How many times have you prayed today? For many of us a prayer usually happens at meal time or when something bad is happening, and that’s it. There is nothing wrong with praying in those times but what about all the other times?
Shouldn’t we pray when things are going well and when there isn’t food siting in front of us? In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul gives us 3 things we are to do at all times. In verse 16-18 he says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Hopefully you now have that song stuck in your head now because our lives are to be filled with praising God. How do we do this? Through prayer. Praying at all times is a necessity for the Christian. It is our connection to the Father from where we gain our strength and receive His blessings. If we are not praying at all times then how can we expect to resist the temptations of the Devil? Prayer must be one of your attributes if you want to be a follower of Christ.
The last thing Paul says is to give thanks in all circumstances. Again this is done through prayer. Our prayers should be offering praise and thanksgiving at all times to the One who has called us His children. Prayer isn’t just for meal times and sick times. Prayer is for all times. “One week without prayer makes one weak.” So how many times have you
I’m sure many of you have played the game hide and seek. You all know the two outcomes of the game… stay hidden or be found. If you are as crafty as my son you will be tough to find. But someone who searches every nook and cranny will eventually find the one who is hiding, even the one who does not want to be found.
Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” This is a key verse for the church. If that was Jesus’ goal it should be ours as well. Once people come to know Christ as their Savior the church’s job is not finished. According to Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells us, "to go make disciples." The word "Go," invokes action. If we are to properly respond to Jesus’ command to go make disciples, then we are to be seeking someone out. Not to just get them to church, but to teach them what a disciple is and what a disciple does.
A perfect example is found in 1 Kings 19:19-21 where Elijah went and found Elisha. Elijah sought out Elisha because God told him to. God spoke and Elijah responded. For years Elisha studied and followed Elijah until it was his time for him to lead. In the same way God will put someone on your heart that He wants you to seek out and disciple. The question is… are you willing to seek that person out, or let them stay hidden?
Around this time last year we shared with the congregation the twelve characteristics/habits of disciples. We recognize that there could be more added, and that there is overlap, however these were the twelve that the elders came up with that we believe are “non-negotiable.” That is, healthy disciples are marked by these characteristics. These characteristics are going to become the focus point of our blog articles.
This week I want to take a few moments and explore the reality that Disciples Pursue. The question then becomes, pursue what?
We believe that Scripture makes it clear that those who follow Christ (Disciples) are called to pursue holiness. It was the call for the Israelites in the Old Testament. The pursuit of holiness is what undergirds all that is written in Leviticus, you can see the call specifically in Leviticus 11:44-45. It has been said that Exodus is about getting the Israelites out of Egypt and Leviticus is about getting Egypt out of the Israelites.
Much like the Israelites struggled to leave Egypt in their past, we find ourselves struggling to leave our spiritual darkness in our past. At least I know I do. The Apostle Paul relates to this as well, writing, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19, ESV).
I don’t know about you but I am both frustrated and encouraged by these words of Paul. Frustrated, because it acknowledges the reality that this is a struggle that will not be over this side of eternity. Encouraged, because I know that I am not alone in this struggle, and even the author of a large majority of the New Testament fought the same thing.
In his work The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes, “In all of our thoughts, all of our actions, in every part of our character, the ruling principle that motivates and guides us should be the desire to follow Christ in doing the will of the Father. This is the high road we must follow in the pursuit of holiness.” (pg 47).
This is my prayer for us, that we would follow Christ in doing the will of the Father in every arena of our lives.
The past couple weeks we have discussed reaching out to people in our lives who don’t know Christ. Really what we are discussing is a matter of discipleship. It is part of your discipleship as you are faithful to God’s call to make disciples. Furthermore, as you enter into conversations with people about things of faith, you are really taking them into the first steps of discipleship for themselves.
It is important that we keep in mind that sharing our faith, whatever the means, is only the beginning of discipleship. We have to remember that the Great Commission is not a call to make converts or church attenders, rather it is a call to make disciples and teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded.
I want for a moment though to offer a word of encouragement in the midst of this emphasis of evangelism. As we enter into conversations with people we can easily become discouraged, people can be unreceptive at best and downright mean at worst. At times the fear of this receptivity can be so paralyzing that we never begin the conversation in the first place.
Furthermore, when we do have success in the conversation, and our loved ones are receptive, discouragement can still be lurking around the corner. It is a difficult thing to pour time, energy, and love into people as you disciple them, only to watch them walk away knowing the truth. This too can become paralyzing.
