Monday, January 27, 2014

Portraits of Prayer - Week Seven

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to have shared it with you here over the last two months. Enjoy!

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Trusting God Beyond the Doubt

Young Man praying
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digitally altered in Photoshop
The only frame of reference we have to comprehend our relationship with God is through the scope and experience of our human relationships. Jesus taught us to know God as our Heavenly Father. We can learn a lot about God as we look at the human parent/child or husband/wife and even boss/employee relationships, but we can also make the mistake of limiting God to the flawed analogies we use to help us understand and interact with him. We project our human perceptions, thoughts and feelings onto an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being and then we doubt that God could really love us or would provide for us—his sinful, wayward, prideful creation.

But God did not turn away from us when Adam and Eve chose sin over him and he doesn’t turn away from us now in our own sinfulness. Instead, he stepped down off of his heavenly throne and entered into our frail and fallen existence as a gesture of his desire to be in relationship with us and then died and rose for our sakes opening the door that our sin had shut tight so that the relationship between God and his beloved children would once again be possible.

Sometimes the obstacle in our path to a more spiritually intimate prayer life is not a lack of experience or knowledge but a lack of trust when we are vulnerable. The question isn’t “Has God finally had it with me and my doubts and faithless moments?” but “Do I really trust that he loves me as I am even when I am at my most vulnerable?” With purposeful consideration or by default, we choose which question we ask each time doubt and confusion rises within us. We need to choose to trust God especially when we are most insecure and vulnerable. After all—he’s earned the benefit of the doubt. Not only are we honoring God with our unyielding trust, but we are giving a precious gift to our relationship with him that we don’t want to miss out on.

I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
Psalm 139:2-11(The Message)

What would trusting God beyond the doubt look like in your life? In your prayer time? List ten things that God has blessed you with or has done for you. When your vulnerable and doubting God’s steadfast love—think of these things and remind yourself that you can never stray so far away that God won’t be there with you. Spend some time in prayer appreciating God’s unwavering love.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Portraits of Prayer - Week Six

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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The Power of Prayer

Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
Prayer is the most powerful and pervasive tool and weapon on earth. There is no place prayer cannot go and no limit to God's power. There is no radar or tracking system that can detect it and the enemy has no defense against it. 

And yet, too often we don't think to use it because, well, it's just prayer. It's not like we are actually doing anything when we pray, right?! It's not like we're giving money towards solving the problem or using our skills to fix the situation with our own hands. Somewhere along the line of human history, we began to believe the enemy's lie that words are just words and they hold no power—like "sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me." As one who has overcome decades of verbal abuse and having some experience with physical abuse, I can tell you—I would've preferred to be hit by sticks and stones. Those wounds and bruises would've healed in a few weeks. The wounds and bruises from "mere" words festered inside of me, eating away at me like a cancer, for forty years. 

Words hurt and words can heal. With a word, God created light, the world, and all that lives and breathes. Words are powerful and we need to be more careful how we use them. When we use them in prayer, we are asking our Heavenly Father to utter words of healing, protection, wisdom, truth, and grace. And God will not deny our requests. I'm not saying that God doesn't call us to be good stewards of his riches by monetarily supporting the causes he’s put on our hearts or by using the skills he’s enabled us with to help those around us. I'm saying that prayer is just as active a response and even more necessary than our gifts of money, time, talents and skills to live our lives as God wants us to live—in communion with him according to his will and in godly relationship with those around us.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” —Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

[Jesus] replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. —Luke 17:6 (NIV)

Prayer is the easiest and hardest of all things; the simplest and the sublimest; the weakest and the most powerful; its results lie outside the range of human possibilities—they are limited only by the omnipotence of God. —E.M. Bounds


If you woke up tomorrow with absolutely no doubt whatsoever that prayer was the best and most powerful solution to every situation you will encounter, how would your prayer life differ?  If your first impulse would be to pray and listen and then act on God’s revealed will—how would that affect your day?  Take some time to pray as if the actual words of your prayer were miraculously being transformed into action as they leave your mouth on their way to God and don’t forget to thank him for answering your prayer even though you cannot yet fully perceive or understand his answer.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Portraits of Prayer - Week Five

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Do Our Prayers Really Move God to Act?

Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
Prayer is essential to the Christian life as a means of communication with our God and as a transformative act of obedience. We’ve looked at some pictures of prayer showing what our side of the conversation looks like. Through the vision of a choir and the stories of the Canaanite woman who ran after Jesus and the four friends who brought a paralytic man to Jesus for healing, we now have a clear and powerful understanding of biblical prayer. But one question still remains to be answered—Do our prayers really move God to act?

Jesus answers this question with a great big yes in Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)—“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” As I meditated on this, I began to think about how I answered my child's requests and the Spirit showed me through a few of my memories how God answers my prayer requests:

Too often, as we entered the gauntlet of temptation—the "Whatever Mart" checkout line with all its last minute impulse buys display—my son would began an endless round of "Mom can I get..." with half the display items around us. I found some of the creative reasoning he gave for why he needed this thing or that mildly amusing but still I responded with a steady stream of "No Bryan" without even looking up from my checkbook. Why did I say no? Because he didn't really need one more shiny plastic toy or pack of cards that he'd play with for a day, become bored with the next, and be crying for another better and newer thing the day after. I think that's why God sometimes answers no. Because what I'm asking for isn't good enough for me, his precious child. He doesn't want me to be temporarily distracted by anything that's not going to benefit me and has the possibility of diverting my attention away from something he knows is a better gift.

My son inherited his father’s musical talent and began learning to play the Alto Sax in fourth grade. One day while we were at the music store buying more reeds for his instrument, he found a book containing the Star Wars movie score. He was so excited and asked if he could have it. I said yes because I thought his love for Star Wars might help him develop his musical skill. Without any prompting from me, he would do his band practice lesson after school every day and then spend extra time learning to play the Star Wars movie theme. This is the kind of better thing God is holding out for—something that molds and shapes me into the person he created me to be. Something that brings lasting joy. Something worthy of his precious child.

When it came to my child’s needs, he never had to ask. Food, clothing, medicine, discipline—he lacked nothing he needed, even if he didn't particularly want it. God provides daily that which I need to live and grow strong as a child of God. Whether I want it or not—God provides.

But if God knows every word that is on our tongue before we speak it, if God knows our needs and is eager to provide and care for us, why do we need to ask? And why answer us, so often,  through the actions of those around us? Why not just make food appear when we need it like he did with the manna in the desert or cancer cells miraculously disappear like with the lepers Jesus healed with a touch? Why instead does he prompt a stranger to bring a basket of food or subject us to the whole medical community and painful treatments? Why involve us at all?

For reasons known only to God, he chooses to invite us into the work and power of his kingdom. God is always willing to bless his children and there is no doubt to his ability. But he involves us because it is part of being in relationship with him. He doesn’t need me. He wants me. He wants to know and be known by me and working together in this way for his glory is how he chooses to do that. Not only did he create us to be in relationship with him, but he created us to be partners with each other, helping each other and working together. And as we pray together, as we are obedient to the Lord's calling in our lives to support and bless each other, we are bonding as God’s family and we are transformed in a way that we couldn't be as mere spectators of God's glorious blessings.

Prayer does not change the purpose of God. But prayer does change the action of God. —Chuck Smith 

Time spent alone with God is not wasted. It changes us; it changes our surroundings; and every Christian who would live the life that counts, and who would have power for service must take time to pray. —M.E. Andross 

How much of your prayer life is misspent on those things that might fall under the “non-beneficial, temporarily distracting, not worthy of a child of God” category? How will that change now? Describe a specific answer to prayer you’ve received that could be described as “the kind of better thing that God is holding out for—that something that molds and shapes you into the person God created you to be?” Take some time in prayer to thank God for providing those things you need—even those needs that you didn’t particularly want.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Portraits of Prayer - Week Four

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I? Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Pictures of Prayer

Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop
When I was in high school I had the joy of singing in the choir and every year we sang Handel’s “Messiah” for our Christmas concert. Handel wrote this oratorio containing many solos immediately followed by elaborate chorale arrangements. The solos in themselves are beautifully melodic and filled the air with words of God’s glory and grace. Then the chorale pieces continued the heart of the solo’s message in four equal and unique voices singing separately and together in a symphony of sound. Just as both the solos and the choir pieces are truly exquisite in their own unique way, God wants us to be in prayer alone and in concert with each other. Neither way is less pleasing or preferential to him as they are both sweet music to his ears.

