Archive for the 'Prayer' Category

Stay in School

I am catching up on posting columns published by the Rhea Herald-News. Hopefully, they will each stand alone. But there may be some sequence issues.

“Walk in a manner pleasing to him.” Colossians 1:10

Last week I introduced the prayer in Colossians 1:9-14, saying: “As Paul prays, he gives wonderful pictures of a life that is pleasing to God and the gifts of God to encourage and motivate us as we walk with Christ.”

Paul prays for the Colossians to fully grow in the will of God. Such a life is walking with God—a life that is “fully pleasing to him,” showing itself to have four manifestations. That’s today’s emphasis—and there’s a surprising twist.

First, Paul prays they would be “bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10). So, what are the good works God is leading you to walk in (Cf. Ephesians 2:10)? To answer, insert what Scripture says about the importance of the church in our lives, spiritual gifting, making disciples, and living out the gospel every day right where you are.

Second, he prays for active growth in intimacy with Christ (1:10). A favorite commentary on this for me is Philippians 3:7-10, where Paul emphatically states everything is nothing—“dung”—to the stellar value of knowing Christ. Like a great marriage, closeness grows as the relationship is cherished. Cheryl and I, for instance, have Friday night dates. What if the value of intimacy with Christ were measured by the time we set aside with Him?

The third demonstration of walking in the will of God is God’s power at work in us. Paul seems to have in mind the tests of faith—suffering, etc. The “glorious might” of God in us causes us to be strengthened, to be patient, and brings us joy (1:11). I don’t prefer it, but the hard things and hard times are a primary way God grows us up. Still.

The last result of the will of God at work in us is we worship—“giving thanks to the Father.” Like the first three, this is an ongoing experience. Have you noticed how often Scripture calls us to a lifestyle of gratefulness to God?

Here’s the twist: Good works and continual thanksgiving are active action words (verbs)—we are directly engaged in them. But the growth in intimacy with Christ and the power of God at work in us are passive action words, i.e., we participate in what God initiates. How great it is that God desires to partner with us to make us more like Christ.

What circumstance is God’s will for you right now—where you can grow, “walk” with Christ, and please Him? These things take intentionality. Like my grandson…

I am still recovering from lunch with four hundred fourth graders last Friday for Grandparent’s Day. My grandson has an amazing teacher in a fine school. Yet each night Wilder prepares for school the next day, each morning he gets on the bus, and daily he goes to a school and a very packed room of fourth graders. I couldn’t be prouder.

May we stay in the Colossae school of walking in the will of God.

The Herald-News, September 16, 2015

The Stupendous Contrast

New Day, June 23, 2015

“But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever…

Of old you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.

You will change them like a robe…but you are the same, and your years have no end.”

Psalm 102:12, 25-26

Yahweh is the stupendous contrast to everything bound to time and space. Universes and galaxies, affliction and evil, enemies and wars, boredom and aloneness fall limp in His presence. Thankfully, in His compassion, the Commander and Creator “regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer” (17). Today’s covered horizon and hidden sun cannot conceal the “work of his hands” (25), nor His Kingship (12), nor the anticipation of forever-life in His presence (28). Now, Father, I can go and rejoice in the day You have given.

Babble

New Day, December 12, 2014

“Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as cast metal mirror? Teach us what we shall say to him…” Job 37:18-19a

This morning, horizon’s blend of colors are subtle and freely overlap from one to another. Their beginning and end are indecipherable. With a delicate and broad stroke God has spread out a glimpse of His majesty across the morning sky. Only He can do this.

Our—my—babble merely scratches the “cast metal mirror” of God’s majesty. But we must try and constantly grow in our language of praise. Like our delight in the mispronounced words and the awkward sentences of toddler children, God takes great pleasure in our halting, fumbling, unstoppable, indescribable joy in God and His works.

Interesting, isn’t it, that God calls those who receive Jesus Christ, “children of God” (John 1:12).

Oliver’s Yelp

“Give us this day our daily bread” Matthew 6:12

I am tired…all five of my grandkids have been visiting. Really, they are wonderful kids and I delight in their different personalities, gifts and ceaseless energy.

