Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When You Know the Ship Will Wreck

When you know the ship will wreck...and you warn people...and they don't listen...what do you do?  Especially if they drag you into their mess despite your warnings?

And what if, in the midst of their mess that they dragged you into, you've been promised a personal just-for-you rescue...what do you do then?

Shipwrecks are a good topic in election years.  They're a good topic for Christians at any time, because we can always look around and see the world getting into messes that Scripture warned them against.  Often times we've added our voices to the warning cry of Scripture, and have been mocked and vilified for it.  And yet we know that, when the world gets itself into the very messes that Scripture foretold, they will blame God for it (Pr 19:3).  And, to make matters worse, the messes they make often spill over into our lives.

Now, it's not as if our lives were mess-free.  We have our own, for certain.  And that makes it even easier to resent the messes that others dump in our laps.  We don't need theirs on top of ours, do we?

Or do we?

What is a Christian to do?

If the world were to judge by American Christianity, it might conclude that the Christian response to an impending shipwreck is to sit back with arms folded, hollering warnings with an air of disdain for the fools that we know won't listen, and secretly gloating over the disasters that come.

In many cases they'd have good reason to feel that way about us.  Admit it.  Don't many of us just love mocking the fools who voted for the wrong guy, even while we resent the way the wrong guy messed up the country we live in?  Don't many of us just love "writing off" this group or that group whose sins finally got them what they deserve?  If you've been around long enough, you can remember how many Christians gloated over AIDS when it first appeared.

Ugly, isn't it?  And anything but Christlike.

When you throw in the belief in a promised "just-for-you" rescue, the so-called "Christian" response tends to become even uglier.  The attitude I see far too often (and used to embrace wholeheartedly myself) is a contemptuous sneer that says, "Fine, go to Hell and take the world with you.  What do I care?  I'm getting raptured out of here.  You're going to get what you deserve, and I'm glad."

Well, if that's not the right response (and assuredly it's not!), then what is?  Does Scripture give us a picture?

It certainly does, in many places, most clearly in the face of Christ Himself.  But the picture I want to paint for you today is from the Apostle Paul in Acts 27.

He was a prisoner in chains, bound for trial in Rome.  He had no choice but to get on that ship... a ship that he knew would wreck.  He'd been divinely warned, and he had warned those in authority.  But they wouldn't listen.  (Acts 27:10-11).

Sound familiar?

On top of that, Paul had a divine promise of personal survival.  In Acts 23:11, God encouraged Paul that he must not fear, because he was going to give his testimony in Rome.  Sort-of like a "Rapture clause," if you think about it.  The ship might wreck, and everybody else might die for all he knew, but he was going to make it to Rome somehow.

But the trip sure wasn't going to be pleasant for him.  Listen to the description by the physician named Luke (Paul's traveling companion, fellow apostle,  and the author of the biblical Books of Luke and Acts):

14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 
15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 
16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship's boat. 
17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 
18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 
19 And on the third day they threw the ship's tackle overboard with their own hands. 
20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Yeah, just reading it makes me queasy.  And Paul was here through no fault of his own.

So, naturally, he hunkered down in the storm.  He spewed hatred on the fools who hadn't listened to his warning, because it was their fault that he was reeling and puking along with them for days on end. He spewed hatred on the religious and political systems that had chained him on this ship in the first place.  And he prayed for his personal rescue to come get him off that ship as soon as possible, so that he could be comfy while the others perished as they deserved.  Right?

If you know your Bible at all, and if you know what Christlikeness looks like, then you know that he did the exact opposite.  Let's pick up Luke's narration again.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.

22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.

23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship.

24 and he said, "Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar.  And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you."

25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

26 But we must run aground on some island..."

33 As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing.

34 Therefore I urge you to take some food.  For it will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you."

35 And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat.

36 Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves.

Think this through, and you’ll know how to respond to the impending shipwreck of our nation, or of that person who ignored your warning.

First – with honesty, but not spitefulness.  Paul did point out how it all began, but not to say “Nyah.”  Rather, he wanted to point people to the wisdom of listening to God.  He was always a soul-winner.

