Developing Spiritual Discernment

The longer one is a follower of Jesus Christ, the greater one should have spiritual discernment, which is the ability to determine right from wrong, good from evil, this direction or that.

Discernment does not come by flipping a coin and saying “heads or tails,” and it doesn’t completely rely on common sense or the conscience. Spiritual discernment is a gift from God and comes to us through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every authentic Christian. It is the supernatural ability to “know” something not because of personal knowledge or experience, but because of personal time spent with God in prayer and time spent in his Word.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5–7)

The ability to know God and discern his will for your life comes through…

Salvation: Spiritual things can be discerned only by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have met the prerequisite for knowing the mind of Christ. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Scripture: As you study Scripture, you learn how God works in the lives of His people. Understanding God’s principles gives you a basis for knowing how He is working in your life today.

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise (Psalm 111:10).
  • These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Situations: Are you focusing on God’s will for your future? Instead, focus on God’s purpose in your present situation, and trust Him with your future. God always has a personal will for you, and your responsibility is to adjust to what He is doing in your life right now. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33–34).

Surrender: Are you surrendering to what God wants to do in your life today? Pray to be moldable clay in the Potter’s hand, allowing God to mold and shape you into the vessel of His choosing. O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? declares the LORD. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel (Jeremiah 18:6).

Servanthood: Have you given up ownership of your own life? When your heart is willing to be God’s servant no matter the cost, He will reveal His plan for you. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:24–25).

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Testing our Decisions

How does one know if they are making the right decision, it may be more practical than you think. From God’s perspective, decisions are not to be determined by random selection, supernatural events, people’s opinions, delay tactics, analytical thinking, or good feelings. God wants you to measure your decisions by his standards. Rather than testing God, test yourself using these Scriptures:

Scriptural Test: Has God already spoken about it in His Word? All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Maybe marrying a nonbeliever in hopes of drawing the spouse to Christ even though 2 Corinthians 6:14 says not to be yoked together with unbelievers.

Secrecy Test: Would it bother me if everyone knew this was my choice? The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (Proverbs 11:3). Perhaps like, thinking no one is hurt by keeping an overpayment of returned cash or credit.

Survey Test: What if everyone followed my example? Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). Perhaps like assuming a little trash tossed out the car window will never be noticed on a busy highway.

Spiritual Test: Am I being people-pressured or Spirit-led? Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). An example might be volunteering for an assignment but doing it for the show of others, not as a confirmation that God wants you to do this.

Stumbling Test: Could this cause another person to stumble? It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall (Romans 14:21). Maybe having an alcoholic drink in a public place could cause this stumbling of others.

Serenity Test: Have I prayed and received peace about this decision? Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7). Maybe we decide to make any major change without praying and waiting on God’s peace for confirmation.

Sanctification Test: Will this keep me from growing in the character of Christ? We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Perhaps you are failing to obey God when He prompts you to do something that is difficult or burdensome.

Supreme Test: Does this glorify God? Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:8, 10). Perhaps you are conforming to the world’s standards by living a lifestyle of indebtedness.

A final reminder can be this: Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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Ways We Make Decisions

How do people come to make godly decisions that honor him? I recently read this from June Hunt that lists six methods of decision-making:

What Are Six Methods of Decision Making?

If you could, wouldn’t you want to know the future? If you could see the outcome, wouldn’t it make your decisions a lot more accurate? Today people seek guidance through a variety of occult practices. They search for answers in newspaper columns, carnival booths, and psychic hotlines. Astrologers, palm readers, and fortune-tellers toting tarot cards all claim to speak for God, but the God of the Bible says these dramatic ways are “detestable” (Deuteronomy 18:9). He warns us…

  • Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:31)
  • There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

Making decisions can be approached in various ways, but most will fall into one of the following six methods or a combination of some of them. Not all methods of decision-making will prove to be profitable.

