Posts Tagged With: prayer

Revelation 8: The Power of Prayer

ist2_305172-fluorescent-microscope-lensMy son has one of your typical microscopes that has three lenses that rotate, through which you can view a slide with gradual degrees of magnification.  At first you can look through the 10x lens and see a small insect or piece of a plant or a seed in its entirety.  Then you can switch to the 40x lens and finer features begin to reveal themselves, until with the 100x lens you see the finest of details you did not know even existed.  You are always looking at the same thing, but your ability to see the details grows as the lenses change.

Today we come to the second set of seven objects that deliver judgment on the world.  First it was seven seals.  Now it is seven trumpets, an object used universally in the ancient world to announce battle.  In a few more chapters we will come to seven bowls from which God’s wrath is poured.  Thinking as good westerners for whom all time is linear, we naturally think these three sets of seven are occurring chronologically one after another.  That is twenty-one doses of some bad medicine!

Robert Mounce, a respected commentator on Revelation, argues that it is better to think that these three sets  discuss the same events just with more and more detail as we move through the sets, as happens with my son’s microscope.  The seven seals largely described the woes of the world as socially-occurring events brought on my human selfishness: war, violence, maybe even famine and disease.  Now as the details of the matter come into focus with the trumpets we see that there is a divine hand involved in the judgment.  This way of thinks of the seals, trumpets and bowls is worth considering as we read.

8256_429422x250I also want to point out why God is unleashing divine judgment.  Much like the events of fifth seal in which we were allowed to see the faithful but persecuted Christians crying out for justice, the prayers of the righteous have come up to God in His glorious throne-room like incense and he is aware.

Another angel came and stood before the altar.  He was holding a golden censer, and he was given a large quantity of incense so that he could offer it, along with the prayers of all God’s holy people, on the golden altar, in front of the throne.  The smoke of incense, with the prayer of the saints, rose up from the hand of the angel in front of God. (8:3-4)

The prayers of people precious to God are powerful.  God sees their plight.  He hears their prayers.  He smells the desperate aroma of their lament.  God does not stand by aloof.

What hit you in a new way in this chapter?

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John 18: Jesus’ Special Place

My favorite place in Memphis, TN, where I live, is a large park in the middle of the metroplex called Shelby Farms.  Once a penal farm where the detainees would produce their own food (hence the name), now this 4000-acre park is home to fields, trails, lakes, a river to canoe, a state-of-the-art playground, equestrian area, dog park, disc golf course, community gardens, agricultural land, and natural woodlands.  There is more than enough room for one to get lost from the cares and concerns of life and be distracted by the beauty and order of nature.  This is why I love Shelby Farms most.  A hike in the woods is the best therapy I know.  What a great way to get away from the stress of a week of work or to blow off the steam that comes from parenting adolescents.  This is my special place, because it is a getaway.

Sunset in Shelby Farms by my 13-year-old son

John tells us today that Jesus also had a special place:

With these words, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley to a place where there was a garden.  He and his disciples went in.  Judas, his betrayer, knew the place, because Jesus often used it as a meeting place with his disciples. (18:1-2)

Maybe it was just a meeting place.  Or maybe it was Jesus’ meeting place because this was a that place Jesus liked to be.  We know Jesus would often withdraw from the masses for times of prayer and meditation.  We know Jesus would often go to mountainsides and wilderness places at these times.  I think it is possible that this was that sort of place for Jesus.  What a logical place to go on this night.

“The Betrayal of Jesus” by Duccio Di Buoninsegna

Here is the kicker.  Jesus’ special place is the very place where he will be betrayed, where he will pray with desperation to not drink the cup of God’s wrath, where he will sweat drops of blood.  This is the place where Jesus’ will last experience freedom.  Even more startling is that Jesus knew all of this about his garden, long before it ever happened:

Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him. (18:4a)

Jesus’ special place was the very place he would be betrayed.  Jesus has made regular pilgrimages to the very spot where everything will begin to be unraveled for him.  This is anything but a getaway.  Jesus wasn’t escaping the reality of life; he was immersing himself in it.  He was reminding himself of how this is supposed to end.  How amazing!

What did you see in today’s passage?

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John 17: Focused on Others Even at the End

It was the last night before Jesus’ death.  By noon the next day he will be dying on a cross, the sins of the world weighing him down.  He has been eating with his closest friends and students.  Jesus uses this moment to pray one more prayer in front of his community, a prayer that no doubt taught them volumes.  John 17 is that prayer.

