Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home...

Day 15

And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us...

To me, this is a challenging thought. We are to petition God to forgive us as we forgive others. That always sobers me and helps me to check my heart, to see if I am harboring unforgiveness in any form.

The amount of grace and forgiveness that the Lord pours on each one of us is unfathomable. The cost that Christ paid with his blood for us to be forgiven is likewise unimaginable. How hypocritical it is when we, then, turn around and refuse to forgive others. (See Matthew Chapter 18)

Forgiveness is not easy. The scope of this article is too short to do an exhaustive study of how to forgive others and how to accept forgiveness for ourselves. Here are a few suggestions that I hope are helpful:

1) Study every reference to the cross, especially to the passages that show us how Jesus entrusted his own hurt to the Father and, thus, was able to look down in compassion and say, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." Pray to be able to forgive as the Lord forgives us.
2) Pray about and journal about how grateful you are for the forgiveness that the Lord has given to you. Meditate frequently about the Lord's grace and mercy.
3) Realize that forgiveness does not come about by excusing another person's sin or by denying that someone has caused you pain. Neither can you truly forgive by telling yourself that the other person's transgression is somehow all your fault, though we do have to take some responsibility if our sin really did contribute to the situation. Sometimes, when people are deeply hurt as children, the coping mechanism they try is to absorb all of the blame themselves. This can become a lifetime pattern for dealing with any hurt and breeds a fear of being honest about how we really feel and what we really think. Yet, pretending that an offense "was no big deal" or that we brought the pain on ourselves does not not bring about true forgiveness. Christ is the only one who can bear a person's sin. True forgiveness acknowledges the hurt honestly, but says, "I have been forgiven so abundantly. I forgive you, as the Lord forgives me."
4) Deep hurts leave scars that can come to mind when we hear or see something that brings up old memories. Once you have truly acknowledged the pain that someone has caused you and you have committed to forgive it to the Lord, don't be shocked if a painful thought surfaces again. Simply remind yourself that you have already forgiven this. Pray about it and surrender it to the Lord. Refuse to dwell on the matter. Turn your mind to something more positive. Gradually, the pain will lesson.
5) We sometimes try to deal with inner pain by blaming another person or persons for everything that hurts in our life. We not only hold that person's actual sins over his or her head, we also blame him or her for our own sins, as well. Again, this does not bring about true forgiveness and peace. Christ is the only person who can bear the sins of the world. If we need help sorting out issues of this kind, we can ask the Lord to bring light and truth to the situation. We can also talk things through with a godly friend, who can help us to see things more clearly.
6) Pray for those that hurt you or persecute you. Always have in your heart a prayer that someone who offends you might be reconciled to God. If we are praying for another person's welfare, we won't be as likely to harbor bitterness in our hearts. We may need prayer and wisdom to determine what our relationship with the forgiven person will be from heron out. But, whatever happens, we must remember that unforgiveness is never an option for the child of God.
7) Realize the power of forgiveness. Think what God has accomplished through forgiveness. Meditate on examples of forgiveness, such as the amazing forgiveness shown by the Amish people affected by the school shooting. Acknowledge to the Lord that His way, the way of forgiveness, is best, and ask for His help in truly being able to forgive.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home -- Day 14

Give us this Day our Daily Bread...

Remember the manna that God caused to fall in the dessert for the Israelites? God's instructions were that they were to gather one day's supply only, except on the day before the Sabbath when they could gather enough for that day and for the Sabbath, too. This reminds us, among other things, that we are daily dependent on the Lord for physical and spiritual bread.

We often think of our job as the ultimate source of our earthly needs. Yet, it is God who gave the original man and woman work to do and it is God who enables us to work now. It is God who made food and the materials we use for shelter, and God who made the materials we use for clothing. (Even synthetic fibers are made from using chemicals that God created.) Understanding that the Lord is the source of our sustenance enables us to work as we should, yet without either becoming overly confident about our own abilities or despondent and fearful if our income is threatened in some way.

