Your Prayers Show Us Your God

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

And, we need to take a look at our prayers as there is no better mirror for your theology than the content of your prayers. What you pray for reflects what you believe about God. What you pray for or what you don’t pray for, reflects what you believe about who God is, what His character is like, and His disposition towards us, His children. It’s as if the words we use in our prayers are like pieces of mirrored glass, each one reflecting our beliefs about the one we’re addressing. 

For example, if you don’t pray at all, you likely don’t believe in God or don’t believe He answers prayer. If you pray very small prayers all the time, you probably don’t believe in a God who answers big prayers. If almost all of your prayers are for yourself and your own well-being — “bless me, help me, comfort me, be with me” — then this reflects your belief that God is there to serve you. People who hold this belief, whether they admit it or not, often end up getting angry and disgruntled if God doesn’t give them what they asked for.

The specific language we use when we pray says a lot about what we believe about God as well. For example, when someone is facing a tough situation and they exhaust all possibilities of resolving the problem themselves, they say, “Well, now all we can do now is pray!” If prayer for you is a last resort, this reflects what you believe about God.

Can’t you just see God up in Heaven saying, “So you’re down to prayer now? You mean it’s all up to Me? Well, no pressure! Thanks a lot for waiting until the last minute, like I don’t have a trillion other prayers to answer before breakfast.” I’m not trying to be irreverent here, I’m only trying to illustrate that what you say when you pray clearly reflects what you believe about God. 

Take a moment right now and think back over what you prayed last week. If your first thought is, “Well, I don’t think I really prayed for anything last week,” then I think that speaks for itself. If you can’t really remember what you prayed for, what does that say about your belief in God? Is He just as forgettable?

Maybe you’re saying, “Oh yeah, I prayed last week. I prayed for this, and then for that, and then some more of this and some of that.” As you think through what and who you prayed for last week, I encourage you to jot down at least three or four of your requests. Now, as you look over your prayer list, ask yourself this question: if God answered yes to all of your prayers last week, if He just miraculously granted everything you prayed for, what would be different in the world today?

Think about it. If God answered everything that you prayed for last week, what would be different in the world today? Chances are pretty good that if you prayed like most people in our culture, the only things that would be different would be in your immediate surroundings. 

No matter what we prayed for last week, I’m convinced that if we really want to make a big difference in this life, we must learn to pray some very bold and big prayers. Prayers that will more adequately display who God really is and what we believe about Him. Remember, and this is my point, “What you pray for reflects what you believe about God.” There’s no better mirror for someone’s theology than the content of their prayers. 

 

 

A Fork in the Road 

General Lew Wallace was travelling by train when he came to his fork in the road. How can that happen when one is travelling on railroad tracks? It happens within. One moment can change more than your life; it can alter your eternity.
Wallace was casually chatting with a colonel named Ingersoll as the train steamed along. Neither of the two men counted himself as a Christian, but that day they were discussing the life of Jesus. Wallace said, “Myths and superstitions aside, I think His life would make a great novel.”
Ingersoll immediately said, “I should say so, and you’re just the man to write it. Once and for all, throw out all the hocus-pocus and show Him to be the plain, common man he undoubtedly was — a good man, but no more than that.”
General Wallace took the advice. But somewhere along the journey of writing, his book took a fork in the road. So did the tone of his life. The more he read, the more he studied, and the more he reflected on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the more convinced he became that Jesus was no plain, common man at all. Truly this was the Son of God. Wallace began in cynicism and finished in worship. His book, Ben Hur, has become a classic.

Read more

   The Tradition Keepers 

My parents had a set of rules by which we, as a family, lived. They were based loosely on the Ten Commandments. Sort of rules that help us to apply the rules. Some were well known and referenced often. Other were somewhat unspoken but recognized and upheld nonetheless.
My parents were not the first to establish a secondary rule to keep someone from breaking a primary rule. Thousands of years ago certain religious leaders were making careers out of it. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, more than five hundred rules had been added to the laws handed down to Moses by God Himself. This ever-growing body of regulations was called “the Tradition of the Elders.” Its sole purpose was to prevent the Jewish population from accidentally breaking one of the original commandments. For example, the Law of Moses forbade commerce on the Sabbath; so they added a clause that forbade the handling of money on the Sabbath, thereby ensuring that no one would violate the original Sabbath law. Over time, the religious leaders had assigned to these traditions a status equal to the Law of Moses.

