Tag: Prayer (Page 1 of 2)

Focus in Prayer

I have found that a common experience among Christians, myself included, is fighting to stay focused in times of prayer. Have you been there? Perhaps you were there this morning. You know, the times where it seems like to-do lists of things that need to get done come to your mind and you wonder, “Why am I thinking of those things right now?” Or, as you move from one sentence to another or from one request to another, it feels surprisingly difficult to keep a steady stream of thought.

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A Little Prayer is Better Than No Prayer

Yesterday’s Daily Teaching was entitled, “A Little Bible Reading is Better than No Bible reading.” The premise was simple – the potency of God’s word is not determined by quantity. Jesus, for example, spoke short succinct commands when He raised the dead, stilled the sea, and healed the sick. Those words had life-giving power in them; and so does the text of Scripture. Therefore, even a little Bible-reading on a given day is much better than no Bible reading.

Now, with that being said, let us also be reminded that a little time in prayer is so much better than no time in prayer. The publican’s prayer, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 9:13) was brief but impactful (vs.14). Nehemiah’s prayer, prompted in response to Artaxerxes’ question (Neh. 2:4), must have been incredibly short – reading verses four and five of chapter two show how his prayer must have happened in his head in between hearing the king’s question and giving him an answer. But given the fact that the Spirit saw fit to inspire that narrative detail connotes its importance. Consider the length of Solomon’s four-verse prayer in response to the LORD’s appearance to Him in a dream by night (1 Ki. 3:6-9). From what we read in the text, it surely doesn’t look to have taken him even five minutes to pray that prayer. But nevertheless, what he said “pleased the Lord” (vs.10a).

Too often people are not spending time in prayer because they think, “I ought to be giving God more time than just five minutes on my knees.” Granted. I can understand that sentiment. It’s legitimate. But if that way of thinking sounds familiar to you please be reminded – five minutes is much better than nothing. In five minutes you can pray through the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13). In five minutes you can pray through most psalms. In five minutes you can pray through some of the prayers of the apostle Paul (Eph. 1:17-19; 3:16-19; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14; 1 Thes. 3:11-13; 2 Thes. 2:16-17; 3:5). In five minutes you can tell God how thankful you are in a one-on-one personal way, make mention of about 25 people (give or take) that come to your mind, confess your sins to your Heavenly Father and ask Him to fill you afresh with His Spirit. In five minutes you can enjoy exhaling and remembering that you’re loved, not because of your prayer performance, but because of God’s grace. In five minutes you can pray for your family, your church, your neighborhood, and your elected officials.

And the list could go on.

The point is – you can do a lot more in five minutes of prayer than you might at first realize; which in itself illustrates the reality: a little time in prayer is better than no time in prayer. 

An Exhortation with a Glorious Implication

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).

Usually the exhortation above is remembered within its immediate context of commands: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (vs.16-18). And, when remembered, these verses appropriately function as imperatives that Christians ought to embrace at any given moment. Christians always have reason to rejoice; Christians ought to be in constant communion with the Lord; and, regardless of circumstances, Christians invariably have an ample array of reasons to give thanks. And as true as those realities are, I would like to briefly consider the glorious implication behind the middle exhortation: “pray without ceasing.”

Via the apostle Paul, the God of the universe is commanding His people to interact with Him non-stop!
 
Think about that. Could you imagine telling someone, “Please, don’t stop talking to me. Just keep going. Be unceasing in your conversation and interaction with me.” If you did tell someone that, and they took you up on the offer, at some point you’d reconsider and say, “Actually, relax, I need a little break.” Yet, the God who redeemed His people commands them to be relentless in their commune with Him.
 
I think that one of the best ways to heed the command “pray without ceasing” is to see the heart of God behind it. Rather than simply thinking, “this is what I have to do because it is the right Christian thing to do,” we ought to say, “God loves a wretched sinner like me so much that He not only sent His Son to die for me, but He likes me enough to want me to continuously commune with Him?” That kind of thinking sets God’s gracious disposition towards us right before our eyes. And at that point, the desire to pray will hopefully come as a response to such amazing love and kindness.
 
Therefore, may you be exhorted today to think upon the glorious implication behind the exhortation, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17); and then, in light of such magnificent love, humbly and joyfully respond to the imperative and invitation of your God.

Don’t Go Down Envy’s Path

Some years back, as our church was studying through the Book of 1 Samuel, we saw the beginning of Saul being gripped by the sin of envy and oh what an ugly picture it was! Envy quickly led Saul down a path of incredible evil. In 1 Samuel 18 we only see the beginning of that slippery slope but even there the malignant poison of jealousy led him to take his spear into his hand and hurl it at David (twice!) even while David’s hands were ministering to him on the harp.

It was nonsensical; David had done him no harm. But that didn’t matter to Saul; all that mattered was removing the person who was stealing potential limelight and adoration. Saul became obsessed. He became relentless. His mental acumen was continually leveraged to devise ways of having David murdered.

I wonder if Saul’s behavior ever made him wonder: “How did I get here?”

Envy is not only problematic because it is a sin against the Lord of glory but also because of where the Scripture shows us it leads.

Cain envied Abel and it lead to murder. Joseph’s brothers envied him and that almost led to murder. Saul envied David and that lead to numerous attempts at murder.

In Acts 5:17 we’re told that the chief priest and Sadducees were filled with jealousy towards the apostles and they persecuted them. Acts 13:45 tells that when the Jews saw Paul and Barnabas preaching to the multitudes in Antioch they were filled with envy and subsequently raised a persecution against them.

