Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’
Posted on March 25th, 2015 by David Burnette
It’s 7:03 am and you’ve got your Bible on your lap and a hot cup of coffee in your right hand. It’s time for your morning devotions. So far, so good.
It’s here, about the time you get five verses in, that it happens. Your thoughts start drifting. You begin to stare off into space. Instead of focusing on the Ten Commandments, your reading for the day, you’re thinking about an email you have to send at work, or the game you watched last night, or about how tired you are. Focus.
You start reading again, and then, five verses later, it happens . . . again. You’re starting to rest, but it’s not in the Lord. Sound familiar?
Whatever your morning (or evening routine) for your devotions, my guess is that you’ve had the frustrating experience of not being able to focus on the most important thing your soul needs for the day. You’ve got a limited amount of time before you leave for work, or before the kids wake up, but the Word of life seems to be going in one ear and out the other. It’s frustrating, but what can you do about it?
Of course, you probably need to get more sleep – as much as that’s possible for moms with young kids – but that may not solve everything. Whether it’s our hectic schedules or our reading comprehension level, there are a number of possible explanations for why we have trouble concentrating on God’s Word. Nevertheless, there are some things we can do to take better advantage of this time. Asking God to help you is a good first step, but sometimes prayer can be even more difficult at these times than reading.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few practical steps to jump-start your devotions, that is, to get your heart and your mind ready to hear from God’s Word. I know that schedules, preferences, and even your physical and mental wiring will affect what works for you. With all that said, have you considered that you might . . .
1. Start with an appetizer. By appetizer, I’m talking about reading something based on the truth of Scripture that will whet your appetite for Scripture. Here are a few ideas: a few pages from a trusted Christian author, a theologically rich hymn, or a prayer from some great saint of the past. Like stretching before a jog, it’s a way to prepare your mind for the mental and spiritual exercise ahead.
2. Get your blood pumping. If possible, take a short walk before you open your Bible. Or maybe it’s a jog, or hitting the elliptical, or whatever your workout routine is. Even light exercise can get your mental juices flowing. This won’t automatically remove your desire for sin, but it can help to break up the mental stagnation as you prepare to think about the promises of God.
3. Get less comfortable. That is, don’t set yourself up to fail by laying back in the recliner. Find a spot that’s comfortable, not one that’s conducive to napping. The goal is to be attentive and to stay engaged. Support your back, but don’t get horizontal.
God has created us in such a way that our hearts our affected by how our bodies feel (and vica versa). To put it another way, the spiritual is bound up with the physical. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that trusting the Lord is more difficult on fours of sleep. It’s also why we should take advantage of ordinary means to prepare our minds for the truth. Spurgeon’s counsel to his ministerial students would do us good: “A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.”
What practical steps can you add to the list above?
Posted on February 26th, 2015 by Jonathan
Adversity is nothing new to Ramez Atallah, president of the Egyptian Bible Society. We wrote about him almost a year and a half ago when, amid the confusing government transition in Egypt, the society’s bookshops were burnt to the ground by Muslim fundamentalists.
This blow did not dissuade him from the work before him, however. He resolved to rebuild the bookshops and replenish their resources so that the Word of God could continue to spread throughout Egypt.
Then, the events last week in Libya. ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. Devastating news, particularly for Egyptian Christians like Ramez Atallah. But, in the words of this encouraging CT article, Atallah was once again “undaunted.” He saw an opportunity for gospel proclamation in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, and he took it.
Under Atallah’s leadership, the Egyptian Bible Society has now distributed over 1.65 million copies of a pamphlet titled “Two Rows by the Sea.” The pamphlet depicts the horrifying scene from the ISIS video: two columns of men walking by the sea, one in black and one in orange. There is a beautiful poem that powerfully describes the executed and their executioners, followed by a series of questions about the two rows. Which row understands? Which row sees? Which row will prevail? Which row pleases God? Each of the questions is simply answered by a couple passages of Scripture.
Needless to say, the brief publication packs quite a punch. Now, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who were rattled by the executions have had these questions about God, suffering, evil, and truth directly posed to them. Not only that, they’ve been proposed an answer: the gospel of Jesus.
We bring this story to your attention for several reasons.
First, we need to pray for the spread of the gospel in Egypt. Ask God to powerfully use “Two Rows by the Sea” to confront people with the truth of Jesus, and ask him to use Christians to help explain it further to lost people who read it.
Second, this story is a powerful reminder that we do not fight flesh and blood, and that God uses evil for good. Be encouraged and continue to trust that God is moving even in depressing headlines.
Third, we ought to be challenged by Ramez Atallah’s example of perseverance and endurance. Atallah continued to faithfully serve where God had placed him despite having his bookstores burned down less than 18 months ago. When the time came for God to use him in a huge way, he was ready.
