Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 Paul begins by letting the Christians in Thessalonica that his heart was filled with gratitude. Paul started the church there in less than ideal circumstances, being run out of town after only three weekends with them (Acts 17:1-10). Yet the church was strong and full of life. Paul knew that this work was beyond him and his abilities and that it was the work of God. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Heibert explains further “The regularly recurring nature of the thanksgiving is also implied in the use of the present tense of the verb. It is their practice to give thanks to God ‘continually, never skipping a single day.’” Gratitude is such a powerful thing, and Paul practices it daily. It is a great spiritual discipline we all should do more of it. Praying for people or churches doesn’t have to be a long and formal process. Paul often prayed simple prayers even merely mentioning people or a church in his prayer. We should not get caught up in formality or trying to make every mention a long drawn out prayer. Tell God about the blessing and needs of those in your patch.

So why was Paul so thankful for the Thessalonian Christians? They simply did things that Paul could not forget. Guzik describes Paul’s gratitude this way:

  • “Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because all the Christians in Thessalonica thought so highly of him. Later, Paul used a whole chapter defending himself and his ministry against slander and false accusations.
  • Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because the Thessalonian Christians were morally impeccable. Later in the letter, Paul strongly warned them against the failings in regard to sexual impurity.
  • Paul’s gratitude didn’t come because the Thessalonian Christians were completely accurate in all their doctrine. He had to correct some of their wrong ideas in that area also.”

Paul’s relationship with the people in Thessalonica was not with challenges, but there was obviously work of the Holy Spirit that was happening among them. Paul calls out three very important virtues of a Christ Follower – faith, love and hope. Hiebert says “Here for the first time, chronologically, in Paul’s writings we have this famous triad: faith, love, hope. But Paul’s stress is not on these virtues alone, but rather upon what they produce.” Specifically, Paul relates these three key things this way:

  • Faith produced work
  • Love produced labor
  • Hope produced steadfastness or patience

Paul saw fruit from the Holy Spirit working in and through the Christ Followers in Thessalonica. Our lives should produce faith, love and hope as well!

Ephesians 6:18-19a

In Ephesians 6:18-19a Paul now gives us the secret to using the armor of God – that which we have (belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace) – and that which we are to take (shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the spirit) – which comes down to prayer. That is the means by which God’s power comes into the battle. “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance.” This translation is not as descriptive as some others which say ‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit’. Paul tells the Ephesian church that the armor is necessary but it is prayer that gives it the power to deal with the enemy.

The idea is all that we should use all kinds of prayer or prayer upon prayer. We should use every kind of prayer we can think of. Group prayer, individual prayer, silent prayer, shouting prayer, walking prayer, kneeling prayer, eloquent prayer, groaning prayer, constant prayer, fervent prayer – just pray. We can say that it is through prayer that spiritual strength and the armor of God go to work. In theory, the prayerless Christian can be strong and wearing all the armor; but never accomplishes anything because he fails to goes into battle through prayer. The battle is not ours, but God’s, and prayer is how we bring God into that fight. Otherwise we walk into it in our own strength and will fail.

Often we just don’t pray because we are simply overconfident in our own abilities. Winston Churchill said to Britain in the early days of the Second World War: “I must drop one word of caution, for next to cowardice and treachery, overconfidence leading to neglect and slothfulness, is the worst of wartime crimes.” Paul goes further with his admonition to pray reminding us that we can battle spiritually not only on our own behalf, but also on the behalf of others. The soldier isn’t only concerned for his or her own safety. He feels an instinct to protect and to battle on behalf of others. We are part of the body and need to do battle together, which means we need to be praying for one another.

To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me….”.  Paul not only reminds us to pray for each other but also for our leaders in the body. Paul was an amazingly spiritual guy, and yet even he knew that doing battle with the enemy was beyond what any of us can do on our own. So we need to lift one another up, as well as encourage each other to put on the armor of God so we are ready to stand. That means we challenge each other around our intake of God’s Word, our prayer life, the depth of our faith, and all the other facets of wearing the armor of God. It is important that we have brothers and sisters who are fully prepared and equipped, and are seeking God’s power to enable a victory in battle.

Luke 11

Luke 11 begins with a clinic on prayer.  Jesus tells us to pray like this: “Father, hallowed be  your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation”.  Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is shorter than captured elsewhere in the gospels, but it gives us some wise direction on prayer:

  • Start by recognizing who is being prayed to – our Father
  • Give Him the honor He deserves – hallowed be your name
  • Recognize that it is His plan that will be accomplished – your kingdom come
  • Ask for the needs of the day – give us each day our daily bread
  • Ask for forgiveness – and forgive us our sins
  • Forgive those who have sinned against us – for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us
  • Protect us – and lead us not into temptation

There is power in prayer.  Jesus tells the crowd this way.  “And I tell you, 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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened”. Prayer isn’t complicated.  We have an example on how to pray, and a promise from Jesus and in scripture that prayer works.  Plus we have thousands of years of history that demonstrate that truth.  We’re told to ‘ask, seek, knock’.  It’s not hard.  But it does require us to do something.  We have to take action.  And that is where we seem to struggle.  It’s free, it’s powerful, it works – yet we can’t seem to make time to do it.  The disciples wrestled with it too.

