Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 2

This is the fourth article in a series on devotional life. To begin with the first article "Why Pray?" click here. To read the previous article "Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 1" click here.

In my previous article, I shared five suggestions for "jump starting" your devotional life. I continue with five more suggestions…

6.  Pray the Word – Devotional life consists of both prayer and Bible study. I hope to share more about Bible study in future articles, but suffice it to say that I can't write about prayer without also talking about knowledge of the Word of God. These two disciplines are interrelated. Although you can pray without having a firm grasp of the Bible (you have to start somewhere!), you really need to spend time in the Word on a daily basis to successfully develop your prayer life. The Bible is full of prayers from beginning to end, and understanding how men and women prayed in scripture will greatly help you to know how to pray today. In fact, you might be surprised to know that the longest book in the Bible is actually a book of prayers! That book is the Psalms, and it is actually a collection of one hundred and fifty prayers. The time I've spent reading through and studying the Psalms has helped me greatly to know how to pray. In fact, I often "pray the Psalms." I have tried to memorize several of them, and they often come out when I am praying, both corporately and individually. It is very true that we "do not know how to pray as we should" (see Romans 8:26a), but when we pray the Psalms or any part of God's word, we know we are praying the right thing!

While we are on this subject, I'd like to share something about Psalms. One reason that I love this book is that it is real. When you read these prayers, you are not just reading lofty platitudes. In fact, you might be startled by the stark language of some of them. Here are three examples of these real prayers by real people:

Psalm 51 – In this psalm, King David (who wrote most but not all of the Psalms) pours out his soul before God as he asks for forgiveness for the terrible sins of adultery and murder. You can really feel the pathos in his heart as you read "Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight." (vs 4) and "Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me." (vs 12)

Psalm 42 – Ever been in despair? The unknown writer of this prayer wrote this not on a mountaintop but in the bottom of a deep valley. He cries "My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" (vs 3). Yet in the end, he encourages his own soul by saying, "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him…" (vs 11)

Psalm 73 – Ever struggle with envy? This psalm is written by a man who is battling a jealous spirit. He readily admits that he envies men who have become rich through wicked means, who he states "are not in trouble as other men…" (vs. 5) and, in his envious state, he paints a picture of these men who are "always at ease" (vs 12) and their "eyes bulge with fatness" (vs 7). In despair, he cries out "in vain I have kept my heart pure" (vs 13). Yet, when he enters God's sanctuary, his eyes are enlightened as he perceives their end (vs 17). He realizes that God will "cast them down to destruction (vs 18) and confesses that he was "senseless and ignorant" (vs 22) to think in those terms. In the end, He writes these beautiful lines of praise:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (vs 25, 26)

7. Pray out loud – While it is certainly true that God can hear your prayers even if you pray silently, yet I and many others have found that there is great value in praying out loud. I know that this is not always possible when others in the home are sleeping, but, when you can, vocalize your prayers. The Bible certainly teaches this. Consider these passages:

I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. (Psalm 3:4)

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
and be gracious to me and answer me
. (Psalm 27:7)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in Your sight…
" (Psalm 19:14)

My wife recently shared with me an experience of hers that illustrates the power of the spoken prayer. She was coming home from work late one evening and was really burdened down about a loved one. She had the radio on at first, but it wasn't helping her, so she turned it off and began to pray…out loud. She first just began to praise the Lord and thank Him for all that He has done for her. After several minutes of praise and thanksgiving, she just began to pour her heart out to Jesus as she told him everything that was burdening her about this individual. After a short time, she realized that the worry and the anxiety that she had been feeling was completely lifted! She had the assurance that God heard her prayer and would act on her behalf for this person. I have experienced this many times myself. When you pray, remember that God wants to hear your voice!

8. Pray intercessory prayer – Luke tells a beautiful story about Christ that illustrates the value of intercessory prayer:

One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and to set him down in front of Him.  But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, He said,"Friend, your sins are forgiven you." (Luke 5:17-20)

This paralytic man was not able to go to Jesus himself, but he had some friends that were able to take him to the Savior. In fact, they were so determined to get him to Jesus, they brought up over the crowd, onto and through the roof! Now that is determination! Notice that Jesus healed the man, not because of his own faith, but because of his friends' faith. Have unsaved loved ones? Family members who are making bad choices? You can intercede for them and God has promised that He will hear your prayers. 

9. Pray persistently – Now, it would be great if every time we pray, God would move and the answer would be received immediately. However, my experience and the experience of many others is that it doesn't happen that way very often. More often than not, we have to persist in prayer to get our answer. Later in Luke, Jesus tells a parable of a man who wouldn't give up:

…Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him;' and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

The point is clear. When we ask God for something, he wants us to keep at it even if we don't receive the answer right away. As I mentioned in my previous article "Why Pray?," some people have prayed for years before their prayers were answered. We want answers right away, yet, in His providence, God sometimes withholds those answers for a season…sometimes a long season. Solomon records these wise words in Proverbs:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life." (Proverbs 13:12)

"Hope deferred" literally means "hope long drawn out." If you've ever prayed for anyone or any situation over a long period of time without any apparent results, you understand that it can make you "heartsick". Yet the message both in Jesus' teachings and in Solomon's words is plain: "Don't give up!"

After sharing the parable above, Jesus would go on to say these famous words:

…Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.
(Luke 11:9-10)
The Amplified Version gives a deeper sense to these words. It reads there:
 Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you; seek and keep on seeking and you shall find; knock and keep on knocking and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives; and he who seeks and keeps on seeking finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened.

Do you see it? Bottom line is…Don't quit! Keep asking, seeking and knocking!    

