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
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
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.
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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