Jesus is asked to come eat with one of the Pharisees and as expected, was immediately under attack.  So He turned the tables on them.  He first shared a list of things the Pharisees were doing that were wrong:

  • “you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness
  • you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect  justice and the love of God
  • you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces
  • you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it”

These religious leaders really didn’t get it.  They were stuck on themselves, and ignored their real job of caring for the people.  They didn’t demonstrate the love of God but rather merely focused on getting all they could for self.  Jesus calls them to the carpet.

But He doesn’t stop there because one of the lawyers answered him.  This isn’t a lawyer as we know them today, but rather an expert in the interpretation and application of the Law of Moses.  He was an enforcer of the law amongst the people.  He should have kept quiet, but since he spoke, that opened the door for another list of things from Jesus that this group of individuals was doing:

  • you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers
  • you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed
  • you have taken away the key of  knowledge.  You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering

None of this set well with the leaders of the day, and they were looking for a way to catch Him doing something they could accuse Him of.  Rather than receive His correction and God’s truth, they purposed to attack Him and remove the discomfort from their lives.

Matthew 17

Matthew 17 has Jesus spending special time with three of His disciples.  This is when we begin to see the inner circle of the Twelve.  “Jesus took with him  Peter and James, and John his brother”.  He takes them up on a high mountain and is transfigured before their eyes and meets with Moses and Elijah.  That had to be quite an unexpected event.  Peter states the obvious and says “Lord, it is good that we are here”.  We can always expect Peter to be the first to speak, even if his words or actions are a bit off base.

As they are there, God shows up and in a  loud voice from above says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Here is one of the simplest instructions in all of scripture that can help us live our life well.  We merely need to listen, and then obviously obey.  The disciples were a bit overwhelmed.  “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified”.  It’s not every day the clouds speak to you.  Jesus isn’t out of touch with their reality.  He may have been meeting with a couple of the key people from history, but “Jesus came and touched them, saying, Rise, and have no fear”.  He never leaves us.  And we can always trust Him.

After them came down the mountain, a man came up to Jesus and gets on his knees pleading for healing for his son.  He was desperate.  “I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him”. Jesus didn’t have the same limitation and asked the father to bring his son to Him.  “Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly”.  That didn’t take long, or require a lot from Jesus other than speaking the words.  The disciples came to Jesus confused and ask “Why could we not cast it out”? They’d seen Him do it many times, but for some reason were unable on their own.

The answer Jesus gave is so important for us to hear clearly.  He said to them,  “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting”.  It’s all about faith – believing in the power of God that can be manifest in us and through us.  It is not our power though.  It is God’s and it comes alive in us through faith in God through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.  It is limitless – Jesus was clear about that – to the degree we learn to use it through faith.  He makes it clear that spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting are part of receiving that power.  But it is ours if we learn to live real faith!

Jesus begins to bring the disciples into the reality that His life was going to take a change.  He lays some pretty deep stuff on them.  “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day”.  Jesus has just met with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop, and cast out a demon from a young boy.  And now, He’s talking about being killed.  That had to get their heads spinning.  And to top it off the chapter ends with Jesus answering Peter’s question about paying tax.  He basically tells Peter to submit and pay it to keep things from escalating.  “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself”.  He could have just spoken the shekel into Peter’s hand.  But He chooses to use a fish to deliver it and to simply pay the tax rather than stir the situation at this time.  Jesus is tuned into God’s story and follows that lead!

Psalm 135

Psalm 135 is pretty simple – it is all about the God we serve.  It begins with the psalmist reminding us “praise the Lord….praise the name of the Lord….give praise”.  What does that look like?  How do we praise the Lord?  There are lots of ways:

  • Think of Jesus’ life
  • Let awareness soak in
  • Start naming qualities or attributes for God
  • Thank Him
  • Utilize creation for your praising
  • Let Him take over as you express your deep love for God
  • Do things for others as praise
  • Pray within His will
  • Make a prayer journal
  • Praise Him through the storms in your life

One key thing is to really know God.  “I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods”.  We need to spend the time to get to know God.  We need to understand how great our God is.  We need to put Him in His rightful place, above all else.