10. Pray macro, pray micro – While still on the subject of intercessory prayer, I'd like to mention two basic kinds of petitions that we find in the Bible. This can best be illustrated in Jesus' model prayer that He prayed with his disciples. Jesus' first request is very familiar: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) Jesus was praying what we might call a "macro-prayer." "Macro" simply means "Big Picture." In other words, he wasn't praying for a specific individual or event, but was praying that God would bring His kingdom around the world into being. He goes on to pray that God's will would be done "on earth as it is in heaven." He was praying a prayer that literally encompassed the entire world! And remember, this was the model prayer for us, so we can understand that God wants us to pray these "Big Picture" prayers. However, the very next verse is an illustration of a "micro-prayer." He states: "'Give us this day our daily bread…" This prayer is a specific prayer for specific individuals. He is asking His Heavenly Father to provide "daily bread" to Himself and His disciples.

In my own prayer life, I try to pray both kinds of prayers each day. One of the great burdens that I believe the Lord has shared with me is to pray daily for the persecuted church. The church around the world is suffering an unprecedented amount of persecution at this time (as I shared in this article last year), and yet we Christians in the western world are largely oblivious to what is going on in other parts of the world. I sometimes pray "macro-prayers" for the Christian communities in some of these oppressive countries, such as North Korea and Iran, whose members are being brutally persecuted for their faith in Christ. On the other hand, I try each day to pray for a specific American pastor, Saaed Abedini, who has been held in an Iranian prison for years. This is an example of a "micro-prayer" that I hope will be answered soon.

Praying both "macro" and "micro" intercessory prayers does amazing things not only for those for whom I am praying, but it does great things for me when I persist in this discipline. I am by nature a self-centered person, but praying for others gets me off of "Me Mountain" and helps me to fulfill the scriptural commandment to "love my neighbor as myself." That's not only good for my neighbor, it's good for me too. And, I believe this discipline will be of great value to you as well.








Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 1

This is the third article in a series on devotional life.  If you would like to start at the beginning, click here.

I recently had dinner with a Christian friend who shared with me his struggles with his devotional life.  I asked him how he was doing in his time with the Lord.  In reply, he showed me his "verse of the day" on his phone.  He stated, "I read the verse that comes up on my phone, pray for my son, pray for my day, and that's about it."  He courageously shared with me that he knows that there is more to devotional life than this, but he can't seem to get there.

I encouraged him first of all that it is God's mercy that he realizes there is more to it than this perfunctory "cross it off the list" type of devotions.  I'm afraid many Christians go for years thinking they can pray for a minute or two in the morning, read a verse, and be off on their way, thinking somehow that they had "performed their duty."  There is so much more available to us than this!  If we think of devotions as a "duty", we really are missing it.  My friend got this.  He was asking for help, and I commended him for this.  I shared with him a few things that have helped me in my devotional life, and I'd like to pass them on to you here as well.

In this article, I'd like to share some "pointers" that may help you in your prayer life.  In a future article, I will share some ideas on how to get more out of your time in God's word.

As they say, let's "begin at the beginning!"

  1. Start early - David said, "In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice..." (Psalm 5:3a) and "...in the morning, my prayer comes before You." (Psalm 88:13b)  The best time to begin devotions for most people is in the morning, before the clamor of life hits us.  We live in an age where most of us are being pulled in many different directions throughout our day.  Whether you are a mom with kids to take care of, a factory worker, or perhaps a busy executive, your day is probably full of stress. You need the Lord's help early to help you to handle the stresses in life before they overwhelm you.
  2. Start Small - Think Big!  - We men especially tend to want to grab a problem and solve it immediately.  However, if your devotional life is like my friend's, you probably are not going to be able to start out praying for an hour or two.  I made this suggestion to my friend, and I would make this to you: Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than you usually do.  Can you handle fifteen minutes?  Most people can easily manage to come up with that small amount of time.  Now, in my case, I found I couldn't stay with just fifteen minutes for very long, and I hope that eventually you will find that you want to spend more time with the Lord than this.  However, if you are only praying two to three minutes (or not at all), fifteen minutes is a good place to start.
  3. Think Of Your Devotions As An Offering To God - This one suggestion seemed to hit home with my friend more than anything.  We all know that in Old Testament times, Israelites were expected to bring a daily offering to the temple.  In these New Testament times, we are not asked to make such a physical offering, but nevertheless, we are expected to bring an offering to God each day.  Paul said, "...I urge you...to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." (Romans 12:1)  Many of us know this very familiar verse.  But what does Paul mean by "presenting your bodies" as a sacrifice?  It means many things, but I believe that part of what he is talking about is giving the Lord our time.  Our time is not really our time anyway, just like our money is not really our money.  However, we often live our lives like we think we own our time.  Is it too much to ask to get up a few minutes early each morning as an offering to the Lord?  You might say, "But I'm so tired anyway!"  My response to that is that maybe you are so tired because you haven't been giving the Lord his due.  Here's a truth that was shared with me years ago that I have found to be right.   If you get up early, God will redeem for you the time you've lost.  When I started getting up earlier several years ago for the purpose of prayer, I actually found that I felt less tired than I did before!  I believe you will as well.
  4. Praise and Thanksgiving - I spent a lot of time on the importance of thanksgiving in my last post, "The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life," so I'll not spend a lot of time on it here. We often think of "Praise and Thanksgiving" together, and they are certainly related.  However, they are not the same thing.  Thanksgiving is thanking God for what He has done.  Praise is acknowledging God for who He is.  If God had never done anything for me (which is anything but the case!), He would still be holy, pure, and above reproach, and worthy of my praise.  Praising God for who He is gets me off of "Me Mountain."  In other words, it puts my focus not on me but on the reality of God Himself. 
 Here's a biblical suggestion on something to praise God for:  Praise Him for His three O's.  What do I mean?  Look at these verses with me from Psalm 139:
Praise Him for His Omniscience - This means that God knows all things.  All things about me.  All things about others.  He is never ignorant of anything.  David says, 
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all. (Psalm 139: 1-4)
That is simply breathtaking!  To realize that God is "intimately acquainted with all my ways", all my faults and failures, all my eccentricities, yet He still loves me, has to move me to praise Him! 
Praise Him for His Omnipresence - This means that God is always present everywhere.  He is never absent anywhere.  Pretty startling!  David goes on to say,
Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, You are there: If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. (Psalm 139:7-10)
Not only are these beautiful words, but they are bedrock truth.  What a comfort to know that no matter what is going on in my life, God is there!
Praise Him for His Omnipotence -  This means that God is all-powerful.  It wouldn't be much consolation for me to know that God knows everything about me and is always present with me if He couldn't do anything to help me.  However, that is far from the truth.  Let's look one more time at Psalm 139 as well as a verse from Revelation:
For You formed my inward parts.  You wove me in my mother's womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13, 14)
And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Revelation 19:6)
If God created me, He is able to help me no matter with whatever I need!
5.   Don't forget confession! - Confession is a vital part of our prayer life.  Confession is actually telling God what He already knows.  In fact, just as I was writing this, I received some frustrating news...news that I didn't handle very well.  I had to ask the Lord for forgiveness for allowing myself to get frustrated about something over which I have no control.  We don't confess to inform God of anything.  We confess to acknowledge that He knows.  We confess to ask forgiveness.  What an awesome privilege! John says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9)  God is a God of grace and will forgive us of our sins and our failures...but only if we ask Him.  Confession draws upon a "well of grace" that is only open to us when we acknowledge our mistakes.  James makes a statement about this that seems harsh to our modern ears:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:8-10)
Humility is rather humbling, don't you think?  This verse isn't telling us to go around in mourning and gloomy all the time.  Rather it is exhorting us to truly humble ourselves before God on a regular basis, even to the point of mourning for our sins.  The great promise is that when we acknowledge our sins and humble ourselves, He will exalt us!