Even the Son of God was handed over to be crucified because of envy. In Matthew 27:17 and Mark 15:10 we’re told that Pilate knew it was because of envy that the chief priests handed Jesus over to be crucified.

James calls any logic, or so-called wisdom, that leads to envy devilish (Jas 3:14-15). He goes on to say that where you find envy and selfish ambition you have disorder and every evil practice (vs.16).

Envy goes places that cause damage and destruction and death.

And, even if it’s kept secret, Proverbs tells us, “envy is rottenness to the bones” (Prov 14:30b).

Nobody wins with envy.

But here’s the good news…

Jesus was the victim of envy so you and I could be free from it (Gal 1:4; Titus. 2:14).

So when envy pops up in your mind, in whatever form it takes – envying another person’s success, another person’s possessions, another person’s health, or looks, or abilities, or circumstances, or family, or children – remember where it led King Saul, where it led others, and where others led Jesus. And then, having recognized the intruder, remember that among the reasons for which Jesus died was so that envy would not have dominion over you. Recognize it. Flee from it. And rejoice in Spirit-given power to do both of those things (Rom 6:14).

And finally, by way of practical instruction, don’t envy, instead, love. Love does not envy (1 Cor 13:4). Therefore, when you are tempted to envy someone, overcome the temptation to envy by praying for him or her. Pray that they would be drawn near to Christ. Pray that God would do great works in their life. Pray that God would use them, work in them, and bear fruit through them. Replace envy with prayer that is desirous to see God do good to that person and to see God glorified in that person.

Don’t Worry About Anything, Pray About Everything (Phil 4:6)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6)

It appears, given the 24/7 news-cycle in our society, that we have the option of worrying about more things than any previous generation on planet earth. Not because our exact situations are as worrisome as they could be, but because we are afforded plenty of other options to consider, both locally and internationally. In recent years we have heard numerous threats of nuclear warfare from North Korea, we have seen China’s militarization in the South China Sea, Russia’s aggression towards neighboring Ukraine and its involvement in the conflict in Syria, societal destabilization in Venezuela, and that doesn’t even include talk of Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. On our own shores, there is concern relating to the prospect of a terrorist attack, at least in some places – an increasing cost of living, continuing moral decline, concern over the way in which media outlets seem incensed to fan flames of societal discord, and so on. All that of course does not include health concerns for ourselves, health concerns for others, the amount of sleep we got last night, exams, relationships, responsibilities, and the list could go on and on. Yet, in our text, we’re exhorted, even as the Philippians were, to “be anxious for nothing.” It does help to know that this wasn’t coming from someone who was bursting at the seems with outward prosperity, writing in between lounging and dining. This came from an imprisoned apostle. And it does help to know that contextually it comes right after Paul was addressing interpersonal issues in a very healthy church (Phil. 4:2-3). Euodia and Syntyche could apply this text to themselves as they likely wrestled with the anxiety that comes from interpersonal strife. Clement could apply this text if, say, he worried about dutifully executing the charge that Paul gave him to help these women.

But keep in mind, Paul’s charge wasn’t a stand-alone exhortation. He went on to write, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God”, and then after giving that exhortation, he provided the result in the following verse saying, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (vs.7). Now there are dynamics that are important to note, i.e. how Paul uses the general word “prayer” and then a specific application of that – “supplication,” or how thanksgiving should be a continuous ingredient in the varied recipes of prayer, and so on, but what we’ll draw particular attention to is how, as presented in these verses, the divine grace of God’s peace is preceded by the divine grace of prayer.

Consider the two extremes that Paul pointed out. First, he wrote not to worry about anything, then he exhorted to pray about everything. Textually, it’s that ‘extreme’ of praying about everything that leads to a peace that guards the heart from worry. It’s a supernatural peace, one that surpasses understanding. One that appears coterminous with a heart that has, and is, becoming increasingly accustomed to speak to God. At the end of day, what Paul is calling the church to is not primarily transactional, but relational. The peace comes as we become accustomed to appreciating, believing, enjoying, and resting in the relational access we have to God. So, should the outward circumstances not change, the inward perspective will. The divine grace of peace that surpasses understanding will set a garrison around your heart and mind that will empower you to resist the temptation to worry.

Now, it doesn’t take too long to find out that this doesn’t work like, say, a vending machine. Granted, sometimes you may leave the place of prayer with a measure of peace that you did not have going in, but don’t be discouraged if you find that the cares you casted at the Lord’s feet, found their way back unto your shoulders. Just because you prayed about what worries you, doesn’t mean it will never worry you again. You may have to keep fighting to be “anxious for nothing” as the same assault assails you. But you can expect that as you become accustomed to communing with God throughout the day, while also setting aside specific time to sit as His feet, there will come peace.

Therefore, resist the temptation to hasten through your day, trying to ‘fit in’ a 5 minute quiet time, but instead develop the habit of continually telling God what your concerned about. Not as an exhibition of ‘prayerful complaining’ but as an exercise of casting your cares upon Him with thanksgiving. Pray about matters that appear daunting and pray about matters that seem of less importance. Pray about things it appears you can’t handle, and pray about the things it appears you can handle. In other words, pray about everything.

May you be exhorted today to believe that as you continually let your requests be made known to the Father, through the Son, He will grant you peace to guard your mind from worry and grace to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.

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