What would your last public prayer be about?

When remembered in this context, I am always struck by how focused Jesus’ last prayer is on his disciples.  When many of us might pray for ourselves — and for good reason; Jesus was about to be beaten, humiliated and murdered; wouldn’t it be normal to prayer for yourself? — Jesus is focused on his friends.  This man filled with love is exuding that love even down to the end.

I’m praying for them. . . . I’m not in the world any longer, but they’re still in the world; I’m coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name. (17:9a, 11)

What caught your eye?

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1 Peter 5: Comfort for the Suffering

Peter ends this letter to a group of suffering Christians with great consolation.  Line after line offers hope and promise of comfort and reward.  An altered frame of mind maybe helps us with our expectations and desires but today’s comfort brings solace to the heart.

1.  Peter begins by reminding his recipients that their reward for standing up under pressure is an eternally durable one.

And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that won’t wither away. (5:4)

The toned, flexible, capable bodies of our youth age and wither.  Crowd approval fades.  Financial stability and market shares lessen with time.  But there is a glorious reward coming to those who stay true to the faith even in the face of persecution that cannot be taken away and will not lessen in value.

2.  Suffering is also easier to face when we are convinced that God is one on our side.

Throw all your care upon him, because he cares about you. (5:7)

It can be easy to give into the belief that God is not on our side, that He has had a hand in our suffering or at least has failed to stop it.  Peter reminds his readers that God cares intimately about them and their problems.  They can fall to their knees and pour out their prayers to him.  No matter the emotion — fear, resentment, anger, hurt — God wants to hear their heart’s cry.

3.  No one wishes misfortune on others, but suffering is easier to face when you know you are not alone.

Resist him [the Devil], staying resolute in your faith, and knowing that other family members in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings. (5:9)

Persecution is the worst when you think you are the only one being subject to it.  You begin to think there is something particularly wrong with you.  Or the injustice of the situation seems all the worse.  Peter reminds them that what they are going through is not unique.  There are many others suffering the same fate.  Strangely, there is comfort in numbers.

4.  Paul’s last word of all about suffering in this letter is that better days are coming.

Then, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of his new age, will himself put you in good order, and will establish and strengthen you and set you on firm foundations. (5:10)

When you are in the midst of hard times it is so easy to become myopic and think this is all that life is.  Every day will be filled with pain.  Each new person will treat you as harshly as the others.  Every phone call will be bad news.  Each new turn is a bad turn.  Peter reminds them (and us) that God gets the last word, and for those who in Christ, that last word is one of blessing, strength and restoration.

What is the one point about suffering you most needed to hear this week? 

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Luke 21: Watch Out!

This chapter and its parallel in Matthew 24 are just flat complicated passages.  I remember as a high school senior sitting in Bible class with a very insightful and even-keeled teacher trying to sort out the exact ins and outs of this passage.  We were not very successful.  What pertains to the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple to Rome in AD 70?  What is talking about the return of Jesus sometime in the future?  Did they think both would happen simultaneously?  Was Jesus using the same techniques the Old Testament prophets like Daniel did in which they conflated several events together that though spaced out over hundreds of years would end up being fulfilled in very similar ways?  And none of these questions get into the millennial madness the “Left Behind” folks can do with a passage like this.

I had more questions that answers back then.  I have reread this passage many times since then, and I still have more questions than answers.

But here is what I know.  The most important part of the chapter is not the identification and timing of the events mentioned in this chapter.  What is most imperative to hear and understand is the way Jesus ends this teaching:

So watch out for yourselves that your hearts may not grow heavy with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, so that that day comes upon you suddenly, like a trap.  It will come, you see, on everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Keep awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will happen, and to stand before the son of man. (21:34-36)

Jesus is coming again.  The Kingdom will come in fulness.  There is judgment ahead.  There are bleak days ahead too, this passage seems to imply (though, lest we blindly adopt some tribulation concept, when has that not been true?)  Our job in the midst of all of this is to watch our hearts and make our hearts ready, much more than it is to watch the news headlines for clues of the second coming (besides Jack Van Impe has that one covered!)  More tragic than blind eyes that cannot read the “sign of the times” is a calloused, worldly heart that is not ready for the real life that is to come.

Jesus mentions three stumbling blocks to watchfulness in this passage:

Dissipation: According to the World English Dictionary, one “dissipates” by living a life of excessive indulgence in physical pleasures, especially things that are expensive, wasteful, and distracting.  Maybe that vacation we couldn’t really afford because we just had to “get away from it all?”  But is this also the mind candy of the multi-billion dollar entertainment and celebrity industry so that our hearts long to be like them, look like them, and live like them?  Dissipation makes the heart less sensitive.