Going back to Psalm 139, David writes a prayer that would be worthwhile for all of us to pray:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139: 23, 24) 
Not sure what to confess?  Well, God doesn't want us just making up things.  But I believe there are few prayers that are more pleasing to God than the prayer to "Search me, O God, and know my heart..."  I try to ask God daily to show me my "secret sins." (Psalm 90:8), both sins of commission and sins of omission (see James 4:17)  My "secret sins" are things about me that He knows but that I am blissfully unaware of.  Believe me, when you pray this prayer, it will be answered!  As He shows you more about yourself and you acknowledge your failings before Him, He will reveal more of Himself to you.  As James says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you!"

To read "Jump Start Your Devotional Life! Part 2 click here.

Want To Read More?  Here are links to related articles on this site:

Why Pray?
The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life

 This is the second in a series of articles on devotional life.  You can read the first article "Why Pray?" here.

Like any good habit, developing a successful prayer life takes effort.  Rembrandt didn't just wake up one morning and paint the Mona Lisa.  Michael Jordan didn't decide one day to play basketball, and the next day was signed by the Chicago Bulls.  Yet, the big difference in worldly successes and  being a successful person of prayer is that it takes no special talent to pray.  IQ doesn't matter.  Physical dexterity means nothing.  But what does matter is that prayer is made and made habitually.

There are many ingredient that make up a successful prayer life, some of which I hope to share in future articles.  Yet, there is one ingredient which I believe stands out above all others.  Without it, there is no chance that your prayer life will in any way be satisfactory to you or to God.  With it, you can and should have a vibrant prayer life.  What is this all-important key?


If you think about it, you know that this has to be true.  Without gratefulness, prayer is an empty shell.  We become like the whiny little kid who is always unsatisfied with what his parents do for him.  Annoying, right?  Well, when we go to Christ with all of our little requests, but don't first incorporate gratefulness, we really can't expect to get our prayers answered in the way we would hope.

How do we become grateful people in this gimme gimme gimme generation?

Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Delight yourself in the Lord.  Psalm 37:4 states "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Want your prayers answered?  First of all, delight in the Lord and in Him alone!  If you are a Christian, no matter what bad things might be going on in your life, you have a wealth of things for which you can be thankful.  In my case, I try to start each morning just being grateful for what the Lord has done for me.  I often begin with my salvation in Christ:
  • "Thank you Jesus that You died for me, that You were willing to pay the ultimate price for my salvation."
  • "Thank you Father that You sent Your one and only Son to die in my place." (John 3:16)
  • "Thank you Holy Spirit for leading me to salvation,"
  • "My name is written in Your book." (Rev. 3:5)
  • "My name is written on Your hand." (Isa. 49:16)
  • "Because of You, I have a hope and a future!" (Jer. 29:11 NIV)
  • "Because You died for me, I have everlasting life...I'm going to live with You forever!"
Notice that none of these things have anything to do with what might be going on in my life right now.  You or I could be facing seemingly insurmountable troubles, yet if we are followers of Christ, these eternal facts are still just as true as if we were dealing with no troubles at all.  These are things that every Christian everywhere should express thankfulness for every day!