Dramatic Method: Some people misuse Scripture by flipping open the Bible and pointing to some random Scripture for guidance without considering the context. Others expect God to come through with a spectacular, supernatural sign that will give proof of His will in a given situation. God says … The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

Defaulting Method: Scripture tells us there is an appropriate time to delegate duties and to seek counsel, but ultimately we are responsible for our own choices. We can even be so pressured by the opinions of others that it becomes easier just to let others make decisions for us … even when we think they are wrong. God says … He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right (Isaiah 7:15).

Delaying Method: Many people choose to procrastinate when a decision is due, hoping that “it will all come out well in the end.” They allow circumstances to determine the outcome. However, not to decide is actually a decision. Their delay tactics are filled with superfluous activities that do not include placing a high priority on knowing God’s will through prayer, biblical counsel, and intimacy with the Lord.  God says … That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways’ (Hebrews 3:10).

Deductive Method: The Christian life is to be a life of balance between human deduction and spiritual insight. If we become solely analytical in thinking through a situation and choose to rely completely on logic, we will miss God’s way. God says … My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (Isaiah 55:8).

Desirous Method: Too many people allow their emotions to have “soul control.” This means allowing feelings to determine their behavior. God gave us emotions, but He never intended emotions to be our “decision makers.” Many of us don’t even realize that we often have an “if it feels good, it must be good” mentality. God says … He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe (Proverbs 28:26).

Discerning Method (the best method): To be discerning is to grasp what may not be evident, that is, “to have insight and understanding by going beyond what seems obvious.” Spiritual discernment, therefore, is wisdom to determine what is true, appropriate, and superior in the eyes of God, regardless of how things may seem. God says … The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

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How to Seek Guidance

People always want to know how they can tell what God wants them to do, the churchy question is phrased like this: “What is God’s will for my life?” You may be interested in reading more on the topic, I have a page covering several issues surrounding God’s will.

I discovered that there are only eight places in the Bible where the word guidance is used (in the NASB):

  1. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance (2 Kings 16:15)
  2. Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13)
  3. Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance (Proverbs 1:5)
  4. For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers (Proverbs 11:14)
  5. Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance (Proverbs 20:18)
  6. Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers (Proverbs 24:6)
  7. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” (Habakkuk 2:19)
  8. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28)

We may seek guidance, but God provides something better, he provides himself.

The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (Isaiah 58:11)

Many of us struggle to understand and discern God’s guidance for our lives. We ask questions like:

  1. Should I marry or not?
  2. Should I marry this person or that person?
  3. Should I have another child? Should I join this church or that one?
  4. Which profession should I follow?
  5. What job should I take?
  6. Is my present line of work the one to stay in?

Herein lies the major distortion of knowing and doing God’s will. Does God lead and direct in these areas? Yes. Does he come out and overtly tell us what to do? Rarely.

So how does God guide us? Consider these principles:

  1. God’s guidance concerns itself more with our steps than our overall journey.
  2. God’s guidance is more preoccupied with the present than with the future.
  3. God’s guidance has less to do with geography and more to do with morality.
  4. God’s guidance is more interested in our character than our comfort.
  5. God’s guidance is not insider information.
  6. God’s guidance is that we pursue the Guide more than guidance.

In seeking God, his plan will be revealed to us. His way will lead back through his Word. If the step is more critical than the journey, and the present is of greater consequence than the future, and the Guide more essential than the guidance, what is needed? We need to know the right step to take and to know what we must do in the present. That’s why we need to know the Guide.

God does not guide us magically; he guides us relationally. Therefore, the Bible must be studied so we may become acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God. God’s aim is that we become his companions who walk with him. He already knows us, so now he wants us to understand and know him. The more we understand him, the more real our relationship will be with him and the more likely we are to keep in step with him in the direction he is taking us.

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Six Aspects of Prayer

Six Aspects of Prayer: a service of prayer at The Well, October 23, 2011, facilitated by Scott Chafee and Rick Heil.