Keepers at home are involved with the daily physical needs of our families. We oversee the household management, take stock of what's in pantry, cook meals, outfit our family members, do the laundry and the mending, and other things that contribute to our family's physical well-being. It's wise to set about these tasks prayerfully, remembering that the Lord is the wellspring of our lives. He loves and cares for our family members even more than we do. We can ask Him for wisdom concerning time management. We can ask Him to help us do our tasks with love. We can ask Him to help us stretch our food budget.

Jesus tells us that God knows our earthly needs before we even ask Him. Yet, he invites us to lay our needs before Him, just as we want our children to come to us. As confident children of the Lord and as citizens of His kingdom, we are to pray about everything and to accompany our petitions with thanksgiving. (Phil. 4:4-8)

What about those who do not see their earthly needs being met at the moment? If we have enough for sustenance and some to share, the Lord asks us to reach out to those in need. Most of us who live in the United States have much to give to those who are in want.

Ultimately, our greatest hunger is for spiritual food, and that is always freely given to those who beg for it. Luke 11:9-13 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Jesus is our life. He is the vine upon which we exist. He is the bread from heaven. These and many more images in the gospels, particurly in the book of John, inspire us with a daily, passionate desire to be connected to our Lord, along with overwhelming gratitude for the life He gives us. Apart from Jesus, we die and wither; with Jesus, we thrive and are fruitful. (John 15).

Just as it pains us to see people in physical hunger, it likewise pains us to see people in spiritual hunger and want. We are beggars who have been invited to enjoy God's feast, and we love to invite other beggars to this wonderful banquet. (Matthew 22:2 ff; 2 Kings 7)

Just as we can start thinking of our job and our abilities as the source of our physical sustenance, we can start thinking of our righteousness as being a source of our spiritual life. We can forget that we were saved by grace and that we daily live by grace. To become self-righteous, rather than to depend on the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, leads to all sorts of spiritual havoc. Thus, it is good for us to daily petition the Lord for our spiritual sustenance. This helps us remember and appreciate the Lord's graciousness.

Though keepers at home deal with the physical needs of the family, we must not forget that the spiritual needs of the family are even more important. Some ways we can nourish our family spiritually are to cultivate a Christ-like attitude in all that we do, to pray for our spouse and children, to teach our children God's word, and to talk with our children about spiritual things.

There is a long-time misunderstanding in the religious world that place grace and good works almost in opposition to each other. We understand that when it comes to our physical needs, an out-of-work family breadwinner would be foolish to ask God to provide for daily bread and, yet, willfully turn down a job offer that He places in the breadwinner's path. Likewise, we understand that a keeper at home would be foolish to ask God for daily bread and, yet, fail either to make it or purchase it with the means the Lord provides and serve the bread to her family.

In the same way, we show that we do not understand God's grace if we ask for our spiritual sustenance, and, yet, turn away from the good works that He puts before us. We are not to think that we can enjoy God's grace and yet willfully live any way that we want to. (Hebrews 6:1-8) We are, however, to remember that everything that we are and everything that we have comes from the Lord. Our works do not save us, but we work because we are saved.

When we understand that God is our wellspring of life, we will be frequently -- even daily -- in prayer. We will be at peace, because we believe He answer us, sometimes even before we ourselves know to ask. We rest in the confidence that our Lord provides us with everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

(Photo taken during trip to Atlanta aquarium)


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thirty Days of Prayer -- Day 13

Thy Will be Done...

Jesus said of His relationship with His heavenly Father, "And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John 8:29

Nowhere was this heart made more manifest to us than in his obedience to the cross. He prayed intensely that there might be some other way to accomplish the Father's work, yet He prayed even more that God's will would be done. Matthew tells us, "And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.'" Matthew 26:39

Because Jesus was sinlessly obedient to God, even to the point of death, He was able to save us from our sins. He endured the cross, as Hebrews tells us, with a view of the joy set before Him -- that men and women might be saved from their sins and reconciled to God. He knew that obedience to God in this fallen world might be painful at times, but it always yields the harvest of heavenly love, peace, and joy.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, His petitioned God that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is an extension of His prayer for God's kingdom to come. After all, heaven is a place in which God's will is perfectly carried out. Don't we all long for heaven?