2.  Cultivate a grateful heart: Being a grateful person is to swim against the current of negativity that inflicts our sin-cursed society.  Like a gardener cultivating her plants, you and I must cultivate gratefulness.  How do we do that?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Thank Him for the people He as brought into your life.   Has the Lord blessed you with a faithful spouse?  Thank Him for him or her!  Children? Grandchildren?  Thank the Lord for each member of your family.  Do you have friends and co-workers with whom God has enriched your life?  Be thankful for them, even if they do bring challenges.  (You probably bring challenges to them too!)
  • Review the events which have happened in your life that only God could have done.  Looking back, I see so many different places in my life where God led.  He brought my wife Kathy into my life in 1982.  He led for my us to move to Indiana in 1987.  He led for us to go into foster parenting in 1990, and because of that decision, he would later bring three lovely daughters into our lives.  Our lives would have been completely different if He hadn't directed in these key events.  What about you?  What forks in the road has he brought you through, that, had you chosen a different path instead of the path He led you in, your life would have been far less rich?
  • Learn to identify the hand of God in recent events in your life.  I like to review every morning the blessings of the previous day.  Just a few hours perspective can make me realize that the Lord was leading in many ways. Maybe it's the "chance" encounter with someone I hadn't seen in years. The unexpected material blessing. The kind word from a co-worker.  Whatever it is, thank the Lord for it.  James said, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..."  If a good thing happened to you, thank Him for it!
Dennis Prager (who is Jewish, not Christian, but still has some great insights in these matters) wrote the following in his book Happiness Is A Serious Problem:
When I was looking for an apartment in Manhattan as a graduate student at Columbia University, the only one available to me was on the ground-floor, and I rented it.  When I mentioned this to New Yorkers, they winced.  I had made a big mistake, they would all tell me.  Ground-floor apartments are to be avoided-they are the most easily burglarized.  These reactions, and the fact that the area in which I rented was a high crime area, could easily have made me unhappy over my choice.
They had no such effect on me.  Instead of becoming unhappy, I developed a series of reasons to believe that a ground-floor apartment was the best choice: unlike almost everyone else in the apartment building, I would never have to wait for the elevator; I had immediate access to the superintendent, who lived in the next apartment; moving in and out was cheaper and faster; and I never had to worry about climbing flights of stairs when the elevator broke.
As a result, instead of regretting what I had done and worrying about it, I loved that apartment from the day I moved in (moreover, it was never burglarized, and I became somewhat of a big brother to the superintendent's son). 
As I have matured, I have cultivated this blessedly innate tendency to find the positive in almost all situations.  Some people accuse those of us who have this attitude of deluding ourselves in order to be happy, but these people miss the point.  There is almost always a positive element in a negative situation, just as there is almost always a negative aspect to a positive situation.  Choosing to find the positive and emphasizing it is not in any way a form of self-delusion.
Pretty good insight, don't you think?

3.   Learn to thank the Lord throughout the day.  We can't just be thankful in our morning prayer time and then forget to be thankful throughout the day. Paul gave the church at Thessalonica these timely instructions:
Be happy (in your faith) and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always);
Be unceasing in prayer (praying perseveringly);
Thank (God) in everything (no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks), for this is the will of God for you... (I Thess 5:16-18 Amp)
Pretty powerful stuff, don't you think?  To be "happy in your faith and glad-hearted continually" takes vigilance and determination.  Everything about this world wants to bring us down.  Yet, with the help of the Holy Spirit (which is available to every Christian), we can live above the downward trend of this world!  When we walk in this way, we become a "living Bible" to the people around us. People aren't used to seeing someone who refuses to be down no matter what the circumstances.  A happy Christian is like a billboard for Christ, while a grumpy Christian is a like an advertisement against Christianity!  Who would want to buy that product?

Yes, life is tough.  Sometimes very tough. And frankly, there are some things that happen to each of us that get us down.  Yet, the Lord will always provide grace for those difficult events in our lives.  The point is, we may get down, but we can't stay down.  No matter what the circumstances, we can learn to be grateful and to "Thank God in everything!"  That is why having a grateful spirit is indeed the single most important ingredient of a successful prayer life.

To read the next article in this series, "Jump Start Your Devotional Life!  Part 1", click here.

Want To Read More?  Here are links to related articles on this site:

Why Pray? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Pray?

This is the first of a series of articles on devotional life. I start with a simple question:

Why pray?

If God is all powerful, omnipotent, and all knowing, what is the need for prayer anyway? Can't God do what He is going to do without us humans' puny little help?

Does prayer really make a difference anyway?

What is the purpose of prayer?

These are just some of the questions that come up when we talk about prayer. I hope to provide some answers to these questions and others in this and future articles. However, I think the first question we need to answer is the most basic one:

What is prayer?    

When we think of prayer, what images do our minds conjure up? Perhaps a child kneeling by his bedside with his hands folded, praying a childlike prayer. Perhaps we might think of some (very old) nuns in their habits, again with hands folded, looking up to God with saintly expressions. We might even think of a soldier in a foxhole praying for God to save Him from the bullets whizzing overhead.

Well, those are all pictures of prayer…but they are incomplete pictures at best.

When we think about prayer, we almost always think about asking God for something.  Dear Lord…Please send me a new "this". And I definitely need a new "that." Or…Lord spare me from "this" or "that" thing. Yet asking God for things (which we call "petition") can and should be only a small part of our prayer life. Prayer is simply talking to God in faith. It can include petition, but it certainly should include far more than these oftentimes selfish prayers. Prayer can be spoken or unspoken. It can be done literally anywhere, with any postures, using any words that are respectful to God. Prayer is being real with God. It's not just for nuns, children, and scared-spitless soldiers. Prayer is a grand privilege that is available to anyone who wants to avail themselves of it.

This is the "what" of prayer. Now let's get back to the "why" of prayer.

Why pray?