Read more

BIGGER BARN SYNDROME

There are a lot of false teachings on salvation in the Church world. Let me list a few …

      • Salvation by sacraments
      • Salvation by good works
      • Salvation by church membership
      • Salvation by traditions

There are several main gospels that circulate that are not biblical …

      • The gospel of salvation
      • The Prosperity gospel

This latter one has spread from North America through most of the Church world in nations around the globe. It is simply a gospel based on greed. Jesus had something blunt to say on the topic of greed: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Read more

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Three

Last time we were looking at the trial or Peter and John that was the result of them healing a lame man … and the resulting trial before the religious leadership of the day. In the trial Peter and John are literally seen as and called “idiots.” But the Bible translators were trying, it seems, to be a little more polite and used the work “unlearned” or “untrained.”

Sometimes I think the Bible translators are just too polite. A literal translation renders this verse as “these guys were amazed and couldn’t believe the boldness of these idiots.” There’s no mean-spirited, name-calling here; it just a fact that these guys had no special training or religious education that qualified them to heal a lame man. Here’s the deal: If you’re the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest, God obviously will use you in His Kingdom. It’s just that he specializes is using idiots — normal, everyday people like you and me. He loves, absolutely loves, using ordinary people. 

Our God loves to take people that others overlook and give them boldness. You may be thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m just not naturally bold. I’m kind of a quiet person. I’m not a seminary guy. I’m not a natural leader or teacher of the Bible. You know, I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” Or, “I’m just a student.” Or, “I’m just a dude, man!” Remember, there are so many different ways to be bold, so many unique, exceptional ways to be bold for Christ. 

When you become spiritually bold for the glory of God, your boldness will amaze the world. We’re told that the members of the Sanhedrin were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. Why? Because they knew they could kill these guys, and these guys didn’t care. They were “wow, we don’t have a category for this” crazy amazed. Even if the council members didn’t believe what these two idiots were saying, it was clear that Peter and John had no doubt whatsoever about their faith in Christ.

Here’s what I want to ask you: When was the last time someone was amazed by your boldness? When was the last time you stopped someone in their tracks because they were undone by your bold speech and actions? Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about a wacky, odd, cheesy, thirty-three-bumper-stickers-on-your-SUV kind of Christian drive-by witness. I’m not talking about being bold in a bad-Christian-television way to make people dislike you or ridicule you. I’m talking about being bold with integrity. The kind of boldness where you’re serving people faithfully in Jesus’ Name, where you’re encouraging them, where you’re living in a way that reflects Christ’s compassion and selflessness, where others look at you and say, “There’s something different about this person.” The kind of boldness where you’re so generous with your money and your heart and your time, where you’ve served your way into people’s lives, and therefore you’ve earned the right to say, “I really do love you; may I tell you about my God?” 

Here’s today’s point …

You may be reading this and cringing, thinking, “But I’m just not that kind of person. Does God really want me to act bold just to prove I’m a Christian?” Which leads us to a very important point. Spiritual boldness is not our goal; knowing Christ is our goal. Boldness is merely a byproduct of following Jesus and living as He lived, showing others the love of the Father. Spiritual boldness comes from knowing Jesus.

Remember our friends Peter and John and their bold stand before the Sanhedrin? We’re told that the council members were amazed because they were ordinary guys, but we’re also told that they recognized these guys as men who had been with Jesus. How in the world could Peter stand in the face of possible death and declare what he did? He knew Jesus. He could be bold because he had been with Jesus. Here’s the key: you have to remember this: boldness is not the point; knowing Jesus is the point,

When you live a life of faith, when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re going to see opportunity after opportunity to be bold. Why? Because you’ve had time with Jesus. As your faith grows, so does your boldness. As your boldness grows, it leads to results. When you see spiritual results, guess what? You spend more time with Jesus, and when you spend more time with Jesus, guess what? You get more faith, and you start praying bigger prayers and you see God work, which leads to boldness which then leads to the Acts-type of results, which leads to more time with Jesus. And it goes on and on and on. 

Spiritual boldness is to be the norm for true disciples of Jesus. You aren’t called to “Fold Your Bold” but instead to stand tall and be a bold witness for Jesus where you live, work, and play. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Two

Let’s continue our look at boldness…

He and John were walking the next day and came across a guy who had been lame for more than forty years, and they told him to get up and walk. Imagine in our context, someone who has been in a wheelchair for forth years, and then one day, these two guys come up and say, “In the Name of Jesus, take a walk.” And he does! That’s bold.

This miraculous healing stirred all kinds of controversy because everybody around knew this guy couldn’t walk. And so, some of the temple guards under the command of the Sanhedrin, the religious group in power at that time, sent some people to arrest Peter and John, and they were put on trial in front of the Sanhedrin.