The misery of the world began with an act of disobedience to God. Since then, we have all sinned and have been sinned against. We have experienced in ourselves and in the world alarming tendancies such as pride, selfishness, irritability, impatience, rudeness, harshness, religious hypocrasy, doubt, blame-shifting, lust, impurity, coarseness, divisions in families and church and neighborhood, arguments, self-righteousness, harmful self-indulgence, addiction, indifference to the suffering of others, materialism, ingratitude, rebellion toward parents and other godly authority, divorce, abusive parenting, the desire to control others for selfish gain, wars, death both spiritual and physical, and all other manner of ills.

By contrast, righteousness, peace, and joy are found wherever there is whole-hearted obedience to the Lord. For example, a home in which all members were totally committed to the Lord's will would be characterized by thoughtfulness, kindness, mercy, love, humility, truthfulness, generosity, words that build up and do not tear down, respect for each family member, respect for parents and other godly authority, harmony, dependability, faithfulness to promises and vows, purity, lasting marriages, unity, self-control, the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, concern for others, healthy parenting, gratitude, wholesome enjoyment of God's creation, a willingness to work out differences peacefully, honor for the aged, care for the young, wholesome productivity, and all the goodness of the fragrance of Christ. Extrapolate the blessings of such devotion to the Lord's will out to our church, our neighborhood, and our world, and you can imagine how radically different our world would be if the Lord's will were done here just as completely as in heaven.

It doesn't take a genious to realize that our sin-sick world desparately needs God's kingdom and His righteousness. Yet, a prayer for God's will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven starts in the most challenging of places -- with a request that God's will be done in our own individual life. We cannot honestly pray for others to do God's will without first surrending our will daily to the Lord's. As much as we know that God's will is always best, we need help in overcoming our temptations to fear, selfishness, pride and other things that might block our obedience.

In order to develop and maintain a whole-hearted devotion to the Lord's will, we must pray as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane. If He, who was without sin, needed to pray to gain strength for the cross, how much more should we depend on God's grace and mercy to help us do His will? This dependence on the Lord cannot simply be a one-time request or a formulaic statement; it must be our heart's beat. If we love our heavenly Father, we will desire more than anything to please Him and to do His will.

We simply do not have within ourselves what it takes to be fully committed to the Lord's will. We need His Spirit working within us. God blesses us by turning our hearts to Him and by teaching us His good ways. Our desire to please our beloved Father, coupled with our awareness of How much we need Him, should drive us to our knees in praise and petition.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Philippians 2:11-13


Monday, April 19, 2010

Thirty One Days of Prayer -- Day 12

Thy Kingdom Come...

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
Hebrews 12:28

The Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven as Matthew calls it, was deeply on Jesus' heart.

John announced Jesus coming with the words, "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:2.

Likewise, Jesus begins his ministry with the message of the kingdom. Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:14. See also Matthew 4:17, Matthew 4:23

The sermon on the Mount describes the values and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven stands in opposition to the values of the kingdom of this world. It took some time for the followers of Jesus in his day to realize that the promised kingdom is a spiritual one, rather than the physical one that they had expected. In fact, not until after Jesus died and was resurrected did they fully understand.

During the time between Jesus' resurrection and his ascension, he was still teaching his disciples about God's kingdom: To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. Acts 1:3

Jesus had said that he would give Peter the keys to the kingdom. "I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18ff

Peter preached the first sermon of salvation to the Jews, opening the door for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. Acts Chapter 2 Likewise, he also preached the first sermon to the gentiles, opening the door for them to come in, as well. Acts Chapter 10.