  • Because God told us to pray. This is the most basic answer to the question. Our Lord in His wisdom has told us as Christians that we are to "pray without ceasing." (I Thess 5:17) He is pleased when we talk to Him.

  • Because prayer itself is a fantastic opportunity bought for us at a very steep price
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean… (Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB
This "new and living way" of approach to God was only made available to us through the blood of Christ, through His sacrifice of Himself. You see, under the old covenant (as outlined in the Old Testament), no one could approach God without a blood sacrifice. Even then, the average person was not allowed to approach God themselves, but had to use a priest as intermediary to take their sacrifice to God. However, now, because Jesus Himself was both our Great High Priest and our sacrifice (by giving himself up to God as the spotless Lamb of God), we now can enter His presence "in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean." Isn't that amazing! Jesus Himself is now our intermediary to the Father! What an incomprehensible privilege we have to be able to talk to the Maker of the Universe, the Creator of All Things, anytime, anywhere!
  • Because God's kingdom operates through prayer. This is really an awesome thought. The kingdom of Christ could have been built solely by God without any input from us, but that is not the way God chose for it to be built. The first petition that Jesus gave in his "model prayer" (which some call "The Lord's prayer") is "Your kingdom come" and then "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10 NASB). It is awe-inspiring to think that we can pray here in America and, because of that prayer, God moves in an outstanding way in the life of someone in India or China or Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, but this is certainly true. Believers praying for believers without regard to distance or time.
  •  Because God meets us through prayer. No relationship that is of any value to us is possible without spending time with each other. A marriage where the husband and wife seldom speak to each other is a marriage in name only. A friend that doesn't ever see you, call you, or communicate with you in any way is not much of a friend. What about God? If we say that we are Christians and don't spend a significant amount of time in prayer with our Heavenly Father, what kind of a relationship is that? He wants a relationship with us and will talk to us…if we will only talk to Him. He's not going to push Himself on us. We can have a relationship with Him if we want it bad enough. Job said "…I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 23:12) What does he mean? Well, our "necessary food" is the bare basic amount of food that we need to sustain life. He's saying, "I want to hear from God more than I want to eat the food that keeps me from dying." That is REALLY wanting to hear from God!
  • Our ability to trust in God increases as we pray. This is certainly true when we see prayer answered in a positive way. I related one such account of an immediate answer to prayer which I experienced in my post a few months ago entitled, "God Can Do Things In Prayer That Are Just So Cool!" However, anyone who has spent time in prayer knows that an immediate answer to a prayer is the exception, not the rule. I know one lady who prayed for a deliverance for her daughter from a really bad situation. She received the answer to her prayer and her daughter was delivered…fourteen years later. Yet, rather than this discouraging her that it took so long for the prayer to be answered, I think she would attest now that the delay actually strengthened her ability to trust in God.   Even in cases where a prayer is not answered the way we would have hoped, there is great value in prayer. In a February 16, 2014 article "When Heaven Is Silent: The Value of Unanswered Prayer", in Psychology Today, Professor Krystine Bacho Phd. makes some interesting observations about prayer, as she quotes Viktor Frankl:
…Frankl compared our relationship with God to that between pet and owner. He offered the metaphor of a pet's trust in its owner even when asked to accept frightening and painful veterinarian exams or treatments. The dog "cannot understand the meaning of pain, the purpose of a shot or a bandage, but the way it looks at you reveals a boundless trust in you, out of which it feels that the doctor will not harm it." What is lost when one gives up on prayer is much greater than the request made. Recent research shows that although most people relate to God in human terms, the sacred is embraced as mysterious and beyond human comprehension. To feel connected with the transcendent is more important than having the sacred solve earthly problems…
Jesus taught us to pray "Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42). So when we are making specific requests to God, we must pray with open hands and open hearts, knowing that He knows what is best for us. Like the dog that can't understand the purpose of a shot or a bandage, we can't always understand why God allows some things to happen in our life. When we learn to trust Him even in those times, our faith can take us through the most difficult crises.
  • Because prayer changes us. Learning to be a man or woman of prayer is a difficult process, as I can attest myself. In my own experience, I have found that the greatest benefit of prayer to me has been the way God has used it (and is still using it) to take me from the place of being an utterly selfish individual to being a person who cares for others more than himself. By no means am I there yet. This sometimes decades-long process of change in us is what the Bible calls "sanctification." Literally, it means the process of setting apart, or said another way, the process of making us saints. Saints are not people who go around with halos on their heads spouting off angelic sayings. Saints are just people who God is in the process of setting apart for Himself. And make no mistake. You can never be sanctified, you can never become a saint, without being a man or woman of prayer. God daily works on me in this process of conforming me into the image of His Son (see Romans 8:28). In my case, He's got quite a job on His hands! The Lord wants to do this with all of us. He will change you for the better, if you will let Him.
I welcome your comments on this! Let me know what you think!
You can comment below if you are signed in to Google account. You can also comment on Facebook, Twitter, or Google +.

Want to read more?  Here are more links to related articles on this blog: 

The Greatest Single Ingredient Of A Successful Prayer Life
Church Etiquette-Wisdom From A Bygone Age
God Can Do Things In Prayer That Are Just So Cool!
Thoughts At Fifty-Living Between The Dash





Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Challenge: Start A Bible Reading Plan!

As we start 2015, many people will be making New Year's resolutions.  I actually think this is a good thing.  I find it a good time to reassess my life prayerfully, and try to make changes that will improve my life.  Many people resolve to lose weight, exercise more, eat less junk food, etc.  All are noble goals (and some that I could use myself!), but I'd like to suggest to you one goal that should surpass them all.  I would like to challenge you to start a Bible reading plan in 2015.

Why read the Bible?

