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.
It’s no secret that Spiritual Formation is a passion of mine; I desire it for myself, and I desire it for others—for you. As a reminder here is the big all-inclusive Trinitarian definition of Spiritual Formation: “God the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, through various means, in cooperation with our response, changes us to look like God the Son, in order to serve others, to the glory of God the Father.” (J.K. Jones).
What that says is that God the Holy Spirit initiates the process of Spiritual Formation in us. Furthermore, He uses various means (good things, tragedies, life experiences, etc.) to change us to look like Jesus Christ (God the Son), in order to serve others, all to glorify God the Father.
However, there was one piece in my explanation that I left out; “in cooperation with our response.” You see, God the Father wants us to reflect Jesus in our lives, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. If Christ lives in you and your life really is hidden in Christ, then it suffices to say that when people look at you they should see Christ. The problem is that we must cooperate. The Holy Spirit cannot make us look like Jesus if we refuse to cooperate and participate in that formation.
Think of it this way for a moment. Imagine there is a skill that you want your child to become great at (football, band, baking, NASCAR, etc.); in your desire for them to be the best you are willing to do whatever it takes to help them be the best. You hire the most skilled people in that field to train your child. You buy them books. You take them to seminars. You dedicate your life to helping your child become the best. But…you see that your child ignores everything the professionals say, they refuse to read the books, they play on their phones in the seminars, they have caused you to spend your life in vain. If your child is to be the best, they must cooperate and participate in the opportunities provided to become the best.
It is the same with being conformed to the image of Christ. We are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we have the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we participate with the Body of Christ (Hebrew 10:23-25). Yet, if we ignore the Spirit’s work and prompting in us, if we neglect the Scriptures, and are half-hearted in our commitment to The Church, we are not going to progress in our conformity to the image of Christ.
If I can be honest for a moment, I must admit that what I said to start is a bit misleading. I said that I desire Spiritual Formation for myself, which isn’t completely true. On my good days I want to be conformed to the image of Christ, but then there are other days, the not so good days, the days in which I am pretty apathetic, the days when I am content to conform to the image of me.
These apathetic days are what I want to address. Even on these days there is hope. I want to share something I read recently on a solo retreat. The author was discussing Romans 8:34 and that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for you and me. Additionally, Paul also explains that the Holy Spirit also intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).
This is what James Bryan Smith encourages us with, “[Jesus] is praying that you and I would be completely new people…He will not stop until he has made us all new people.” (Hidden in Christ, 33-34).
I find this encouraging, because it means that even on my apathetic days Jesus doesn’t give up. On the days where I couldn’t care less both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding on my behalf to the Father for me.
May you and I find hope in the fact that God doesn’t give up on us. May we find encouragement knowing that when we are apathetic, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for us. May we cooperate with God in conforming to the image of Christ.
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
In 2011 I was talking with a friend who had registered for the Illinois Marathon half-marathon race. As we talked I thought, “I should do this.” Keep in mind that this conversation was in January, the half was to take place in April, a half is 13.1 miles, and I hadn’t run since I left ISU in 2004. Naturally I did the only reasonable thing there is to do, I went home got online and registered for the race, I also talked another friend into joining me in my insanity.
Even since this entry into the running world, I have learned several things about which I could spend a great deal of time writing or talking about. I have inevitably learned a lot about running, but I also have learned, through observation and conversation, much about spiritual life. I learned that while on a 6+ mile run with people it provides a lot of time (especially when you are as slow as me) to talk. There have been times when the run was pretty much a full on Bible study, other times it was a discussion of the value on our marriages and how we can continue to honor those marriages and set an example for others.
However, these are not the things I want to address presently, rather I want to talk about one of my favorite aspects of running. I absolutely love the running community. Through running I have seen community that transcends race, religion (several of the runs, I mentioned, where we talked faith and Scripture it was a protestant, a Catholic, a Mormon, and an atheist), gender, lifestyle, politics, etc. These things fade to the back as we all gather around a common interest, running.
Ever since I began my journey running I have started, stopped, and restarted several times over. It is frustrating to begin from square one again, but that’s been my pattern. A couple years ago I was a few months into running again, I was scheduled for 6 miles that day, but by mile .5 I wasn’t feeling it and began to mentally talk myself into simply running 2 miles and being done for the day. As the group began pulling away, because I just couldn’t keep pace with them, one guy stayed with me and I decided I would go until he took off then I’d turn around. That day I ended up getting in my full 6 miles, because he stayed with me the whole time. The crazy thing about it is that his pace then was easily 4 minutes a mile less than mine, yet he ran slow in order to encourage me and keep me going. I recognized a while later that I probably would have quit after that day had he not stayed with me.
Additionally, “races” are incredible venues for community. The last run I did was a 6.5 mile trail run, it was also an out and back, which meant not only were people running in the same direction but we were also meeting people coming at us. The entire 6.5 miles was filled with encouragement, warning of obstacles, and motivation from others. As I listened to people speaking words of encouragement and motivation between breaths I couldn’t help but think about the example that it sets for the Church.
This is why the author of Hebrews writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (10:24-25 ESV).
The very thing I have experienced within the running community is what we should be practicing and experiencing in the faith community. We need to begin to look for those people who are struggling, thinking about quitting and run with them. We need to be warning each other of temptations that may be headed at us. We need to tell each other “Good Job.” “Keep it up.” “Press on.” “You’re almost there.” “It’ll totally be worth it when you cross the finish line.”
Who do you need to encourage? Who has God placed in your life that you can come alongside and help them press on?
It is time for the Church to begin setting the example for the rest of the world.
I cannot recall talking to a Christian who didn’t desire for their prayer life to be more fulfilling, more fruitful, just simply better. Discontentment regarding our ability to pray seems to be common among Christians. I want to share something that I have found helpful, however, what I am about to say does not sit well with all, but I ask you to hear me out.
Through my spiritual journey I have found prayer books have brought a whole new depth to my prayer life.
Let me explain. It is easy for me to slip into autopilot mode, to say the same thing I always say, and cruise through. Using prayer books leads me to pray in ways that I wouldn’t pray, often even praying for things I typically wouldn’t think to pray. Prayer books stretch me.
One such book that has bore much fruit for me is John Baillie’s work A Diary of Private Prayer. I was first introduced to the original version a couple years ago, and recently found an updated copy. I would like to share a portion of the morning prayer on day 11 from the updated version.
“Yet, Lord, do not let me rest content with an ideal of humanity that is less than what was shown to us in Jesus. Give me the mind of Christ. May I not rest until I am like him in all his fullness. May I listen to Jesus’ question: What are you doing more than others? And so may the three Christian graces of faith, hope, and love be more and more formed within me, until all I do and say brings honor to Jesus and his gospel.”
I wonder what it would look like if we all began to allow prayer books to stretch us and help us grow. This is not at all to say these replace our spontaneous off the cuff prayers, simply that they supplement them. I wonder what would happen if we all began to pray this short prayer above regularly.
Imagine with me what it would look like if the Church across the nation were to regularly pray to “not rest until I am like him in all his fullness.” And for “faith, hope, and love [to] be more and more formed within me, until all I do and say brings honor to Jesus and his gospel.”
I can’t help but think we may begin to see some of the cultural change that we long for. If we won’t pray for it, who will?
Will you commit with me to pray this prayer every day for the next month?
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