It is often the case that what we believe in our heads goes untested in our lives.
For example, I’ve heard that when running from an alligator you should do a lot of zigging and zagging because alligators aren’t agile enough to turn quickly. I have no reason to disbelieve this, but thankfully, I haven’t had to try it out. I hope I never do.
Here’s something else I believe: Marriage is, by definition, a union between one man and one woman. My whole life, I’ve taken this conviction for granted. With Christians around the world, I believe that marriage was instituted by God as a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his Church, and that we have the sacred task of pointing to him through it. But, personally, I have yet to come face-to-face with an alligator challenging this belief.
It may not be long before I do.
If so-called same-sex marriage used to be a theory we once rejected, it is now becoming a practice we must confront, or maybe better put, a practice confronting us. Even now, many believers are being forced to make tough decisions. Here’s an appeal for prayer from a county probate judge in Alabama. Starting Monday, by virtue of a federal court order, signing gay marriage certificates will be part of his official duties as judge:
To my dear precious family: It is not my intention to burden you with my problems but the fact is…. I am in need of your prayers, your reasoning and judgment, your professional skills and again, your prayers. In the years of serving as probate judge I have never been as troubled as I now am. I, thank God, have been a believer and Christian much longer than I have served as a judge. I am ashamed that I haven’t done more to serve God and I pray for His forgiveness. As a believer I have come to understand that our God is holy and His Word is supreme. I believe the Bible and have deeply held Christian convictions that I have tried to live up to and to teach to you. Now, not by choice, I find that my life long convictions are about to be trampled and cast aside in favor of an ungodly and worldly concept of marriage. It seems that I am being asked to choose whether to cling to what I know to be God’s truth or to ignore my convictions. I am not able to resolve this conflict. Who’s law, who’s word, who’s edicts do I obey, God or man? The issue of same sex marriage is not coming. It is here now. Come Monday morning I will be expected to become an active participant in what I know is wrong. I am expected to lay aside my personal spiritual beliefs. Seems to me that if I do this, I am casting aside my convictions. I am not sure that I am willing to do this. This is my dilemma, stay true to my beliefs, or cast aside my beliefs. In my way of thinking I have a choice…please God or please man. Please pray that God will guide me. I NEED YOU TO PRAY.
If, like me, you aren’t yet being put to the test, now is not the time to coast. Now is the time to know what you believe and learn how to articulate it. Now is the time to make decisions and resolve to stand firm. Now is the time to determine just how far you’ll be willing to go to follow Christ in a hostile culture.
And now is the time to pray. For this county probate judge and others like him, for public officials feeling pressure and unsure of what to do, for Christians everywhere with gay friends who want to marry their partner, for our leaders, for the lost, for the church, and for ourselves.
May God grant us wisdom, grace, boldness, courage, and compassion as we seek to be faithful and live counterculturally.
David Platt speaks to same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and other current issues in his new book, Counter Culture. For more information, go to CounterCultureBook.com.
Posted on January 2nd, 2015 by Jonathan
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12
For over two years, Pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran for Christian activity. For over five years, Christians in Nigeria have suffered fatal attack after fatal attack at the hands of the terrorist group Boko Haram. For five and a half years, Asia Bibi has been awaiting execution in a Pakistani prison for supposed blasphemy against Allah. These are just a few of the known situations in which Christians are suffering violent injustice. So what are we, their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, supposed to do? Is Jesus suggesting that we smile and nod as if all is well?
First, let’s shed some light on Jesus’ striking statement about persecution, above.
Though not exactly parallel, consider exercise. There is a cost for getting fit. If you’ve ever had trouble walking down a set of stairs after doing squats or difficulty brushing your teeth after doing curls, you know what it feels like. It may be painful, and some instances may be worse than others, but it’s a good hurt. Your sore muscles prove that you’ve been using them and mean you’re getting stronger.
Now think about persecution. In the terms of our exercise analogy, persecution isn’t the work-out… it’s the soreness. Just as people don’t go to the gym to get sore, Christians don’t share the gospel to get a violent backlash. That’s not the goal. You go to the gym to become stronger, and you proclaim the gospel that God may be glorified. That is the goal.
When we don’t have this end goal in view, we can often have an improper perspective on the type of persecution (and subsequent rejoicing) Jesus talks about in Matthew 5. We can shortsightedly look at this passage, and others like it, and conclude that persecution is a “blessed” thing in itself. But that’s not what Jesus says – he blesses persecuted people, not persecution. And why? Because being reviled, persecuted, and slandered is simply evidence of acting on Jesus’ account. And just because he blesses them, doesn’t mean their aches and tears go away. There’s a subtle, yet key, difference between rejoicing in such suffering and enjoying it. Although people don’t enjoy sore muscles, they can be glad about sore muscles because it means they’re getting stronger. In the same way, although our brothers and sister don’t enjoy persecution, they can be glad about persecution because it means they’re proclaiming Christ.
