All Posts Tagged ‘prayer

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Prepare now for your next spiritual drought

Have you ever tried to read the Bible only to realise that after ten minutes you have not taken in a word? Or spent time with your eyes closed attempting to pray but really chasing anxious thoughts as if herding cats?

It is normal to go through seasons of spiritual dryness. Times when prayer and Bible reading become exercises in raw discipline or diminish to nothing. None of us want to remain in such a barren place, but how long we have to endure is God’s call, not ours.

I think it is good to always attempt to nurture your relationship with God, even when it feels as if you are just ‘going through the motions’. I also think it is valuable to accept the barren season for what it is and not heap guilt upon yourself when the going gets tough.

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces. I now try to fill up with the disciplines of Bible reading, memorization, and prayer during my times of plenty. This gives me a reserve to draw upon when it is difficult to read the Bible and God seems distant.

In seasons of growth, make the most of it. Farmers use the growth seasons of spring and summer to make hay to feed their stock through the dark winter months. Be wise and use easy times (or even just ‘normal’ periods) to grow spiritually. Hard times will come again and once they arrive it is too late to start building spiritual condition.

When the fight is difficult, it is enough to stand (Ephesians 6:13).

If you are able to read the Bible today, do so. If you can pray even a little, take the opportunity to come into God’s presence. Go to church, or homegroup, even if it is tiresome or inconvenient. The day will come when you will wish you had done all this much more.


Scripture references:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

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Feedback for faith

It is reasonably well established that the spiritual growth of Christians is closely linked to how regularly we read the Bible, ponder it’s meaning for us and engage with God in prayer.

Most of us can verify this in our own lives, the times when we have grown spiritually have often been those periods when we have spent more time in the Bible and praying. There can be a strong feedback loop in this; the more I am engaging with God the more I want to pray and read the Bible. Unfortunately, the converse is also true; the less I read the Bible the less I engage with God and the less inclined I am to continue to read the Bible.

I would not want to be dogmatic on which happens first in this feedback loop, it seems to me that if either factor slips the situation in general either spirals downwards or grows in worship. What matters most is to know that they are indeed linked. Being aware of this link enables each of us to influence our spiritual growth.

Yet it can be frustratingly difficult to maintain a regular habit of engaging with the Bible and engaging with God. I have been a Christian since I was 18 years old and for some reason it seems to be getting harder to maintain these habits as I get older rather than becoming easier which is what my expectation was (most habits get easier the longer you do them – driving is a good example). Several obvious reasons for this come to mind; I have 3 children who are still fairly young, I own a mortgage with a house attached so time is needed to maintain this liability, and I work on a 24-hour rotating roster so do not have a set bedtime or wake up time.

However, there are also increasing concerns that the digital age is bringing new pressures upon our devotional habits. In October 2013 David Murray posted a couple of articles looking at technology-related factors which make it more difficult to spend time with God:

  • Loss of boundaries between work and private life
  • Loss of concentration due to multitasking habits
  • Habitual scanning of text when reading
  • Loss of meditation/deep thinking
  • Loss of memory (as in Bible memorization, not Alzheimer’s disease!)
  • Loss of problem solving
  • Loss of social connection
  • Loss of sleep (definitely a problem for me!)
  • Loss of quiet
  • Loss of friendships
  • Loss of family time
  • Loss of privacy
  • Too much time wasting
  • Loss of purity
  • Loss of patience
  • Loss of wisdom
  • Loss of humility

For more detail on these problems, check out the original post. Multitasking, social media and Google cop the blame in David Murray’s post. I’m not in full agreement with his list as many of these things can be lumped together under the problem of having almost constant access to unlimited information and amusements. But it is good to consider how technology is interfering with my spiritual life. The followup post was a little more practical: 20 Tips For Personal Devotions in the Digital Age. Again, I don’t agree with everything on his list but it is a good start.