As you begin these conversations, remember that you are being conformed into the Image of Christ. These failures are not unknown to Him and His ministry. Countless people heard His message only to walk away because it was too difficult, others actively plotted to murder Him. Then within the twelve themselves, men who walked away from everything to follow Him, there was even failure. Peter. Judas. The ten who were nowhere to be found during His trials.
We must realize, that if the perfect Creator—Savior God in the Flesh didn’t have a 100% success rate chances are we won’t either. Take heart, you are in good company. Be encouraged, sometimes, like Peter, the prodigals return. Be comforted, you can only control yourself, you are only accountable for your actions and words, while you can encourage and try to guide you cannot make the choice for others.
The question left, will you be obedient to the call to go and make disciples or will you be disobedient and choose not to, leaving it for others?
From Thom Rainer.com
“Five Reasons Church Members Attend Church Less Frequently:
About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month. Something is wrong with this picture. For 2,000 years, the local church, as messy as it is, has been God’s place for believers to gather, worship, minister, and be accountable to one another. And every time I write something about church membership and attendance, I inevitably hear cries of “legalism” or “the church is not a building” or “the church is a messed up institution.” But the local church, the messy local church, is what God has used as His primary instrument to make disciples. But commitment is waning among many church members. Why?
1. We are minimizing the importance of the local church. When we do, we are less likely to attend. A few drops of rain may keep many folks from attending church, but it won’t stop them from sitting three hours in the downpour watching their favorite football team.
2. We worship the idols of activities. Many members will replace a day in their church with a day at kid’s soccer or softball games or sleeping off the hangover of the previous day’s activities.
3. We take a lot of vacations from church. I am not anti-vacation. But 20 years or so ago, we would make certain we attended a church where we were taking a vacation. Today, many members take a vacation from church.
4. We do not have high expectations of our members. Any purposeful organization expects and gets much of it members, whether it’s a sports team or a civic organization. It is ironic that most churches do not come close to being a high expectation church.
5. We make infrequent attendees leaders in our churches. When we do, we are making a clear statement that even the leaders of the church do not have to be committed to the place they supposedly lead.
I heard a leader of an organization tell the members he did not want them if they were not fully committed. They could not be AWOL if they wanted to be a part of the group. He expected full commitment. He is a high school football coach. And all the team members follow that high expectation of commitment.
If we truly expect to make a difference in our communities and our families, members of local churches need to have at least the same level of commitment as members of sports teams.
After all, the mission of each local church is far more important. At least it should be.”
I fully agree. Let’s quit messing around and get our priorities straight.
I had the opportunity to sit in a courtroom a couple weeks ago. It was an interesting scene as there was a flurry of activity prior to session. Lawyers catching up on legal cases, talking shop, and ironing out details about other pending cases. Each of them were taking their turn to talk with the prosecutor about various issues. The room was an intimidating place. From the gallery where I sat you look over the back of the prosecution and defense tables. A 12 person jury bench is seated to the right side of the room. The witness block felt like it had the weight of the room on its shoulders located down in the front right at center of this arena. And finally at center top of the room lording over everything was the judges bench. I noticed that were glass covered book cases lining one entire wall from the front of the room to the back, and the entire wall behind the judge. The books looked to be massive law books from more than a hundred years ago. On the prosecutors table were stacks of legal folders ranging in size from thin to massive, holding legal details about the people whose lives would be on review that day.
I have been in a courtroom many times before, I’ll let you take that idea where you want. But today was different, as I sat there I felt the Lord take me to Revelation 20:11-12 “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” What a scene, trying to fathom what it will be like when we stand before God our Judge, the Almighty, on the throne. Every detail of every persons life written and read, this is a terrifying moment for me. All this time Satan has been the prosecutor, he is our accuser, the fault finder, but by this time he is already condemned. Yet we all stand in that moment guilty, who can save us? "Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” (v.12) If we are in Christ then He is our defense. There is no escaping the Judgement of God, we must endure it, and we can only endure it through Christ. What a terrifying and glorious moment that will be, I dread it and am excited all at the same time. The day is coming… Are you ready for the books to be opened? Is Jesus your defense?
One of the best books I have read in a long time is The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines, by Nathan Foster. In it Foster deals with those times of spiritual dryness we face. I found these two paragraphs especially helpful and encouraging.
Other times prayer is mundane, uneventful, and boring. Probably the hardest part about growing in deeper intimacy with God is that the feelings and senses visit and fade. Sometimes I’m left feeling vacant, and ordinary life fails to satisfy. I miss God. It’s like visiting the neighborhood park after going to Disneyland. I guess I wouldn’t miss him had I not experienced him.
