We often hear people say there is no wrong way to pray. But, what if there was a wrong way to pray? What if our prayers go unanswered because of something we have control over?
We often dismiss “unanswered” prayer. But I think that many times the prayer is unanswered because of us.
Take a moment and read James 4:2-3
Did you see what James says, you don’t have because you don’t ask. “But I do ask!” you say. James goes on to explain that that prayer is unanswered because it is a prayer of selfishness. Think of the unanswered prayers you can remember, how many of them were selfishly prayed for you to indulge your passions? We must remember that God will not go against His character or law.
Now read Ephesians 5:25 & 1 Peter 3:7.
Did you catch that husband? Love your wife how? The way Christ loved the Church. Often when we think about how Christ loved the Church we think about how He was willing to sacrificially lay down His life for her. While this thought is accurate, there is more. Christ didn’t just love the Church so much that He died for her, He lived for her, every choice He made was for the good of the Church. Yes, He lived in obedience to glorify God the Father, who is most glorified through the fulfilling of His purposes for the Church. Think about it, for Jesus to die for us, He had to live a perfect life. Had He given into temptation He couldn’t have fulfilled His mission. When He resists temptation it is both to glorify God and for us.
Husband this is the way you are called to love your wife. This is relevant to pray because of what Peter writes. Read 1 Peter 3:7.
Do you realize that maybe your prayers are ineffective because you are not treating your wife as you should?
Finally, read James 5:13-16.
I have long been confronted by this passage. Aside from its very helpful teaching on prayer, and the following verses reminding us of the power of our prayer, the last statement of verse 16 convicts me. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This leads me to ask if the opposite is also true. Could it accurately be stated that “The prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.”?
All of these are passages that have challenged me through the years, and continue to challenge me still. I’ll leave you with this charge from Donald Whitney, "But we must learn to examine our prayers. Are we asking for things that are outside the will of God or would not glorify him? Are we praying with selfish motives? Are we failing to deal with the kind of blatant sin that causes God to put all of our prayers on hold?”1
1 Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. pg 79
When Uriah started talking about wanting to get baptized Lindsay and I decided to get him a gift to commemorate the occasion. It didn’t take long for me to decide that we would get him a pocket knife. I also wanted to get it engraved with a passage that could be especially significant given the decision he was going to make. To our excitement he made this decision sooner than we expected and told us on December 22, that he was ready and wanted to get baptized and make a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I had the amazing privilege of baptizing him on Christmas Eve.
When his knife came in the next week, Uriah and I went for a drive. I explained to him that we wanted to get him something special for his decision and decided to get him a knife. I told him that there were people who probably wouldn’t approve of this gift. He knew why, because it can be dangerous. However, he also knew that there were benefits to having a knife, one can protect themselves, get food, and help people to name a few that he mentioned.
Affirming that he was correct, knives are great tools that have unending uses, they also carry a level of danger which requires responsibility. It didn’t take long for him to explain to me numerous ways that people could get hurt by his knife if he was careless with it. Because of these dangers I explained that he had to be responsible to make sure that he wasn’t careless with his knife, whether it be leaving it lay where his sisters could get it or using it in a way that was potentially harmful. I went on to explain that it was his knife, therefore he is the one responsible for what happens with it at all times.
You may be wondering why I am recounting this conversation with you, this is why—our spiritual life is like this knife. We have been given an incredible gift (far better than any knife). This gift gives us not only the ability but the obligation to help people (Matthew 28:18-20). How much more can we protect somebody than with the gift of grace from God and eternity with the Father, Son, & Spirit?
However, like the knife people are often hurt by Christians who are careless with their lives. Maybe you leave your “spiritual life” laying at the church building when you leave. Brennan Manning comments, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The biggest reason people reject Christ is Christians who leave their “spiritual life” at the church building. The apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 1:18-2:24. Other Christians cause damage when they are careless with how they use their faith, think Westboro Baptist and people like them.
As a result of the way a knife illustrates the Christian life. And since the decision to accept Jesus, get baptized, and commit to a life of discipleship is the beginning of becoming a man (in the spiritual sense), we had the knife engraved with “1 Kings 2:1-4.”
My prayer is that from reading this you may never look at a knife the same way. I pray that every time you see a knife it would be a reminder to you of the power and responsibility it carries. It is my prayer that this reminder would change the way we live. May we be people who are helpful, life giving, and responsible with our faith. May we live in such a way that people are drawn closer to God, not pushed away from Him.
This is the time of year where people often begin to think about things they want to change in coming years. One change I often hear Christians mention is their desire to read the Bible more. It is a desire that I think is very healthy.
I want to spend a moment to encourage you to think on your Bible reading habits. How often do you read? When was the last time you read through the entire Bible? How much do you remember about your last reading?
I don’t want these questions or thoughts to shame you, but I do want them to challenge you. There are numerous ways in which we can read Scripture, but the tendency we often gravitate to is as little as possible, and frequently passages we are comfortable with reading.
I want to encourage you to be stretched this year. Maybe your current approach is to meditate on one verse a day, which can be fruitful. However, this approach is very limited and can create problems with certain verses. One big issue is that this approach provides no context. Maybe you could start reading a little larger chunk of Scripture, and meditate on that passage the rest of the day.
Maybe you read through the entire Bible cover to cover regularly, but it is disjointed and disconnected for you. I would suggest finding a way to be more intentional about connecting with the Scriptures.
In order to aid in this endeavor we are providing a host of options to choose from as far as Bible reading plans are concerned. From a month in the Gospels to the entire Bible in 90 days, and everything in between.
Before you say that this is too lofty consider a few things. We live in a culture that reads a fair amount. Yet we watch T.V. and play a fair amount of video games, and other activities that are mindless.