Second – with selfless, persistent prayer.  Notice the angel’s words.  “God has granted you all those who sail with you.”  The word “granted” indicates a kindness bestowed on someone who requests it.  Paul had not been content to get “raptured” off of that ship.  He prayed heartfelt prayers for the lives of everyone on board. And he prayed this persistently through two weeks...two WEEKS of tempest-tossed, vomit soaked, hungry, thirsty misery.

Third – with encouragement in the promises of God.  Unlike Jonah, who hated seeing God’s mercy extended to the wicked Ninevites, Paul was happy to give the good news of God’s grace to his shipmates.

Fourth – With personal hopefulness.  He ate.  And he shared food, even though the supplies had mostly been jettisoned.  No selfish hoarding here.  No siege mentality.  His faith was generous, contagious, uplifting.

If you read the rest of the story, you’ll see that Paul gained great credibility through all of this.  And after the wreck, God used Paul to perform miracles of healing for the natives on the island where they had run aground.  Because of this, the gospel continued to spread.

Do you suppose that God would have worked as many miracles and advanced the gospel so well through an unrepentantly self-centered, hateful jerk who just wanted to get out and let the others drown?  What about through a Gloomy Gus who sees nothing but disaster, and can't serve anyone because his hands are too busy pointing at people?  Paul’s faith made him available to move mountains.

Do I really need to say more?

One last thought from Acts 27, but from a slightly different angle.  If you've been reading my blog lately, you'll know that God has laid it on my heart to pray daily for my neighborhood.  And not just little, generic prayers, but bold prayers for the whole neighborhood to be saved, to become part of The Kingdom, and more.

This morning, as I looked out my front door and looked over the various houses to pray for them, the thought came to me.  C'mon, Betsy, do you really think that could possibly happen?  A whole neighborhood, for Pete's sake?

And that’s when the Spirit brought Acts 27 to mind for today. 

24 “God has granted you all those who sail with you."
37 (We were in all 276 persons in the ship.) 

I haven’t received any such promises from God.  But I know that He CAN save them all, and more, in response to prayer.  So why in Heaven’s name wouldn't I ask in faith and hope and love?  Why wouldn't I offer my neighbors truth...not spitefully, but in loving hope that they will turn to the One who is Truth?  Why wouldn't I have the kind of hope and encouragement that are contagious (See 1 Peter 3:15)?

Why wouldn't you?

Friday, October 19, 2012

When Morning Devotions Go Haywire

Photo by Unit25

I had it all planned out, you know.  I knew just how it was going to go.

As you may have guessed from all the posts I've been writing on prayer lately, my morning devotions have often been very sweet and powerful in the past few weeks.  And I knew that today would be the same, because it's a no-school day in our district.  Surely everyone else would sleep in, and I could have uninterrupted prayer and reading time to enjoy at leisure.

It started out just fine, too.  I was the first one awake, and it was easy to hide the glowing light of my Kindle under the blanket and read the many wonderful words for today in my favorite devotional books (I read actual Scriptures at night before going to sleep, to give me a proper focus for my thoughts as I drift off...or as I lie awake with insomnia as I sometimes do).

I was so touched by those wonderful words, some penned hundreds of years ago, some in the early 20th century, and some much more recently.  God has always had witnesses, and it's such a blessing when their words are preserved for future generations!

But then I got my prayer list out and started to pray.

Unlike most recent days, for some reason I couldn't focus.

And people were getting up, much earlier than I expected.

And the phone began ringing.  Seriously, nobody ever calls our home that early.  But it happened this morning, more than once.  Resentment tempted me, and I am afraid that at least one caller could probably tell that fact.

Even after the calls ended, I could hear life going on downstairs, and I simply could not focus.  I began to rush through my list (it's long), but tried to maintain a prayerful focus despite it.

I only got through a small fraction of the list.

But God was speaking.  This time it was my turn to listen.

"Betsy, what do you believe about prayer?  About prayer time?  
Do you believe that I will refuse to bless your family 
if you can't focus on your prayers this morning
or finish your list?  
Do you believe that your prayer activities 
are powerful in themselves, 
or do you believe that I am powerful on your behalf?  
Do you believe my power is only available
at certain times of day?

"Which do you think is better?  
A heart humbly submitted to My sovereign will, 
even when I allow your prayer time to be interrupted, 
or a heart irritated and unsettled at those who interrupted?"
If you resent My other children,
and My timing in sending them,
can your heart really be in a proper posture to pray for them?