When the Sanhedrin tried someone, all the members of the Sanhedrin, dressed in their official robes, would encircle the defendants to intimidate them. They would hurl questions from all directions and then decide on the defendants’ fate, typically saying, “We’re just going to beat you,” or “We’re going to imprison you,” or, “We’re going to kill you.” So it wasn’t looking good for these two followers of Jesus.

In the middle of this ominous gathering of 70 leaders, Peter and John were asked, “By what name and by what authority do you do these things?

Where they tongue-tied or intimidated?

See for yourself: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,…” Then Peter delivered the perfect strike to make sure they got the point: “… the man you killed but whom God raised from the dead’” (Acts 4:8-190)

Now, I cannot overstate how bold that was. The Sanhedrin hated Jesus, were glad he was gone, and hoped never to hear from Him. And the foundation of their convictions was the belief that resurrecting the dead was impossible. So Peter pointed right at the people who used their power to kill Jesus and said, “Where did I get this kind of power to heal a guy who’s been crippled for forty years? You remember Jesus don’t you? The innocent man you set up and crucified. Well, He’s back from the dead.” Essentially Peter response was like a declaration of war, the last thing these Jewish religious leaders wanted to hear.

There is just something about that Name. The Name of Jesus carries supernatural authority that empowers us in ways we can’t even grasp. So when Peter and John cite Jesus as their power source, the religious leaders couldn’t believe what they were seeing: The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NLT). 

The Jewish religious leaders were stunned to see such audacity from a couple of regular Joes like John and Peter. It’d be like you and me standing before the Supreme Court telling them that we know what’s best for the country’s judicial system. They’d look at us, aware we’re not attorneys or scholars trained in the courtroom, and wonder what makes us think we are so knowledgable and confident and bold.

But here’s the thing: God gives ordinary people extraordinary boldness. You don’t have to be an expert or a scholar, have a seminary degree or experience as a missionary to serve Christ with amazing power. Consider the language of the verse again: “[The leaders] could see that [Peter and John] were ordinary men with no special training on the Scriptures.” Now the Greek  word translated as “ordinary” is the word idiotas. This word can mean unlearned; it can mean unschooled; it can mean ordinary. But the literal translation for the word idiotas is — you guessed it — “idiot.! Don’t you love it?

More next time….

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part One

As I have matured in my faith, I’ve learned that God wants us to be bold, to take risks through His leading us out of our comfort zones. We, of course, prefer our comfort.

Most of the time we want to play it safe, to remain comfortable and pursue what is convenient for our busy schedules. But God is bold by His very nature, and as we follow Him and are led by His Spirit living within us, we find the strength and courage to take actions that we’d never take on our own.

We see this illustrated through the vivid descriptions of the struggles and triumphs of the very first group of Christians in the book of Acts. This account was written by Luke, a medical doctor by profession, who captured some of the highlights of the first community of people who believed in Jesus. One of the dominant themes of the Book of Acts is the boldness of believers. When you look at the story of the early church, you see miracle after miracle. Relying on nothing but the power of God’s Spirit made them undeniably bold in everything they did.

Now, whenever I read these accounts in Acts, I usually ask myself, “Why don’t we see these types of miracles in our world today? Or at least in our churches?” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect the answer is because we don’t have the same bold faith to act in bold ways to bring about bold results like the early believers did.

Before we go any further, allow me to define what I mean by boldness. It’s not crazy, irrational, odd, illogical, subjective behaviour. No, boldness is simply behaviour born of belief. Because what you believe – about who you are in Christ and who God really is – determines how you behave. If you believe everyone is going to criticize you, you’ll behave cautiously. If you believe you’re probably going to fail, you’re going to venture out tentatively. If, however, you believe that the one true Lord God is calling you, empowering you, leading you, and equipping you,, then you will live boldly. Why? Because boldness is behaviour born of belief. 

The Greek word from Acts that’s translated as boldness is the word parrhesia, and this word means more than just skillful speaking. The original Greek word conveys the idea of outspokenness; it means “assurance, courage, and confidence to act without fear.” So often fear keeps “us” front and center and in need of reassurance from other people or from our possessions or titles. And thus we fear stepping our boldly in faith, trusting God. But when we have ‘died with Christ’ we find liberty and can then boldly live by faith and not by fear.

Perhaps the boldness spotlight doesn’t shine more brightly anywhere in Acts than it does on a guy called Peter. One of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, Peter is someone most of us can relate to easily. He’s the one who’s often characterized by bold intentions followed by timid actions. One of the most glaring examples of his bold intentions came right before Jesus was arrested. Peter boldly declared, “If all of these other losers turn their backs on you, I’ll still be here. I would never leave you. I’m your guy. I’ve got your back. I’ll never deny you. I’ll boldly stand by you.”