For myself, this difficulty in maintaining good devotional habits is a result of several intertwined factors: being much too easily distracted by the computer/internet, lack of sleep, reserving some quiet space in the day, and forgetting that being in fellowship with God is the greatest thing I can have.

At least there are some steps I can take to improve things:

  • Get more sleep
  • Step away from the computer sooner
  • Spend some time with God – even a little bit of real fellowship is a start
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Praying before the throne of grace

praying-before-the-throne-of-grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

‘Seeking God’, sounds so spiritual and pious – far removed from what my life actually looks like in the real world. I want to seek God much more than I do; to live by the Spirit, walk in obedience to His direction, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly before God.

Unfortunately I have become anxious about worldly things and my divided interests have lead me away from a strong devotion to God1. For this I feel ashamed and am reluctant to face up to Jesus in prayer when I have been such a lousy disciple. So as an avoidance tactic which at least had an appearance of being spiritual, I picked up a book about prayer2 by John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress).

Writing while incarcerated in the Bedford goal from 1662, Bunyan addresses this very issue:

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convicted soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed Himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a ‘throne of grace’, ‘the mercy-seat. (Hebrews 4:16 & Exodus 25:22) …

… Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and of His carriage towards them: and suddenly conclude that God will have no regard unto them, when yet He is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken His place on purpose there, to the end He may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures.2

​This is an encouraging reminder of grace. That when it comes to praying to and communing with God, He takes pains to place Himself on a throne of grace so that our prayers may come to him unhindered by the burden of sin we may carry. As I approach God in and through Christ my own very poor track record is gloriously overlaid with the perfect record of Jesus such that I am accepted as God’s own child.

So my attempt to avoid facing my shortcomings as a follower of Christ by reading something written by a great follower of Christ was perhaps not quite so deluded after all!

Now to place myself before that throne of grace.


Notes:

1. See 1 Corinthians 7:33-34

2. Prayer by John Bunyan (Puritan Paperbacks, ISBN 0-85151-090-6) p55

Image: iStock

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Fidgety prayers

fidgety-prayers

There was a time when I used to get up early each morning to spend time seeking God at the beginning of my day. That habit gradually faded as wife, children, work and the internet filled up my life.

These days it is generally easier for me to get time alone late in the evenings rather than in the mornings. Yet making constructive use of this time to seek God takes discipline to turn off the computer or TV, to put down my book and pick up the Bible. Just as it takes resolve and discipline to get out of bed early on a cold morning. My problem is not primarily one of having no time but lies in how I am choosing to use what time I’ve got.

I recall my bachelor days when I would get up and enjoy a cup of tea while reading the Bible and praying before getting ready for work. So in order to reactivate some dormant memory cells, last night I made a cup of tea and sat down to read and pray. My mind wandered, I fidgeted and walked around the room. But I was seeking God.

​Something which has encouraged me in my messy, inadequate pursuit of God is a quote I recently read from Henri Nouwen:

“WHY should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing during that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment?

The answer is: because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.

What I must do first of all is be faithful. If I believe that the first commandment is to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, then I should at least be able to spend one hour a day with nobody else but God. The question as to whether it is helpful, useful, practical, or fruitful is completely irrelevant, since the only reason to love is love itself. Everything else is secondary.

The remarkable thing, however, is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning — day after day, week after week, month after month — in total confusion and with myriad distractions radically changes my life. God, who loves me so much that He sent His only son not to condemn me but to save me, does not leave me waiting in the dark too long.

I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.

So: Be confident and trust in the Lord.”

From The Road to Daybreak, by Henri Nouwen.​ (I read this here)

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The state of my heart


My ‘project’ to live consistently according to my beliefs is a bit like someone setting out to make some healthy changes to their lifestyle (in fact it is a lot like that!). Most health programmes carry a disclaimer stating that anyone over forty years old should only begin a fitness regime on the advice of their doctor, a big concern being that someone may start exercising and collapse with a heart attack.

