Lord, Teach Us to Pray

This Easter we are planning a prayer strategy at church to intentionally pray for Easter: our services, guests, preacher, choir, Sunday School teachers, attendance, God’s presence, with an expectation that God can and wants to do great things in and through our church.

I found this e-mail devotion from Bible Gateway (March 2, 2017); may we seek to pray better, more effectively, more earnestly, more faithfully, with an expectancy not found in ordinary people.


My hunch is that of all spiritual disciplines, prayer is the one that people feel most guilty about. Somehow it seems that if we really love God prayer should flow out of us without effort or discipline. In fact, this was not the case even with Jesus’ first followers.

They had a front row seat to watch the greatest pray-er who ever prayed. And they noticed that things happened when he prayed. And they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

This is a startling request because as Jews the disciples would have known all about prayers. They would have grown up with prayers offered through the day, before meals, at the beginning of Sabbath, and when they went to synagogue. They weren’t just asking what words to say. The disciples noticed Jesus looked forward to prayer and actually hungered for it. They saw that somehow prayer fed Jesus’ soul the way food fed their stomachs. They observed a richly interactive life between Jesus and his Father. They noticed that at crisis points—when Jesus was grieving over the death of John the Baptist, when he experienced need, when he was tired from ministry—his consistent response was to pray. They wanted to be nourished by prayer the way that Jesus was. So they asked him to teach them.

Here’s the lesson: Prayer is learned behavior. Nobody is born an expert at it. No one ever masters prayer.

Simple prayer is the most common type of prayer in Scripture. Jesus himself teaches it when he tells us to pray for our daily bread. Sometimes it looks amazingly non-spiritual, as when Gideon asks God to give a few more reasons why he should trust Him.

I have had to learn to be fully present when praying. I have had to learn to become aware of and speak with God about what is actually happening within me during prayer. Talking to God directly about what is happening has made prayer become a much more lively experience in my life.

Jesus often taught about intercessory prayer, and if his teachings could be summarized by a single word it would probably be “persistence.” He told parables about people who would not stop requesting—if persistence pays off even on the human level where we have to overcome resistance and apathy on the part of those we approach, how much more should we continue to persist when we approach a heavenly Father whose love and wisdom exceed our wildest imaginings?

Prayer, perhaps more than any other activity, is the concrete expression of the fact that we are invited into a relationship with God. In addition to all the other work that gets done through prayer, perhaps the greatest work of all is the knitting of the human heart together with the heart of God.

Sometimes people fail to learn more about prayer because they don’t reflect on what actually happens when they pray. Take time to reflect. Think of this as what we might do after a visit with a good friend. We spend a few moments alone and think about our time together.

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How to Study the Bible

How to Study the Bible
A congregational tool, by Todd Wendorff

The goal of good Bible study is to learn what the Bible is saying and how it applies to your life.

  • “It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.”
  • But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” – James 1:22 (NLT)

Use the guidelines in this article to study God’s word for yourself. Once you know the passage you want to study simply observe, interpret, and apply. These three steps will get the Word into your life.

  1. Observe the passage by asking the question: What do I see?”
  2. Interpret the passage by asking the question: “What does it mean?”
  3. Apply the passage by asking the question: “What do I do?”

Just answer the questions as you study your passage.

SELECT A PASSAGE
Select 3-10 verses dealing with the same topic. Think about why you want to study this passage.

OBSERVE THE PASSAGE BY ASKING QUESTIONS
All observations are valuable. Write them down. Use the following list of questions as a guide.

  • Who is writing or speaking and to whom?
  • What is the passage about?
  • What are the commands?
  • What are the promises or cause/effect relationships?
  • What are the repeated words and ideas?
  • What problems were the recipients facing?
  • Where does this take place?
  • When does this take place?
  • Why does the speaker or author say/write what he does?
  • What do I learn about God?
  • What do I learn about Jesus?
  • What do I learn about the Holy Spirit?
  • What do I learn about me (or mankind)?

Write out any additional observations or insights from the passage. This may include contrasts, lists, comparisons, etc.

INTERPRET THE PASSAGE
WHAT IS THE “BIG IDEA” OF THE PASSAGE—YOUR THEME?
This can most readily be identified from the commands and the repeated words and ideas in the passage. Often there will be one command in the passage with several motivations.

In one phrase sum up the main thought of the passage. Make sure your theme is large enough in scope to include all the author is saying in the passage. It’s often the biggest point that is being made. It often requires you to step back and look at the passage as a whole.

