Prayer that starts with God

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

Prayer that starts with God

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

The Lord’s prayer is a prayer He offers for His disciples to pray. One of the things that really strikes me about Jesus’ model prayer is just how God-centered this prayer is. The Lord’s Prayer contains six humble requests, the first three are God-directed and the last three involve human needs. This is very similar to the structure of the Ten Commandments, which first begin with our vertical relationship to God and then end with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man. It’s similar to the way Paul constructed his letters to the churches: he often began with who we are in Christ before fleshing out how that affects the way we live.

A.W. Tozer said this (and I paraphrase), “The first thing that comes to your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” I hear a lot of Christian says things like, “I don’t worry about theology.” Well, yes you do. Everybody has a theology, whether flawed or otherwise. Sadly, most of our theology begins with me. We start our prayers with what we think we need and then, if we have time, throw in a few God cliques. Theology begins where the Bible begins with God. You will notice that the first words of the very first book of the Bible begin like this, “In the beginning, God.”

It’s easy to subtly devalue God by our prayers and our life. We say things like, “I don’t imagine God is like this.” Or “The God I worship doesn’t do this.” But if God is truly God–that is to say if God is sovereign, powerful, holy, compassionate, just–then it behooves us to not define God on our terms, but to bow before the God who is already there.

How does this affect our prayer life? Why did Jesus say to start our supplications with God? Because the way we view God affects the way we live. How much we reverence God informs the respect we have for our fellow man. And beginning with God in our prayers filters out the frivolous. It considers prayer as an act of worship, an acknowledgment that we are, indeed, not God. That God is God.

It means our prayers are in God’s will. It keeps us from destructive theology. It prevents us from saying foolish things like, “God told me to (fill in the blank)” when really it was our own fleshly desires that spoke. I once had a person tell me, with a straight and somber face, that God was telling her to divorce her husband of 15 years and go marry a convicted felon. Um, God won’t tell you to do something against His sovereign will.

Praying God-centered prayers takes some discipline and practice. I’ll admit that this is a struggle for me. I often want to begin what I think are my own needs rather than letting my Father in Heaven shape them. But there is something refreshing about beginning with God. It reminds us of the awesome miracle of access to the throne room of Heaven, purchased at great price by Christ on the cross. It reminds me that God takes great delight in hearing my prayers and meeting my needs, needs He knows well before I know them. It comforts me to realize that I do, indeed, have a Father in Heaven with a hallowed name.

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Spurgeon on Intercessory Prayer

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

Spurgeon on Intercessory Prayer

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

Charles Spurgeon:

Then, again, permit me to say, how are you to prove your love to Christ or to his church if you refuse to pray for men? “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If we do not love the brethren, we are still dead. I will aver no man loves the brethren who does not pray for them. What! It is the very least thing you can do, and if you do not perform the least, you certainly will fail in the greater. You do not love the brethren unless you pray for them, and then it follows you are dead in trespasses and sins. Let me ask you again how is it that you hope to get your own prayers answered if you never plead for others? Will not the Lord say, “Selfish wretch, thou art always knocking at my door, but it is always to cry for thine own welfare and never for another’s; inasmuch as thou hast never asked for a blessing for one of the least of these my brethren, neither will I give a blessing to thee. Thou lovest not the saints, thou lovest not thy fellow men, how canst thou love me whom thou hast not seen, and how shall I love thee and give thee the blessing which thou askest at my hands?” Brethren, again I say I would earnestly exhort you to intercede for others, for how can you be Christians if you do not? Christians are priests, but how priests if they offer no sacrifice? Christians are lights, but how lights unless they shine for others? Christians are sent into the world, even as Christ was sent into the world, but how sent unless they are sent to pray? Christians are meant not only to be blessed themselves, but in them shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, but how if you refuse to pray? Give up your profession, cast down, I pray you, the ephod of a priest if you will not burn the incense, renounce your Christianity if you will not carry it out, make not a mock and sport of solemn things. And you must do so if you still refuse selfishly to give to your friends a part and a lot in your supplications before the throne. O brethren, let us unite with one heart and with one soul to plead with God for this neighbourhood!