The kids range from nine months to ten years old. Depending on their maturity, they have different ways to express their needs and wants. Of course, Oliver, the baby, has only one way to let us know he is hungry. I bet you know what that is. His life is uncomplicated by the many unnecessary ideas and distractions we take on as we age. He is completely dependent on his parents to feed him—and he has the lungs to prove it.

In recent weeks we have looked at the early words of the Lord’s Prayer, which are all about the Father—guarding His name, His reign as King from heaven, His rightful will on earth as it already is in heaven. In today’s verse Jesus teaches us how the Father touches our most basic needs.

For Oliver and us bread is a “daily” need. Daily was an unusual word, and no doubt Jesus had in mind the necessities of life, not just food. Praying this in the morning directs us to dependence and alertness for that day; praying it in the evening sets the stage for the day to come.

Jesus’ hearers must have been thinking the question we have, too—And what about tomorrow? The Master Teacher answered it later in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying ‘What may we eat?’ or ‘What may we drink?’ or ‘What may we put on?’ ” This is not an invitation to forget to harvest the fields or go to work or save like the wise ant for the winter (Proverbs 6). Since we have a choice, let us chose to be an ant and not a sluggard.

Jesus used everyday things to teach us and to point the way to greater things. The lesser things are the life-essential things that come from God’s hand. Later, in contrasting manna in the wilderness with Himself, Jesus would say “For the bread of God is the One coming down from heaven and giving life to the world” (John 6:33). Linger there for a year or two.

The Lord’s Prayer shows us—in the good sense—we never stop being a child. Joy comes as we are dependent instead of obsessive in creating security; trusting the Father instead of worrying; asking instead of assuming. Most of all, every slice of bread, every meal is a reminder of the everlasting life Jesus offers to those who trust in the Bread of Life for eternal life—our greatest need and joy.

Oliver’s yelp is a heavenly chorus.

Heavenly Minded and Earthly Good

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

   On earth as it is in heaven.

                                             Matthew 6:9-10 (ESV)

 I know it isn’t true of your children, but have you seen someone else’s child pitch a tantrum in a public place when their parent didn’t give them something they wanted? Ugly, isn’t it?

Adult tantrums aren’t much prettier. Don’t you hate to watch a grown man cry when his personal banker-wife says no to a new toy? We want our way, don’t we?

Today we come to the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It raises a startling observation: The will of God already taking place in heaven is our goal on earth. Perhaps the first question in discovering the will of God for our lives should be: What would be compatible in our requests with life in heaven and further God’s kingdom on earth? Initially, then, we see the will of God starts somewhere else—heaven. How thankful we are for a heaven-sent Scripture to let us have a peek into the Father’s heart.

Our Garden of Eden relatives thought they had a better idea. We too want to submit to no one. Without conscious effort and discipline praying is difficult and self-centered. In His model prayer, Jesus doesn’t let us get away with making prayer primarily about us and, positively speaking, draws us to heavenly thoughts first.    

The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer establish the person and work of God as the foundation for all prayer. With that in mind, I invite you to write your own paraphrase of Matthew 6:9-10, and to pray it and revise it often as your appreciation for the Father grows. Here is my attempt:

Father in heaven,

You are the center and joy of my prayers,  

   all other thoughts are a distant second compared to You.

Thank You for being the perfect Father who sees all from the perfect place.

   There You are also my King with a perfect agenda.

   Only You can be a loving good Father and reigning victorious King

      all at once and all at the same time.

I’ll do my part to advance Your name and kingdom, and I ask:

   Do whatever it takes to keep Your name holy—

     Father, that has to be more than just not cussing;

   Keep moving Your kingdom plan forward through Messiah Jesus;

   Strip away distractions from my kingdom assignment;

   Focus me on heaven’s plan and way right here on earth.

Surely Father, being heavenly minded is earthly good.

It’s Not About Me, Lord

“Your kingdom come…” Matthew 6:10

Kids understand the kingdom idea.