God is in control.  “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth”.  God is absolutely the Creator and Maker of all.  And because of that, He is worthy of our praise.  But He is also worthy of our fear.  “You who fear the Lord, bless the Lord”.  We need to understand who the Lord is and where we stand in comparison.  Our job is to praise and bless the Lord.  He is worthy.  And if we know Him, we will fear Him, and that should cause us to bless Him by how we live!

Isaiah 38

Isaiah 38 has Hezekiah sick “at the point of death”.  Things weren’t looking good for the king.  And to top it off, Isaiah came to see him and said “Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover”.  Not exactly an encouraging word from the prophet.  But Isaiah never really minced any words.  He just spoke truth from God without sugar coating it.  Hezekiah is beside himself.  He wasn’t ready to die.  So he didn’t just give up hope.  He did what he had done time and time again when facing an overwhelming situation – He prayed.

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord”.  He went to God with his concern and sought God’s blessing.  It wasn’t a wailing but a conversation.  He said “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight”.  Hezekiah just asked God to reconsider his approaching death.  He wasn’t ready to exit quite yet, and prayed for God to reconsider the plan that was in motion.  Hezekiah didn’t give up – he just went to God with his heart to live.

And what is the response?  God gives a new word to Isaiah.  Note that God delivers the new message through the same messenger.  He doesn’t give the word directly to Hezekiah, but send it through Isaiah.  God is a God of order.  But a good word is exactly what He sends.  “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life”.  God listens to prayer.  Does He always answer like He did for Hezekiah?  Nope.  But He always hears and answers.  And we certainly need to seek Him in regard to all areas of our lives.

Hezekiah heard the word of the Lord through Isaiah, but he asked for a sign.  And God agreed to give him one.  “I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps”.  There was a large sundial that Hezekiah could likely see out the window where he was in bed.  And God made it happen.  The sun went back and Hezekiah got his sign.  There is speculation it happened with a cloud or maybe a known eclipse of the sun back in 689BC when this story occurred. But it doesn’t matter how God chose to do it, He provided a sign to Hezekiah that he would recover and live 15 more years.  What a personal God we serve.  He loves us in so many ways.

2 Chronicles 21

2 Chronicles 21 picks up after Jehoshaphat’s death and his son Jehoram takes the throne.  Jehoram is a very fearful young man, so he kills all his brothers and some of the princes as well to be sure he had no concerns about others trying to take the throne from him.  Not real secure in his place.  He kills those guys and reigned eight years as king.  He married the daughter of Ahab as well, and “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”.  Bad influence, bad choices, and a bad future.

God chose not to wipe him out because of the promise He had made long ago to David.  But that didn’t keep him from the consequences of his sin.  He may have escaped immediate destruction, but God said “Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat…..the Lord will bring a great plague on your people….and you yourself will have a severe sickness….until your bowels come out because of the disease”.  Not a great future to say the least.  But it is what God decided.

God took it further and stirred up the enemies to come against Jehoram.  They attacked and “carried away all the possessions”.  Jehoram’s kingdom is crumbling and his wealth is leaving town.  But God also took all his sons and wives except for one – Jehoahaz, his youngest son.  He was spared because of God’s promise to David, a recurring theme around this time.  Jehoram gets the disease God had prophesied and dies a painful death.  Quite a way to end his eight year reign.

But scripture tells us more in that “”is people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his fathers”.  There is not question that Jehoram had led the people poorly, and they realize it and no longer are enamored by his leadership.  In fact, upon his death they don’t even react.  Scripture goes on to say “he departed with no one’s regret”.  The people didn’t miss him at all.  He had failed because he didn’t walk with God like his dad had.  What a poor decision, that cost him not only his life but his kingdom!

2 Chronicles 15

2 Chronicles 15 continues the story of King Asa.  Azariah the prophet came to him and said “The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you”.  Pretty simple, isn’t it?  God is with us. He is not hiding.  If we seek Him, we’ll find Him.  Scripture tells us that over and over.  It isn’t rocket science.  So why are we so slow to seek God?  Why do we somehow think it is His responsibility to not only seek us, but convince us to have a relationship with Him.  We get it all backward.

Israel has a history of walking away from God.  Azariah reminds Asa of that:

–       “no peace

–       great disturbances

–       broken in pieces

–       Nation was crushed by nation

–       God troubled them with every sort of distress

Walking without God is not good.  It is lonely and bad things happen.  It has been this way for a while.  But now, Asa has the opportunity to change all that.  Azariah tells Asa “your work shall be rewarded”.  God is paying attention.  He is ready to be in relationship with us.  When we walk in obedience, He blesses us.  The question is only whether or not we will walk with Him.