(from a sermon delivered on August 8, 1861, by Charles H. Spurgeon)

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Fighting for our joy in Christ in the midst of suffering

Posted by on Jan 28, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Fighting for our joy in Christ in the midst of suffering

Old_Bibles-1.jpgRejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

I’ve always thought the hard part of this verse is what comes after the comma. In fact most of my focus on this passage has centered around obeying the second half of this verse. We’ve all had experiences of insensitive people who refused to weep with us when we were weeping. Nobody wants to be that guy who laughs at a funeral.

Picture the scene.

A group of guys are hanging out enjoying a ball game. They’re surrounded by hot wings, big screen televisions, and other faithful fans. They are having a great time…at least until Melancholy Mark shows up. He’s the male version of Debbie Downer. Though everyone else is having a grand time Mark informs everyone that he just got laid off from work and he isn’t sure how he is going to pay his light bill.

The party comes screeching to a halt.

How Do We Apply Romans 12:15?

Now, don’t get me wrong these dudes are required by Romans 12:15 to mourn with Mark because he is mourning. To go on partying and downing chicken wings while their buddy Mark can’t pay his light bill would be insensitive.

But I’m not sure that stopping the party means that we are done applying this verse. What about Mark? Does Romans 12:15 have any bearing on him, to rejoice with those who rejoice?

I understand that rejoicing over chicken wings and a ball game is much less significant than losing a job. The two don’t weigh the same on a scale of importance. But I believe my larger point stands. Suffering isn’t always the trump card and when we find ourselves mourning it isn’t ours to play to bring others down to our level of gloom.

At various times you will find yourself on either side of this verse. When Paul tells someone to mourn with those who mourn he is speaking to someone that would not at present be mourning if it weren’t for the pain of his brother. Likewise, when he tells someone to rejoice with those who rejoice he is speaking to someone that would not at present be rejoicing if it weren’t for the joy of his brother.

This helps us see that we apply this verse based upon which side of the equation we are on. When I am mourning, my responsibility in this verse is to rejoice with those rejoicing. Likewise when I’m rejoicing, my responsibility is to mourn with those who are mourning.

What This Means For The Church

I’m convinced that this verse is exceedingly counter-cultural. There was once a time when the church and culture erred on the side of a faux joviality in the face of real suffering. I’m convinced that we live in a day and age when doubt has become a sexy virtue. And with it suffering is worn as a badge of honor and played as a trump card in relationships.

If I’m suffering then I play the Romans 12:15 trump card to get you to come down to my gloom. If you don’t do it then I can write you off as an insensitive jerk that barely models the weeping Christ.

But what I really should do is apply Romans 12:15 to my own heart and realize that even in the midst of my gloom I have a responsibility to celebrate a wedding, to be delighted in a baptism, to be overjoyed in discipleship.

We cannot follow our culture in this regard. To do so is to sacrifice the joy that Christ purchased on our behalf. It is to concede defeat and to live as if Christ didn’t come to destroy the works of the enemy. Yes, we still mourn. But our mourning is not as those without hope. Every ounce of mourning is tinged with rejoicing. Just as every bit of rejoicing this side of eternity is tempered with mourning.

When we find ourselves suffering let us not pretend that darkness trumps the morning. Instead let us be a people who fight for an already purchased joy in Christ.

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5 People We Should Pray For Even When We Don’t Want To

Posted by on Jan 28, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

5 People We Should Pray For Even When We Don’t Want To

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

Let’s be honest. There are certain types of people we are conditioned, by our culture, to not like. These are the people that nobody is going to give us credit for liking, the people we tend to distance ourselves from. And yet, these are the sinners Christ most likely would have sought out to save, the people we should, at the very least, pray for. So here is a list of five people we should pray for even though we might not want to:

1. Politicians (and really anyone in a position of power). Have politicians ever held a lower standing in the eyes of the American public than they do now? There are whole cottage industries (talk show hosts, pundits, some columnists) who generate millions of dollars essentially mocking and criticizing politicians. Nobody will think you are cool for praying for a politician. Everybody will laugh if you criticize one and/or post some hilarious meme about one on Facebook. And yet there is this sneaky little prayer in the Bible that says this:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

That’s a tough verse. Praying for politicians  is counter-cultural. But here’s a reason we can and should pray for our government leaders, local and national: we believe that authority is granted by God. Psalm 75:6 says that power doesn’t come from east or west, but from God. Romans 13 reminds us that the “powers that be” are ordained of God. So we can pray for our leaders, not only out of obedience to the Scripture, but out of a deep and abiding trust in Christ as the ultimate sovereign authority.