ANSWER THE QUESTIONS YOU RAISED IN THE OBSERVATION STEP
Put your answers in the form of an outline. Take your main theme and break down the passage into sub points under the theme. These sub points form principles of life and ministry. A principle is defined as a timeless lesson in the way God works or is doing things in the world.

To develop each principle (each point in your outline) you will want to EXPLAIN IT (interpretation), ILLUSTRATE IT (from the Bible or personal examples of how this principle worked out both positively and negatively) and APPLY IT (not every point will have specific application). You may want to do this on a separate sheet of paper.

For example, you may be studying Luke 10:38-42, the passage about Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.

The passage is about choosing what is best for your spiritual life. The author is saying that sitting at the feet of Jesus is best. Now, how does each verse fit into the theme? This is where interpretation comes in.

  • Martha is distracted by busyness. Busyness robs from our spiritual life.
  • Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Him. Sitting and listening to Jesus is always a priority in our spiritual lives. Jesus says make time to sit and listen.

STEPS TO INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE
To help you interpret the passage, answer like the ones listed below. Use as many or as few as you need to.

  • What are the meanings of the words?
  • What does the immediate context suggest? (preceding and succeeding verses)
  • What does the broader context suggest? (chapter and book)
  • What do other cross references suggest?
  • What is the cultural meaning? (What did it mean to those to whom it was originally addressed?)
  • What do commentaries suggest?

APPLY IT TO YOUR LIFE
This is where you purpose to do what God has taught you through bible study. (James 1:21-25, Matthew 7:24-27). It is through applying the Word that God changes our lives.

Application does not happen by osmosis, but by intent. God enlightens us from the Word, we enact the application with our wills, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to carry out these choices. It is usually best to concentrate on applying one principle at a time. The goal of all application is to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:16—”All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for:

  1. TEACHING: What did I learn?
  2. REPROOF: Where do I fall short? Why do I fall short?
  3. CORRECTION: What will I do about it?
  4. TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS: How can I make this principle a consistent part of my life?

Copyright 2003 by Todd Wendorff [ from Christianity Today online ]

Reckless Generosity

In our world, we like to measure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. We don’t like unchanging standards. We can always find somebody who is worse, greedier, further away from God’s standards. We can do this in many areas of life:

  • Generosity: We can say, “My heart’s generous. I want to be generous. I just don’t have very much money right now. Things are kind of tight. Someday, I’ll have more money and then I’ll help take care of people who are in need.” But for now, we go on spending every dime we have on ourselves.
  • Serving: We can say, “I’m really busy right now. I’d love to serve people who are in need, but I can’t fit it into my schedule. Maybe when I have more time and get on top of things, then I will serve.” But our schedule never seems to open up and serving never fits into our day planner. 
  • Reaching Out: We can say, “I’d love to form a relationship with somebody of a different ethnicity or culture. I really want to be part of God’s solution to breaking down the walls that divide us, but it involves taking risks, and I am not up for that. I will wait for someone else to reach out to me; then maybe I can respond instead of initiate.”

But time passes and the walls grow higher and higher. We can measure our lives by comparing ourselves with others, but God does not. He sets a standard that is radically different from the constantly changing world in which we live. We need to look to his Word and discover his standard and then ask him for the strength to grow in our devotion to live with the justice, righteousness, and compassion that marks the heart of God.

God says, “I will measure my people by the one standard that counts. It’s very simple. Are people hungry? Feed them. Are people sick? Help them. Are people oppressed? Stick up for them. Are the widows lonely? Visit them. Are there uneducated children? Teach them. Are people rejected because of the color of their skin? Befriend them.”

The widow of Zarephath fed Elijah even though she had but a handful of flour and a little oil in a jug. (1 Kings 17:7–24) In this story she is recklessly generous. She gives the last of what she has to Elijah.

We should all pause occasionally to ask if we are living with that kind of generous spirit. Maybe we have an abundance of oil and flour in our jars. Maybe we only have a little. Maybe we have a huge flour jar, or perhaps a very small one. No matter what we have, we can still learn to live with a generous spirit.

Here are some questions we might want to ask occasionally:

  • Am I being faithful with my tithe to God?
  • Am I being responsive to the needs of the poor?
  • Am I learning to take risks in giving that stretch my faith?
  • Am I giving in a way that is becoming a natural part of how I live?
  • Am I noticing God’s generous provision in my life and responding with a thankful heart?

Dallas Willard says the law of the kingdom is the law of inversion, where the last are first and the servants are the greatest. This is modeled in a striking way in the life of this widow. The weakest, most vulnerable person — an impoverished, pagan, Gentile widow — becomes the one whose generosity keeps the prophet Elijah alive.