However, when there is something we are excited about we read. We devour. We wait in expectation until we can read some more. Here are a few statistics of some popular works.
In the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series there are 1,850 pages.
In the classic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the four books accumulate a total 1,516 pages.
Finally, in the recent (past handful of years) the popular Twilight saga amass over 2,500 pages.
These are books people dive into and don’t want to leave. I’ve known people who will binge read and finish one or more of these volumes in a week.
Yet, The Bible, the book we say gives us the guide to living and tells us of the God we serve and claim to love, we have trouble getting into. I just reached up and pulled a copy of the Bible off of my shelf. It is a simple copy, no study notes, not a lot of extras, just the text, some translation footnotes, and short introductions (one paragraph) to each book. This copy of the Bible is merely 895 pages long. You could read this Bible just shy of a full three times to reach the same page count as the Twilight saga.
I don’t want this to be a shame article. I hope this spurs you (as it does me) on to a greater commitment to The Word of God.
Here’s my challenge, find a plan that works for you this year. Maybe it is through the Bible in a year, maybe it is the 90 day plan, whatever it is, find a plan and work it. There will be times that you get behind. Don’t stress about catching up, just keep working your plan. If you have free time and can catch-up that’s great, but working the plan is what makes a difference.
For instance you get ambitious and decide to complete the 90 day plan, and you continue to find yourself behind, and it ends up taking you 180 days to finish…when was the last time you read the whole Bible in 6 months?!
My prayer is that the plans we provide will help you to better love and devour The Word of God. I pray that as you love and devour His Word that He continues to transform you by the renewing of your mind. Conforming you to the image of Christ for the sake of others and the glory of God. Living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit living in you.
In my last blog post I discussed that when we sin it is a choice, and that one of the tools to help us choose not to sin is Scripture memory. I want to take this a step further and discuss another tool.
However, I feel that I must acknowledge that I understand for many this will be a difficult discussion. Many will read this and say something like, “That’s a little too catholic for me.” All I ask is that you hear me out.
In addition to Scripture memory, another discipline that can help us choose righteousness over sin is the discipline of confession. When I say confession, I am talking the discipline of sitting down with another Christian(s) you trust (of the same gender) and confessing your sins to them. I know, you are ready to walk away right now, we aren’t catholic, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need to confess your sins to anyone but God. Please hear me out.
You are correct, Scripture does promise that if we confess our sins “…He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” (1 John 1:9 ESV). It is assumed that John is referring to confessing our sins to God. But this isn’t the only place that Scripture discusses confession of sins.
Take a minute, grab your Bible, and read James 5:13-20 (James is toward the back of your Bible between Hebrews and 1 Peter). Go a head, read it, I’ll still be here when your done.
Did you notice verse 16. Go read it again.
To whom does James say to confess our sins?
Why does he say to do confess them to this person?
You see, there is a Biblical precedence for confessing our sins to each other.
I think confession is incredibly powerful for overcoming the tendency to give into temptations to sin. John Ortberg discusses part of why confession is helpful; in his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted, Ortberg writes:
“To confess means to own up to the fact that our behavior wasn’t just the result of bad parenting, poor genes, jealous siblings, or a chemical imbalance from too many Twinkies. Any or all of those factors may be involved. Human behavior is a complex thing. But confession means saying that somewhere in the mix was a choice, and the choice was made by us, and it does not need to be excused, explained, or even understood. The choice needs to be forgiven. The slate has to be wiped clean.”
We’ve been praying for revival. Our nation desperately needs revival. The Church desperately needs revival. I think its safe to say, our congregation longs for revival. We must recognize that a revival won’t begin outside, revival begins when we begin to live with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Revival begins when we start choosing righteousness over sin.
Will you commit with me to find someone to whom you can confess your sins? To whom you can acknowledge your choice to sin? From whom you can here the grace of God spoken as your are reminded that God is faithful, even when we are unfaithful?
Let’s decide together to do whatever it takes to become slaves to righteousness, instead of living as slaves to sin
Frequently we talk about “those things” we wish we could get rid of in our lives. Habits, addictions, tendencies, sins that we recognize as being detrimental to our lives. We even go to great lengths to understand why we struggle with the things with which we struggle. Somewhere in the midst of this desire to find the cause of our issues I think we have lost the reality that “those things” are choices.
Don’t get me wrong, our past can give us an affinity toward certain habits and sins, but at the end of the day, we make the choice to indulge. This is how Paul explains it in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (NLT).
Recently, while reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges I was struck by this statement, “It is hypocritical to pray for victory over our sins yet be careless in our intake of the Word of God.” (page 75).
Our desire to get past “those things” while failing to regularly consume God’s Word is like someone wanting to run a 26.2 mile marathon but failing to regularly run in the months leading up to the race. We would look at a person who did this and think that they didn’t really want to run a marathon, and that they just wanted to talk about running a marathon.
Furthermore, when we are intentional about our intake of Scripture and put it to memory, the Holy Spirit brings those passages to mind at the right time. Maybe you need to start with Romans 6:16, so that when you are faced with temptation you can be reminded that it is your choice. You choose what to obey, temptation or God.
If you struggle with saying things you shouldn’t maybe you need to memorize Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those that hear.” (ESV).
If you struggle with lust it might be helpful to memorize Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (ESV).
Greed? Colossians 3:5, “ So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” (NLT).
Unforgiveness? Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you.” (ESV).
I could go on, but you get the point.
Understand, we have a choice Who/what we will obey. If we are going to be conformed to the image of Christ, for the sake of others, and to the glory of God, we must be intentional about our Scripture intake.
It’s your choice, who will you obey?
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.