The apostles of Jesus preached the message of the kingdom. For examples, see Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 28:23. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts, the gospel is often referred to as being the gospel of the kingdom. See Matthew 9:35 for an example.

Throughout the new testament, the kingdom is spoken of as both a present event and a future event. In one sense, the kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus and his church and wherever Christ reigns in the lives of men and women. In another sense, we are still waiting for the fullness of the kingdom, which we will experience when the Lord returns again.

As mentioned earlier in this series, the Christian's true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven. Our values are to be heavenly ones, not worldly ones. Likewise, our actions should reflect hearts set on being ambassadors of God's kingdom. We want others to know the goodness of God's kingdom and for them to be rescued from "the domain of darkness, and the kingdom of His beloved Son". Col. 13

Jesus tells us in Matthew 13 that "...the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." The kingdom of heaven is worth more than the sum total of everything we think we possess in this world.

If the kingdom is so precious to the Lord and to us, should it not be a great subject of our prayers? If we are unsure about how to pray for the kingdom, we can begin by studying Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God. (Matthew refers to the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of Heaven. Some scholars think this is because Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience who would have had such great respect for the name of God and such a reluctance to use it too frequently that they would be more comfortable with the term "Kingdom of Heaven". The intended readers of Mark, Luke, and John, on the other hand, might have needed the term spelled out more specifically as the "Kingdom of God".)

"Thy kingdom come" is not just a phrase to be said, but is to be, along with knowing and honoring the Lord, the chief concern of our lives. When it is so, then we will naturally pray about it.

Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..."


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home...Day 11

Hallowed be thy name....

"Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'" I Peter 1:13-16

As we've mentioned, Jesus advises us to start our prayer with a recognition of God's holiness. God is unlike any other, and His holiness is the essence of that "otherness". It is also the essence of his absolute perfection. In Isaiah 55:9, God declares, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

He is the great "I Am", the Self-Existent One. He is the source of all good qualities and things and the standard for all goodness, as well. We know love, because love is an attribute of God. His love is pure and holy, far above the way that fallen humans attempt to love. His goodness is pure and holy and; his justice is pure and holy; his wisdom is pure and holy; his mercy is pure and holy. God's essential being is totally free from any flaw, any sin, any mistake, any impurity, and any failing. Whatever attribute of Himself that God discloses to us, we can be sure that it is both spotless and infinitely, wholly complete. There is nothing lacking in the attributes or nature of God.

Everything that God created was holy and good, because it sprang from our holy and good Creator. Thus, when God created man and woman and the animals and the world, He pronounced them "good". Our goodness was not something we came up with by our own power, but something that our Good Creator put in us. Since God made us in his image, He made us to share some of His wonderful attributes. We were holy, set apart for God's purpose, and in intimate, unbroken communication with Him.

However, when man and woman sinned and sin entered the world, we mingled sin along with the godly attributes we were created with. Sin created a new barrier in our relationship with a holy God. Our once intimate, unbroken communication with God was now broken. As Romans 3 tells us, every one of us since has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Thus, even though many people reject God and His ways, even the most wicked among us has some dim and concept that life should consist of good things, like justice, peace, and joy. The most adamant unbeliever will cry "That's not fair" if they sense someone is treating them unfairly. Thus, by their words, he betrays some idea that there is such a thing as justice and fairness -- though he may not understand that justice and fairness originate in God. The unbeliever's concept of God and holiness is perverted and the wicked seek after the wrong things in order to satisfy their longings.

Likewise, even the most devout follower of Jesus fails to attain holiness solely by his or her own effort. We may try with all of our heart, for example, to love our neighbor, but, in the end, find that our love is polluted by a drop of selfish ambition and diminished by a pinch of unjustified anger. We grow weary of loving someone who doesn't love us back. We expect rewards for our love. Or, we spoil the person we love or make of our loved one an idol or in some other way do harm when we mean to do good. Or, our love may be genuine and true, but we are powerless to act for our loved one's good in a certain situation. We need grace to help us love as God loves and as He teaches us to love. Likewise, we need grace to help us be righteous, pure, just, faithful, peaceful, joyful, etc.