I am over forty, and know that I am out of shape spiritually. Therefore it would be wise to do a bit of a heart checkup as I seek to exercise some spiritual discipline in my life. ​

Just as a cardiologist will do multiple tests to assess the state of a person’s heart muscle, understanding the state of my heart before God must take into account many factors: Am I hungering and thirsting for God? ​Is my life governed by God’s Word? Am I becoming more loving? Do I delight in the Bride of Christ? Is my heart broken over sin? How quickly do I forgive?

​That is not an exhaustive list (in fact it is stolen from the book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald S. Whitney), I am assuming that I will come across many other indicators of the state of my heart as I go on. There are also the ‘rough and ready’ indicators which we are all familiar with, and these serve to reveal the baseline of my current spiritual state, just as heart rate and blood pressure give a quick estimate of cardiac health.

WARNING: this will be disappointing!

Prayer: I currently pray very little. Days may pass completely without purposeful praying. When I do pray it tends to be while doing other things such as washing the dishes or walking to work so my thoughts wander far and wide in the process. When I timed how long I actually prayed over several days it was less than 5 minutes each day!

Bible reading: This used to be a strong point but has dwindled in the last couple of years. Some days I manage to read my target 5 chapters a day, often I read only one or two chapters and it is not uncommon for me to not open my Bible at all for several days.

Giving: Woeful (erratic and not much).

Serving: I preach about once every 6 weeks and serving as a member of the leadership board for our little church.

Evangelism:​ Nonexistent, fear keeps my lips sealed.​

As you can see, this is a picture of someone who is fat, flabby and complacent. Moving out of this state will be a challenge and is going to take time. My gut feeling is that prayer is where I need to begin, with the first battle being to make space for quietness before God. On that note I’d like to point you toward a post from a friend about exactly that:​ Learning in silence.


Image: iStock

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A Sunday prayer

God,
you are love itself!
You have shown yourself to us
in so many ways,
yet all of them tell us of creative love,
that never changes.
Love which in the beginning
created the universe,
and brought mankind out of the earth
to live in glorious freedom!
Love which was crucified,
yet rises
with every generation
bringing new promises for the future!
Love which meets our needs
and gives us hope
through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

By Alan Gaunt


Credit: Alan Gaunt, New Prayers for Worship. 1972 John Paul the Preacher’s Press. ISBN 0-903805-04-9
Image: iStock

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Pray for your kids – willing to work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.(Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV)

I guess most parents struggle when their kids are flatly unwilling to pitch in and do a fair share of work around the home. The exact expectations may vary from family to family and between cultures, but part of our task as parents is to train our children in how to work.

God values work, He set Adam the task of tending the garden even before the fall:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

When we work we glorify God by doing what He created us to do. After Adam and Eve sinned work became harder, but it is still part of our purpose and so does not have to be a demeaning burden. By teaching our children that work is an expression of what is good about being human and that it glorifies God, we help them to become willing to work hard.

What do I pray?

Pray your children grow into understanding a Biblical perspective on work which enables them to accept it will not be easy but that there is a purpose in all work. Ask Jesus to help them see that as our Father is working, so too it is good for us to work.


Download the prayer prompts:

Image: iStockphoto

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Praying is weird

Urban Prayer Booth

Please avoid the booth if you are sensitive to or feel threatened by actions that are religious in nature.

People who have conversations with someone that nobody else can see are not normal. They are usually sent to a psychologist and prescribed medication to control the hallucinations.

When we have a phone conversation, we hear a voice and can respond. When we pray we are talking to air. Only crazy people talk to themselves. How do we talk with a Spirit, with someone who doesn’t speak with an audible voice?
And if we believe that God can talk to us in prayer, how do we distinguish our thoughts from his thoughts? Prayer is confusing. (A Praying Life, p16)

I am conservative at heart, weirdness freaks me out.

As a Christian one of my fears has long been that I might turn into some odd religious nutter (and some of you will be thinking, “too late, you already are one”). Having seen some folks do extremely peculiar things (e.g., falling over, laughing hysterically, barking like dogs, chasing demons)  in the name of ‘worshipping’ God, this is perhaps a reasonable apprehension.