Samuel, my son-in-law, trekked to Colorado with his family for the same wedding we drove to recently. Back home, he proudly told me Hailie, age 5, and Shawna, age 3 (barely) traveled well all the way there and back. That’s a lot of car miles for little ones. He also says Hailie (who is growing up far too fast to suit me), sometimes wanted her space, time, and books. Can you hear her now gently (?) asking Shawna to be quiet for a while? One half of the back seat was her kingdom.

We return to the Lord’s Prayer after some vacation weeks away. We have explored the early words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9 ESV). Today we venture down the pathway to “Your kingdom come.” It’s a demanding hike.  

John Stott helps us navigate: “The kingdom of God is his royal rule. Again, as he is already holy so he is already King, reigning in absolute sovereignty over both nature and history. Yet when Jesus came he announced a new and special break-in of the kingly rule of God, with all the divine rule implies. To pray that his kingdom may ‘come’ is to pray both that it may grow…and that soon it will be consummated when Jesus returns in glory to take his power and reign.”

Clearly, the song has it right, “It’s not about me, Lord.”

I wrote about a sunrise and the kingdom God recently:

“At first there was gray and fog, and then the sun broke through gloriously with warmth and light to dry our rain-soaked ground.

I was reminded of the in-breaking of Jesus into history, removing the fog of our lives, changing everything, inaugurating His kingdom (Luke 17:20-21), and offering kingdom participation to all those who believe “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel“ (Mark 1:15). Each sunrise is a reminder of the hopeful, forward moving plan of God, and His soon consummation of history as we know it.”

A practical plan for daily kingdom living came from a thoughtful sister-in-Christ, who wrote: “Your focus on sunrises reminds me of my Grandmother who taught me to ask God to show Himself to me each morning, to look for evidence of Him throughout the day, and to recite it back to Him in thankfulness at night. His hand is often there for us to notice if we will simply look for it. Sunrise is a great place to start.”

I like that. Lord Christ, give me a watchful heart to your day-to-day kingdom presence and reign within and around and through me. And with many distractions, keep me watchful for Christ’s soon coming. I can’t wait.

Papa and Friend

How challenging and rich is this: We have a Father and Friend who longs to give us His joy.

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and he asked for my input on prayer. If you wrote a theology on prayer, what would you say? When he asked I silently prayed (imagine!) and my mind was drawn to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. We never went further on that prayer than the first two words, “Our Father.”  God seemed to be saying even at the noisy table: Prayer is first of all based upon a relationship with the Father.

This is a precious thought: God offers a personal relationship with us and, once established, then we get to have intimate, constant conversations with Him. Scripture urges us to “pray without ceasing.” The humorist in me wants to ask: I have no problem with this in the shower, but what about when eating Cheryl’s fabulous cheesecake?

The Bible initially portrays our relationship to God in prayer as: He is Father and we are His children—“Our Father.” John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to be called children of God.” Though we are also called to spiritually grow up we never stop being dependent, affectionate, trusting children of God.

Do you struggle with the idea of God as Father because of your earthly father? I did for years, since I never knew mine. But I am no longer resentful after years of studying God’s attributes and seeing them—Him—instead of focusing on earthly, deficient models. Additionally, I have been helped by spiritual fathers within the church and, especially, through my father-in-law. Thanks again, Dad.

The portrait of the Father in Romans 8 is piercing. There, as a result of our salvation, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs…” Abba is a term of endearment like “Daddy” or “Papa.” This makes me think of my young daughters, jumping into my arms when I came home from work with endless stories to tell and asking me to kiss their injuries and make them all well.

Another powerful New Testament image is of Christ who no longer calls us His servants, but friends (John 15:15a). Friends communicate and reciprocate many things with each other (15:15b), and Jesus’ goal in our friendship with Him is His joy, and “that your joy may be full” (15:11). In context, joy comes from having a relationship and then in responding to the Father and Son by a continuing obedience—following—in “whatsoever I [Jesus] have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

I struggle with prayer. I am glad my friend asked me about it, and that I could linger on this amazing truth: It starts with God who is Father—Papa—and Friend, and who longs to give me His joy. Now that is a sweet, sweet truth and gift.



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