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.








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