Don't you think,
if I want you to pray for people,
that I also want you to humbly serve them
and bless them even when they don't
fit into your sense of timing?
Even when they dare to interrupt prayer?

Yep.  That still, small voice packs a wallop.

A large part of my prayer focus these days is "Thy Kingdom come."  I pray it for specific situations and people, not as a rote statement, but much more mindfully than that.

Scripture tells us that the Kingdom is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17).  Of course, there's more to it than that, but it can't be less than that.

Do I -- who regularly pray for the Kingdom to come -- do I seek to receive each moment, each change of my plans, with a heart that's submissive to the King, that can walk in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?

If so, then "prayer time" can be interrupted without ugliness, and without fear of a "bad day."  My heart can pray wherever and whenever because it's properly postured to do so.

If I don't seek to receive my life on His terms, does it really matter what I say while I'm on my knees?

Notice, I didn't say that my prayers don't matter if I haven't mastered this heart posture.  Thank the Lord that's not the case, or there would be no hope for me!  But seeking first the Kingdom, not mastering it, is the command that is given.  The kingdom has only one Master.

Notice, too, it's "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."  Countless religious systems can offer a semblance of peace (more like "resignation") that can lower blood pressure.  That is NOT the kingdom of our Lord.

My righteousness, my peace, and my joy are in Him.  The world didn't give it to me (John 14:27), and the world can't take it away.

Even if they can take away my morning prayer time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Praying For Our Churches Today

Photo by abcdz2000 from Stock Xchng

On my prayer schedule, Wednesdays are the days that I specifically pray for my church.  Will you join me...and pray for your church as well?  If you don't currently have a commitment to pray regularly for your church, will you make that commitment today?  If you do, please let your pastor(s) know.  I suspect it will mean a lot to them.

If you have a church directory, it might help to take it out and look at it.  If you don't have one, take a moment to search your memory for the faces of your local assembly.

The church is not a mere organization; it's a body made up of living parts.  Each face you see in that directory (or in your memory) is someone you are praying for today.  And each one has a full plate of life to deal with.  Some of them have bumped up against your life in wonderful ways, and some perhaps in painful ways.  Either way, like neighbors, they are all given.  It is no accident that they attend the same local assembly that you do.  They are given to you to bless, to pray for, to edify, to encourage, to forgive as needed.

To love.

Look especially at your pastors, elders, deacons, or whatever other layers of leadership you may have. They need your prayer in special ways.  (For a wonderful guide to praying for your pastor, see this blog post by Joe Thorn.)

Here is my prayer for my church - clergy and laity - today:

"Our Father" - Oh Lord, you have given me such a burden for the self-deceived lost souls in every church, because I was one for so long. How many decades was I faithfully in church -- singing, playing handbells, doing worship songs in Sign Language, teaching, speaking up ... and yet not truly knowing You as Father?  How many are in my church right now who are deceived ... lost but don't know it?  How many there are lost and DO know it?  Father, reach them all.  Please bring them to you until each one can truly call you "Our Father."  And Lord, since you are our Father, then we who know you are siblings indeed.  Give us love for one another!

"Who art in Heaven."  - Thank You, Lord, that You are sovereign, and that there is nothing I can ask for my church which is too difficult for you.

"Hallowed be Your name." - Father, may your name be hallowed in our church!  May there be no flippancy, no irreverence in the name of "relevance," no empty mouthing of words, no coldness.  Not that those who are cold would be turned away...God forbid!  But may those who are cold would be warmed to life.  May your name be presented and received with proper awe and reverence in each part of the church...from clergy to laity, from pulpit, to youth room, to class lectern, to nursery changing tables.  Oh Lord, our world is starving for meaning, for transcendence, for something bigger than self...and yet without knowing You, self-worship is the only remaining option.  And souls starve.  Oh Lord, bring the hungry to our church, and hallow Your name in their ears and their hearts when they come!

"Your Kingdom come, Your will be done in our church as it is in Heaven." - Oh Father, may Your reign be palpable within our walls because you reign in our hearts!  Your will is done perfectly, lovingly, joyfully, trustingly, willingly in Heaven...let Your will be done the same way in our church.  Please reign in the way our church does "business"... in its bookkeeping, in its staffing of leadership positions, in its building program, in its decision making, in its counseling, in its spending, in its acts of charity, in its programs, in its recommendations, in its meetings, in its classes, in its sermons, in its singing... in every way.