God's holiness and our sin are incompatible. However, God still loves us and reaches out to restore our broken relationship with Him. He wants to recreate His image in us and to make us holy, set apart for His purpose as we were meant to be. Thus, God provided us with a Savior who "who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." Titus 2:14

It is because of what Jesus has done for us that we can now "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16. Upon our true conversion, we are cleansed by the Lord's blood. This blood continues to cleanse us from all sin, provided that we walk in the light. I John Chapters 1 and 2. We no longer live for self and sin, but for the Lord. God counts us as holy and also continues to work holiness in us. God matures us more and more into the image of his Son. Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Romans 12:2; I Peter 1:14-15. Through it all, it is the Savior's blood that purifies us and makes us holy, enabling us to come into our Father's holy presence. We are justified freely by his blood. Romans 3:23.

God's holiness is at once comforting and sobering. It is sobering in part because His holiness exposes our lack of holiness. Indeed, when we truly recognize God's holiness, we also see our utter spiritual poverty. For the humble, that's a good place to be; Jesus says that those who see their spiritual poverty are blessed.

God's holiness also reminds us that we will be accountable to Him for how we live our lives. Hebrews 12:28-29 tells us, Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire."

This awe-inspiring holiness of God can be comforting if we let it be. If we do not flee the light, but come to the Lord in humility and honesty, we will find grace and mercy. John 3:20-21; I Peter 5:5 God's holiness may bring judgment to those who reject Jesus, but it builds humility, faith, truth, and purity in those who love Him and seek an ever- deepening relationship with Him.

God's holiness is comforting, because we know that God's dealings with us are always perfect, always righteous, and always holy. We need never fear, for example, that His love for us is tainted with selfishness or partiality. The Scriptures tell us that God shows no favoritism. God does not judge us as the world judges us, by superficial things. We can trust that, that in His love, He always does what is best for us. His infinite, holy love is accompanied by infinite, holy wisdom and infinite, holy power. God always has in mind the best interests of the ones He loves, and He has the power and the wisdom to carry out what is best for us. We may not understand what He is doing in the moment, but we can trust that He does and that it will work for our good.

God's holiness means that He is free of hypocrisy, deceit, selfish manipulation, and free of all of the sins that can do damage in even the closest, most sincere human relationships. If all others around us fail us or if we fail ourselves, God will still be true. We can count on that. His holiness is a spring of fresh, pure water. It refreshes us when we are weak, when we need forgiveness, when we are disappointed, and when we are desperate to find grace and truth.

Why is it important to begin our prayers with a name of God, such as Our Father, and a recognition of the holiness of his name? With foundation in scripture, the Jews understood that the name of a person represented more than a label or a way to get someone's attention. A person's represented the true identity of the person to whom you were referring. This was especially true of God's holy name. Likewise, God's Names conveyed his authority as well. Thus, to regard God's name as holy and to treat it as holy is to regard God, himself, as being holy. Also, the prayer points to the coming of God's kingdom in all of its fullness, when God's name will be honored by all. What could be more delightful to us than reverencing God's name and helping others to know and honor God, too.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home...Day 10

In Heaven Part II.

One of my favorite passages about heaven and about prayer is this:
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8

How wonderful to know Jesus frees Christians from their sins and makes them to be a kingdom and priests to serve God forever. When we pray, our prayers rise up to the Lord in heaven with a sweet savor like the incense offered by priests in the Old Testament.