First of all, simply because it is the Word of God.  2 Timothy 3:16 states, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." The Bible, both New and Old Testament, is inspired.  This doesn't mean "inspired" like a book or a movie is "inspirational." It literally means "God-breathed."  God was in the writing of his Word from the beginning to end.  This doesn't mean that God just dictated the words to men and they wrote them down.  It's very obvious that men's personalities largely come through in the writing.  I like that.  Though it was "God-breathed," God used many different men with varied personalities living in distinct cultures over thousands of years to pen the Bible.  

Yet there is a continuous narrative from Genesis to Revelation.  That narrative is the unfolding of God's promises first of all to his people Israel and then to the greater Kingdom of God as it is revealed in the New Testament.  From first to last, it is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As I have heard it described elsewhere, the Old Testament is Christ concealed: the New Testament is Christ revealed.  

The Bible has stood the test of time.  Pastor Rick Warren makes some very good points about this:

Despite all the attacks throughout history, today the Bible is the greatest single source of culture. It’s the greatest single source for music, art, and architecture. If you take the Bible out of culture, you would destroy most of the major music, artwork, and architecture of the past 2,000 years. Even much of our English language comes from the King James Bible.
He goes on to tell this story:
Voltaire, the famous French philosopher, was a brilliant atheist. He wrote a number of tracts deriding the Bible. He once made a very bold statement: “One hundred years from today the Bible will be a forgotten book.”...After Voltaire died, for nearly 100 years, his homestead was used as the book depository for the French Bible Society.  They sold Bibles out of his house! It’s now a museum. People have forgotten Voltaire.  Nobody forgets the Bible. 
I hope you believe every word of the Bible.  But anyone who wants to consider themselves educated shoudl read the Bible.  Though our culture has become increasingly secular, it's scriptural roots are still there. You can't really understand American culture without understanding the Bible on which it was based.

Many well-meaning Christians only read the New Testament, thinking that reading the Old Testament is a waste of time. Nothing could be further than the truth.  In fact, you really can't understand the New without understanding the Old.  Jesus himself stated, 
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
The Law and the Prophets was the Jewish way of describing what we now call the Old Testament.  You can't understand the full import of what Jesus came to do if you haven't read the first three-fourths of your Bible.  He came to fulfill all the was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

There are many more reasons why you should read the Bible.  (You can read an excellent article with many more great reasons to read the Bible here)  For me personally, one of the greatest reasons is that it has been a major force in shaping my worldview.  We don't talk about worldview much these days, and some might not understand what I'm talking about.  A good definition of "worldview" that I've found is " The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world."  Having a Biblical worldview changes the way you see the world.  You don't see humanity as a "cosmic accident," but as a creation of God made in God's very image.  Therefore, you treat other humans not as annoyances but as fellow creations of a loving Creator.  

Having a Christian or Biblical worldview also helps you make sense of the world around you.  The Bible teaches that man is a fallen creature.  God's original intent for man (and for all of creation) was marred by the fall, and henceforth chaos often ensues.  People ask why there is so much war, disease, famine, and tragic weather events in the world. These human and cosmic tragedies only make sense when you look at creation from a Biblical lens.  They are the result of the fall and the subsequent curse that God put on the earth as a result. (See Genesis 3:17-19).  However, a Christian or Biblical worldview also gives you great hope, as we have sure promises that one day mankind (at least, that portion of mankind which has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross) and creation itself will be redeemed and purified.  (See Revelation 21)

I have been reading the Bible since I was a child, but it wasn't until 1996 that I committed to reading it daily.  That year, I read an article by Pastor Jack Hayford which challenged readers to commit to daily Bible reading.  It made a profound impact on me, and I've been trying to read the Bible daily since then.  This one phrase has stuck with me since then.  Pastor Hayford stated, "I don't turn the light out (on a day), until I've turned the light (the Bible) on!"  I've made that a cornerstone of my life since then, and I've never regretted it. I don't think that I could count on my hands (maybe even on one hand) the number of days in the last nineteen years that I haven't read something from the Word of God.  I try to get up every morning early and spend time in prayer and then read a section from the Bible.  I am constantly amazed how that God can take a passage that I may have read dozens or even hundreds of times and reveal fresh truths from that section.  I love to read other books, but no other book has that power! 

What translation should you use?  I primarily use NASB (New American Standard Bible) as I believe it is still one of most accurate, but there are a lot of good translations out there.  I grew up in a King James only environment, and I still love the beauty of the King James Bible, but our language has changed so much in the four hundred years since it was translated, that much of it doesn't make sense to us now.  I actually like to use several versions when I'm studying the Bible.  I don't know Greek and Hebrew, but I do have access to both a Greek and Hebrew dictionary.  I use them on occasion to help me understand some of the sometimes obscure wording, but also to bring out some of the subtle nuances that we miss in the translation  Using these and other Bible study tools really enhances my time in the Word.

Today, I'm starting a new Bible reading plan.  I'd like to invite you to come along with me.  The one I have chosen is the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan (which you can access here). It was developed by Pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843), a Scottish pastor from the nineteenth century.  Using this plan, you will read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice this year.  It's not a straight chronological reading, but includes reading from two sections of the Old Testament and two from the New Testament each day. (By the way, if you've never read the entire Bible before, you might want to use a different plan than this, as this "jumps around" quite a bit.  I would suggest this plan which has daily readings from the Old and New Testament and is not quite as demanding.)  There are other plans available, which you can find here.  Whichever plan you use, I would encourage you to start today!  This New Year's Challenge could change your life!