Let’s pray for these politicians, not always for the policies we’d like to see implemented, but in a personal way. Let’s pray for their families. Let’s pray for their spiritual lives. Let’s pray for their blessing (yes, you heard me right).

2. People who we think poorly represent the Christian faith. There is a tendency among evangelicals to distance ourselves from Christians we think poorly represent the Christian faith. I do this. I could give you a list of people whose public displays of Christianity make me want to stand and shout, “But most Christians aren’t like that. We’re different. Don’t look at them.” You have a list like this, too, don’t you? Isn’t this pride? Do we ever consider that perhaps its me–yes me–who might be the poor display of Christian witness?

I’m humbled by Jesus’ words to Peter in Luke 22:32, where he essentially said, “I’m praying for you, that your faith doesn’t fail. Satan wants to sift you as wheat” (my paraphrase). Peter was the Christ-follower who embarrassed everyone by his public displays. He’s the guy who panicked and fell beneath the waves on the Sea of Galilee, He’s the guy who blurted out about the tabernacles during the miracle of transfiguration. He’s the guy who cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden. He’s the guy who denied Jesus three times. Yeah, I’m guessing pre-Pentecost Peter is probably the guy who exemplifies, “Christian I don’t want to be like.”

And yet Jesus said to Peter, patiently, “I’m praying for you.” I’m deeply convicted by this. Rather than mocking those Christians who I don’t think “do it right” so I can make myself look better, I ought to pray for them. Here’s what happens when we do this: Suddenly we see the humanity in people we’re ashamed of. Suddenly we see our own clumsy attempts to represent Christ. Suddenly we accept them as brothers and sisters rather than enemies. This is a hard discipline, but like Jesus, we should pray for the Peters in our life.

3. People who openly mock the Christian faith. When I think of people who openly mock the faith, I think of the secularists, I think of the late-night comedians who make sport of the gospel. I think of the pop culture icons who detest Jesus: Bill Maher, Jon Stewart Richard Dawkins. The knee-jerk reaction to mockers is to mock back. To come up with an equally witty response. To create a Facebook page with a bold Christian statement and have 10,000 people like it to make us feel better. But maybe, just maybe, we should simply pray for them. I think of Jesus’ attitude on the cross toward the mockers. He said “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). What should we pray for them? For the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to find salvation in Christ. Think of Saul of Tarsus. He had heard the sermons and mocked them. He held the coats of those stoning Stephen, the first martyr. He actively pursued Christians to put them in jail and even to their deaths. And yet God radically pursued Paul on the road to Damascus and he became the Apostle Paul. Maybe today’s mocker is tomorrow’s evangelist. Have we considered that? So let’s pray for those who mock the Christian faith. By doing so, we not only avoid the sin of bitterness in our own hearts, but we demonstrate that God’s sovereignty and power is not weakened by the open hostility of those who oppose Him.

4. Highly critical bloggers and commentors. If you want to get a glimpse of the depravity of our fallen world, scroll down on a news article and read through the comments. Even many Christian blogs and news sites attract vile responses, some even by professing followers of Jesus. The Internet has opened the floodgates for trolls and for angry, self-justified people. But have you considered that perhaps those who communicate ungracefully may be doing it from a place of insecurity, brokeness or a deep hunger for what only God can provide? I don’t know what motivates the hostility all the time, but I do know that these are people God wants to rescue from themselves. If God could cause revival among the ruthless Ninevites, God could do a work among those who use the Internet for vile purposes. We should pray that God enraptures their soul with the good news of the gospel. We should pray that we don’t fall into their trap of bitterness and vulgarity.

5. A person who has deeply wounded you. Jesus said to pray for those who “mistreat you.” I don’t think forgiveness means you have to endure injustice or abuse. I don’t think being a Christian means being a doormat over which evil people can walk all over you. But I do believe that, at the most basic level, we should pray for those who deeply wound us. Reconciliation is not always possible, but forgiveness—the letting go of the bitterness from our hearts—is possible as we immerse ourselves in the forgiveness Christ offers to us in his atoning death and resurrection. We can find peace and joy, we don’t have to nurse our deep grudges. I think we begin this process in prayer, on our knees, in honesty before God. We pour out the hurts and wounds we’ve endured and ask the Lord to help us forgive and to work in the hearts of those who did the wounding. The person who committed the injustice against you was created by God in his image. His soul matters to God as much as your soul. And so we pray for those who hurt us.