As Octavious Winslow says, "It is the merit of our Immanuel, who gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savor, that imparts virtue, prevalence, and acceptableness to the incense of prayer ascending from the heart of the child of God. Each petition, each desire, each groan, each sigh, each glance, comes up before God with the smoke of the incense which ascends from the cross of Jesus, and from the golden altar which is before the throne. All the imperfection and impurity which mingles with our devotions here, is separated from each petition by the atonement of our Mediator, who presents that petition as sweet incense to God. See your Great High Priest before the throne! See him waving the golden censer to and fro! See how the cloud of incense rises and envelops the throne! See how heaven is filled with its fragrance and its glory! Believer in Jesus, upon the heart of that officiating High priest your name is written; in the smoke of the incense which has gone up from that waving censer, your prayers are presented. Jesus? blood cleanses them―Immanuel's merit perfumes them―and our glorious High Priest thus presents both our person and our sacrifice to his Father and our Father, to his God and our God. Oh wonderful encouragement to prayer!"

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Psalm 141:2
Day 9 -- Thirty Days of Prayer in the Home

In Heaven...

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Philippians 3:20-21

Jesus began his model prayer by addressing God as our Father in Heaven. What makes heaven "heaven"? To me, it is the very presence of God that makes heaven what it is. Yet, so often in prayer, I want to dive into the troubles of my day, confessions of sin, and the petitions of my heart before actually focusing on God, Himself! I am so grateful that Jesus reminds us to begin our prayers first by lifting up our eyes to God's throne. We begin best in prayer by praising God's holiness and love.

It helps me in prayer to remember that God has a heavenly point of view. He sees the beginning and the end and the whole big picture in between. His holiness, wisdom, love, and power are Infinite. While the Lord does want us to bring everything to him in prayer (Phil.4:4-8), He also teaches us to express praise and thanksgiving. If I praise the Lord for who He is, it helps my own heart. Then, everything else that I bring before God falls into place.

Not only that, but addressing God and who He is and upon the fact that he reigns from heaven keeps our prayers from becoming a check-list of requests. Expressing our reverence and love for God at the beginning of our prayers honors him. It also helps our hearts, for it impresses upon us God's greatness and our humble dependence upon Him. It reminds us that the purpose of prayer is relationship with the Lord. It invites us into deeper intimacy with the One who created us and knows our needs before we even ask.

In one sense, the kingdom of heaven has already come to those who are Christians. Philippians 3:20 tells us that Christians already posses citizenship in heaven. Colossians 1:13 tells us, "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." If we have truly become Christians, we are subjects of God's kingdom now and no longer are citizens of the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of heaven is in our hearts, and we are in the kingdom of heaven. God's Spirit dwells within us.

Yet, in another sense, we do not yet possess the kingdom of heaven in all of its fullness. We are somewhat like citizens of a country who live abroad from our native land. We enjoy where we are now, and we serve and love the people around us. Yet, we look forward to going home. We eagerly wait for the time when Jesus will come back and take us to be with Him forever.

In John 14:1-2, Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you." I John 3:2-3 tells us, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure."

Understanding that we will live in heaven and that we will see the face of our Lord and Savior, should give peace to all who are truly disciples of Jesus. The journey of life is easier if you are assured of your destination. It's also nicer when you look forward to a welcome from the One whom you love best, as well as those who have gone home before you.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Wednesday 4/7/10

Day 8 Thirty Days of Prayer

Our Father...

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, He began by addressing God as "Our Father". Prayer is first and foremost a relationship with our Father in Heaven. He loves us, and He wants us to love him back. God wants us to know Him and to be in relationship with Him. In John 17, Jesus tells us, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." God speaks to us through his Word and through His working in our lives. We speak (and listen) to Him in prayer and by living our lives in Christ's service.

As our loving Father, God wants us to approach Him with a loving, trusting, and joyful heart. He also tells us that we can approach His throne of grace and mercy with confidence. Yet, if your relationship with your earthly father was less than ideal, it may be hard for you to grab hold of a wholesome view of God as the Heavenly Father. In prayer and through studying God's word, however, you can begin to build a picture of God that is based in truth. Another way to grow in understanding God as Father is to accept the love of other Christians, who model, though imperfectly, God's love to us.