If you were the widow in this story, how do you think you would have responded to Elijah’s request? What an amazing example for all of us!

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[ This is directly from Bible Gateway e-mail Devotion, 2017-01-12 ]

Calling God Father

One of the most well-known statements of the Christian faith is the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the words “Our Father which art in heaven.” This is part of the universal treasury of Christendom. When I hear Christians in a private gathering praying individually, almost every single person begins their prayer by addressing God as Father. There’s nothing more common among us than to address God as our Father. So central is this to our Christian experience that in the nineteenth century, there were some who said the basic essence of the whole Christian religion can be reduced to two points: the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God. In that context I am afraid we have missed one of the most radical teachings of Jesus.

A few years ago, a German scholar was doing research in New Testament literature and discovered that in the entire history of Judaism, in all existing books of the Old Testament and all existing books of extra-biblical Jewish writings dating from the beginning of Judaism until the tenth century A.D. in Italy, there is not a single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as Father. There were appropriate forms of address that were used by Jewish people in the Old Testament, and the children were trained to address God in proper phrases of respect. All these titles were memorized, and the term Father was not among them.

The first Jewish rabbi to call God “Father” directly was Jesus of Nazareth. It was a radical departure from tradition, and in fact, in every recorded prayer we have from the lips of Jesus save one, he calls God “Father.” It was for that reason that many of Jesus’ enemies sought to destroy him; he assumed to have this intimate, personal relationship with the sovereign God of heaven and the creator of all things, and he dared to speak in such intimate terms with God. What’s even more radical is that Jesus says to his people, “When you pray, you say, ‘Our Father.'” He has given to us the right and privilege to come into the presence of the majesty of God and address him as Father because indeed he is our Father. He has adopted us into his family and made us coheirs with his only begotten Son (Romans 8:17).

[print_link] [email_link] [ This is from R.C. Sproul, through Bible Gateway ]

Renewing Your Mind

Only God Can Change a Mindrenew-your-mind

Paul wrote to the church at Rome for people to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (Romans 12:2) He doesn’t say “transform yourselves by renewing your minds.” Only God can change a mind. This explains why Paul wrote to Timothy that God has “not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) When God is present in a mind, it begins to flow with a new kind of thought. But there is a role for us to play. We can, by choice and by our actions, invite God to be present in our mind. Or we can close the door to him. It all depends on what kind of mind we want to cultivate. So let’s walk through three options.

1. Maybe your goal is debauchery, lechery, and depravity. It’s not hard to cultivate a mind like this. You can do it. Just be careful about what you do and don’t put into your mind. The moods that will dominate your life are resentment, anxiety, unsatisfied desire. The key to maintaining this inner life is found in Psalm 10:4, “In their pride the wicked do not seek him; In all their thoughts there is no room for God.” It’s not hard to cultivate this kind of mind. All you have to do is avoid contact with anything that would disrupt this flow of thoughts. Avoid Scripture, avoid wise and honest people who know you deeply, avoid honest self-examination, avoid contact with people in need who might move you to compassion. Mostly you have to make sure that in your thoughts there is no room for God.

2. If your goal is to have a mediocre spiritual life, you can do a half-and-half deal. The Bible talks about this. One writer speaks of a condition called “double-mindedness.” In the Jewish tradition it is called the yetzer hara, the wayward heart. Jesus himself refers to a church suffering from what he called “lukewarmness”; it is neither cold nor at the boiling point. It doesn’t experience any change of properties. This condition enables you to get the worst of all worlds: you experience a kind of chronic, low-level, hidden debauchery so you’re frustrated by all the fun you think that major-league debauchery professionals are having. Yet you get just enough spiritual-religious input so you have chronic, low-level guilt about the amount of depravity you are maintaining. How do you pursue this goal? Get sporadic spiritual input. Go to church sometimes. Read the Bible once in a while — but without clarity about how you want it to shape your mind. Pray sporadically — when you’re in trouble. But then mostly fill your mind with the things that everybody else in our culture fills their minds with. Just keep spiritual channel-surfing.

There is a third alternative.

3. Make your mind the dwelling place of God. The goal here is to have a mind in which the glorious Father of Jesus is always present and gradually crowds out every distorted belief, every destructive feeling, every misguided intention. You will know your mind is increasingly “set on God” when the moods that dominate your inner life are love, joy, and peace — the three primary components of the fruit of the Spirit. God is never more than a thought away. To make my mind a home for Jesus, I deliberately fill my mind with the kinds of things God says are important. Paul puts it like this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

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[ This is from Bible Gateway, an e-mail devotion from October 6, 2016 ]