Asa has some work to do.  “Great numbers had deserted to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him”.  He has to rebuild the relationship between the people and God.  And that is what he does.  He calls them together and they sacrifice and worship and “they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul”.  It was back to the basics for the people, led by their king.  That is how leadership ought to work.  But Asa goes further and “whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman”.  Serious business, serious resolve.  Asa wasn’t leaving it to chance.  There was going to be change.

There was rejoicing in the streets and God heard their cries.  “They had sworn with all their heart and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around”.  God blessed them as they came back to Him.  He gave them peace for over 30 years.  That is a blessing these people had not known for a very long time.  Asa was serious, as he removed his mom from the throne as queen and got rid of her idols.  That is a bold move, but he was serious about serving and pleasing God.  Here is the key statement: “the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days”.  Asa was all in.  He was focused on serving God.  He was obedient, and God blessed not only him, but the entire kingdom as a result.  Never doubt that the impact of a leader is significant.  How we live matters, not only personally, but to those in our patch.  It is true as husband or wife, mother or father, leader or friend.  We need to walk with God in obedience and receive His blessing, not only in our life, but in our patch!

2 Chronicles 14

2 Chronicles 14 has a huge turnaround as Asa takes the throne from Abijah.  Things went differently for one reason: “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God”.  They returned to the relationship that David had with God, and His favor returned upon the kingdom.  Talk about a huge change.  Asa doesn’t do anything besides getting right with God.  But the outcome of that – the impact of walking with God and living God’s way – is significant.  It matters much!

So what does that look like?  Scripture describes it this way:

–       “took away the foreign altars and the high places

–       broke down the pillars

–       cut down the Asherim

–       commanded Judah to seek the Lord….to keep the law and the commandment

–       took out of all the cities of Judah the high places and the incense altars

It simply came down to obedience.  It was back to the basics of what it meant to follow God and walk in His ways. Asa led the people back to God.

What is the result?  “The kingdom had rest under him….He built fortified cities….He had no war….the Lord gave him peace”.  Talk about a change from the prior leadership.  Abijah was in constant conflict and war.  He hadn’t walked well with God.  And the cost was significant.  So God gave Asa peace for 10 years. He allowed the kingdom to experience a time without being on guard and under attack. And then it came again.  The Ethiopians come to do battle.

The lines are drawn and Asa assembles about 580,000 men, but the enemy has over 1 million so the odds are not good.  The draw up battle lines, and Asa “Asa cried to the Lord his God”.  And God showed up in a big way.  In fact, “they were broken before the Lord and his army”.  God did a number on the other army.  In fact, scripture says “the Ethiopians fell until none remained alive”.  That is quite a victory – no survivors.  But it went beyond just destroying the enemy army.  We are told that Asa also:

–       “carried away very much spoil

–       attacked all the cities

–       plundered all the cities

–       struck down the tents

–       carried away sheep in abundance

Asa kicked some behind and came out smelling like a rose.  Not because of anything he did except pray.  God did all the work.  God ruled and reigned!

Ecclesiastes 12

Ecclesiastes 12 seems to focus on what can happen if we get consumed by the world around us.  The author reminds us that connecting with God early is important, before we get swayed by the negativity of the world around us.  “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near”.  Statistics show that it is increasingly difficult for people to come to know Jesus the older they get.  The days of our youth are critical in our spiritual formation.  As parents, it is so important that we help our kids understand who Jesus is and what it means to have a relationship with Him.

The chapter has a long list of descriptors around what life is like just prior to death.  “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”.  That’s a pretty matter of fact way to describe death. But the reality is that our time on earth is not the main event.  It is but a speck on the timeline of eternity.  That doesn’t mean it is not important, in fact, it is very important.  It determines the rest of eternity.  So how we live matters.  The choices we make are critical and eternity changing.  Life matters – we need to live it well and God’s way!

The writer boils it all down to this: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”.  Pretty simple way to lay out God’s plan for us.  He is looking for obedience.  Plain and simple obedience.  We are to fear God – which is putting Him in His rightful place in our lives and recognizing that He alone is the Creator and Controller of all things.  And then we are to keep his commandments – which have been written down and given to us clearing in His Word.  We don’t have to guess – He wrote the manual for how we are to live.  What’s left is for us to choose to obey, or not.

And in case you think this is really a suggestion, not a command, the writer clarifies it for us.  “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil”.  Read that again and let it sink in.  Notice the word ‘every’ used twice.  Nothing is going to slip under the radar.  There are no secrets.  You didn’t get away with something like you may have convinced yourself.  Others may not have caught you, but you will have to explain it when you stand before God.  Judgment is coming.  And the reality is that God will hold us responsible for what we have done, or in some cases haven’t done.  He has set the standard and unfortunately we will fall short.  That is why Jesus came and died on the Cross.  Because without that gift of grace, we are not good enough.  We will fail when it comes to the obedience test.  Don’t fail the test.  The result is eternal!

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