Here's more links to some of my favorite blog posts:

My Top Eleven Posts of All Time (And Some of My Personal Favorites As Well!)
My Top Eleven Blog Posts for 2014 (Since Everybody Has a Top Ten!)
Another Silent Night?

For an inspirational lift, check out my new book, "Grace In Shoe Leather." It's an amazing story of grace and forgiveness that has made a difference in the lives of so many. You can download it here: http://amzn.to/1wLL5Mw    

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Top Eleven Posts of All Time (And Some of My Personal Favorites As Well!)

My Wife Kathy and I with our four grandchildren
Earlier, I posted my "Top Eleven Posts of 2014".  As I promised then, I'm now sharing with you my "Top Eleven Posts of All Time."  I've been writing here since 2011, and since then total views have been steadily increasing. As a matter of fact, none of my posts from 2011 or 2012 made this "All Time"  list.

Before I share this "Top Eleven" List, I'd like to share with you a few of my favorite posts that didn't make this list.  For your interest, I've included the number of total views (as of today) on these posts as well.

  • A Christmas Story - December 25, 2012 (240) - This post was written about a deeply moving event which happened at the tire store where I work.  It was such a touching thing to witness, and it reminded me of a greater event from two thousand years ago!
  • Lincoln and Obama - Two Views of Welfare - September 23, 2012 (292) - Although this didn't quite make the Top 11 List below, it was my most read post of 2012.  It's based on a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to his step-brother in 1851.   If anything, the contrast between these two presidents is even starker than when I wrote this!
  • TR on Lincoln - The Great Statesman - August 25, 2012 (218) - This was based on a short essay written by Theodore Roosevelt on Abraham Lincoln.  As you can see, I'm a Lincoln fan!  This is the best that I've ever read on what a true statesman is.  I honestly wish every lawmaker in America were required to read this essay!
  • A Man Of A Different Spirit - October 7, 2011 (223) - This was my most read post of 2011.  That's not saying much, as I only wrote three that year!   It is based on one of my favorite Bible characters - Caleb.  What an inspiration!
  • My Letter To President Obama - Concerning Israel - May 11, 2011 (37) - This was my first post on this blog.  I had no idea what it would lead to!  Support for Israel continues to be a subject that is dear to my heart, and my alarm then at the lack of support that Israel has received from this administration has increased even more.

And now, without further ado...

Top Eleven Posts of All Time
(The numbers in parenthesis are the number of "views" for each post as of this writing)
  • 11. My Take On "The Bible" Series Parts 1-4 - March 13, 2013 (304) - This was the first of four posts on "The Bible" mini-series.   These were very well read at the time, as I wrote these during the time that the series premiered on The History Channel.  This actually is probably my most read series in total as it got many more views on my other blog on Christianpost.com.   
  • 10. What Is Marriage? - January 22, 2014 (310) - As I mentioned in my earlier post, this was the first of a series on traditional marriage and easily my most controversial series.  See #5 below.
  • 9. My Take On "The Bible" Series - Parts 5 and 6 - March 20, 2013 (319)
  • 8. Five Secular Reasons To Support Traditional Marriage Part 2 - February 23, 2014 (361)
  • 7. "Church Etiquette"-Wisdom From a Bygone Age - October 18, 2014 (371) - This simple post based on an old church bulletin resonated with a lot of people. I think "etiquette" in general has become old-fashioned to a lot of people, which reflects on the general coarsening of our society.  I hope to write more on this subject later.
  • 6. My Take On "The Bible" Series - Parts 7 & 8 - March 27, 2013 (379) - This was the third of four posts on "The Bible" mini-series. Not really sure why number three did so much better than the other three, but it did.
  • 5. Five Secular Reasons To Support Traditional Marriage Part 1 - February 13, 2014 (383) - I wrote this series of posts after I read the excellent book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense."  I felt and still feel that there are excellent arguments to be made for traditional marriage that aren't being made (at least not in the mainstream media, whose coverage of "same-sex marriage" has been almost universally one-sided).  I divided my defense up into "secular" arguments (for those who think that the argument for traditional marriage is only about religion...a preposterous idea!) and "biblical" arguments.
  • 4. Thoughts At Fifty - Living Between The Dash - March 12, 2014 (389) - I wrote this post on my 50th birthday.  Some posts (especially on "hot" topics) jump out of the gate and get a lot of "hits" right away.  This was not one of them.  It's just been quietly gaining views since I put it out there.  The subject (the brevity of life) is timeless, and is common with everyone on the planet!
  • 3. BOOK REVIEW: Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkison Part 2 - November 11, 2014 (435) - This was the first time I posted a book review on my site.  Maybe I should do more of these!
  • 2. Reflections On Thirty Years of Marriage Part 1 - February 14, 2013 (449) - This was the first of a series of three posts that I wrote on marriage.  It would become my most read post of 2013. It was the first time that I wrote a series on a subject, and the first time that I wrote about marriage.  Like #4 above, it is on a timeless subject, and has quietly been gaining views since I posted it almost two years ago.  
And my most read post of all time is (you guessed it!)...
  • 1. Oklahoma Beheading - Let's Call It What It Is! - September 27, 2014 (501) - Since my last post, this has become my first post to exceed 500 views.  As I mentioned then, it's really a combination of a "hot" subject matter, an under-reported event, and the fact that I was connecting dots that few in the mainstream media were willing to connect.
Before I close this post, I'd like to invite you to "follow" me on Google+. This is the easiest and best way to be notified of future posts as I write them.  If you have a Google account, all you have to do is click "Follow" under my name on the right (or click here).  If you don't already, you can also follow me on Twitter here and Facebook here.

As always, I welcome your comments on any of these posts.  I really appreciate your feedback!

I wish each of you a blessed and prosperous 2015!  God bless!