Drunkenness: Literally, this means to be of altered mind because of alcohol.  But why do people drink?  Lots of reasons.  Beyond the pressure-driven binge drinking of adolescence, maybe the most common reason to drink is to anesthetize the pain of an unpleasant life.  The truth is we can achieve that same numbness with any numbers of “drugs.”  Some of us use food.  Others shopping.  Still others the distraction of television.  Drunkenness impairs our vision.

The Cares of This Life: What a shame to spend a life building and rebuilding barns when they are lost in the end?  We certainly need to be responsible with the roles we have to play in life, but these too can become all-consuming.  For some of us this is our career.  I wonder if my yard is really as important as I some times make it.  Or the car.  Why do we run around so frantically trying to be sure everyone likes us, when there is divine approval that is even more important?  The cares of this life busy our hands and waste our energy.

Instead, Jesus talks about a heart anchored in the age to come, eyes fixed on the goal ahead of us, and hands that pray.  Watch out!

What did you learn from this reading today?  

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Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

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Luke 11: Teach Us to Pray

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (which would mean Jesus’ way of praying, not how to pray in general as they would have been taught to pray since childhood) and he gives them two contrasting teachings.

First, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  The outstanding point of this prayer is how God-centered it is.  God is praised.  It is God’s kingdom that we wish to see advanced.  The rest of the prayer is one of basic provision: bread for today, forgiveness, and protection from the Devil.

Next, Jesus also challenges his audience to pray with audacity:

So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  You see, everyone who asks receives!  Everyone who searches finds!  Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them!  (11:9-10)

This is the prayer of bold persistence. Prayers of this sort are focused on the person praying.  This is a very different kind of prayer from the first.

Most of us pray one or the other of these prayers.  We easily pray for ourselves and God’s agenda takes a backseat.  We have an easy time taking our needs to God but have yet to learn there may be a more important, kingdom-advancing point to our need.  Or, for others, God is the center of much of our prayer and we feel guilty asking for ourselves.  We might come around to “asking, seeking, knocking” but only after our own best efforts have been exhausted or we are convinced we should dare to ask for ourselves.

Jesus tell us here that both kinds of prayers are necessary.  There is not one right way to pray.   Some days all that matters is God’s agenda and we can be content with the basics. Other days, in desperation, we cry out boldly for our own needs, because we must.

Life requires both.

What did you learn today about prayer?

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Philippians 4: Pray In All Situations

Contentment does not mean we do not have needs.  Of course, we will still be in need.  Later in chapter 4 Paul talks about being in need and how the Philippians provided for him at that time.  Contentment can remain even when we are not comfortable with what we have and the situation we are in.

Paul gives us one more secret for how that is possible:

Don’t worry about anything.  Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.  And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over our hearts and minds in King Jesus. (4:6-7)

Secret to Contentment #4:  Pray!  Pray fervently!  Pray all the time, in any situation!  Say what is on your mind.  Ask for what you need.  Thank Him for what He has already done.  Surrender to God’s will.  Express your willingness to trust Him.  As we remember what God has done for us in the past, prayer helps contentment to become real and solidifying our hearts.

What have we learned about contentment from Philippians?

There is a way past anxiety and on to contentment and joy in all situations.  It is not by eliminating need as if that were possible.  It is not by attaining all we want and fulfilling all we desire; when do we ever reach that point?  As we fix our focus past this present world and on to the rewards and reality of the world to come, as we face realistically our needs and give those to God in prayer, as we become oriented more towards serving others than ourselves, we can be rest assured that God is in control of all things and our futures will be okay.  Paul never promises a life without struggle or a life filled only with blessings — remember where he was when he was writing this letter — but Paul is sure of this:

I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power. (4:13)

What have YOU learned?

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Ephesians 6: Doing Battle

Let’s try something visual today.

What does it mean to do battle for God?  Which of the following pictures best depicts how you would envision it?  There are a lot of different, even conflicting, ideas that a question like that conjures up.  Paul gives his thoughts on the question from Ephesians 6 at the end.

Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power.  Put on God’s complete armor. . . . the warfare we are engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood.  It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in heavenly places.  For this reason, you must take up God’s complete armor.  Then, when wickedness grabs its moment, you’ll be able to withstand, to do what needs to be done, and still be on your feet when it’s all over.  So stand firm! . . . Pray on every occasion. . . . You’ll need to keep awake and alert for this. . . . Please pray that God will give me his words to speak when I open my mouth, so that I can make known, loud and clear, the secret truth of the gospel. . . . Pray that I may announce it boldly. (6:10-14a, 18-20)

trusting ~ standing ~ praying ~ speaking

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Romans 12: True Worship

Today we move from one my most daunting passages to understand to one of my favorites.  Paul is known for structuring his letters with long theological sections about beliefs followed by much more practical sections about ethics.  Romans 12:1 is that pivot point in this book.

We use the word “worship” in many ways.  I have to wonder if most of the time we don’t reduce that word down to far less than what God intended worship to be.  Worship is that thing that happens at the church building.  It is singing and praying and preaching (and dancing and rocking a guitar or drum kit, if you church does that sort of thing).  Worship is what some person “leads.”  Worship has a set soundtrack.  There is a “worship hour.”  Worship has an “order” of set events.  Sure, you can worship anywhere — on a mountain top, down by the lake, in a hospital room, in a flash mob at the local mall — but still we are talking about the same action: singing songs and praying prayers.

Is worship this? . . .

The Roman church Paul was writing had also reduced the idea of worship down to far less than what God intended.  For them it was about religious activities and rituals and sacred days.  It was about symbolic acts like circumcision.  It was about what food was eaten or not.  Worship was a cultural expression and both the Jewish and Gentile Christians wanted to stamp their own ideals onto that expression.  In short, worship was what took place when “the saints meet.”

The word “worship” comes from an Old English word “worth-ship.”  The connotation of this word is to show honor to the inherent worth of the person being worshipped.  It is tied to the ancient practice of “kissing the feet of” the person being honored.  Worship is saying to another you are the one, not me.  You are the focus of life, not me.  You matter.  I adore you and want to do your will.  Can you sing that in a song?  Of course.  Can you pray those sentiments?  Definitely.  But it is so much more than that.

Paul reminds the Roman Christians of this point:

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. (12:1)

Worship is not a religious activity that takes place in a sacred place at a sacred time.  Worship is to happen everywhere all of the time.  God is not looking for some sacrifice of an animal or a sacrifice of discomfort in circumcision or a sacrifice of diet by avoiding pork or a sacrifice of time by observing the Sabbath.  Or let’s update that today: God is not looking for a sacrifice of time on a Sunday morning or a sacrifice of money put in an offering plate or a sacrifice of career by being an inner-city social worker or a sacrifice of zip code by living frugally and denying our comfort and status.  God wants us — all of us — as the sacrifice.  God wants us to tie our worship to how we live each day, as “living sacrifices.”  God wants acts of worship that are tied deeply to our “mind” and that shape how that mind thinks.  Everything we are and everything we do is intended to be worship.

For the ancient Roman Christians that meant that the most worshipful actions they could take would be to love (12:9-21).  They needed to worry less about what they did to their bodies and more about what they did with their bodies.  They needed to worry less about what food they ate and more about with whom they ate or refused to eat.  They needed to try less to get others to become like them and more so to become like others so they together might become like Christ.  And they most needed to do this with the people they disagreed with most.  Love is the act of worship God wants most.

. . . or is this worship?

How do we get this wrong (or right) too?

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Acts 1: Waiting in Prayer

So when the apostles came together, they put this question to Jesus.  “Master,” they said,” is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

We have come to a new book, written by a different author, Luke the physician and traveling partner of Paul.  We are at a turning point in our story: Jesus is leaving and there is a promise of something new.  But these are the same old apostles.  Even now, forty days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, still they do not get it (and maybe I wouldn’t have either).  It sounds like they are still thinking the kingdom Jesus is bringing is an earthly one in which Israel’s political, cultural, and economic blessings will be restored.  Surely, Jesus has returned from the grave in an astounding show of power in order to rally the masses in a great revolt against Rome.

But he has not.  In another move they were not expecting, he ascends into the sky and disappears.  They are so confused they stand looking into the sky and have to be sent back to Jerusalem by two angels to wait for whatever comes next.

It is what they do next that struck me today:

They all gave themselves single-heartedly to prayer. (1:14)

That is such the right thing to do.  When life gets confusing, pray.  When things do not go as expected, pray.  When you are sad and feel left alone, pray.  When life becomes a waiting game, pray.  When it is time to prepare for something new, pray.  When you are scared, pray.  That is a good example for today.

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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