Sunday in his sermon on prayer Gary shared the acronym A.C.T.S., which stands for “Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication.” While discussing the confession portion of the message Gary addressed the very real issue of our being overly vague in our confession. Often we don’t find freedom through confession because we use some general confession along the lines of “Forgive me of all my many sins.” but we never really name what those sins are.
As Gary shared this I wanted to cheer; I also immediately connected the thought to thanksgiving and joy. I suspect that a large reason that we often fail to live the joyful lives we are called to live is because we fail to be specific in our prayers of thanksgiving. Much like confession, when praying prayers of thanksgiving we can have a tendency to pray things like “Thank You God for all Your many blessings.”
A while back I was challenged by something I read in Hidden in Christ, by James Bryan Smith. He discussed being at a speaking engagement and ending up in a small group with a woman who described having a “Gratitude Journal.” Smith explains that a few weeks later he decided to begin this spiritual practice as well. At the end of the chapter Smith issues this challenge:
“Today, or this week, begin keeping a gratitude journal. Try to write down five things that happened to you each day that were a blessing to you. Do not feel a need to make everything ‘spiritual’; if you enjoyed a delicious slice of pizza or a funny movie, simply write it down. The cumulative effect of these small moments of pleasure will, over time, amount to a large amount of gratitude and thanksgiving.” (Page 165)
I can tell you from my experience this has been helpful, though I have struggled to be consistent in practicing it. You see, I too fall into the habit of thanking God for “His many blessings” even thanking Him for “His grace and love.” While both statements are true they don’t really cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and joy. In my gratitude journal I will write things like, “Thanks for kids who show the love and grace of God in their willingness to forgive me for being short with them.” Or even God’s grace for that specific sin. The specificity does something in the heart and mind to intensify the joy and thankfulness.
As I flip back through my gratitude journal I am reminded that this journal fueled my intercessory prayer, as I thanked God for those answered prayers, it would fuel more prayer.
Here is my encouragement/challenge: begin your own gratitude journal. Strive everyday to think of five things for which you are thankful, whether big and “spiritual” or as “worldly” as a nice cup of coffee. Try this for a month and see if it hasn’t increased your joy.
May we be ever faithful to the command to, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:15-17
While listening to Tim Hawkins, one of the funniest guys I have ever heard, he started talking about words or phrases we use around our kids to make them hurry up. For example…hurry up, right now, this instant, and pronto. He explains that pronto is one of the only Spanish words many of us know and or understand. Why? Because we like to hurry. Just about everybody we talk to or are friends with seem to be in a hurry or are trying to rush to get something done. Now I understand that there are times when hurrying is necessary. There are emergencies that require us to get there and get it done.
In John 11 Jesus receives word that his dear friend Lazarus was very sick. Even though he was encouraged to go and heal him, Jesus stayed where he was for 2 more days. Jesus had the perfect opportunity to panic and rush to save his friend, but he didn’t. The point Jesus was making was that God doesn’t respond immediately to what we perceive as an urgent need. The foot note in my Bible says, “His delay had a specific purpose. God’s timing, especially his delays, my make us think he is not answering or is not answering the way we want. But he will meet all our needs according to his perfect schedule and purpose (Philippians 4:19). Patiently await his timing.”
The Lord’s timing is seldom, if ever, our timing. We are such a “microwave” society that we want what we want and we want it right now. God isn’t like Burger King where we can get it our way. God has a plan for us, and our ability to be patient and walk with him depends on how much we are walking with him prior to anything that would cause us or make us hurry. One of the best things we can do is to just take a breath and listen to Psalm 46:10…“Be still, and know that I am God…” Spending as much time with God in His Word is the best medicine for us to understand and know what God may be doing. When in tune with the Spirit, we have a better feel for where God may be working.
So if you are in a time of life right now where things are moving extremely fast. Try spending more time in God’s word and see what that does…Matthew 6:25-34. Jesus gives us the answer in verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Recently I have been reading Who Moved My Pulpit, by Thom Rainer. I have been chewing on the following excerpt for a while now.
It's a true story. A first-time guest came to the church at the request of the pastor. She was to observe carefully, then write a brief report.
Wow! "I would not come back." I can't help but wonder how many people have visited Sterling, a place that reminds us to Love People, and walked away feeling out of place and alone.
How many visitors did you greet Sunday?
May we go out of our way to make people know that we love them before they walk back out our doors. May we be a place that is welcoming.
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.