I think this is what Jesus is saying – we can rejoice in persecution even though it isn’t enjoyable. But this has more to do with the attitude and demeanor of the persecuted than it does our response. Are we supposed to do anything about it? Yes. There are at least three things we should do in response to the persecution of Christians, and none of them include passive smiling and nodding.
First, we should be challenged to spread the gospel. The reality is, Christians are not persecuted for relegating their worship and witness to the home. Persecution occurs in opposition to gospel proclamation. When we hear of brothers and sisters being persecuted for boldly sharing their faith, we should ask ourselves, “Am I sharing my faith? Am taking advantage of my freedom?”
Second, we should pray for the persecuted. We can’t overemphasize this response even though it is an obvious one. What may not be as obvious, though, is what to pray. Acts 4:24-30 provides a helpful starting point: pray for their continued boldness, the power of the Holy Spirit, and fruitfulness. But do we pray for their safety? Yes! That leads to the last response…
Third, we should advocate for freedom and justice on behalf of the persecuted. As part of the body with them, we suffer when they do. Fighting for their well-being is part of loving our brothers and sisters well. Believers are to follow Jesus’ example of standing up on behalf of the oppressed, Christian or not. Where there is injustice, we labor for justice to reflect our just God. And on top of all that, we should fight for their freedom to proclaim the God-glorifying gospel, because, again, that is the ultimate goal.
Posted on January 1st, 2015 by Jonathan
In the latest episode of the Radical Together podcast, David Platt encourages us to live with urgent intentionality in light of the fact that we are mere mists – here today and gone tomorrow. In the last half, he asks practical questions to help you prioritize and spend your time well this coming year. Below are the six questions he poses.
Here is the message in its entirety: A Humbling Start To A New Year
- How will I fill my mind with truth?
- How will I read God’s Word?
- How will I memorize God’s Word?
- How will I learn God’s Word from others?
- How will I fuel my affections for God?
- How will I worship?
- How will I pray?
- How will I fast?
- How will I give?
- How will I share God’s love as a witness in the world?
- How will I show God’s love as a member of a church?
- How will I spread God’s glory among all peoples?
- How will I pray for the nations?
- How will I give to the nations?
- How will I go to the nations?
- How will I make disciple-makers among a few people?
- Who has God has put in my sphere of influence?
- How will I teach them to obey?
- How will I model obedience?
- How will I send them out?
- How will I fill my mind with truth?
It’s almost 2015. If that sounds hard to believe, you’re not alone. Life can move so quickly that we forget to live it. Make this year different. I’m not talking about the half-hearted “commitments” we tend to confuse with resolutions. I’m talking about real resolve – grace-empowered dedication to God. Let’s live 2015 on purpose.
Here’s one way you can do that. Radical (the book) ends with this challenge:
Ex·per·i·ment n.: a course of action taken under controlled conditions in order to test a claim.
Throughout this book we have explored a variety of bold claims about our purpose in life that are contained in the gospel yet contradicted by the American dream. Claims such as these: Real success is found in radical sacrifice. Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God. The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live. Meaning is found in community, not individualism; joy is found in generosity, not materials; and truth is found in Christ, not universalism. Ultimately, Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy.
But claims such as these remain theories until they are tested. That is the reason for the experiment. As you test a claim, you discover either its futility or its reality. And once you discover a claim;s reality, then you’re more likely to adjust your perspective, rearrange your thoughts, and alter your life around that truth. It will turn your life upside down – or, really, right side up.
So I challenge you to an experiment. I dare you to test the claims contained in the gospel, maybe in a way you have never done before. I invite you to see if radical obedience to the commands of Christ is more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more gratifying than the American dream. And I guarantee that if you complete this experiment, you will posses an insatiable desire to send the rest of your life in radical abandonment to Christ for his glory in all the world.
We’ll call it the Radical Experiment.
That was published in 2010. Many have completed the one year Radical Experiment since then and shown what we knew to be true all along – obedience to the commands of Christ is better than anything this world has to offer. Now, almost five years later, the challenge still stands. Will you take it?
If you do, next year, you’ll pray for the entire world, read through the entire Word, commit your life to multiplying community, sacrifice your money for a specific purpose, and give your time in another context. It’s a tall challenge, but not only will God give you the grace you need to take it… he will bless you in return.
If you want to resolve to complete the Radical Experiment, use this website (complete with a Bible reading plan for 2015) to guide you on your journey.
Posted on November 26th, 2014 by Jonathan
From time to time, everyone feels overwhelmed. Maybe it looks something like this . . .