Today is going to be a little different. Our focus is on prayer, and we will look at six aspects of prayer that you may have not considered before today. Oswald Chambers once said that, “prayer does not equip us for greater works, prayer is the greater work.” How often do we rush through prayer because we have more important tasks to get on with? If we are intent on living our lives free from God’s influence and direction, perhaps prayer is not all that important. But if we claim to be one of his children, how can we neglect such a necessary activity?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

So, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, when you pray…

1. Forgiveness: we must be in touch with God daily because we sin daily. We are a part of a curse that beats us down in bondage to sin and the guilt it brings. God desires to set us free. Just as we need food daily; we pray that God would give us our daily bread. This is not future bread, since tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. So we pray today, daily, for the Lord of the present to give us strength to carry on through this life. We pray for forgiveness and victory so that we may walk in a manner worthy of being one of God’s children.

Personal Reflection: Let us silently reflect upon our own sinfulness; confess that sin and receive the assurance that God’s grace forgives us, cleanses us, and restores us. Jesus, hear our prayers of confession to You. We thank You for forgiveness and do not take it lightly. Help us to be as repulsed by our sin as You are. As we rise to walk in newness of life, we thank you for Your amazing grace.

Sing: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

2. Perspective: it is essential that we see life from God’s perspective, and that only comes through prayer. Prayer is not only talking to God, it is listening to him. As we pray, we go beyond our needs and often selfish prayers and become advocates for the needs of the “least of these” all around us. When our perspective changes, we begin to see the world differently. Sometimes our problems are not as earthshaking as we first believed when we compare our situation with others around us. We will often complain of having no shoes until we meet someone with no feet.

Pray: A guided prayer for God’s perspective on the needs all around us. “Who are the least of these that you see each week? How have you met the needs of lost people in your circle of influence? Ask God for the ability to look out for the interests of others more important than yourself. Put into your mind the face of someone you know is hurting, and ask God to reveal how you might help them.”

3. Guidance: we cannot walk through this life on our own, we will always make a mess of our lives when we try to go through life being in charge of our own spirituality. We need the guidance of God and to allow him to show us the way we should go. We are very poor at making unselfish decisions, so what we need right now is a heart transplant; we need to open our hearts and develop a desire to know God…

Sing: Open the Eyes of My Heart
Sing: A Heart Like Yours

We must pray every day for guidance. How else will we get a heart like his? James tells us that if anyone lacks wisdom, he should “ask God, who give generously to all without finding fault, it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Third Day has a song with a tremendous message on guidance; it’s called “Revelation.” The lyrics go like this:

My life, Has led me down the road that’s so uncertain, And now I am left alone and I am broken, Trying to find my way, Trying to find the faith that’s gone.

This time, I know that you are holding all the answers, I’m tired of losing hope and taking chances, On roads that never seem, To be the ones that bring me home

Give me a revelation, Show me what to do, Cause I’ve been trying to find my way, I haven’t got a clue. Tell me should I stay here, Or do I need to move? Give me a revelation, I’ve got nothing without You, I’ve got nothing without You.

The point is that we all need prayer to orient our lives. Part of that new orientation is allowing God to direct our paths, to show us the way to go, after all, Jeremiah tells us that, “the heart is desperately wicked, who can trust it,” so we desperately need a heart transplant. Then we begin to understand the importance of Christian community.

4. Community: we do not live out the Christian faith in a vacuum, we live in community. In this individualistic and self-centered society, we value privacy more than a sense of community. When we attempt to life a Christian life outside of the community of faith, we slowly begin to burn out, like a log removed from a bonfire.

When it comes to prayer, we may pray individually but we are a part of a larger praying church. When we pray, we build relationships not only with God but with each other. Jesus said, “where two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). Just as in the early church, we gather together to pray and to worship; which affects us much more deeply than when we are just by ourselves. The fellowship of prayer helps us to grow, and it helps the church become the community that God intends.

Pray: for God’s guidance (individually and corporately) and for the community of faith.

Offering: this is not a distraction from worship, rather making our offerings to God is a part of worship. We cannot read the Bible and not see how important it was and is to bring an offering to the Lord.