Why then, do something as odd as praying?

The exact reasons for undertaking such a peculiar activity may vary from person to person, but here are the reasons I can think of:

We are told to/God expect us to:

Paul gives us specific instructions to pray always, and Jesus simply assumed (knew) we will pray.

 Desperation:

As the saying goes, ‘there are no atheists in a fox hole’. When in extremis worries over being weird are superseded by the desperation of having no earthly help against our own disintegration.

I trust in God, even though prayer seems silly:

When my faith in who God is – His love, power, mercy and grace – is strong, it is easier to ‘get over’ the oddness of talking to the ceiling. If I am convinced God is listening, prayer seems rational.

It is part of our human nature to cry out to God:

I am not so sure of this one but mention it because this is a common thought in a lot of Christian books written prior to about 1960. The idea possibly stems from an assumption that all people have an awareness of God. In secular, post-postmodern NZ this is no longer a valid assumption.

Praying gives me peace:

Sometimes when I pray, a sense of peace and being ‘right with God’ washes over me. This is a pleasant experience and I’d love to have it more often. Whether this is a good motivation to pray is not my point today, it is simply one reason why I pray despite the oddness of prayer.

Praying makes stuff happen:

While this will not convince an atheist, something happens when I pray that would not happen if I didn’t. I can testify that God has answered at least some of my own prayers is very tangible ways. An example would be the many times my wife and I have prayed for my work and in over 20 years I have had many jobs yet God has ensured continuous employment for that entire time.

No doubt there are plenty of other reasons why Christians pray, but this should at least indicate that despite seeming to be an odd thing to do, praying to God is not as crazy as it may first appear to be!


Photo of prayer booth: iStock

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Prayer – nice but not necessary?


I like praying, I am convinced that prayer achieves something that cannot be done any other way, but I am a lousy pray-er. An important priority for me is to become better at praying, whatever ‘better’ actually is in God’s eyes.

Last year I read A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller and was impressed by what he wrote, particularly how practical it seemed to be. In the process of reading the book I left numerous marks and notes of passages which I wanted to consider further. As I go back through looking at those notes I will write some posts about what I am learning.

In this post I want to consider one of the things about us that can hinder prayer:

Self-sufficiency

One of the subtlest hindrances to prayer is probably the most pervasive. In the broader culture and in our churches, we prize intellect, competency and wealth. Because we can do life without God, praying seems nice but unnecessary. Money can do what prayer does, and it is quicker and less time-consuming. Our trust in ourselves and our talents makes us structurally independent of God. As a result, exhortations to pray don’t stick. (A Praying Life, p16)

I don’t pray as Jesus taught us – generally I am not overly anxious about having enough bread for the day (though anxiety over my debts is always present!). In my view it would be a stressful way to live having to pray for food each day or clothes to wear or the basics of survival. I know that many people do live like this, most not by choice. Relying on God does not have to mean an empty pantry; there is a lot more to faith than loaves and fishes.

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

One benefit of having walked this Christian road for a good few years now is that I have seen some things which can only happen if God is at work. The transformation of a hard heart to love Christ is the sort of thing I mean. God is in the business of dealing with our hearts, our inner being, the very depths of self that nobody aside from God truly knows or understands. In these murky depths prayer becomes powerful and essential.

Similarly, there is a world outside of us which we are but dimly aware of at best. Whether you read Frank Paretti or not, there is a spiritual realm with beings other than ourselves who have power and agendas that influence our lives. This realm is important even though we cannot directly interact with it. Somehow, what goes on there affects what happens in the physical world and especially with respect to people’s faith and wellbeing.

From within and without all of us are affected by what we do not understand or control. Neither money, human power nor cleverness is useful in contending with these influences. None of us can make changes in the heart of another, only God can. For this we need to pray.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
(Genesis 11:4-6 ESV)

Views of others:


Image of the Tower of Babel by Marten van Valckenborch: Wikimedia commons