The squares on your calendar can hold no more writing, and you get a call from an old friend who’s coming through town. Right now. So you rearrange your schedule (i.e., resign yourself to the fact that something will go undone), and make plans to meet for coffee. On the way, your car decides to break down. With an upcoming business trip, car-lessness isn’t really a feasible option right now, nor is dipping into the already-in-the-red “car maintenance” category of your budget. You end up not seeing your friend and add a couple more expensive tasks to your to-do list while checking off a few less. Meanwhile, one of your kids is coming down with a highly contagious cold, you’re supposed to lead your weekly small group gathering tomorrow evening, and, with an empty pantry, you don’t have a plan for dinner tonight… which is about two hours away. As if this weren’t stressful enough, your upcoming business trip involves some unsettling employee changes that are happening at your company.
Okay, that’s a lot. But most of us have had days when at least some of the types of predicaments above are added to your already full plate. Those days leave us physically, mentally, and emotionally tapped out. So our spiritual life follows suit: sparse and distracted prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling while occasional Bible-reading is unfocused and hurried. And we, in our shortsightedness, are often okay with this sort of lifeless relationship with God. That’s to be expected when I’m overwhelmed, we think. So we trudge on, resolving to renew ourselves in him as soon as we get through the sea we’re drowning in.
But we forget that our Lord parts seas. He does not intend overwhelming times to make us feel distant from Him. On the contrary, he intends them to draw us to him all the more.
We need passages like these to remind us to run to God during such times:
Hebrews 12:7-11 – It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 – But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. . . . So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
How foolish of us to think that our walk with God should suffer during times of difficulty and strain! Feeling overwhelmed should lead us closer to God.
These age-old verses sum it up well:
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Joseph M. Scriven, 1855
Posted on November 19th, 2014 by David Burnette
Do you ever feel like your prayers are too flawed to do any good? Sure, God hears us when we cry out to him, but what about prayers that are stained with sin?
For those who struggle to persevere in hope as you pray, which is surely every Christian at one time or another, Puritan pastor Thomas Watson offers encouragement based on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples in John 17. Watson reminds us not to fixate on the imperfection of our prayers, but instead to take comfort in Christ’s intercession for us:
“Christ’s prayer takes away the sins of our prayers. As a child, says Ambrose, that is willing to present his father with a posy, goes into the garden, and there gathers some flowers and some weeds together, but coming to his mother, she picks out the weeds and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the father: thus when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes, and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to His father, which are a sweet-smelling savour.” (1)
Take heart, Christian. You may feel weak and unworthy in prayer, but Jesus is praying for you. And his prayers are always accepted.
— (1) Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, 23.
Posted on October 25th, 2014 by Jonathan
Each weekday, Desiring God posts a feature on their website called Ask Pastor John. In it, John Piper addresses a wide variety of issues based on questions that people send in. The segments are short, interesting, and practical; we highly recommend taking advantage of this resource.
In last Thursday’s edition, Piper talked about his reaction to David Platt recently becoming the president of the International Mission Board. It was a good reminder of the weight of the task before us, to say the least. We wanted to point it out to you as a motivator to pray for David and the missionaries of the IMB. Not only is the IMB an important organization with worldwide and eternal impact, but David’s appointment comes at an important time in the course of Christian missions.
Join John Piper in praying that this transition “will have a global, God-glorifying, mission-completeing impact of historic scope, all out of proportion to [Platt’s] limitations. May it be, indeed, an end-time move of the Spirit to hasten the Day of God.”
When we think of mission work, our minds may most naturally go to the African bush, the Indian slums, or the Arabian deserts. We probably don’t think of Tokyo high rises.
At less than one percent evangelical Christian, Japan’s 120 million natives make up the second largest unreached people group in the world. Don’t be fooled by the neon lights illuminating the bustling streets – Japan is a dark country. Some have even dubbed it “the missionary’s graveyard,” not because violent persecution is common there, but because ministry burnout is. In Japan, after spinning their wheels for years, many missionaries find themselves stopped dead in their tracks.
One reason that ministry there has been so difficult is its material excess. Contrary to the hunger, sickness, and poverty that so often opens doors for ministry in developing nations, Japan seems to have it all. Blinded by worldly ambition and distracted by excessive busyness, the Japanese obliviously wander on, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
At the same time, they may soon be ripe for a huge harvest. Their immense spiritual need is starting to come to a head as they work themselves to death (literally – they call it karōshi), fight a losing battle with depression and suicide, tragically give themselves to sex trafficking, and realize that their advanced technology and infrastructure is no match for nuclear disasters, typhoons, and earthquakes.
Pray for the Japanese. Pray for the worn out missionaries among them. Pray for a massive harvest. And pray for more laborers to go to this forgotten field.
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