It's good to pray through verses that help us understand God's attribute of Fatherhood. Some examples of these passages are as follows:

Luke 15:1-end, Psalm 68:5; Matthew 6:9; Matthew 7:11; Romans 8:15; I Peter 1:17, Genesis 1:1-end; John 1:12; Romans 8:14; Php. 2:15; I John 3:1; Ephesians 5:8; I Thessalonians 5:5; Romans 8:17;Gal. 3:29; Matthew 12:49-50; Ephesians Chapter One;
2 Corinthians 6:18; Galatians 4:4-7; the book of Hosea; Isaiah 40:11; Philippians 4:4-8; I Peter 5:7; Isaiah 46:4; Matthew 11:28-29; Revelation 21:3-4; Psalm 147:3; Proverbs 8:27-31;

We can know God as Our loving Father because of what Jesus has shown us and what He has done for us. "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Matthew 11:27.

We must grasp both our Father's tender love for us and His awesome holiness. We pray to a God who welcomes us into a relationship with Him and who graciously forgives and saves us from our sins. Yet, He is also a God whom we should fear properly. Humility before our Heavenly Father is a foundation of true prayer.

Some verses that help us keep this balance in perspective are as follows:

I Timothy 6:15-15; Isaiah 55:8; Ezekiel 1:27-28; Isaiah 6:1-8; Ephesians 3:20-21; Isaiah 40:12; I Peter 1:3-16; Hebrews 12:28-29; Deuteronomy 10:12; Ecclesiastes 5:1; John 2:16;
Matthew 10:28; I Peter 1:17; I Peter 2:17 Ps. 25:12; Psalm 31:19; Luke 1:50; Acts 10:35;

It is easy for us to go off in one extreme or the other with regard to our view of God. Some of us may understand God's holiness and justice adequately, but we may miss the depths of His tender mercy and grace. Some of us may attempt to hide our hearts behind formulaic worship; others may be too casual or perhaps even lackadaisical in a relationship with God. Some may think often of the Lord's grace, yet may not fully acknowledge His power, His holiness, and His justice. Camping out on either extreme will damage our view of the Lord.

Remembering that the Lord is our Father can help us keep a healthy balance in our prayer life. Even a human father, if he is wise, will be approachable, loving, and full of grace. Yet, he will also inspire respect and obedience. How much more does our perfect Heavenly Father deserve our childlike confidence in His love and mercy, as well as healthy fear and the utmost reverence!

God is Father to each Christian. Yet, as Jesus prayed, He is also "Our" Father. If we have truly become Christians, we have been reborn into the Lord's family. We relate to other Christians as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Understanding this gives richness to times when we pray with or for other Christians.

All of us can mature in our understanding of God. Doing so is worth the effort. Knowing and loving God is the most precious thing we can do. It also is the basis for relating to Him through prayer.