"Give our church today its daily bread" - Please meet today's material needs as with Manna from Heaven, and let us trust and not fret or go into debt for tomorrow.  Protect us from the excess that might seduce our leadership away from You and lure us into Laodicea (Rev 3:14-19).  Give us our daily kingdom work to do (John 4:32-34), even if that's very different from what we had planned to do.  And give us the daily portion of Your Spirit as food and drink to strengthen us for our work (John 6:48-58).

"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" - Oh Father, let there be no divisions in our local assembly!  Give us forgiving hearts; not just willing, but eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).  As I think through the people in my local assembly, please help me to be honest with myself about those I have wronged, and help me to seek reconciliation and make restitution wherever needed.  Please help those whom I have wronged to forgive me.  And I pray Your help as I resolve to forgive those who have wronged me, and as I seek to bless them in Your name.  As we all do these things, Father, please forgive us our debts for Jesus' sake.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."  - I know, Oh Lord, that Satan desires to sift us like wheat.  That is his desire for all Your people and Your churches.  Please, oh Lord, lead us not into such trials unless You have first prepared our hearts to stand.  May we also prepare our hearts to stand, by taking up the whole armor of God as You have commanded us.  And if we must be sifted by some trial, may we bring honor to Your name throughout it, and when we have been restored, may we strengthen our brethren.

For Yours in the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen!

Can you imagine if every church had many members praying for it in this way?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Praying for Our Neighborhoods Today

Photo by bjearwicke

Will you do this with me?

Will you go to your front door and look out at your neighborhood?  Will you really look...reminding yourself that these neighbors are real people whom God has put in your life for a reason?

Do you know and believe to the depths of your soul that they are put in proximity to you so that you can bless them and be salt and light to them?

Do you really, really understand that you are commanded to love them as yourself, to serve them, to think of them before yourself?

I don't.  But I should.  And by God's grace, I'm learning to.

This is a radical, scary way of thinking for me.  And yet...I'm beginning to be excited about it.  Because this "Big God Story" that we're all a part of is a truly epic adventure, and though each one of us plays only a minor part, yet we can't know how the ramifications of a single act might have repercussions into eternity.

So lately I've committed to praying for my neighborhood.  And since I tend to be a cerebral person (as in, "Head in the clouds and in books, and not much good in real life"), I've decided to go to my door and look out as I pray.

Why should I look out as I pray?  To cement it in my soul that this is not theoretical.  This is real.  Those people.  Yes, THOSE people.  The ones who annoy me.  The ones I know absolutely nothing about (and until recently, couldn't have cared less about).  The ones who judge me.  The ones I judge.  The ones my kids play with.  The ones I'm friendly with when life throws us together, but whose company I never seek out because I'm too wrapped up in my own world.  The ones who belong to that religious group.  The ones who pursue that lifestyle.  The ones who party drunkenly and loudly until the wee hours.  The ones I'm embarrassed to be around because I know our family hasn't been what it should be towards them.  The ones I'm not sure would still consider me even a casual friend if I dared to share my faith with them.

Yes, those neighbors.

You have them, too.

Are you ready to pray for them, and for yourself as a part of this neighborhood?

Look out at them, and let's start.

"Our Father."  Oh Lord, how many of these people truly know you as "Father?"  May every one of them come to know you that way.  And for those who do, may their childlike relationship grow in love with you more and more each day.

"Who art in Heaven."  Thank You, Lord, that You are sovereign.  There is nothing I could ask for this neighborhood that is beyond Your power.

"Hallowed be Your name."  Oh Lord, may each person in this neighborhood come to hallow your name, to truly know who You are and stand in joyful awe before Your face every day.

(Are you looking?  Are you trustingly praying for that neighbor, though your soul is tempted to doubt he could ever hallow The Name?  Are you wondering if you've hallowed The Name in front of them?)

"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in this neighborhood, as it is in Heaven."  Oh Lord, may your kingdom come in this neighborhood.  May Your will be done here as it's done in Heaven (meaning that it will be done lovingly, trustingly, joyfully, obediently, happily).

