry you are carrying out daily in the lives of the children you come in contact with.  Though many of you do not have children of your own you are mothering and are irreplaceable.  Thank you!

Being a mom is not just about birthing, it’s about loving.  Not keeping the perfect house, or preparing pinable meals and moments, but being present and aware.  Mothers day is a great time to celebrate moms, but also women with mothers hearts.  For both we are grateful and blessed by.  Please take a moment this Mothers Day to thank the moms in your life as well as those with the heart of one.



Meek is not Weak

This week in church my Pastor continued his series on the beatitudes with Blessed are the Meek.  As he discussed most people think of meek as weak.  The Greek word used for meek here was Praus: mild, tender, gentle.  It was often used to describe a wild animal that had been broken/tamed, so you could think of meek as power under control.  That paints a very different picture however an even better description would be “Our strength surrendered, and his power received.”

When Pastor Nold made that statement it resounded deeply for me.  The men in my life group and I have discussed many times what it looks like to be a Godly man.  Is it a warrior like David, or Sampson, or a wise man like Solomon, or bold man like Paul?  What does a godly modern day man look like?  Modern day TV paints the Christian men like Flanders from the Simpsons, weak out of touch, kind of a weirdo.  When thinking about meek in this way though it cast things in a different light.  When was Sampson the strongest?  Would you even dare to ever think as Sampson as meek?  In the end of his life he was weak, eyes put out, had strayed far from God, and was being treated as a fool to laugh at, a mere trophy for the Philistines.  Then he became meek, he surrendered to God, he asked for his strength back, strength he realized God had given him in the first place, so that he could surrender his life to give God the glory over the philistines.  A similar prayer we could pray would be God fill me with your strength, because true strength only comes from you, and take my life, all that I have and use it to bring your glory not mine, because I live to glorify you.  The created exist for this purpose.

David a man after Gods own heart, did many things that don’t align with that statement.  The thing that made that true was his meekness.  When he was in the thick of battle he didn’t depend on his own strength he cried out to God to spare him from his enemies, when he took on Goliath he wasn’t brave or naive, he declared that God would give him victory, he knew his strength wouldn’t get him anywhere in combat against this monster, but his God was big.  When he slept with another mans wife, then murdered the man to cover it up, meekness  brought him to repentance.  Only a person who realizes they are broken can repent.

Paul came to God after being struck down, blind, helpless, then was brought to the enemy, the very people he was hunting and murdering and had to rely on them.  Then when God built him up and sent him to do his work,  his new strength he realized wasn’t his at all,but God working through him.

Doesn’t it makes sense then that the bible is full of “heroes”  that are often failures.  Because in their meekness they realize God is their source of strength.  Meek isn’t weak after all, meekness leads to the ultimate strength.