Prayer is conversation between God and me—we talk with each other. I come to him with my questions, my fears and wounds, my needs, my sins, and he answers me, instructs me, comforts me, provides for and forgives me. As my Heavenly Father wanting to spend time with his child, he wants me to come to him with everything. One way in which we hear his part of the conversation is by reading, meditating, and embracing what he tells us in his Holy Word. Ephesians 6:18a (NIV) says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” He’s telling us that he wants us coming to him and him alone with our fears, our needs, our everything, seeking his comfort, his blessings, his healing and his grace.

In Matthew 15 we are told the story of a Canaanite woman who sought Jesus out and pleaded with him to heal her daughter. He didn’t answer her—not a word. She continued and the disciples urged him to send her away. Again he puts her off but she does not budge. Her faith in him and his ability and compassion is evident, even more so as she expresses her complete undeserved-ness of his attention. Her desperate faith moves him to act with great compassion and the immediate healing of her daughter.

What a beautiful picture of personal prayer. We don’t deserve to be in God’s presence. He would be well within his rights as our Holy God to ignore us, to send us away in our sinful misery, but he doesn’t. His silence is merely his way of allowing me to grow into the faith he’s planted in me. He may not answer, but he is listening as I gain a greater understanding of his holiness verses my sinfulness that cultivates a much greater appreciation for his grace and blessings (which we sometimes refer to as “answered prayer”). The act of prayer, the practice of prayer, changes me to my very core. It’s me acknowledging the holiness and supremacy of God and the inexplicable grace and blessing of his love and his ceaseless desire to be in relationship with me. It’s me being wrapped in the arms of He Who Is Love and cherished by my Creator as his precious child. I can’t walk away from that without being touched and transformed by him.

Often we think of corporate prayer as a congregation reciting a pre-formed Prayer of Confession or Affirmation of Faith or the Lord’s Prayer together during worship. Perhaps your idea of corporate prayer is when everyone bows their heads while one person speaks prayer aloud and the whole group affirms it by saying aloud in unison “Amen” at the end. Yes, this is a picture of corporate prayer, much like a choir that sings an elaborate choral arrangement—each singer with his own distinct part which is a small piece of the larger arrangement. Only when all of the parts are combined is the music a complete and beautiful prayer.

Then there is the story in Mark 2. Jesus is teaching in a home with a crowd of people surrounding him inside and out. We are told that four friends carry a paralyzed man to this place so that the man might be healed by Jesus. When they saw they couldn’t get through the crowd to get their friend to Jesus, they carried him to the roof of the home and dug through it above the place where Jesus was teaching. These four devoted friends with their “won’t quit” attitude painstakingly lowered their broken friend to the floor at Jesus’ feet. Jesus healed this man because of his friends’ tenacious resolve to carry their friend into the holy presence of God—to put their friend within arm’s reach of the God of compassion, restoration and healing.

This is the picture of corporate prayer that holds great significance for me. When I share a prayer request or a prayer of joy with friends, family, and designated prayer warriors, it’s because I feel I need help in lifting the burden of the request to God or that more voices need to be shouting the Lord’s praises for the blessings and joy he has given. Ephesians 6:18b (NIV) instructs “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” God is telling us to pray for and with each other. We have a responsibility to our fellow man to love him as God loves him. Sharing someone’s burden, bringing them into God’s presence through prayer, lifting them up in prayer is a great honor and bonds us together as only God’s Spirit can do in us. There are times when my faith is shaken, when my spirit is confused, and my mind seems to be working against me rather than for me and I need help—I need friends to bring me to the feet of Jesus for healing and restoration because I’m not going to get there on my own. I need prayer warriors who aren’t put off by the barriers that can sometimes block my path, but are fueled by those barriers and work harder towards the goal of my healing and renewal. This is the kind of pray-er I want to be for others and I believe God is calling and teaching me to be.

Prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence. —W. S. Bowd

Describe your current prayer picture. What would your ideal personal prayer time look like? Pray and ask God  what kind of pray-er  he is calling you to be.