(You know, of course, that by praying such things, you're asking to be used to help bring the Kingdom.  And you need to know that the Kingdom never comes by way of Pharisaical rules, judgmentalism, pride, or ivory-tower living.  The kingdom must be served by you...lovingly, trustingly, joyfully, obediently, happily...before it can come through you to your neighborhood.  Are you ready to love...to love that neighbor?  To serve that neighbor?)

"Give this neighborhood, today, its daily bread:"

  • Its daily material needs (Matt. 6:25-32)
  • Protection from excess (See Prov. 30:8-9)
  • Daily kingdom work to do as You prepare hearts to do it (John 4:32-34)
  • The daily supply of Jesus Himself by His Spirit (John 6:48-58)

"And forgive this neighborhood its debts, as we forgive our debtors."  Lord, I forgive that neighbor.  Please forgive me for having judged/held a grudge/(whatever it is in your case.)  Please help me to seek restoration and/or to make restitution wherever possible where I have sinned against this neighbor that You have given me to love and serve.  Help them to forgive me.  Please transform our neighborhood into a place of genuine biblical love.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or, as some translations suggest, "Deliver us from the Evil One").  Oh Lord, the enemy has plans for evil against every single person in the neighborhood, and he will redouble his efforts once I commit to serious prayer and intentional neighboring.  Lord, deliver us from whatever evil he has in mind.  Foil his plans, especially the plans that he has for tempting me to sin in response to other people's sins.  My neighbors will sin against me, perhaps more now as the enemy incites them against me because I'm praying.  He knows that, if I respond unlovingly and sinfully to my neighbor's sin, that I will do more harm to the Kingdom than my neighbor could ever do.  Let me not be a traitor to Your kingdom.  Teach me to love my neighbor.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.


Will you commit to praying for your neighborhood regularly, at least once a week?  Please let me know if you will.

(For more helpful blogs on this subject, please read this by Joe Thorn, and this by Tim Challies, and this from Ligonier Ministries.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

How I Pray for My Family, Part 2

Part 2 of a Series

Today we continue looking at a truly meaningful, non-rote way to pray through the Lord's prayer for ourselves and our families.  (If you have not yet read Part 1 of this series, please do so now.  This entry is much better as part of a whole.)

Give us this day our daily bread.  As rich Westerners, we usually gloss over this part.  Of course we get our daily bread, plus snacks, desserts, sodas, and expensive designer-brand coffees for those who like coffee (that would not be me).  But as Chapell reminds us in Praying Backwards, Jesus explained and fulfilled (rather than discarding) the Old Testament, and so we need to look for the Old Testament idea of "daily bread" to get the full picture.  Of course there's the precious old account of the manna in the wilderness, and there's much to be learned from it.  But until we come to true material poverty, that won't be the kind of "daily bread" we're likely to focus on the most.  Instead, for our Old Testament model of praying for daily bread, we go to a wise man named Agur.  These are his words:

Proverbs 30 (ESV)
[7]  Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: 
[8]  Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 
[9]  lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. 

So the first part of praying for daily bread for each member of my family is to pray that we would not be given too much.  That we would not be rich in the world's goods and forget God.  Have you ever prayed that for your family?  I confess, I haven't, either.  I just remembered this aspect of the prayer while I was researching for this blog.  But I'll be adding it, I promise.  In fact, I just sat down with my list and added it, so I won't forget.  And as I pray it for each family member, I will remember specifically the things that each one may be lusting after, longing for, discontent without.  I will pray for each one to be content with what the Father gives them daily.

The second part of praying for our daily bread comes from Jesus' own words: 

John 4 (ESV)
[31]  Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 
[32]  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 
[33]  So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 
[34]  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 

Have you ever really thought about that?  That wasn't just a "Jesus thing," you know.  Our souls, too, are nourished when we do God's will in God's way, as it's done in Heaven.  

And there's yet another angle to praying for our daily bread.  It comes from Jesus' mouth, again.  It's too long to post in its entirety here, so please look up the context and see it all in John 6:32-58.  I'll put just a little bit here:
John 6 (ESV)
[48]  I am the bread of life. 
[49]  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 
[57]  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 
[58]  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 

Jesus Himself is our daily bread!  He is the spiritual life that indwells us and empowers the only works that are acceptable to God.