Before the day ended, not just once but three different times Peter denied knowing Christ. His bold intentions folded under the pressure of having to act in faith. But Peter’s story didn’t end there; something happened in Peter, and I pray that same something will happen in us. When Jesus died and then rose three days later, Peter encountered his Master with unbounded  joy. And Jesus basically said to him, “Hey, you’re forgiven; it’s all good. Let it go. Shake it off. Be bold. Take care of My sheep. You’re my rock.” (my impressions of their conversation found in John 21).

A switch flipped inside of Peter after that encounter, and suddenly the guy who used to fold his bold under pressure could not be contained. Not long after, he stood before this huge group of people and preached one of the boldest messages in history (read: Acts 2). He didn’t hold back and spoke the whole truth boldly regardless of the consequences.

This was to become the norm in the early Christian Church as recorded in the Book of Acts and the letters (epistles) to the early Church.

More next time… 

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Three

Like the apostle Paul. I too had to learn gratitude in all things. Truthfully, I’m not naturally grateful. That is true of many of us. I’, not embarrassed to say it, but I am bent more towards the negative, critical, discontented, and ungrateful side. Because I minister a lot, people give me way more credit than I deserve. 

Years ago I heard a teaching from one of my mentors that totally changed my life. If you know me you would know what I am about to share. He did a teaching called “Content or Discontent, Which Tent Do You Live In?” It changed my life and taught me that I  needed a different perspective. He taught me that I have to choose to be grateful for all the good that I see and not just focus on the issues, faults, and the places I and others could do better. 

I am naturally an early riser. I love the quiet and freshness of early morning before the world wakes up and interrupts my solitude, stillness, and silence. Most morning I wake up on my own long before the alarm goes off. It is simply a backup in case I oversleep. The mornings I don’t naturally wake up and the alarm goes off I can be heard to say “That stupid alarm” as I reach for the snooze button. I have had to train myself to say “Good morning Lord” instead of my natural response to being rudely awakened. 

I often wonder why we call it an “alarm clock.” It is like waking up to an emergency that is causing us alarm. When really we are just getting up to enjoy the gift of another day of life. 

One verse that has helped me build a spirit of gratitude is found in Ecclesiastes 6:9 which states, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.” Think about it. Wanting what you have is better than trying to have what you want. It’s better to embrace what God has given us than to whine about what He hasn’t. When you take every good thing and acknowledge it, giving praise to God, it radically changes your perspective.

Turn your blessings into praise as we saw yesterday. Instead of complaining about your older car, you can thank God every day that you have transportation. If your house is always a wreck (and I remember when), you can thank God that you have a family, kids, and toys. If you feel like you’re always busy running from one place to another, you can thank God that you are healthy, needed, and have the ability to live an active, productive life. (I need to remind myself daily of this one). If your house is small, you can thank God that you have a refrigerator, a bed, and running water. Not everyone can take that for granted as we do. If you don’t like your job, wake up every day and remember all of the people who would kill for your job. Then thank God He has provided you with employment. 

Perspective is everything. The right perspective changes everything. When all you can think of is what you want to complain about, you can be pretty miserable and ungrateful. But when you shift your focus, your heart changes. Instead of being poisoned by ingratitude, you’re transformed by gratitude and contentment. 

Content or discontent – which tent are you living in?

Unlike any other virtue, living with gratitude can change the way you experience your life. Let go of longing for what you don’t have, chasing after things that never satisfy you longer than a few minutes. Give God thanks for all that you have. Know that you have everything you need right now. Perhaps no one reminds us of this truth more powerfully than the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55:1-2)

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Two

How do you overcome the seeds of ungratefulness that culture has planted in your soul? How do you learn to be grateful in a world that excels at its opposite? How do you overcome the prevailing ethos of entitlement?

I’d like to borrow a line from a Matt Redman song called “Blessed Be Your Name.” In it, he sings to God, “Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.” To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we should turn everything good in our lives into an opportunity to worship and give God thanks and praise. When we do, we acknowledge the Giver of the gifts. The Bible says in James, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Since anything good we have comes from God, why not give God the credit? 

Remember, the entitled person feels he or she deserves everything good that they receive, ignoring God’s goodness in the blessings (see yesterday’s blog – Part One). But when they don’t get what they want in life, God then to get the blame. On the other hand, when we turn blessings to praise, we cultivate gratitude. We’re training our hearts to become constantly aware of God’s goodness.