Day 7 -- Thirty Days of Prayer

Psalm 127:1-2

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

1) It is the Lord who builds the house. Reminding ourselves of this enables us to cast our burdens on the Lord in prayer and to live and to sleep peacefully. We will work hard when it's time to work hard, rest and enjoy when it's time to rest and enjoy, and sleep when it's time to sleep -- all with a peaceful outlook.
2) Pray about the Lord's house -- His church. Make this a priority. Jesus died for the church, His bride, and He cares about it passionately. If we care about Jesus, we will care for His household, as well. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5;25-27 Study the letters of Paul and notice his prayers for the various churches. Follow the example of Epaphras ( Col. 4:12), who wrestled in prayer for churches.
3) Pray about your household's spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. Pray for wisdom to keep and manage your household. Pray for your husband to be a man of prayer (if you are married.) If you wish your husband to be a stronger spiritual leader in the home, the way to accomplish this is not to nag, but to set an example of a chaste and reverent life and to pray. (I Peter 3).
4) There are times when we will sacrifice sleep for a good cause. Paul speaks of sleepless nights spent in the service of the gospel. As keepers at home, we, too, may find ourselves sacrificing some sleep at times in the service of the gospel and in the service of our family. For example, we might get up to nurse a newborn, sit by the beside of the aged or dying, or spend extra time in prayer one night. Also, as we age, we may find it harder to sleep than when we were younger. It is one thing, however, to lose sleep for a good cause when appropriate and quite another to create sleepless nights for ourselves because we are involved in anxious toil or anxious watching. Some ideas for peaceful sleep are
a) Pray about your need for sleep. If you must miss sleep, pray also that the Lord will provide you strength for the next day and a time to recover you sleep needs later on.
b) Pray about the activities you take on. Are you truly doing the works the Lord has prepared for you in advance, or are you adding unnecessary business to your schedule that ends up making you fretful and restless? Are you working from grace or from human effort? Are you seeking to please the Lord and serve people, or are you looking too much to the approval of people for your security? (Ephesians 2:1-10) Pray, seek the advice of your husband (if you are married) and of godly women who can help you think through your schedule.
c) Allow yourself a short transition period (15 minutes) from the business of your day and evening to quietness. During this time do something soothing, such as pray, snuggle with hubby, drink a cup of milk, listen to soothing music, take a bubble bath, do some quiet activity, read, etc. This little quiet period calms the body down and readies it for sleep.
d) Keep a notebook by your bed. If you are about to fall asleep, and you think of a wonderful project that you just can't wait to get started on, you might find yourself returning to a physical state of readiness for activity. If that happens, try jotting your project ideas in a notebook, pray about it, and let it go for the time being. In this way, you will signal to yourself that you are not forgetting the project, but that you will tend to it at a more appropriate time. Likewise, if any worries come to you, pray about them, jot them down in your notebook and write that you have prayed about them, and let them go. Also, you might think of a task you didn't get to or think of before. That's ok. There is no need to stay up in anxious toil. Jot down the task in your notebook and attend to it when you can. The ultra perfectionists may have to prayerfully learn how to live with the fact that some things might not get done in a day or might not have turned out the way the perfectionist planned. Those of us who tend toward the oppostie side and don't put our whole heart into our work might find ourselves restless at night because we did not engage in enough wholesome, whole-hearted work during the day. In either case, pray about it, leave it to the Lord, get a good night's sleep, and get up to a brand new day.
e) Avoid news shows, news articles, blogs, etc., that focus on what is bad in the world, especially right before you go to bed. It's one thing to inform ourselves about what is going on in the world; it's another thing all together to let the media remind us of frightening or unhappy things over and over again. It is better to get our daily news in one short dose and, otherwise, to meditate more on God's providential care than about disasters and political happenings. Remember Psalm 37 reminds us not to fret because of what godless men and women might be planning or doing. Nothing man can think up can thwart God's purposes for your life, the lives of your family members, and the world.
f) Did you know that the TV and the computer emit a certain kind of light that can interfere with your brain's natural sleep patterns? If you are someone who does not easily fall asleep, you may find that it is best to avoid TV and the computer for at least thirty minutes before bedtime. Even if you are looking at something wholesome and restful, you might find that it bothers your body's rhythms. Taking a nightly break from these things might encourage more peaceful sleep.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Day Six -- Thirty Days of Prayer

1) Romans 8:26-27 The Spirit also helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we should but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit of God helps and intercedes for Christians. Does that thought encourage you?

2) David prayed, "Create in me a pure heart." Psalm 51:10-13. This request occurs in his prayer of repentance for his sin with Bathsheba. However, it's a good thought for all of us to remember in our conversations with the Lord. In order to have pure hearts, we must appeal to God, for it is He who creates pure hearts within us. We may be able to make some superficial changes in our lives by human discipline, but we will never achieve a truly cleansed and changed heart by our own power. In fact, it is prideful and useless to substitute our own self-righteousness for the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ and that is by grace. If we beg God to change us, however, He will. This is not to say that we must not practice godly discipline; God does call us to exercise the gift of self-control. He does command us to put off sin and to put on the traits of a Christ-like character. However, the strength and grace to do this ultimately come from God, and we do well in our prayers to express our complete and total dependence on Him.