So I think of each family member, and I pray that on this particular day we would each be given our work to do for His Kingdom (which may be very different from the work we had planned to do), and that we might also be given the gracious supply from Heaven to do that work and prosper in it.  I pray that we would abide in Jesus and receive from Him all that we need to accomplish His work acceptably, because if we do it in our flesh, it's not acceptable.  Also, what we do in our flesh is heavy work, but what we do by his Spirit is life-giving, because His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.  

All this from "Give us this day our daily bread!"  How much we miss when we mechanically mouth words!

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  Oh, how many people we have wronged, and how many have wronged us!  I can easily think of examples for each family member.  So I pray daily that God would give us each tender hearts to forgive others, and that He would, in turn, forgive us.  And it just now dawned on me that I need to pray that each of us would have the courage and wisdom to seek restoration and make restitution where possible (see Matt 5:23-26).  I guess it's time to make another addition to my prayer list!

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  If we know Scripture, we know that God never tempts anyone to sin (James 1:13).  But when He taught us to pray this part of the Model Prayer, He knew that every situation He leads us into for our good is also misused by the Enemy in an attempt to seduce us away from God.  He also knew that our own tendency to sin would seduce us sometimes, and (like He did with Judas), He can use even our sin to accomplish His purposes (though never without cost to us...it is NEVER acceptable to choose to sin in order to bring about good.  See Romans 3:5-8).  As I see it, this part of the Model Prayer is kind of the flip-side of "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."  God can use anything, but we want to be sure to offer Him obedience and righteousness, not messes, to use for His glory and His kingdom.  

Can't you think of a half-dozen situations for which you can pray this for yourself...your spouse...each child?

Can you see how, if you regularly prayed this way, it would dramatically change the way you feel about your own circumstances, about your family members' individual circumstances, about each person and their worth as you should esteem them, about God, and about the answers He gives?

God forbid that we should ever mindlessly parrot the "Lord's Prayer" in order to try to get something from God.  But may He also forbid that, out of our zeal to avoid such "vain repetition," we should refuse to obey our Lord who said, "Pray then like this..."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How I Pray for My Family - Part 1

Part 1 of a Series

First of all, let me say that the finest book I have ever read on prayer is this one, "Praying Backwards" by Brian Chapell.  (That link goes to the Kindle version on Amazon.  The book is also available in traditional formats.)  Get it.  Read it.  Re-read it.  Often.

Chapell's book, along with Paul Miller's excellent book "A Praying Life," have forever changed the way I pray for myself, my family, my neighborhood, my church, my country, my world.

How?  Did they offer better formulas, better acrostics to help me remember what to say next?  Did they tell me how to gain more power, how to use positive thinking, affirmations, The Secret?  How to better manipulate God, how to make sure my will gets done?

God forbid.

To seek to ensure that "MY will be done" is to seek power over God.  My will, not His.  Such power seeking can often be recognized by its use of earthly currencies, whether money, ungodly influence, dishonesty, etc.  Most clearly, though, it can be recognized by the object of its faith, because in "My will" prayers:

  • I have faith in ME to know what's best, and 
  • I have faith in the thing that I want, believing that it can BE what's best.
  • God is just a tool for my use to get myself the things I want MORE than I want Him.

To seek power over God is to seek to usurp His throne, even if we're convinced that we would use that power for good.  It is the way of the occult, not the way of any true Christian, as Simon the Sorcerer learned in Acts 8:9-24.

The only power we may legitimately seek is power from Him, to do His will, in His way, in His time.

Chapell and Miller taught me how to seek God through prayer, how to submit to His priorities, how to be shaped by Him as I bring my cares to Him.  They (especially Chapell) taught me what it really means to pray in Jesus' name.

In response, I've found myself increasingly gravitating to the Lord's Model Prayer and to the Beatitudes...not as a formula to slavishly follow, nor as vain repetition to earn brownie points with God, but as the best possible expressions of agreement with what God desires to accomplish in and through me and my loved ones, within the circumstances that He's given us.

Who'd have thought it?  Jesus actually was onto something.