Any blessing we don’t turn back to praise turns into pride. We think we earned it, deserved it, or are worthy of it. That’s pride. And pride breaks God’s heart. Among other things, pride is a God-repellent. He opposes the proud. The good news is that God gives grace to the humble. Just as pride disgusts God, praise delights Him.

The apostle Paul modeled the right attitude better than anyone I know. Paul easily could have fallen victim to material, relational, or circumstantial ungratefulness. He had reason to gripe about all that he’d given up for Christ. He’d surrendered the normal life of marriage and being a dad to spread the Gospel. He’d been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, and imprisoned.

While in house arrest, instead of blaming God, crying about the injustices, or losing his faith, Paul chose to focus on what he had. In his gratitude, Paul discovered the secret of contentment. This wasn’t a natural response for him, just as it won’t be natural for us. Paul had to learn contentment, gratitude, and praise. He said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

No matter what life threw his way, Paul learned to be grateful and content. Not on his own but through Christ who gave him strength. 

Once you take inventory of all your blessings, it’s easy to be thankful for what God has given you. But it’s also helpful to think not just of the good things you have but also the bad things that you haven’t experienced. 

In her poem “Otherwise” poet Jane Kenyon reflects on her blessings with gratitude, embracing each moment of life.

I got out of bed

On two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and 

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

Kenyon wrote that poem in 1993, upon learning that her husband, Donald Hall, had cancer. Ironically, it was Kenyon, not Hall, who died a year later after a fierce and swift battle with leukaemia. “Otherwise” came unexpectedly. But Jane Kenyon didn’t miss the blessings of God in each day. She learned the art of gratitude.  

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part One

Have you ever gone to a lot of trouble to do something special for someone, but they barely acknowledge your effort? You planned. You saved. You prepared. You thought of every detail. You made everything just right. You worked like crazy to surprise someone, bless someone, honour someone. And they didn’t say thank you. Of course you didn’t do it to be rewarded, but an acknowledgement would have been nice.

Imagine how God feels when He gives us life, His love, His presence, His blessings, His Son. And we ignore Him, continuing to do our own thing. Or perhaps we’re a bit more gracious and give a polite, token “thanks, God.” We show up for church once or twice a month, if we’re not too tired or don’t have the chance to take a weekend trip out of town. We halfheartedly sing a few songs, listen to the sermon, nodding to acknowledge God before rushing to our favourite restaurant or coffee shop to enjoy our normal life.

I believe that as believers we need to learn and live, embrace and cultivate the life-changing value of gratitude. Difficult at the best of times and especially so in our “entitlement” culture of today. But, as disciples we must focus on and make an effort to cultivate a lifestyle that is consistently grateful for all we have been given by the Lord. Living life with an attitude of gratitude is life-changing.

Gratitude kills pride. Gratitude slays self-sufficiency. Gratitude crushes the spirit of entitlement. When we replace our daily discontentment with whatever in life is bothering us – and simply focus on how much we have to be grateful for, our hearts will slowly change and we will live a life of thanksgiving.

Learning to be grateful to God puts us in a constant awareness of the source of all good things in our lives, always reminding us of our need, which God met through Christ. Rather than demanding that God serve our wishes, gratitude puts us in our rightful place – eternally indebted to the One who gave us life in the first place.

When you dig up the roots of entitlement, gratitude will grow in the good soil of a fertile heart. Gratitude will change how you see your past, acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things. Gratitude positions you to experience God moment by moment in the present, depending on Him daily. Gratitude places you in a posture of worship, ready to give praise to God for every good thing He will do in your future.

What has God done in your life? What has He given you? What blessings do you take for granted? Your life? Your health? Your friendships? Your job? Your home or apartment? When you pause to really think, I promise you can see God in all things, even in the things you wish had never happened.

I’ve always found it interesting that people ask why bad things happen to them, but they rarely ask why good things happen to them. These attitudes reflect the false belief that we don’t deserve bad but we do deserve good. Remember, all we really deserve is hell. If you’re a Christian, Christ has saved you from the pit of your sin. You’ve been filled with the Spirit of God. You’re adopted into God’s eternal family. Your life is not your own. You were bought with a price – the blood of Jesus shed for you on the cross.

Just like the lepers who came to Jesus, you’ve been cleansed. Healed. Transformed. (see: Luke 17: 11-19)  Will you be like most in our society — like the nine who were too busy to say “thank you”? Or will you be different, live gratefully, and return to say thank you to the God who gave you everything that matters?