5. Action: we are called to accomplish God’s work in the world. It is not praying first and then getting busy; remember that prayer is the greater work; prayer is the work of the church and therefore the work of the Christian. Prayer is not the last thing we do because we should pray without ceasing. Our minds need to be filled with the mission and purpose of God in our lives and in the world. How can we live in this world, see from God’s perspective, and not be moved toward action?

Prayer makes things happen: as we pray, it does not change God, but it changes us. Oswald Chambers also said that, “prayer does not change things; prayer changes us and we change things.” When it comes to taking action in the church, we must all seek a place to serve before we seek a place to sit.

After we pray for forgiveness, pray that God would help you see ourselves and the world from his perspective, pray about how God is going to guide you, then experience life through the community of faith, and then allow God to move you toward action.

Pray: for God to move us toward action and service.

6. Response: it is one thing to respond to God with or by our actions, but it is another to respond to God for who he is. In prayer, we all need to respond to who God is. We often believe that prayer is for the purpose of meeting our own needs. So when we pray, we worship and we give our adoration to God for who he is, not for what he has done. Our praying is a response to who God is. Listen to the psalmist as he does this (Psalm 96 on CD).

Sing: Our God
Sing: I Could Sing of Your Love Forever
Sing: How Great is Our God

Oswald Chambers said of prayer: “Prayer is the evidence that I am spiritually concentrated on God.” When we don’t feel like praying, it will often be evidence that we have slipped away into our own world of selfishness. When we are concentrated on God, the natural flow from our heart is prayer.

Chambers also says: “Prayer does not equip us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. We think of prayer as a commonsense exercise of our higher powers in order to prepare us for God’s work. In the teaching of Jesus Christ prayer is the working of the miracle of Redemption in me which produces the miracle of Redemption in others by the power of God. The way fruit remains is by prayer, but remember it is prayer based on the agony of Redemption, not on my agony. Only a child gets prayer answered; a wise man does not.” Remember that prayer changes us, and then we change things.

Prayer is the development of relationship, not a formula for personal requests. We continue to bear fruit by the means of prayer. Let today be the day that we refuse to ignore this vital part of our spiritual lives.

Benediction: as a group we will pray for the experience of today.

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The Guidance of God

This month we have been looking at the topic of “Hearing the Voice of God.” As we strive to hear God’s voice, we can be assured that he will be asking something of us. If we have the faith to seek him, actively listen, and then actually follow through and obey, life is then aligning itself with kingdom purposes.

Today I believe it is extremely important to make sure we emphasize the proper words in the theme for the month. Most of us will tend to emphasize HEARING the voice of God. Others might emphasize hearing the VOICE of God, but I submit to you that our emphasis needs to be on hearing the voice of GOD.

The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. — Isaiah 58:11

While the Bible never uses the word guidance, it does speak of a Guide. We may seek guidance, but God provides something better than guidance, he provides himself.

Many of us struggle to understand and discern God’s guidance for our lives. We ask questions like:

  1. Should I marry or not?
  2. Should I marry this person or that person?
  3. Should I have another child?
  4. Should I join this church or that one?
  5. Which profession should I follow?
  6. What job should I take?
  7. Is my present line of work the one to stay in?

Here lies the major distortion of knowing and doing God’s will. Does God lead and direct in these areas? Yes. Does he come out and overtly tell us what to do? Rarely.

So how does God guide us? Consider these principles:

  1. God’s guidance concerns itself more with our steps than our overall journey.
  2. God’s guidance is more preoccupied with the present than with the future.
  3. God’s guidance has less to do with geography and more to do with morality.
  4. God’s guidance is more interested in our character than our comfort.
  5. God’s guidance is not insider information.
  6. God’s guidance is that we pursue the Guide more than guidance.

In seeking God, his plan will be revealed. His way will be known through his Word. We need to know the Bible, but more importantly we need to know the Guide. God does not guide us magically; he guides us relationally. The Bible must be studied so we may become acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God. God’s aim is that we become his companions who walk with him on a journey. He already knows us. Now he wants us to understand and know him. The more we understand him, the more real our relationship will be with him and the more likely we are to keep in step with him in the direction he is taking us.