So here, in case it's helpful to someone else, is an example of how I pray for myself and my family using the Lord's Prayer.  (And also, how I pray for my church, my neighborhood, my country, my world, and anything else there might be.)

Oh, and one more thing.  I often make reference to "Thinking individually of each member of the family" when I pray certain things.  Why is this?

It is NOT a magical sort of way to daub the spiritual equivalent of fairy dust or holy water on each one.  I do not "turn the powers of my mind" to each one in order to bestow something on them.

We must guard so carefully against occultic thinking in our prayers!

I am careful to think individually of each one because it changes and informs the way I think of each person during prayer and afterwards.  It guides the way that I pray for our individual concerns.  It reminds me of what God is up to, so I can see His hand at work later.  It increases my love for the God who loves each family member, and it increases my love for each family member that God loves.  It gives me the inestimable privilege of being an instrument of good in their lives, if and when God sees fit to use me in that way (it's up to Him, not me or the power of my prayers).

Our Father.  Thinking individually of each member of the family, I ask God that those who are not saved would come to know Him as Father, and that those who are saved would grow in their childlike relationship with Him.  (I don't have to really know for sure who is already saved, and who is not yet.  God knows.)  As I think of each person (including myself), I am reminded to think of them as children of my Heavenly Father, or as those that I hope will soon be adopted into His family, and it reminds me to honor and love them accordingly.  And when I think (for example) of a fearful child, instead of merely praying that they'd "toughen up" or "get brave," I pray that they would rest in the Father's care.  It's a different prayer, isn't it?  And praying it makes me look at my children differently.  Treat them differently.  Speak to them differently.  When I remember.

Who art in Heaven.  When I remember where God is enthroned, I am reminded of His sovereign power.  There is no point in praying to anyone else, or trusting in anyone else.  And there is no point in worrying over anything that I have left in His sovereign care.

Hallowed be Thy name:  Oh, what a beautiful thing to pray for each family member as I think of them!  "Lord, hallow your name in and through my husband, and myself, and this child, and this child, and this child. May we each hold you in proper awe and reverence.  May we bring only honor to You in our thoughts, words, and deeds."

Thy Kingdom come.  What is a kingdom but a place where a king reigns?  I pray for each family member, including myself, that Christ's reign would be strengthened in each life.  I think of the sin patterns, false beliefs, and stubborn self-determination that currently affect one or more of us, and pray that each would increasingly yield to the King.  This prayer is also a reminder to me whose kingdom I need to be seeking.  (Hint:  It's not mine.)

Now, this can be confusing.  Some people wonder why we ought to pray, if God is totally in charge anyway.  Isn't God always controlling things?  And if He is, why would we pray for Him to control?  That's where the next part of the prayer makes everything clear.

Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.  Of course God's will is ultimately going to be done on earth.  He will crush His enemies under His (and our) feet when He returns.  Until then, He does often rule over enemies by bringing them down in one way or another, or (more happily) by winning them over to Himself.  And He rules over His people by lovingly winning their increasing allegiance.  Jesus did God's will in one way, by gracious, loving submission and obedience.  Judas did it in another, because God overruled his evil intentions and used his sin to perfectly fulfill prophecy and bring about the greatest good that ever happened.

Which way do we want Him to rule over us and over our families?

Ah, the vital role a single phrase can play!  On Earth, as it is in Heaven.  As it's done.  The same way it's done.

How is God's will done in Heaven?

  • Joyfully
  • Willingly
  • Trustingly
  • Obediently
  • Immediately
  • Triumphantly
So, when I think of each family member's current dilemmas, tough decisions, trials, temptations, triumphs, tragedies, options, whatevers, I pray that God's will would be done in, by, and through that family member in the same way that it's done in Heaven:  Joyfully, willingly, trustingly, obediently, immediately, triumphantly.
Notice that I don't have to understand God's specific will for that family member's circumstances (though of course I know His general will, which is revealed in Scripture for the conduct of all His people).  I am not to use prayer to impose my will.  I am to yield, I am to entrust.

What freedom this offers!  And what joy, when the answer comes in some form I never could have anticipated!  If I stubbornly hold out for my will, I might not even recognize His will when it is done, and I might frown in the face of Providence.  God forbid.  God forbid.

I'm going to stop here for today, so this entry won't get too long.  Please click here for part 2!

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