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Union with Christ Drives Us To Extraordinary Prayer

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Featured, Prayer

Union with Christ Drives Us To Extraordinary Prayer

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

Union with Christ Drives Us To Extraordinary Prayer

Many of us are dissatisfied with our prayer life. It could be that we never really got started on one. It may be that we are not entirely convinced of its importance. Most do not pray like Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, or George Whitfield. We don’t give four hours a day to the discipline. If you’re dissatisfied with your prayer life, then jump in the boat with me and learn its importance, because that’s what I’m learning right now. I too am dissatisfied. And if you’re like me, we’re in good company. We’re sitting in the same boat as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He confessed in Preaching and Preachers, “I approach the next matter with great diffidence, much hesitation, and a sense of utter unworthiness. I suppose we all fail at this next point more than anywhere else; that is in the matter of prayer.”

Why do we feel this overall sense of failure with our prayer life? It could be that in spite of our best efforts, we never seem to see results. Our friends or we still suffer, we are still under the same vice, that relationship does not improve, and we can’t seem to find a job or favor at the job we have.

So rather than pray, we distract ourselves with new toys or projects. We turn to other relationships for help rather than that single most important relationship with our Creator. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough time. What we need to do is keep working, take control, and find our own solution. If nothing else we insulate ourselves from all this failure.

This is a result of our fallen condition. We live in a tension where we are prone to revert back to depending upon ourselves rather than God. But if we believe the gospel, we’ll devote ourselves to the discipline of prayer, but not just any kind of prayer – extraordinary prayer.

Extraordinary Prayer

Extraordinary prayer is when we pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ for that prayer of most importance, to see the Kingdom explode. Jonathan Edwards discusses this in his book, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. Shish, that’s some title. And it says it all. Edwards looks at Zechariah 8:20-22 and discusses that the primary vehicle God uses to fuel people for Kingdom work is prayer.

Here are those verses:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and to seek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.”

This passage is packed with a little systematic theology. We have a word from the Lord, “Thus says the Lord.” We have a word about salvation, “People will yet come.” We have a word about evangelism, “The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying.” We have a word about prayer, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord.” We have a word about the Church, “Many peoples and strong nations shall come and seek the Lord.” All of this is built within the context of a still future time, a time that you and I long for even now.

Imbedded in the essence of Zechariah 8:20-22 is the driver of prayer, a relationship with God, union with the Creator. Zechariah 3:8-10 and 6:12-13 talk about a Righteous Branch, who is God’s servant. All people will be united to one another under His vine. They will all be grafted together. That Branch will build the temple of God with the help of those who are far off. The days will come where there will be nothing but praise and worship, peace and joy. How will this come to God’s people? Zechariah 4:6-7 answers, “Not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts…And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” O glory! That Branch is Jesus Christ and that temple is the Church.

And in the midst of it all, God calls the people of God who are united to Christ and to one another to the extraordinary task of prayer. We’re not talking just about you praying in your closet, or you praying with a couple friends. We’re talking about all nations coming together towards one end – to praise and pray to the Lord of all.

A Sobering Thought About Our Lack of Prayer

If prayer is a symbol of our unity with Christ and one another, could our lack of enthusiasm about prayer be a symbol of a lack of unity with Christ and one another?

Now, I’m not trying to cause you to question the assurance of your salvation. And I’m not saying that struggling from time to time in our prayer life is a sign of no faith. Certainly, it is a sign of weak faith, and it is a sign of needing repentance. Therefore, we should repent and start practicing prayer.

But my question for you is: Do you desire to repent about your prayer life? If you wish to put forth no effort whatsoever to rescue a shipwrecked prayer life, you may not have ever believed the gospel. Our unity with Christ will of necessity produce certain fruits. Prayer is one of those fruits.

If that’s you, then listen closely again. Listen to the gospel as told by Psalm 102:16-22. We are spiritually poor and destitute people. God has heard our cry. He wishes to set free we sinners who are doomed to die. He sent the Righteous Branch, Jesus Christ, to die in our place. Jesus suffered death on a cross but rose from the grave. That death he suffered was for us sinners, and he offers eternal life to all those who repent of their sin and believe that He is Lord. If that’s never clicked for you, then appropriate these truths and walk in newness of life. Believe that Jesus is God and confess that He is Lord. And get to practicing extraordinary prayer.