For an inspirational lift, check out my new book, "Grace In Shoe Leather." It's an amazing story of grace and forgiveness that has made a difference in the lives of so many. You can download it here: http://amzn.to/1wLL5Mw    P.S. IT'S ON SALE TODAY - JUST 99 CENTS!!!!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Top Eleven Blog Posts for 2014 (Since Everybody Has a Top Ten!)

As we wrap up 2014, I thought it might be interesting to share with you my most popular blog posts from this year.  This year marks four years since I've started this blog, and I'm really amazed to see the growth in readership since I first started.  In the beginning, a few dozen people might read what I wrote.  Now, it's not unusual to get several hundred.  Mostly though, I'm appreciative of the responses which I've received from people about my blog, either in person or online.

I started this blog in 2011, with just three posts that year, so I really didn't get very serious about it until 2012.  Since then, I've learned a lot about blogging and how to get the message out there. This is actually only my fifty-second post, so I've obviously not posted daily or even weekly, as my schedule simply doesn't permit it.  I have a full time job, and a lot of other responsibilities, so I just post when I have time, and when I feel like I've got something to say that might be worth reading.    I do enjoy writing, but I'm not in this to get some kind of fame (and certainly not fortune!).  Although I don't have any degrees behind my name, I've been a reader (especially of history) all my life, and I feel like that may give me some insight into current events that perhaps others might not have. Even more than that, I have been a student of the Bible for many years, and I make no bones about the fact that I see the world through the lens of the word of God.  I believe God's word informs my perspective and gives me a worldview that not many have who are writing about current events and social issues.

Everybody seems to have a "top ten" these days, so I guess I'll join the crowd.  However, in the quest to be "always different," I'm making mine "top eleven!

Top Eleven Posts of 2014 
(The numbers in parenthesis are the number of "views" for each post as of this writing)

  • 11.  Stand With The Persecuted Church! - May 2, 2014 (280) - This is an issue that is close to my heart, and, to be honest, I wish that I had written about it more.  The church around the world continues to be assaulted from all sides, yet we here in America don't seem to notice.
  • 10.  Five Biblical Reasons To Support Traditional Marriage - February 5, 2014 (284) 
  • 9. God Can Do Things In Prayer That Are Just So Cool! - September 28, 2014 (290) - I usually don't write these on the "spur of the moment", but this is one that I shared right away.  The message is simple: God still works today!
  • 8. BOOK REVIEW: Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkisson Part 1 - November 9, 2014 (291)
  • 7. What Is Marriage? - January 22, 2014 (302) - This was the first of four posts that I wrote on traditional marriage.  It was by far the most controversial series that I've ever written, which I find remarkable.  Ten years ago, it wouldn't have even drawn a yawn!  Though I had a lot of positive feedback, I found out there is a "gay mafia" out there that wants to shout down and belittle anyone who doesn't agree with them.  The level of vitriol that I received was astonishing.  Oh well...It still needed to be said and it is a point of view that you hardly hear in traditional media these days.
  • 6. Five Secular Reasons To Support Traditional Marriage Part 2 - February 23, 2014 (355)
  • 5. "Church Etiquette"-Wisdom From a Bygone Age - October 18, 2014 (361) - This one really surprised me.  This was just based on a fifty year old church bulletin someone showed me.  I think it really struck a chord with people!
  • 4. Thoughts At Fifty - Living Between The Dash - March 12, 2014 (385) - This is one of the most personal posts that I wrote this year.  I think it could very well be the most significant, considering the subject matter.
  • 3. Five Secular Reasons To Support Traditional Marriage Part 1 - February 13, 2014 (397) 
  • 2. BOOK REVIEW: Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkison Part 2 - November 11, 2014 (430) - I did something in preparing for these posts on "Stonewalled" that I don't think I've ever done before.  I pre-ordered a book and paid full price!  I'm a cheapskate, and I almost always wait until a book is out for awhile and is on sale before I buy one.  However, I really felt like this book was important, and I wanted to read it and review it while it was still in the initial rush of publicity.  Judging by the response, I believe this worked!  Side note - This was kind of weird to me.  Part 2 of my post got many more readers than Part 1.  Go figure!
OK!  DRUM ROLL PLEASE....My most read post of the year is...
  • 1. Oklahoma Beheading - Let's Call It What It Is! - September 27, 2014 (491) - One thing that I'm noticing is that the posts that get read the most are the ones that are on subjects that are "hot" at the moment. This one and #2 above both illustrate this quite well.  This gruesome event happened on a Thursday evening, but hardly got reported in the national media until Friday afternoon.  As I wrote in the post, the coverage even then was very spotty, which was inexplicable to me.  There were obvious indications to me that this was terrorism, whether it was "lone wolf" or not, but the national media almost all refused to use the "T" word.  I got up very early on Saturday and wrote this post, so it was a combination of being a very current story and one that was not being covered extensively.  I think people were looking for information about it.  I don't know if you would say it went viral, but it certainly was well read.  I think I had three hundred people read it within 48 hours!
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank each one of you who have read my blog this year.  I hope it has been a help and a blessing to you.  As always, I welcome your responses, whether positive or negative.

God bless you and Happy New Year!

Next...I'll share my Top Eleven Blog Posts of All Time...
Hint...Many of the ones from 2014 are on the list!

For an inspirational lift, check out my new book, "Grace In Shoe Leather." It's an amazing story of grace and forgiveness that has made a difference in the lives of so many. You can download it here: http://amzn.to/1wLL5Mw    P.S. IT'S ON SALE TODAY - JUST 99 CENTS!!!!

Check Out My New Facebook Page - Flyover Country!