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Biblical Counseling

Wayne Oates stated that counseling is inevitable, but there is a choice “between counseling in a disciplined and skilled way and counseling in an undisciplined and unskilled way.” (Introduction to Pastoral Counseling, 1959, p.vi).

But the Bible was not written as a textbook on counseling, but it does deal with loneliness, discouragement, marriage problems, grief, parent-child relations, anger, fear and a host of other counseling situations. In medicine, teaching and other “people centered” helping fields, mankind has been permitted to learn a great deal about God’s creation through science and academic study. Why should psychology be singled out as the one field that has nothing to contribute to the work of the counselor? Over the past 100 years God has allowed psychologists to develop careful research tools for studying human behavior and professional journals for sharing their findings. Psychologists have learned what makes people tick and how people change.


Biblical Counseling: This is a series based upon personal study and reading.

    1. Biblical Counseling
    2. The Goals of Counseling
    3. The Counselor’s Role
    4. The Counselor’s Characteristics
    5. The Techniques of Counseling
    6. The Process of Counseling
    7. The Counselor’s Ethics
    8. The Counselor’s Motivation
    9. The Crisis in Counseling
    10. Crisis Intervention
    11. The Counselor’s Vulnerability
    12. The Homework in Counseling
    13. The Counselor’s Burnout
    14. The Counselor’s Sexuality
    15. Referrals in Counseling
    16. Counseling and Anxiety
    17. Counseling and Loneliness
    18. The Future of Counseling

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LifeShape 6 the Hexagon

This information is not original with me, but from a fascinating book I found entitled, “The Passionate Church: The Art of Life-Changing Discipleship.” Since I am a visual learner, I have included my personally designed diagrams along with my own notes to help in my disciple-making and teaching efforts.

Learning to pray according to the model Jesus gave us in the Lord’s Prayer will renew your church’s prayer life.

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, 4 and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.” — Luke 11:1-4

The disciples were full-time students, learning practical faith by watching Jesus in action. We are not told to pray for everything we need for the rest of our lives, but only for today. Using the Model Prayer of Jesus found in the Sermon on the Mount, let us learn to pray as Jesus did.

Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. — Matthew 6:9-13

The Hexagon in the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in Heaven – Here is an important relational concept: Father. Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba, meaning Daddy. This implies the intimacy we have with God. Jesus is teaching us to have this right relationship that He enjoys with the Father, which transcends physical presence. (This is eternal life, that they know You, the one true God – John 17:3)

May Your Name Be Kept Holy – God is very close yet different. We offer reverence and respect to our God who is holy. We acknowledge that He is what we desire to be; we long for Christ-likeness.

May Your Kingdom Come Soon. May Your Will Be Done on Earth As it is in Heaven – Our Father is not just a King, He is the King. We want His kingdom to advance in this world. We desire what You desire. (Glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began – John 17:5).

Give Us Today the Food We Need – Human beings are needy things, and we admit it; food, water, shelter, health, emotional and spiritual needs. Whatever the hunger, He provides. (Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You – John 17:7).

Forgive Us Our Sins As We Have Forgiven Those Whose Sin is Against Us – God has given us some territory that is ours, and we often stray from the territory on to land that belongs to someone else and we incur a debt we cannot pay. When we transgress against another we are saying, “God, what You have given to me is not enough” and we must seek forgiveness. Lord, keep us from being indebted to You in withholding forgiveness from others. (I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave Me to do – John 17:4).

Don’t Let Us Yield to Temptation – now the prayer is dealing with our relationship with the Father, and then those around us. Here it changes to where we go out into the world with God’s message. Take us into the world to do Your work, but give us the strength to be in the world but not of the world. (Sanctify them by the truth, Your word is truth – John 17:17).

Rescue Us From the Evil One – There is an enemy of our soul, who desires that we participate in what is evil. If we are led astray, we will actually end up in the hands of the evil one. The thief comes to kill and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life. (My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one – John 17:15).

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