Get Practicing

Everything in this life is a rehearsal for eternity. That includes our prayer life now. Christians have the deep pleasure of being united with Christ. We have the blessing of sonship. Galatians 4:6: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba Father!” That union drives us to cry out to God; it moves us to prayer. And as sons we are not just united to Christ in prayer but we are united to one another in prayer. Matthew 18:19-20: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This should be stimulus enough for our prayer life. Our union with Christ makes prayer a discipline where we show utter dependence and helplessness. It is where we express deep affection for Christ and his ways. In prayer with our brothers and sisters we demonstrate union with them.

Extraordinary expressions of public prayer allow us to take responsibility for our Church family. When we pray together, we ask for protection from our dual enemies: sin and Satan. Public prayer is a visible expression of our love for one another. It is a vehicle for stimulating passion for an explosion of the Kingdom.

If you are not in the habit of a personal prayer life, I encourage you to get into practice. If your church is not in the practice of demonstrating extraordinary prayer, I encourage you to exhort the leaders of your church to put that in place.

The kind of extraordinary prayer that Jonathan Edwards encouraged may happen in small groups, Sunday school, or in corporate worship. But primarily, Edwards had in mind regular times of people from many denominations coming together for a concert of prayer. In other words, there was a coordinated prayer meeting movement. If your church has never had or stopped having regular or occasional prayer meetings, perhaps it is time to evaluate that decision.

One day, we will all be praying together, regardless of our theological nuances, socio-economical distinctions, or cultural origin. We will all seek the face of the Lord and entreat his favor. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “O believing brethren! What an instrument God hath put into your hands! Prayer moves Him who moves the universe.” May we be moved to pray extraordinarily.

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How to think Christianly about politics

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

How to think Christianly about politics

how-to-think politicsAs a Canadian, I find American politics intriguing. The way Americans engage—regardless of their views—is astonishing, and somewhat refreshing. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of how different not only our governments are1 but also how different we are as people.

By and large, Canadians don’t care about politics the way Americans do, certainly not to the same extent at any rate. So the debate on, say, the most recent State of the Union address, would likely never happen here.

We are, for the most part, a politically apathetic people. And if we’re not careful, for our culturally-induced political apathy can quickly seep into our faith, as well.

But as Christians, this should never be. In fact, we should care deeply about politics.

By this, I don’t mean the old stereotype of marrying the Christian faith and political activism, seeking cultural transformation through legislation, as the Religious Right and Moral Majority have often been accused of. Instead, we need to think about politics Christianly–that is, in light of three realities: the source of government, our identity, and our obligation to society.

1. The source of government: God. God establishes all governments. He is their source, existing only at his good pleasure. They are his instruments, existing for our good, and requiring our prayers (even if their leaders’ values do not align with our own). Their laws are to be obeyed willingly and in good conscience insofar as they are not in conflict with the commands of God (see Romans 13:1-8; Acts 5:29).

2. Our identity: Ambassadors of Christ. In Christ, all Christians are citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus, our primary allegiance does not belong to an earthly nation but to the Lord Jesus. God has also determined the times and places in which we live. As such, we serve as ambassadors for Christ in those nations (2 Corinthians 5:20), with the local church functionally serving as embassies of the kingdom.

3. Our obligation: to point others to Jesus. As Christ’s ambassadors, God has charged us to point the lost and perishing to Jesus Christ. We are ministers of reconciliation, through whom God makes his appeal. We are to be salt and light in the world, letting our deeds cause others to give God praise.

Seen in this light, how should we think about political engagement?

I would suggest that it is an extension of our role as Christ’s ambassadors, and of the command to love God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). Thus, we cannot be “apolitical,” at least not in the way some may wish to be. While we are not all compelled to participate in the political process to the same degree, we all would be wise to participate. But to the degree to which we choose to participate, we have the opportunity to speak truth with conviction and compassion into situations where we might not otherwise.

We can show the lost the values of God’s kingdom in action, provided we stand by our convictions. And even when we “lose” temporally, we can be confident knowing that our loss is only temporary—and in doing so, we get to show that our hope for a better world comes not from politics, but from the promised return of Jesus, when he will usher in his kingdom in its fullness.

So, Christian, what do you think: should we care about politics?

  1. And they are extremely different.

This post first appeared at Aaron’s blog and is posted here with his permission.

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